Handling the Handlers

by Doranna

Dear AKC:  This one’s for you.  

(A Dog Agility Blog Event: Improving Agility Organizations: I’m not picking on the AKC–it happens to be the agility venue in which I primarily participate.  Being active in agility, obedience, rally, and tracking means such choices must be made. (!!) )

push.567As agility trainers and handlers, we’re constantly re-evaluating what works with our dogs.  At least, we should be.  When things don’t work, then we change something.  And we do it quickly enough to keep small problems from becoming big problems, or else…boy, do we got big problems!

Another factor paramount in training is consistency.  Not only consistency in defining and reinforcing behaviors, but consistency in our criteria…consistency in who we are as trainers.  Our dogs know what to expect from us.

Or they should–!

Well, people are trainable creatures, too.

We respond to our circumstances and our experiences, and we make decisions based on those factors.  When trialing experiences are profoundly inconsistent, it matters.  When frustrations go unaddressed, it really matters!

Last year I wrote a r/a/n/t/ post about the last T2B course I ever ran, and why–after too many intensely technical and demotivating courses that didn’t in the least fit the published intent of the game–I quit entering my dogs.  I would love to take part in this game…if it only stayed more consistently true to its purpose.

I stopped running FAST for the same reason.  When it takes a calculator and a batch of experienced handlers bent over the course map, desperate to find any potentially successful strategy, then it really kinda isn’t fun any more.  It’s more like “taking things too far.”

So, dear AKC, pay attention to the courses you approve–and the message those courses give our judges about what you’re looking for.  Please make sure they fit the spirit of the game as you defined it in the first place.  Consistency is your friend, and inconsistency is just really annoying.

And when you hear this feedback–any feedback–not just from one person, but from a steady trickle of people, it behooves you to act on it at more than a glacial pace.  Because, seriously?  It took you a decade to institute the PACH?  I remember bemoaning the lack of it at the very first trial when preferred dogs were running.  It took how long to allow grandfathering from regular classes to preferred?  Both logistics that were more than sensible and obvious from the get-go?

And how long did it take before we didn’t have to prove our jump heights on the spot?  And while we’re at it, when will it be possible to shift from a B-class to an A-class?  Because, seriously, you’d rather write Letters of Shame taking away runs instead of allowing the easy entry fix?

These are the kinds of things that matter to us.  They change the decisions we make about our entries, about our dogs’ careers, about sometimes about our interest in the sport.

(You can bet I would have made different decisions about my limited entry money if I’d known the PACH would be grandfathered in a year after Belle retired–she was 100 points short of PACH2 not because she wasn’t perfectly capable of earning that title, but because with multiple dogs to support, I based my entry choices on the extended absence of any such title.)

At the least, the failure to respond to obvious clamor engenders a mutual lack of respect; at the most, it pushes people away.  And an organization like AKC should know better, if only from all that mutual love of dogs.  Re-evaluation and response…change, when necessary…and as necessary.  Not a decade later.

Consistency and responsiveness.  Because as with handlers and our dogs, it’s not just about managing, it’s about thriving.  And it’s about creating a kind of teamwork where handlers, clubs, and trial secretaries feel they matter.

It has nothing to do with our dedication to our dogs, or to our training, or to doing the very best for them–those things are ours to nurture–it has to do with that next layer, the competition layer.  Because when we matter, we invest in what we’re doing with all our hearts…sort of like our dogs.  And when we don’t, sometimes we just stand in the middle of the ring and stare at you and think, very loudly, “What jump?”


About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
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10 Responses to Handling the Handlers

  1. Mona Karel says:

    This is so relevant and timely for ALL our canine activities

    • Doranna says:

      I’m glad you think so! To me these bottom lines kind of encompass all of the big picture frustrations I have with trialing in AKC (and that I hear about from others, too).

  2. Marilyn says:

    VERY relevant. And what about introductions for newcomers to the Game? I read about Qs and double Qs, and eventually figure out that it means a Qualifying score… but what defines a Qualifying score? I went and read about agility at the AKC website, and just ended up confused. Same thing for Rally. And then there are Points for Conformation. The people who are “in the know” on these things appear to have forgotten what it means to be a newcomer. And that’s why, 15 years ago, I never went any farther with Shadow and Sunny in either Obedience or Agility. (Back then, I could have done Agility.) Because the “in” people wouldn’t explain what was going on. I was supposed to absorb it by osmosis. I’m encountering it in Conformation with Master Harper — no Conformation show I’ve been to has a “Newbys sign in here” table where you can ask questions. (Fortunately, Harper’s co-owner is explaining as we go along.) As it happens, I was assisting a gal from the Club where I’m training Harper to get some forms off the AKC site (she doesn’t do computers), and I stumbled across the PAL form, and said, “What’s THIS?” and she explained about it — otherwise, the first time I would have heard about it would have been in Rena Beagle’s blog. If I had known about it, I’d’ve gotten one for Babette Beagle three years ago, and maybe we could have been training each other and having more fun. Dear AKC: please remember that not everyone is a second, or third, or fourth generation show dog owner!

    • Doranna says:

      Marilyn, all EXCELLENT points. I had some rough goes with my initial obedience attempts (in fact, it took me quite a few years and different dogs to try it again, not to mention the support of Belle’s breeder). My initial agility efforts felt much more welcomed, though. Still, my sense of things is that one really needs a mentor-ish person to help pave the way. Usually in obedience/agility this is an instructor or classmate (though to a large extent I’m simply on my own, which has been a big challenge in the leap from novice obedience to CDX and onward).

      This is actually a topic of discussion for others in the blog event, and in those comment sections I found a useful link–I read these tips and they’re all really good: http://foohmaxagility.blogspot.com/p/tips-for-novice-agility-competitor.html

      • Marilyn says:

        Thanks for that link! That has some good material in it, which I think I want to go over carefully. Even better — there’s a link from there to nearby event venues which is REALLY interesting, since the blog author is only 90 miles from me!

  3. Merinda says:

    I couldn’t agree more on the whole PACH thing!

    • Doranna says:

      I think there were a lot of us frustrated over that. A need to jump shorter doesn’t necessarily equate with lack of drive or speed. 😛

  4. Taryn says:

    Great comment about the T2B runs….you’re right. I often catch myself bitching about how little flow there is! Never thought about bitching to the AKC 🙂 I agree w/ the PACH thing. By the time they instituted that, I was already too invested in my MACH effort on my CWC. And then of course they wait another two years to let you jump from regular to preferred w/o starting over!

    • Doranna says:

      Exactly so. The latest frustration? My understanding that you can make that switch to preferred only once without starting over. So if you’ve got a dog you’d like to run in preferred temporarily for whatever reason–as I’d really like to do with ConneryBeagle as we gear up out of his illness–and then you go back to regular (as I’d really like to do to finish his MACH3), then boom, ya gotta start over. This makes so little sense to me that I’m just waiting for someone to tell me I’m wrong. Oh please!

  5. Cindy Gevaart says:

    Fortunately I started agility with CPE. I found such nice and open people, willing to share info about the games we play and the strategy needed. About a year later I started running in AKC, which I like but still do not understand all the rules. So thankful for CPE and all the great friends I have made in that venue. I would encourage you to try it if you have any trials near you.

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