I have competed in agility with my two Australian Terriers in AKC, CPE, NADAC, and USDAA. I really love USDAA courses but I do not love the apparent randomness of obstacle specifications for the 8″ class. In particular, I believe USDAA’s 5’6″ A-Frame puts my 8″ dogs at a greater risk for injury since we also compete in other venues where the A-Frame is 5′ high.
A little background information for those of you who do not compete in USDAA. USDAA does not offer an 8″ class in their Championship Program, so the only option for dogs who jump 8″ is to enter them in Performance. Dogs measuring under 12″ can either jump 12″ in Championship or 8″ in Performance.
Besides the fact that dogs jump 4″ lower in Performance, there are no spread jumps in Performance. I suspect a majority of 8″ dogs competing in USDAA also compete in other venues where there are spread jumps, so removing spread jumps is inconsequential to most competitors. The remaining obstacle specifications are the same for 8″ Performance and 12″ Championship, including a 12″ table and 5’6″ high A-Frame.
The 12″ table used in USDAA for the 8″ class does not pose a problem for my dogs since I can easily practice on both 8″ and 12″ tables because the table is not an obstacle that puts a lot of wear and tear on dogs. But the higher A-Frame is another story and it is the reason I am writing this post.
Recently all of the local trials happened to be AKC so I’ve been only running my dogs over 5′ high A-Frames. But this morning for the first time in months, I ran Lil (who has a running A-frame) over a 5’6″ A-Frame in preparation for a USDAA trial next weekend. I was shocked to see on video playback, that during Lil’s first repetition, she barely kept herself from slamming into the A-Frame on her second stride up as she anticipated the angle to be the same as the 5′ A-Frame we have been practicing on. Until I watched the video, I didn’t realize how radically different the angle is between a 5′ and 5’6″ A-frame for a small dog, both in terms of the ascent and descent. Lil obviously figured it out by the second repetition but it made me see how potentially dangerous it is for small dogs like mine to run over different height A-Frames.
That video made me realize that if I am going to compete in USDAA along with other venues, I will need to train my dogs on two different height A-Frames regularly. The problem I have with this, and I think most people would agree, is that I don’t want to run my dogs over A-Frames any more than I have to, due to the wear and tear this obstacle has on dogs.
I have wondered if USDAA specs for the A-Frame are influenced by the time it would take to lower the A-Frame twice per class (vs. once per class). If that has been a consideration in the past, now that USDAA is offering a Veteran’s class and the A-Frame is already set at 5′ for that class, why can’t the rules be changed so the A-Frame remains at 5′ for the 8″ class and just run small to tall when Veterans run first and tall to small when Veterans run last (which is the way it is done most of the time anyway).
Where are the advocates for 8″ dogs in USDAA? There seem to be plenty of advocates for big dogs. One somewhat recent example is that weave pole spacing was increased from 22″ to 24″ to make it physically safer for large dogs– to reduce the wear and tear on their bodies. But for small dogs, it is actually the width of the weave pole base, and not the spacing of the poles themselves, that puts additional physical stress on their bodies by forcing small dogs to hop dramatically from side to side to avoid stepping on and potentially slipping on wide bases.
I trained my younger dog, Lil on Versa Weaves which have 1.5″ base. She learned to sliver through them with very efficient footwork that looked easy for her to do. The first time she ran through standard USA weave poles with a 2.5″ wide base, she struggled until she figured out that she had to change her footwork and slalom much wider to clear the base. While she does not hop from side to side as much as most small dogs, her style is negatively affected by wide bases and I’m sure it puts more stress on her body.
Where were the advocates for small dogs when weave poles specs were being changed? Most clubs purchased new weave poles when the spacing changed, so there was a perfect opportunity to reduce the base widths so ALL dogs would benefit from the change in specs, not just big dogs. ps–To those people would think bases need to be wide to be weighty enough to counter the force of big dogs who push hard on the poles, narrower bases could be just as stable by making the side supports longer and/or the bases themselves a bit thicker. But at this point, it’s too late to make any changes on weave pole base specs since most clubs have already purchased new 24″ weave poles so I fully accept the wider bases as “just the way it is” in the USA.
But it is not too late to petition USDAA to lower the A-Frame specifications to 5′ so that 8″ dogs can compete in different venues without needing to train on two different height A-Frames to minimize the risk of injury. Whats the big deal? As I already mentioned, the A-Frame is already set at 5′ for the Veteran’s class.
I suspect some people might wonder why I don’t just quit competing in USDAA. The reason is that I love the courses and I love the direction the organization is heading by offering International Handling challenges and such. Plus my dogs and I have a blast and do well running USDAA style courses…and I have already stopped competing in TDAA due to the shorter A-Frame specs so I’d like to be able to participate in as many local trials with the remaining organizations as possible.
My intention in writing this post is to find out if there are enough 8″ handlers out there to petition USDAA to lower the A-Frame to 5′ for the 8″ class so we can continue to compete in this awesome venue without undo risk of injury to our dogs.
The big question is how can I reach 8″ handlers to find out what they think?