A few of Lil’s runs from last weekend’s trial

Its been 2 months since our last trial.  I missed two local trials in June due to my exhibition in Luxembourg and a schedule conflict with a family event.  Its funny,  in 2 months time I had sort of forgotten how much fun trials are in terms of the “whole” trial experience: hanging out with friends, watching other teams run, and of course running my own dog.

Jake is currently “on the bench” due to a slight limp earlier in the week after a particularly exciting hunting expedition in our backyard.   😦 So his “turns” consisted of Freestyle and Flatwork done at a run, which is similar to agility in terms of energy and teamwork so I think he was content “earning” his treats by doing this vs. running over agility obstacles.

Lil didn’t seem to mind the 90 degree temps plus soaring humidity.  She ran well all weekend long.   The trial was held at a campground in Dummerston, VT, which has huge pine trees to park under.  Between the shade and Ryobi fans, Jake and Lil were comfortable and cool all weekend long.  As for me, I must have eaten an entire watermelon and drank a gallon of water to stay cool… which worked very well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7m0tIAOsJA”  Link to video (since for some reason WordPress does not include video links in emailed posts).

Thoughts about jump heights plus new videos from last weekends trial

For me agility is the most fun when my dogs are running courses super fast and like most dogs, my dogs can run faster with lower jumps.   I am not suggesting speed is what makes agility the most fun for other teams.  I also must admit that I enjoy getting Qs but I’d take a fast and fluid NQ over a jerky Q any day!

I recently learned that AKC is now allowing the transfer of points to Preferred so teams don’t have to start all over again in Novice if they want to lower their dog’s jump heights.  YEY for that!   I hope this results in more people moving their dogs to Preferred if they feel their dog’s current jump height is too high based on either structure or age.

I have given jump heights a great deal of thought over this past year and over the past 6 months, I have only been competing in NADAC, where my Australian Terriers can jump 4″.   I may never raise their jump heights back to 8″, even for Lil who looks quite good jumping 8″.  My thinking is that when Lil jumps 8″ she often does a little butt flipping action over jumps, which a lot of BCs, who barely skim over bars, also do.  Granted it looks a lot more elegant when a long-legged BC butt flips, compared to my long-backed Australian Terrier, but regardless I suspect any repetitive motion like butt flipping could cause discomfort or undue wear and tear if done repeatedly for many years.  This thought is based on what I learned from an orthopedic specialist, whom we took Jake to see in July for an on-again, off-again NQR issue.  The vet didn’t find anything wrong with Jake but said that he had a little arthritis in his lower back which was VERY NORMAL for an agility dog to have at the age of 7….and he sees a lot of performance dogs.


Here are a few of Lil’s runs at a NADAC trial, December 15-16, 2012

There are two reasons I may not raise Lil’s jump height back to 8″.  The first is because she can run agility courses faster jumping 4″ and appears to be having more fun as a result.  The second reason is that she rarely butt flips over 4″ bars and I’m guessing that will be better for her long-term well-being.   I am not suggesting that everyone should lower their dog’s jump heights.. but just hoping to bring awareness to the choice we all have to jump our dogs lower in the USA.  Plus as far as I know, dogs don’t care about titles or jump heights. 🙂

The reason I will not likely raise Jake’s jump height back to 8″ is because of his rather unorthodox style of jumping, which I suspect is caused by his tendency to run and jump with his head held high.   I think it will take many months for him to fully adjust to jumping lower bars but at home he is now able to jump 4″ bars with ease so I know it is possible for him. I anticipate that over time, he will jump with more and more ease and  consistency at trials too.


Here are a few of Jake’s runs at a NADAC trial, December 15-16, 2012.  Unfortunately, what may have been Jake’s best run of all times, Touch N Go on Saturday, was not video-taped.  😦  It was super fast and super fun with awesome NEW running contacts!

I suspect there are other obstacles like weave poles and contacts that could contribute to the development of lower back arthritis, as well as day-to-day activities, but it also seems logical to me that the arching of the lower back to flip rear legs up high enough to clear bars over hundreds of jumps every year could result in arthritis or perhaps soreness at times, since there are so many jumps on most agility courses.  ps– One of the many things I am loving about NADAC is that many classes don’t have jumps and even Standard courses have a combination of jumps and hoops, so by the end of a full day of trialing (even running 6 classes) my dogs have jumped far less than they would have in 2 classes in other agility venues.

Regardless of the validity of my previous statements, why would I not want to lower my dogs’ jump heights if I have the option to do so?  All of the Australian Terriers I know are great agility dogs but agility specs are not designed with this particular breed in mind… and why would they be?   That said, I know several great running ATs who jump 8″ with  ease.  All of these dogs have good ground speed and good handlers and they look totally fine jumping their current height.  I am certainly not trying to suggest all ATs jump 4″.  It’s just a choice I’m making for my particular dogs and who knows, I just might end up raising their jump heights back to 8″ over time.

I do think there is a reason so many BCs and Shelties compete and win major competitions with full-height jumps though.  I will go so far to say that I think obstacle specifications suit these two breeds particularly well.  YEY for most BCs and Shelties out there!  GO GO GO!  As far as dogs whose structures are not perfectly suited for current obstacle specifications or jump heights, why not jump your dogs lower for a while and see how they look (and feel) if you have the option to do so?

And how about this radical thought? Imagine what agility trials in the USA would look like if a huge number of people decided to lower the jump heights for their dogs.  I’m guessing YPS would grow exponentially and make agility far more exciting to run AND to watch.  And perhaps American agility enthusiasts would start to feel better about what the USA has to offer in terms of competitive agility vs. always comparing our courses to European style courses and feeling that we are falling short!

Some of Lil’s runs at NAE’s NADAC Trial last weekend in Dummerston, VT

The weather was less than ideal but we still had a great time.  Lots of rain on Friday and Saturday and then hot and sunny on Sunday but Lil ran beautifully all weekend long.  13 of 17 Qs and 4 new titles, impressive YPS and a nice consistent performance with her NEW running dog walk.  After just a few weeks of training on a plank, she did not miss a contact all weekend long and most of the hits were nice and low in the contact zone.

I also experimented with more rear crosses and Li really seemed to enjoy them.  I also see that I don’t need to rush and race her to the finish line as that causes her to feel rushed and her jumping becomes less efficient as a result.  As the weekend progressed, I felt I was handling more and more in a style that truly supported Lil’s ability to do her job well.

A day of USDAA

Yesterday I went to a USDAA trial but only entered  Lil in 2 classes: Jumpers and Snooker because I have decided to stop running my dogs over different height A-Frames and the USDAA A-Frame is higher than the other venues we compete in.   I was taking a risk entering Snooker because the A-Frame can be included but I figured if I’m driving 1:30 hours anyway I might as well take my chances since the only real risk is losing my $13 entry fee for that class.

It turned out that the A-Frame was the #4 obstacle in the Snooker closing so my only option to earn enough points to qualify (and not run Lil over that higher A-Frame) was to go for four #7s in the opener and get through #3 in closing.  Lil aced it and we Q-ed.

Here is why I stopped running my dogs over the higher USDAA A-Frame:

Jake has a 2o2o and so running over different height A-Frames is not a huge issue with him, although he looks better running up and down a lower one.   Lil has a running A-Frame.  Once the A-frame got a few inches above 5′, her striding really started to change.  She has only been called twice on a 5’6″ A-Frame but the issue I have is that her descent looks off-balance to me on 5’6″ A-Frames.   I believe the structure of an Australian Terrier comes into play in a much greater way when the A-Frame is raised to 5’6″.  Lil’s striding starts to change a bit at  4′ 8″ but it still looks good and more importantly, it looks like she is in control during the descent on 5′ A-Frames.

Here is my analysis: 🙂   An AT’s short-ish legs make it difficult for them to shift their centers of gravity back far enough when running 3 strides down a steeper A-Frame to stay in control as momentum builds during the descent because their shorter legs don’t offer the same “breaking power” as longer legs (like Border Collies have) which extend further forward.  I liken a dog having longer legs when running down an A-Frame to a person having walking sticks when hiking quickly down a very steep hill.  So I now think that last leaping stride that ATs like to take off an A-Frame is not due to an eagerness to get off the A-Frame, but rather it’s a reaction to the powerful forces of gravity and momentum that have built up by the time an AT takes that third necessary stride down.

I think it takes an incredible amount of effort and strength for ATs to hold themselves back against forward momentum and gravity when they drive hard over an A-Frame (like Lil does).   I have compared photos of Border Collies and Lil descending an A-Frame and Lil’s overall body position, shoulder angle, forward reach, and tucking under of back legs looked similar.  The big difference is that Lil’s legs are significantly shorter so her nose extends beyond her front feet.   I can see why she looks off-balance when running fast down a steeper A-Frame.

Since I stopped training on both 5’6″ and 5′ A-Frames, Lil is striding comfortably up, over, and down the A-Frame and her 3rd stride lands well inside the contact zone of 5′ high A-Frame.  It looks easy and natural vs. WHOA!  This is what prompted me to stop training both heights and to stop running both heights in trials.