(It’s Not All Mounties and Maple Syrup….)
Dianne Ford has been training, instructing and competing in agility in Canada since 1994. She is the Chair of the Agility Training Committee of Newfoundland Athletic Dog Association, Inc., and a university professor in management. Dianne’s background includes a Psychology degree and several years as a competitor in equestrian competition. She has trained with many of the top handlers and instructors Internationally and within Canada, either in formal classes, workshops, private lessons, auditing, or training. These include: Greg Derrett (UK), Laura Derrett (UK), Dave Munnings (UK), Lauren Langman (UK), Mathew Rouse (UK), Susan Garrett (Ontario), Lynda Orton-Hill (Ontario), Adrian Rooyakkers (Ontario), Kimberley Anderson (Saskatchewan), and Cheryl Bartlett (Saskatchewan). She is also an instructor in her own right. She has seen Canada move to a new height structure for agility and has competed under the old and new regimes.
I live in Canada and have been training and competing in agility since 1994 (primarily with Agility Association of Canada – AAC). I have had 3 agility partners, all of whom have taught me a bit about jump heights.
My first was Brooke, a mixed breed, Alsatian/Doberman/Lab mix, who measured at 24” (61cm) at the withers and had phenomenal conformation for jumping. We competed from 1994-2003 together, and she earned 5 agility titles (retired at the Masters level).
Baxter was my second partner – a large-boned Welsh Springer Spaniel, and he measured 20” (51cm) at the withers, and had less than ideal conformation (large boned, a bit too long in back) but he was exceptionally fit. Kelsey, my current partner, is also a WSS, measures 18.5” (47cm) and is of phenomenal conformation for jumping (some call her my “flying squirrel” as she really soars).
AAC has four height categories, and back in the 90’s they added new classifications (regulars, specials, and veterans) to allow for more inclusivity and safe extension of agility careers. Specials and vets lower a jump height, and vets get more time.
Again, in AAC back in the 90’s, our “large” height was 30” (76cm). For Brooke that meant she was jumping 6” (15cm) above her withers. She could do it, but I did a lot of work with her ensuring she was fit, with exceptional rear strength, and generally healthy. When AAC lowered the heights to 26” (66cm), I immediately noticed a difference on course with Brooke. Our speed picked up, and she exhibited more joy on course. Again, as she aged, I moved her to Specials (we didn’t need extra time), and again more joy came back, and we were able to get her final title before final retirement.
Baxter was never built to jump full height. His measurement put him into 22” (56cm) – which he could manage, but I could see it was taking a toll on him (emotionally and physically), so before we started competing I made the decision to keep him in 16” (41cm) specials. He had a phenomenal agility career, and he was doing it right up to the day before he died. The joy on his face was paramount to me, not proving he could jump his regular height.
Kelsey’s measurement puts her into our 22” height category, which is 3.5” (9cm) above her withers. Technically, she could leap over 26” but that would be 7.5” (19cm) above her withers. After watching what happened with Brooke with moving from 6” to 2” above her withers, I would not want to put even a greater differential onto Kelsey. In my opinion, it wears out their body that much faster, and moves it from a fast, competitive, FUN sport to do with my dog, to a pure competitive. The 26” large is also deterring me from training and seeking World’s level with Kelsey (which was commented to me as something I should consider from two of Canada’s World’s level competitors).
In AAC, our heights are:
Open Regular: 22” and 26” (56cm and 66cm)
Open Vet/Specials: 16” and 22” (41cm and 56cm)
Mini Regular: 10” and 16” (25.5cm and 41cm)
Mini Vet/Specials: 6” and 10”(25cm and 25.5cm)
I have never heard any discontent about the four heights – and I have competed across nearly all of Canada from Alberta to Newfoundland. The 22” height bracket tends to have the border collies, spaniels, mixed breeds, and the 26” bracket tends to have the large BC, shepherds, standard poodles, large mixed breeds, dobermans, and the like.
I know from my own experiences that I have found many benefits from protecting my dogs’ longevity and keeping it a challenge, but not a feat of incredible prowess.
Dianne – can you tell us how this translates to the international stage? If a person with a phenomenal dog wishes to compete at FCI worlds, but their 18″ dog normally jumps at 22″ nationally, can they qualify? Because that size dog would be large at FCI….
For Canadian teams who go international, the 22″ group basically make the decision if that’s a route they want to go. If the dog’s overall health and physical strength can support it, then they would do specific training prior to the international event to up the jump height (something that with basic jumping foundation isn’t that hard to do). Any Canadian international-level competitors with 22″ dogs would do/have done the 26″ at international competitions. It is a very conscious decision based on fitness and seen as a short-term blip in the dog’s agility career rather than the permanent, multi-trial, multi-year height.
So competing nationally at 22″ doesn’t preclude you from trying out at 26″? Interesting!
One thing I have found in Canada contrary to UK is the huge variety of dogs in agility. It might have to do with the 4 heights, or it could have to do with the basis of moving up / titles. Regardless, I know if I lived in the UK, Brooke would have done just fine, but Baxter would not have been able to have had a competitive agility career and earn the titles he did, and I’d have some serious thinking about whether or not I had Kelsey do it. If we did, it would certainly be a shorter competitive agility career (4-5yr) as opposed to the 9-11yr that I’ve had with my past teammates.
Oh, and one more thing. In AAC the jump height as per your dog’s measurement is the *minimum* height it may enter. The handler may choose to run the dog in a higher jump height. (I could choose to enter Kelsey in a trial at 26″.) I have yet to see someone choose to run their 22″ dog at 26″, and that’s after nearly two decades of competing. However, it would allow those preparing for an international competition to enter an AAC competition at the international height. (I can’t honestly say I know of anyone doing that though – it’s usually an out-of-trial training issue, not a competitive issue.)
When there are major changes like this, it does lead to heated debates. AAC was no different with changes in heights (initial drop), introduction of Specials/Veterans, distancing for weave poles, but after implementation, I have never seen further complaints as the benefits for the dogs become so apparent, it overrides any investment issues for equipment, because people can play longer, more people can play, which ultimately brings in more finances to clubs/businesses. (Plus, everyone is happier when their dogs are fit, happy and healthy.) A little simplistic, but that is what I have witnessed over the years.
Thank you for your input: It’s immensely useful to find the view of someone who has been here ahead of us and has seen both sides of the argument.
Thank you. I hope it contributes usefully to the debate.