Why the 4th height proposal should be supported

THE 4TH HEIGHT

– WHY WE BELIEVE THE PROPOSAL SHOULD BE SUPPORTED IN 2015

All over the world where dog agility is enjoyed, jump heights vary and are determined by commonsense and experience. Thousands of dogs are happily jumping a hurdle at a height very similar to the one being proposed, without injury.

Support for a “4th Height” is increasing throughout European countries, with many adopting a lower height for Large dogs – running at 600 instead of 650mm.

We are not asking for a novel piece of equipment or significant change to equipment design, we are asking the KC to adopt a jump height that is already in similar use in most other countries where dog agility exists. Changes are regularly made to equipment using experience, commonsense and observation, without demands for definitive research findings or large amounts of data for analysis– so why the disproportionate concern about something that is already in place and working well in other countries and even here in the UK in other organisations?

Of course, research is important and hopefully will in the future inform practice, but for true research to take place there are enormous timeframe, cost and ethical constraints.

 

Charlotte Harding says: “Originally I didn’t see the need for a fourth height, however over the last 12 months I have changed my mind. Watching dogs at UKA, plus WA0, and competing abroad where dogs compete very comfortably at ‘standard’ has made me realise how much better it would be to have a 550mm jump height slotted in to the current three KC heights.”

 

Charlotte’s point is at the heart of our proposal – why would we NOT have a hurdle at 550mm?

  • Dogs that currently measure >430mm at the withers are required to jump a hurdle at 650mm. This is 220mm above the smallest Large dog’s shoulders – 50% of its height again!
  • The smallest Medium dog – one that measures >350mm – is required to jump a hurdle at 450mm. This is 100mm above the smallest Medium dog’s shoulders – more like 25% of its height again
  • The smallest 4th Height dog – one that measures >430mm – would be required to jump a hurdle at 550mm. This is 120mm above the smallest 4th Height dog’s shoulders – much nearer to 25% of its height again
  • As an added bonus, the new category Large dogs would start at >510mm, meaning that no Large dog would be required to jump more than 27% of its height again

Currently, a significant number of breeds and sizes of dog are disadvantaged at KC shows because there is not an equal playing field through the hurdle heights. Think of the many Spaniel breeds, Tollers, Std Schnauzers, Whippets, larger Terriers – all breeds recognised as being typically “smaller Large”, without even charting the numbers of mixed breed or working breed dogs such as the collies where the variations in height ranges can be enormous.

Bernadette Bay says: “There are many breeds that, no matter how fit and agile, will struggle to jump full large height. Breeds like springer spaniels, cocker spaniels, tollers and shelties can just go over into the large category but will obviously struggle with the full height. Having a more appropriate jump height will allow these dogs and handlers to continue to compete at the activity they enjoy. We should be encouraging handlers to keep doing agility with the dog they have rather than collecting dogs just to do agility.”

The Kennel Club has a number of Strategic Aims, one in particular is very relevant to this issue and supports the proposal for a 4th Height:

  • “Popularising canine events focusing on the retention of existing participants and the attracting of new.”

Opening up KC Agility for more dogs can only be seen as a positive move.

Support has been growing and growing from within the agility community over the last few years, but of course there are concerns about the impacts that the introduction of a 4th height could have on existing dogs and on established competitions.

Leslie Osborne says: “Having competed internationally with Fizz at both large and standard heights, there is no doubt in my mind that she was more competitive at standard height as for a dog of her size it was a more level playing field. I would fully support the fourth height being introduced at KC shows as long as it were to be fully inclusive for Ticket, Olympia & Crufts.”

No-one can have completely missed all the questions concerning how it could be introduced, what it would mean for shows, qualifiers, etc. The ALC minutes also recorded questions raised by them at their January 2013 meeting after the last discussion item on this topic. In the attached 2 appendices to the proposal, we have taken lots of time, thought carefully and consulted within the agility community to offer as many solutions as we can. If the proposal is accepted, we hope that this supporting work will give those who bring in the additional height a good head start.

Full details can be found in the proposal document, some of the changes will take time to introduce, but no-one need be disadvantaged.

In summary, we are suggesting that –

  • There remains an element of choice for existing Large dogs – either stay in Large or be remeasured (for life)
  • Changes to the rules to be implemented from January 2016, expecting new height classes to be scheduled for 2016
  • All new dogs compete at the new height from Jan 2016
  • Measuring and re-measuring to start as soon as the category is approved
  • The cut off date for re-measuring existing Large dogs to be the end of 2016
  • The 4th height Championship classes should be made available for 2016. An additional benefit will be a reduction in the size of the existing Large Championship class
  • Discussions should be held (key stakeholders) to agree the timetable for introducing the 4th height at prestige domestic events
  • The selection process for international competitions which fall outside the current Kennel Club regulations may need to consider the proposed new height, so as not to exclude currently eligible ‘smaller Large dogs’ – this is relevant where eligibility is collected on a points basis from qualifiers such as Crufts and Olympia. Trial days should remain ‘ open’
  • We agree that there are some Large heavy breeds that might struggle to jump the existing height, a proposal to allow heavy Large dogs to jump lower would be much simpler to implement when the proposed new height is established
  • Show organisers will have a big change to cope with, but we have done it before and can do it again. There will be more classes and the majority of the dogs in them will come from the existing Large category although it will open up Kennel Club shows for those who do not work their smaller Large dogs at full height. Large dog classes are often split two or even three ways so it is likely that one of those parts would become Intermediate instead. Rosettes would be the same as it is normally to 10% of entry. There will be additional cost for extra trophies unless the new class replaces an existing part of a class. Trophies would be dependent on numbers, so less for a small class and paid for by a bigger one. Time will be needed for course walking. There are ways though to minimize the extra time. Many classes at different heights at the moment have the same course.

 

 

As a real bonus to this proposal, we are also able to offer a brand new competition:

Fitzpatrick_circle 14_12_14The 4th Height Jumping Cup sponsored by Fitzpatrick Referrals

Open to all dogs measuring over 430mm at the withers (i.e., over Medium height) and with jump heights set at 550mm, there will be six qualifying heats held around the country this agility season. The top 6 dogs and handlers in each heat will qualify for the Grand Final, being held in the main arena at Fitzpatrick Referral’s own dog-centric public event, DogFest, in June 2015.

Everyone understands that research into all of the potential risks associated with agility should be pursued, yet as we also know, it would probably take longer than a lifetime to test every variable at a level of statistical significance for every breed, type, sex and age of dog potentially affected.

There is already a collection of research available, but the nature of research is often to ask more questions than it answers. All the published peer reviewed research to date supports the view that repetitive jumping is likely to incur fewer injuries when the height of jump is lower.

 

Susan Salo says: “I truly do not feel that it is in the best interests of these smaller dogs to jump the higher jump height simply due to the fact they fall into the category, over time they will pay a price with soundness issues or at the very least confidence issues when they begin to struggle. I am fully in support of the 4th jump height. I do hope it can happen!”

Hopefully meaningful research can be pursued, but who knows what it may find? None of the existing heights were researched, but we do have the advantage of experience and observation to follow. The absence of any report from the Dog Activities Health and Welfare Sub Group should not be a barrier to introducing a 4th height. If and when research has findings worth pursuing, no doubt all aspects of agility will need to be looked at, not just a hurdle at 550mm!

 

 

 

Dr Jacqueline Boyd, a member of the Dog Activities Health and Welfare Sub Group, says:

I feel that the heights of jumps are important and interesting, but a robust study of that sort needs several things – time, funding, a decent sample population of ideally naïve dogs (ones without prior jumping experience under existing heights ideally), to be prospective rather than retrospective and ideally be long term.”

 

 

Introduction of a 4th Height – proposal history

There have been 2  discussion items debated at the ALC Regional meetings recently, in 2010 and again in 2012. Far more people than is usual attended the Regional meetings at the end of 2012/early 2013, when 4th height was tabled with the ALC as a discussion item, mostly because they wanted to be involved in the debate.

The following is a view, based on feedback from the regional ALC meetings, of the outcome of peoples’ opinions at the time. Although it is not required to take a vote on a discussion item, most meetings did so.

Region Date Meeting place(s) FOR AGAINST
North West 1st Dec 2012 Wyre Show 8 9
Scotland 2nd Dec 2012 Woodside Show 50 1
Wales 1 15th Dec 2012 Kingstone 5 1
Wales 2 10th Jan 2013 Port Talbot 12 1
North East 15th Jan 2013 Darlington 12 9
Midlands 1 6th Jan 2013 Cheltenham 46 1
Midlands 2 12th Jan 2013 Sharnford 7 * 0
SE & E Anglia 1 2nd Jan 2013 Hitchin 17 17
SE & E Anglia 2 5th Jan 2013 Elveden 21 3
SE & E Anglia 3 12th Jan 2013 Lingfield 44 5
South West 1 16th Dec 2012 Okehampton 51 1
* Remaining numbers (majority) asked for research

 

At the 2013 ALC meeting that followed the 2012 discussions at Regional meetings, our Reps completed their own discussion on the introduction of a 4th Height with the following conclusion:

“Due to the complexity of this item and the logistics of implementing such a large change to the agility discipline, the Council supported the need for extensive research for all hurdle heights. Therefore, it was agreed to refer the matter to the Dog Activities Health and Welfare Sub-Group to continue with its objectives.”

  • Throughout 2013 The Dog Activities Health and Welfare Sub-Group (HW Group) reported back to the ALC. Research was said to be ongoing and reports were promised for future meetings .
  • In Spring of 2013, 2 members of the 4th Height Supporters Group gave a presentation to the HW Group, citing numerous pieces of research supporting our opinions, backed up with endorsements from respected individuals in the agility and dog welfare world. We also left a handout to provide further information and videos of many examples of smaller Large dogs jumping 650mm and 550mm.
  • We are told the KCCT had provided a grant to fund a final year, Animal Science degree student to analyse data already collected in May 2013 (authors B Gibson, J Boyd, S Croxford). Data was collected during a GB Team training day. Three height classifications of dogs were recorded (Small, Medium and Large) and all dogs were considered to represent an “elite” standard of training and performance, having previously been selected for Team GB. The project aimed to examine the ‘typical’ jumping motion of the elite agility dog. No findings have been made available as yet.
  • In September a Press release describing a data collection exercise on distances between hurdles at the 2013 KCAI was issued.
  • It said – “Around 120 dogs participated in a research study, conducted at the Kennel Club International Agility Festival, which aims to get a clearer picture on how agility dogs jump.
    What will be examined?

    A number of factors such as speed of jumping, angles of take-off and landing and differences between the 3 jump spacing.
    What was not done?
    Dogs who took part jumped at the heights they would use in competition.  A reasonable question is why we did not alter the jump heights and examine the effects.  It is rare that a dog is trained to jump more than one height and hence jumping an unfamiliar height would influence their jumping pattern”
  • In Dec 2013 – A Meeting of HW Group reported that they were unable to complete Jump research data analysis (too much data to analyse) for the January ALC meeting.
  • In Jan 2014 – The ALC Meeting was promised jump data would be reviewed at March HW Group.
  • In March 2014 The HW Group reviewed jump spacing research and prepared to issue a paper for July 2014 Science Conference.
  • In July 2014 – The ALC Meeting was given a report from HW Group of the results, for Large dogs only, of research into Jump Spacing done at the KCIA Festival 2013.
  • There has been no data produced or presented to ALC regarding jump height and no data has been collected with dogs jumping at different heights (eg 550mm).
  • It is worth noting that the jump spacing research was done even though a proposal to alter existing jump spacing was not supported at the January 2013 ALC Meeting.

 

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