(Unless you have time to waste, skip to page four for the results of Bunkey’s first AKC trial. The first three pages are literal verbosity dedicated to some of my personal experiences in AKC agility.)
It’s been more than four years since I’ve participated in AKC agility. Stinky and I had a bad experience at an AKC trial held in West Palm Beach. It was a very crowded event -- I’d guess that about 500 dogs were entered. The facility was covered with a non-insulated corrugated metal roof, perfect for noise amplification from barking dogs and yelling people, not so perfect for dogs that are sound sensitive and stressed out. On the grounds, immediately adjacent to the agility building, a major construction project was underway. Heavy equipment created more noise, including the BEEP, BEEP, BEEP of back-up warning signals, screeching metal and scraping concrete from backhoe buckets, and POW, POW, POW of a pressurized nail gun. Being an obsessed agility person, I was able to block out the din.
The agility event had two rings, with less than eight feet of spacing between them, and the ring entrance gates were located immediately across from each other. There was not enough room for dogs and people to maneuver without coming nose to nose and nose to tail. Despite all the pressure of the environment, and I decided to run my Stinky dog, a super-sensitive, high-drive, resource-protection border-collie-mutant rescue dog. I was oblivious. The sound and close quarters were no more than slightly annoying and didn’t distract me from the important tasks of getting to the start line on time and making sure that I had plenty of treats for Stinky along the way. I didn’t notice the whites of Stinky’s eyes as her dilated pupils scanned the area anxiously.
To make a long story shorter, the bottom line is that Stinky bit another BC in the butt just as the dog was entering the ring to take its turn. At the time, it happened so quickly, I wasn’t certain that she had actually made contact with dog’s flank. The dog appeared unfazed, and nearly had a clean run. It was Stinky’s turn next, and it wasn’t until she jumped on the pause table when I noticed a spot of blood, left by her unwitting victim who had run before, that I realized she had actually bitten the dog.
All hell broke loose for me and Stinky, lots of wagging tongues (from humans), a written complaint report to AKC, and many tears, much humiliation, regret and remorse from me. The dog that was bitten was physically okay. The wound was superficial and required no stitches. Thank goodness for rough coated border collies. You had to really search to find the bite site. I was very happy that Stinky hadn’t done any serious damage to the dog. The damage that was done was to our AKC career.
We didn’t get an official reprimand from AKC, because the written complaint was never filed, thanks to political pressure applied by my friends and the few, but fiercely loyal fans that Stinky had accumulated over her brief agility career. I learned my lesson, though, and decided to avoid AKC events for a while.
Comparing AKC, USDAA, and NADAC dog agility, I determined the following differences. AKC has significantly more expensive entry fees per run, and has fewer runs per day at each trial. AKC courses are generally tighter and require more technical handling than either of the other venues. Most AKC events are located indoors or in covered arenas, environments that are often more stressful for the canine competitors. AKC doesn’t allow mixed breed dogs to compete, a policy that I found snobbish and unappealing.
USDAA offers courses that have plenty of technical challenges, while NADAC courses are more open and actually appear to be more enjoyable for the dogs. Both organizations allow three, four, or even five runs per day, for much lower entry fees per run than AKC. Most USDAA and NADAC events in my area were held outdoors and weren’t as crowded as AKC trials. The decision to discontinue my participation in AKC seemed like a no-brainer for me, especially in light of Stinky’s unhappy episode. So, I stopped my MACH quest with Carly (it wasn’t going there, anyway) and continued to participate in agility strictly in USDAA and NADAC events. (I never started with CPE or ASCA because I couldn’t afford the cost of doing every type of agility offered.) I made sure to enter trials that were held outdoors, where Stinky wouldn’t be subjected to the stress of being in close quarters with other dogs.
Along the way during the past four years, I lost a lot of enthusiasm for my chosen sport. I had lots of reasons for my waning interest in agility, the principal one being that Carly and I just couldn’t get it together. I thought that maybe I was just getting bored with the sport in general. My lack of passion for agility certainly couldn’t have been caused because I stopped doing AKC events.
When Bunkey was finally born last year (early 2008), I made a significant effort to summon my former over-the-top passion for agility. For more than five years, I made a REAL BIG DEAL about nagging my friend Annette (the world’s best, most responsible dog breeder) to breed her Saga (whose talent I dearly coveted) so I could have a puppy. Then, at last, there was my little Dream Dog, LTD Edition Bunkey’s the Ticket … but where was my spark?
I went through the motions of training the perfect agility puppy, seeking advice from Annette and other experts as we progressed. Yes, Bunkey had the talent. No doubt about that! But, would I be able to rise to the challenge? Could I rekindle my dedication to agility? Had too much time gone by, too many years of failure followed by declining interest? (Not to mention the fact that advanced middle age had set in!)
Our first two agility events were wonderful successes – a single day of NADAC and two days of USDAA. Bunkey was so fabulous that I thought I started to feel that endorphin rush that I would get from a rare clean, fast run with Carly. Maybe there was hope for me, after all! I decided to try AKC again, and entered two days of the Thanksgiving Cluster held in Massachusetts by LEAP. I paid almost $100 to enter a total of four runs that would last less than 35 seconds each. Those entry fees were in addition, of course, to even higher expenses for hotel room and gasoline.
Bunkey and I attended the show by ourselves, because Jim had to work on Friday. He, very kindly, took care of Stinky and Carly while we were gone. I didn’t sleep well the night before the trial because Bunkey was nervous in the hotel room without her doggy sib’s. She startled me awake at least half a dozen times, bursting forth with a loud “WOO-WOO-WOOF!!”, anytime someone walked down the hall outside our room. I’m sure she nearly caused me to have cardiac arrest. While in route later that morning, our first day of the event, my GPS tried to take me the wrong way. Of course, I had planned to sleep as late as possible, allowing no extra time for problems. Bunkey had to be measured, so I should’ve planned to arrive early. Instead, mine was one of the last cars to pull into the vast parking lot, several hundred yards from the door. I was slightly panicked when Bunkey and I ran into the building.
The Thanksgiving Cluster was a hugely attended venue, by dog venue standards. Literally thousands of dogs were entered in agility, breed conformation, obedience, and rally events. Thousands of dog owners, trainers, professional handlers, spectators, vendors, and food concessionaires were housed in three huge indoor pavilions that were very loud and very crowded. Background noise was at a high decibel rate from constantly barking dogs, people yelling over each other, to each other and to their dogs, and announcements continually broadcast over a loud speaker. The agility competition was held in four rings, all running simultaneously. As usual in AKC trials, dogs were forced to confront each other nose to nose and nose to tail.
My heart quickened from the stimulation, and I checked my little Bunkey dog to see how she was holding up. She appeared jazzed by the atmosphere and tried to pull me to the closest agility ring. She didn’t appear to be bothered by the other dogs, people and noise. It turned out that we weren’t late after all, I had plenty of time to have Bunkey measured (18 7/8 inches) and watch the little dogs run the novice standard course. With toy/pacifier in her mouth, Bunkey lay by my chair and watched with me, intent but remarkably calm.
Our first AKC standard run was almost perfect. She stayed at the start, nailed her contacts (which I held for two seconds each), dropped into a down on the table while she was in midair, stayed for an extra two count, missed the weave entry, got it right on her second try, and we finished with a score of 100 in 35 seconds. At the end, she quickly brought me her leash and hopped up into my arms, as if she’d been doing AKC agility trials forever. I asked her, “Who are you, little girl? You’re amazing!” She replied, “Mom, get a grip. It’s no big deal. It’s only Novice. Don’t you remember…I was bred for this!”
With more than 50 dogs entered in our height, Bunkey took first place by more than three seconds.
Jumpers wasn’t the same type of experience. I had brought her out too early before her turn, and had let her watch the other dogs run for too long. The stress got to her and she couldn’t concentrate long enough to finish all SIX weave poles. She had to try the weaves four times and got more and more frustrated each time (I should’ve pulled her out, I know, but…). Her baby’s brain was fried. After the weave poles she was sucked in by the tunnel for a disqualifying off course.
The next day’s results were similar. She had a qualifying Standard run (Not first place because I had forgotten to train her to Sit on the table and we wasted at least 10 seconds, arguing about the proper way to perform the table. She thought I had lost my marbles, asking her to sit when she was clearly doing a perfect table. The more I asked her to sit, the lower into a Down her body would go. She finally, begrudgingly, gave in, and raised herself up about two inches into what the Judge finally conceded might have been a Sit. I didn’t think the Judge would ever start counting, but she did.) Our Jumpers run was almost perfect, but the tunnel sucked in the Bunkster, once again, for an off course. I was disappointed that we didn’t qualify, but overall, I was happy, because Bunkey and I had connected as a real team (other than the split second the tunnel grabbed her attention more than I did). She and I ran fast together, and she jumped very well. The most significant thing was that I rediscovered my Agility Mojo. As I had a long ago with Carly, I felt the rush, the high that comes for those of us wacko agilitizers after a fast run.
Maybe it was the heightened excitement caused by the atmosphere at the AKC trial that helped trigger the rush, I’m not sure. Maybe it happened because I am starting to believe that I can actually train and handle a high-drive agility dog. I don’t care what caused it, I’m just really, really happy that it happened.
Whoo-Hoo! I’m BACK!