Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Speedy Agility and Agility on Paper... (and some mention of Superheroes)

I am about to stick my head into a bee's nest... probably.  I read on of those funny picture thingies on the internet today, which is probably applicable to me... 'Now aren't you just a funfilled lollipop triple dipped in psycho'.  Or maybe I just liked it so much that I felt compelled to post it on my blog...

Anyhow, back to the matters and the bee's nests at hand. And where to start... I guess a good place is the event that re-ignited the idea for the post in my head (please note the RE-ignited part)...  Of late some of the UK Agility followers/competitors/addicts/players/handlers/judges/stalkers/critics/lovers etc, have had a slight spot of a debate regarding The Kennel Club's speed guidelines for the different agility grades.

Now this is not my first 'speed' party.  This discussion, debate and argument have come up many times before, both locally and internationally.  Now first of all, let's keep in mind that the only way to REALLY accurately measure your dog's speed would be to measure your dog's EXACT path for each round... if you are able to do that, it would pretty much make your Superman or Wonder Woman (whatever rocks your boat).  You would have to slow the world down to slow motion (or speed up until you are moving so fast that the dog appears to be moving in slow motion) and spray paint the route of your dog behind their tail.  I suppose you could attach some form of paint behind their tail?

Okay I am getting off topic again... so anyhow, judges all over the world have to measure the 'average path' of the dog.  So in modern agility, where there is better and faster and tighter and more super awesome dogs being born every single day, you tell me what the average path is please?  For example, I am one of the judges that can always hear taunts of 'too tight' and 'my dog is not Elastigirl' or 'no dog can turn that tight'... which ofc are not too true, since my dogs CAN really turn that tight... and so can a million other dogs I know.  BUT (and I have tested this theory)... I can measure a course, the SAME course) to differ by 20m (or more) within apparently 'acceptable' ranges for a majority handlers and judges... now if you take 20m and let's say I would set my course at 5m/s (which quite frankly is FAST and I would be crucified if I tried to set a course at that speed around here)... that would mean a FOUR second difference.  Do you know how much FOUR seconds is in Agility?

To illustrate the point:

So in this scenario with only THREE obstacles, I could potentially make a difference of 1.5m and there for a difference of 1.18 seconds to my Standard Course Time (SCT) if I set my course at 4m/s.  That is over THREE jumps... now imagine that over the whole course???  Sit there, close your eyes and imagine the exact path your dog/s would run on those three jumps...  I have personally seen a judge at the World Champs measure to the centre of a jump and then (instead of measuring the 180 around the wing) turn around right there and measure the path back (does that even make sense to you?).

Anyhow, so my point is, that your 'speed' (okay your DOG'S speed, if only we could run that fast right?), is relevant to the actual measuring.  Sometimes that measuring is pretty damn accurate in my opinion, according to my dogs... you, yes YOU behind the computer screen there, might completely disagree!

Does this mean I am AGAINST set speeds for courses?  Oh quite the contrary!  I am 100% for it... perhaps at this point I should explain (again - so if you have bee a regular reader of this blog for the last few years, you might want to skip this paragraph) our situation.  Agility-wise we are  a SMALL country, very small... so in the past it worked like this... to get a QC or Qualifying Certificate (Champ Ticket (well kind of), point towards your Championship Status, Qualification etc) you had to win with a clear round only if there was a minimum amount of dogs competing... yes, there were 'guideline speeds for judges' (which were hardly ever followed), but there had to be a certain amount of dogs competing.  Then the rules changed... now, even if you are the only dog in the class and you go clear you can win that QC... BUT the judge HAS to use a minimum speed set in the rules (3.5m/s for Agility and 4m/s for jumping... there are no maximum speeds).

Is this an unfair system?  In my opinion, not at ALL... I do feel our minimum speeds are WAY too low and not even close to international standards, but it is certainly not unfair.  We do generally have more than enough large dogs (well in the province where I live in anyway), the problems come in with the small and the medium dogs.... so since that is the case, let's use my own Voltenstein as the example... At the SA Champs, he won both jumping rounds and both times he was faster than the large or medium dogs... so he is not a Slow Sally... if we still had the 'minimum dog' rule in place, he would not have been a champion in Jumping yet... in fact, he would have had only 30% of the QC's that he HAS won this year.  I always run ALL OUT and never play it safe for a 'win', but that is a whole other aspect of the 'speed' argument that I will have to deal with in a separate post...

Is it an accurate system?  Hells NO!  Since there are so many judges and competitors out there that is against this system, measuring is seriously questionable sometimes.  That is for the judges to justify to themselves.

In fact to check out the erm... shall we call them 'differences' in my dogs' recorded speeds for this year, you are welcome to go to:

And type in Chaos (dog) and A. Reed (handler) or Volt (dog) and A. Reed (handler) in the search options... now ofc not all of them were 'good' clears, but you will certainly get an idea in the discrepancies in my boys' so-called 'speeds'...

My point is, that you can argue all you want and you can try to make the exact science from it all you want, but using the 'speeds' derived from running agility competitions is NOT an accurate way to judge YOURSELF and YOUR DOG.  Are these speeds necessary as a part of our sport? Oh definitely, we could not live without them!  But it is not the be-all and the end-all... so when you see your super duper awesomeness fast doggy running at 'apparently' 2.5m/s... don't have a heart attack or contemplate suicide (in both cases you would not be able to run your super duper awesomeness fast doggy again, which would really suck).  So ladies and gents, let's take it all into consideration and think of the bigger picture...

All pictures courtesy of Melissa Wilson.