What Does Internationalization in Dog Agility Really Mean?

Posted on 03/06/13 50 Comments

Today is the first “Dog Agility Blog Event for 2013” and the topic myself and other dog agility bloggers are writing on is  “Internationalization.”  When I first saw the topic I thought to

Attending my first ever World Championship as a spectator in Finland in 2000.

myself, “oh cool, Steve (our blogger ring leader) is making up new words.” But then I googled it (speaking of new words) and my bestest internet source “wiki” showed me Steve didn’t make up a new word at all, he just used a word no one knows the meaning of!

From Wikipedia:

In economics, internationalization has been viewed as a process of increasing involvement of enterprises in international markets, although there is no agreed definition of internationalization . . .

So, we can have it mean whatever we want. In agility terms I would have to say most of the cool course designs and moves have originated “internationally” (which when you live in Canada can mean the USA but really in agility terms in means “from Europe.”)

Obedience More Exciting Than Agility?

So yes I think it is fair to say agility course designs has been driven by the Europeans. I started competing in dog agility in 1989. I went to my first “international” competition (in the USA :)) in 1991. Back then the course complexity could be summed up by if you had to change sides with your dog or if there was a “pinwheel” in the course design. That was your adrenaline rush for the day. Are you going to do the front or the rear (we actually had no clue we were doing either). I found agility boring back then. It took a back seat to my other dog sports of choice; flyball and obedience. Yes, in the early ‘90s I felt obedience was more exciting then agility.

I remember well the drama of the first time anyone tried to execute a “serpentine” on a course in flow let alone what to do when the dreaded  “threadle” (having to pull the dog between two jumps) appeared on the scene.

Crack or Chasm?

Today double or triple threadles or push through and back sides of jumps have taken over the challenge of the course designs and yes it still seems that these changes initiate from the other side of the ocean. There is no way of knowing for certain why the “gap” between agility in Europe and here in North America continues to grow but when you see video run of each we are getting close to doing two different sports. I mean with more and more of us spending time competing at events in Europe (like FCI, EO & WAO championships) and with the internet making it possible to watch European events as they happen and have the course maps to run the sequences soon after, you would think that “gap” would be moving towards a “crack” wouldn’t you? But I fear that gap is on it’s way to being a “chasm.”

So why? Why does it seem that the Europeans take the challenges of course design their judges throw at them all in stride while over here cries of “unfair” or “unsafe” and “this is not fun for us”  can be heard if the same course challenges were to show up?

It is a dilemma, and I am unsure if there is an obvious compromise, but there is give and take with every benefit; a drawback. Lets face it, every agility challenge is “unsafe for a dog” if the dog is not prepared for the challenge. A novice competitor can make a front cross unsafe for his dog if the dog is expecting something else. A well prepared handler can make every challenge look effortless and smooth so it is not really the challenge that is unsafe is it?

Is Different Always Better?

So what does the European agility scene have that North America doesn’t have and are all these “differences” actual “advantages?” I am going to weigh in on what I see as two (really 3) major differences between these two agility scenes.

Difference #1:

A “win out” system in Europe where dogs must win or place in a class in order to earn the right to move up to the next level. In North America we have a “title” based system; when a team gets a clear round under a certain time, they earn a leg towards a “title”. All dogs move up to the next level of competition with the accumulation of titles. There is a certain status associated with the collection of these titles to many people, thus the qualifying rounds . . . regardless of how pretty or fast they are become highly desired.

Advantage or Disadvantage?

The win-out system encourages people to focus on the drive and motivation of the dog in order to bring out as much speed as possible which often means the training is more “fun” for the dog.  Risk as a handler is automatically built in because if you “go for safe” around a course you are not likely to win and move up to the next level.

The advantage of a “titling” system is that all dogs of all breeds can have success. This coupled with the choice of 5 or 6 different jump heights to choose from over here (compared to 3 or 4 in Europe) means you see all breeds of dogs enjoying the sport in North America whereas in Europe you see far less variability in the type of dog competing in the sport.

The disadvantage of the titling system is that goals are based on how many “perfect” runs you and your dog can have to go towards “lifetime qualifying scores” or “top titles.” When your goal is to be as perfect as you can, you will have to minimize risk as a handler. You will soon resent any change that create challenge for you. You will not embrace new course designs or handling that may alter your “qualifying rate” while you learn, in short, you will limit growth. Growth requires a person to step outside their comfort zone. Failure is a part of that and if perfectionism is more important then progress, the handler’s goal will always be to minimize risk in order to maximize the possibility of perfection.  In addition, in training the dog, more emphasis will be placed on “being consistent.” It is easier for a dog to keep a bar up or hit a contact if they are moving at a “moderately fast” pace compared to the flat-out-top speed that dog can go (what we refer to around here as “squirrel speed.”) When training emphasis is place on accuracy over speed many dogs are not as motivated by what they are doing and will shut down, leave the ring or find the sport less interesting as soon as you present a “tougher” handling challenge.

Difference  #2

Judges fees. In Europe the custom is for people to volunteer their time to judge where as in North America judges are paid by the number of dogs they judge in a day anywhere from $1.00 – $1.50 per dog, plus all of their expenses plus many are paid for each course they submit . . . and I don’t begrudge them a nickel of what they earn . . . well deserved if you ask me!

The advantage of not paying judges is that the judges will put up any challenges they can dream up without any major fallout. If they are not invited back because the courses were too tough, that is no big deal to the judge. You get more variability in design thus handlers are facing new and different challenges with every new judge they see, it really is up to the imagination of the judge! This style of course design prepares handlers to deal with anything they see and to be surprised by nothing.

The disadvantage of not paying your judges is that there will potentially be less judges and more variability in the quality of the judging. Judges here in North America all must be certified, pass judges tests, learn about course design criteria so there is more uniformity in what competitors can expect. When judges are paid there is potentially the “motivation to be popular.” Some judges are making more money on the weekends judging agility in North American then they can make doing their 9-5 jobs from Monday – Friday. If you as a judge want to be invited back to judge again putting up courses where many handlers can earn a “qualifying score” will help to make that happen for you. Putting up a course with new challenges that will lead to the club dealing with many complaints from competitors who can not “conservatively” handle the new challenge because  . . . it is “NEW” will be problematic. Since I am not a judge, and have the utmost respect for those who do judge, I can not say that anyone “consciously” designs courses in order to be “popular” but certainly the potential is there at least on an unconscious level, but a few years ago I asked 7 judges at a USDAA National Championships why they didn’t do more back sides and threadles on their courses throughout the year 4 of them said to me “I would never be invited back if I did that!”

Going For Broke Tournaments

Currently there are few competition in the United States that rewards any competitor for “going as fast as you can.”  There are always “legs” at risk which means people will want to “qualify.” With every new risk the potential of getting that qualifying score diminishes, so the system is built around minimizing risk.

I am thrilled that in Canada there is still a push to have more tournaments that “don’t count for titles.” Events like “Canada Cup” which offers up prize money and encourages people to take those risks because there is no “leg to lose” it is all about being as fast as you can. We now have two other similar events here in Canada and I can see a difference already in the calibre and mindset of the agility competitor growing from this foundation.

So often people criticize those of us that aspire to compete with the best in the sport claiming they don’t want that, as their goal is “only to have fun in agility.” The implication there is that handling those tough challenges at speed, risking it all by throwing in a high risk handling move in order to squeeze out an extra tenth of a second from the run is less fun for the dog or the handler then running the same style of course design you have run hundreds of times in the past and never trying something new for fear of “not qualifying.”

I beg to differ.

Although some breeds of dogs can be trained to be faster and execute challenges better at speed then others. The “joy” doesn’t comes from the breed of dog but rather the focus of the handler and how the foundation for those skills is created. If your style of handling is to minimize risk and focus on perfect execution, I believe the “joy” of the sport will be just as easily lost as the handler who puts all of their focus on “winning” at any cost.

So what is the solution?

Is it One or the Other?

Can we keep the great advantages of a “title based” system that sees soooo much diversity in the dogs competing yet still keep up with the fast paced advancements of the European course designs? Is it possible for a “title based” agility system to live harmoniously with a “win-out” system?

I hope we can, because that would be agility nirvana; a place where the joy of the dog comes first and foremost. A place were all feel welcome to play.  Is it possible to create a place where risk is embraced and not judged? Hmmmmm, maybe there is a reason it is called risk?

Your thoughts?


  1. Summer Training Lucknow says:
    Monday, June 24, 2013 at 6:00am

    Thanks Susan!
    This is a awesome post by you.
    I really hope we’re moving toward a happy co-existence of the hobbyist and the competitor with respect for the different goals each person has in agility


  2. Empowerment Technology says:
    Monday, June 24, 2013 at 5:59am

    very nice and informative post. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Jones sabo the placement saying your twentieth century says:
    Friday, April 12, 2013 at 4:41am

    I was seeking this particular info for a very long time. Thank you and good luck


  4. Lee-Ann C says:
    Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 12:56pm

    As a Canadian judge, I won’t put out a challenging course if I don’t know that the dogs can’t handle it. Locations that I regularly judge in I have very tough courses and no one complains. But nothing is worse than watching a handler make something unsafe because they won’t take the risk to handle it the way it was designed. So I play it safe for my own enjoyment, not so I’ll get invited back.
    I could almost go as far to say as Canadian judges who know how to design a very challenging yet “possible” course are in high demand these days!


  5. Tina M says:
    Friday, March 22, 2013 at 4:52am

    Awesome post Susan, made me feel very lucky to be here in NZ where we have a system based on win-out, but in tandom with that we have also have a title based system that also contributes to moving up levels – and yet we still have a number of people who are unhappy, sadly. Hense we do have diversity of breeds and handlers but we also have those who desire the wins and train for speed along with accuracy.


  6. Alen Marekovic says:
    Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 2:07pm

    Nice blog Susan!
    I’m competing in Europe from 1992. Recently I was in the States, with my dog, so I experienced how is to run at N. American competitions, both USDAA and AKC.
    If I would generalize, the courses in Europe are harder than in N. America. For sure. Even local one.
    Most of courses I ran were really to easy for Masters level, in my opinion. Skill doesn’t win there, just a speed.
    Although, I did run on one or two crazy courses which were more than “international” (when I mentioned that this doesn’t look like international course, judge reply: “International doesn’t mean European” :-))) So it means Chinese, probably. 🙂
    I’m international judge too… but despite better money, I don’t think I would like to judge in the States. To elaborate: there are to many restrictions in designing a course… and to have somebody who will tell me what I need to change in my course… yeah, right! I guess I’m too conceived for that. 😉
    My experience is that the more interesting and challenging, even inventing, course you put, the bigger chance somebody will call you to judge again. Not that I want that somebody calls me back, I’m most of all – a competitor.
    So, lets go back to competitors.
    The competitors will always complain, doesn’t mater if they are from Europe or N. America. At least at first. That’s who we are.
    It seems that difference is that in the US somebody (judges/organizers) care when competitors whine. In Europe don’t.
    I could easily tell when I’m really in a good shape… then I don’t care what kind of course judge will put, I just say: “bring it on!”. And that is the best feeling – when you know that you are in great understanding with your dog and that training paid off.
    Although I don’t think that variety of breeds performing agility in N. America is much greater than variety of breeds in Europe, the truth is that N. American system is more supportive to not so sporty breeds. I like that.
    I think that FCI/European height categories are not very happily determined. 5 or 6 would watered down things too much, but 4… 4 would be OK.
    One thing should be reconsidered: are the lower jumps and straight lines (which produce more speed) really beneficial to dogs’ health? In comparison to “dangerous” technical courses.
    I feel that the plan to add (as far as I know, AKC is planning, USDAA already added) that extra level, for more competitive-sporty handlers, is really a good idea.
    To be honest, I can’t recall any real sport where it is only important to participate. I really like what Chris Spencer wrote about this.

    Joke for last:
    Somebody said that Europeans handlers are all young and skinny. That is certainly not true. Not even at top level (just to name two great Finish handlers: Juha Orenius, who looks a bit like Santa Clause, and Jaakko Suoknuuti, who looks like… well, also a bit like Santa, just without hair or beard… sorry guys, you are great! :-))


  7. shelagh says:
    Monday, March 11, 2013 at 5:32pm

    Interesting post. The horse world in Canada went through exactly the same growing pains and has evolved so that everyone can play according to their own comfort level and their horse’s ability.
    There is an amateur division which excludes any team members or those that make a living from teaching or riding other people’s horses. It was initially suited for the rider that might just ride once or twice a week and wanted to go and have some fun. It very quickly evolved into a very competitive division and that clientele is what keeps everyone in business! People that feel they have a chance to win keep coming back for more!
    I have not been involved in agility that long (7 years now)and was certainly intimidated by top performers when I started competing. I remember distinctly going into one of my first Regional events right ahead of you Susan in the order. Even though I knew better, my overwhelming feeling was not to mess up in front of you. LOL Now I just want to take your Toonies:)
    The agility world just might be ready for a division that would exclude WT members and pros and let people get their feet wet. We all have to start somewhere don’t we? When people feel confident in their abilities they move on to bigger challenges. If they are content just to be a weekend warrior, they stay right where they are:)


  8. Deanna says:
    Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 1:49am

    I agree that a well prepared handler is essential in order to meet the challenge of a European style course. However, I’m wondering if there aren’t other ways to reduce the risks involved that would benefit all agility participants.

    What part does agility equipment design and construction play in keeping our dogs safe? Rubberized contacts have improved safety in my opinion. What can be done or has been done to improve the design of tires, chutes, tunnels and above all, jumps, to minimize risk and prevent injury? As the sport evolves, I think it’s essential that we don’t overlook equipment safety concerns.

    European courses seem to favour dogs who are naturally nimble and flexiblle, as well as quick. But there are games and activities we can all do to improve our dog’s core strength, flexibility and body awareness, if we know what they are. I’ve had great agility instructors, but they haven’t emphasized or taught me many of the games, tricks and activities I’ve taught my dog in order to improve his overall physical condition. I think that every instructor should routinely teach these sort of activities in basic agility foundation classes.If our dogs are not only well trained, but in great condition physically, it would seem to me that they will be better prepared to meet the physical challenges of almost all agility courses and so will be safer in the long run.


  9. Sharon Normandin says:
    Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 6:06pm

    ” I can not say that anyone “consciously” designs courses in order to be “popular” but certainly the potential is there at least on an unconscious level, but a few years ago I asked 7 judges at a USDAA National Championships why they didn’t do more back sides and threadles on their courses throughout the year 4 of them said to me “I would never be invited back if I did that!””

    Couldn’t help but respond to this. While viewing results of classes judged by one very popular USDAA judge, I noted that most classes had a qualifying rate of around 30%; many height divisions had no qualifiers at all. Out of curiosity, since I thought this judge was quite popular, I went to the judges list and looked at the number of assignments he had that year; without a doubt, he had one of the three largest number of assignments, something like 17 or 18.

    Another very popular USDAA judge at one trial designed the Masters Jumpers course from hell; No 22″ dog qualified; not sure about the other height divisions. After the class, the competitors gave her a round of applause. And I have no doubts that she will be invited back.

    You did say that your conversation took place “several years ago”; maybe my experiences represent a sign of the changing times, and skills and training.

    On another note, I love the idea of the Canada Cup. I believe someone tried to offer something like that in the US a few years ago; unfortunately it was cancelled due to low entries. We do see that level of competitiveness in Round 2 of Steeplechase; Round 1 determines the Q, Round 2 is just for the money (meager though that usually is at the local trials). And of course Cynosports is all about the honor of standing on the podium at the end of the finals, as well as the privilege of getting through the quarter and semi finals in order to run the finals.


  10. Ali says:
    Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 11:35am

    I think AKC’s Time to Beat (T2B) is a nice combination of win out and titling. You need so many clean runs to title but you also need points based on speed. A fast dog may get their points quickly, but may take a little longer to get their Q’s. A slower dog gets their Q’s faster but take a while longer to get their points. It evens out the competition a little bit, but still very much encourages people to push themselves and their dogs. I really like the class and hope to see more of it. Maybe “Exc C” will be run similarly?


  11. BenMcfuzzylugs says:
    Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 5:54am

    Thankyou, very interesting to hear how things differ over there.
    I am in Scotland, I do want to explain how it is for the majority of us over here – it sounds like it is just about speed, but actually the dog to win out is the fastest dog to go clear
    and the skill of the judges is to set up courses where around 10% of the dogs can expect to go clear
    So at the lower grades it is quite often a medium speed careful dog who wins
    and there are different types of courses – sweeping very fast courses, which will more likely be won by the rocket dogs – and more technical courses that are likely to be won by careful dogs.

    Also you get points for clear runs and lower places and at the lower grades you can move to the next grade when you get enough points

    and of course there are plenty people who go for a great day out and feel they are a winner if they just get a clear run, or if they compleate a difficult section
    Strangly in a system that seems all about winning it has actually the majority of people are there just for great fun with their dogs


  12. Kirsten Nelson says:
    Friday, March 8, 2013 at 2:06pm

    Has anyone else noticed that there is a growing crack or perhaps a chasm between different agility organizations within the United States? I mainly compete in NADAC and ASCA, have done some AKC and a little USDAA, and have been exposed to some European courses in agility class. If you are not familiar with NADAC, one of the main focuses of those courses is extreme distance handling, up to the point where entire courses are run with the handler behind the start/finish line. The courses are designed to facilitate this, and do not feature some of the more intricate turns that one sees in AKC, USDAA, or a European course which would be extremely difficult to handle from 30 to 40 feet away. Instead, the challenges are more suitable for the distances. When we worked on European sequences in class, I encountered some difficulty with the fact that the handling signals that my instructor was suggesting for push-arounds were the same ones that I used for distance sends, suggested by a different trainer with considerable experience in distance handling. Is it possible that if European handling sequences were to become standard in the most advanced levels of USDAA or AKC, the handling would become incompatible with that needed for extreme distance work and thus force handlers to choose one organization or another rather than competing in both?


    • Marsha says:
      Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 8:18pm

      I already see this – in my area folks follow one handling system religiously and when asked about distance tell students that it is incompatible with the system. They look down their noses at NADAC, ASCA, CPE, etc as not being “real” agility. I however, have my own system (based closer to Derrett), run my dogs in all organizations and my dogs can run extreme distance as well as tight European sequences – because I take handling ideas from seminars which fit within the relationship I have with my dogs.

      Personally – as much as I love the sport – if we had a win out system where I never got to move up to tougher trialing challenges despite running clean and second place all the time – I’d probably stop trialing.


  13. Jo Lewohl says:
    Friday, March 8, 2013 at 12:29pm

    I compete in Australia and due to quarantine restrictions I will never have the opportunity to run my own dog at a World Championship. However, I love watching the different styles of handling that you see at big events and I also like to train my dogs on some of the trickier sequences that you see in those big championships.
    I think we have a nice blend of “win out” and “titling” styles of agility. For the most part our agility is based on a titling system but we also have some titles that require ‘wins’ which I firmly believe has fostered a much more competitive mind set.
    To me, regardless of whether you have a win out or a titling based system, agility is what you make it. Sometimes I step to the line and ‘go for the clear’ and other times we ‘go for broke’- it is up to me to make that decision but more often than not we are going for broke as I love running that way. It really just depends what type of comp it is though. For example, if my goal is an individual all round championship (best placed dog after four rounds, one each of agility, jumping, snooker and gamblers) and I am sitting on 3 clear rounds. When I step to the line for round 4 you can bet I am going to run as safe as I can at speed. I will know exactly who else has gone clear and what we need to do to win and I will do my best. Other times, when there is nothing at stake than another Q or a multiple masters title, we will go for broke and test our skills as a team. I would love to see more of the international style courses here but that is really up to the judges.


  14. Chris Spencer says:
    Friday, March 8, 2013 at 11:42am

    Great post and a well balanced discussion.

    It seems to me that most mature sports have numerous levels of competition that allow any one with an inclination to participate – and so it should be. In Canada, hockey provides a great example where kids of all ages and ability have the opportunity to play in either local fun leagues, or travelling competition leagues. As people mature there are “no checking” leagues for those less competitive etc.

    In North America, Agility is moving in this direction too. The introduction of the Challenge class at the Masters levels is one indicator as is the growing number of more challenging events like UKI and Canada Cup.

    The trap not to fall into is to focus on the arbitrary dichotomy of “win out” versus “titling”. We need a continuum of challenges that will satisfy all levels of ability and encourage growth. I suspect that as the demand for more challenging events increases – so will the opportunities.

    One last comment – in all sports there are competitors who display condescension to those less able than themselves. This is a reflection of a lack of personal maturity – not an indication of their sporting ability.


  15. Sharon says:
    Friday, March 8, 2013 at 1:54am

    Susan, thanks for this great article!

    I always thought N. Americans were the “best” at agility, because we’re not allowed to win if we knock bars, and also our stays and distance work are better. (I’ve seen a ton of top European competitors whose dogs would NEVER be able to stay 5 seconds on a table). I thought of Europeans as being “fast but sloppy” and having to “babysit their dogs” by running right next to them the whole time.

    Your article made me realize that my anti-European-agility feelings were a cultural construct, and that I’ve been raised in an agility system that rewards accuracy over speed, but that our system isn’t intrinsically “better.”

    But I’m strongly against the win-out system. I’m an American, but spent 2 years in the UK from 1999-2001 and trained with an obedience club there. Obedience in the UK is (or was then) a win-out system.

    My memory is fading about this, so don’t quote me on the details. But I seem to recall that in obedience, you started at Pre-Beginner, then Beginner, then A-Level, B-Level and C-Level. You had to win out of each level either once or twice, starting with 30+ dogs per class in the lower levels. As you move up, you’re in with exponentially more accurate dogs.

    And all along this path, there are NO TITLES of any kind until you win out of C-level and get your obedience “championship certificate.” Which I’m guessing maybe a dozen or fewer dogs get each year.

    I joined a very competitive club with several members who were judges and C-level competitors. Every member but one had Border Collies, and the member that had a Golden had competed year-round for 10 years with the same dog and had never managed to win out of Beginner.

    Even the highest-achieving BCs in the club frequently competed year-round for 7 or so years before reaching C-level.

    Not only did this seem like the world’s least reinforcing sport, but the 100+ competitors at the one show I entered didn’t even get out of their cars except to compete. Not a soul was to be found near the rings, not a single chair was set up there. They just waited all day in their individual cars in the parking lot.

    I competed only at that one show, in Pre-Beginners. My JRT was doing Utility level in the U.S., but before we went in the ring in the UK, the judge acted bewildered and asked me why I had my “pet” with me, and not my “competition dog.” In the entire show of 100-150 or so entries, only 5 dogs were not Border Collies, and those were all Goldens or GSDs except for my JRT.

    My JRT was up against 31 other dogs, all 31 of them Border Collies. Every dog in the class qualified, and most were doing the kind of accuracy that would get an OTCH in the U.S. My dog won a 3-way runoff for 6th place, beating 27 Border Collies, and that was the last time I bothered competing in a win out system. I still have that ribbon to commemorate our big win over the BCs. 🙂

    I could see almost nothing but negatives to this system:

    – Competitors are virtually “forced” to have a Border Collie if they hope to win out, even at the Pre-Beginner level.

    – In my club, this led to people that didn’t even like BCs getting them just so they could compete. I visited several members at their homes. In every case, the competition BC was treated as a piece of equipment and was kenneled out in the garden to make it “more eager” to work when finally let out. Meanwhile, the breed that the owner REALLY liked was the house dog. For example, they had Maltese, Cockers, etc. that were their “real” pets… but would not have dreamed of training these dogs for competitive obedience because of the win-out system. People looked at me like I was from outer space when I suggested they might train and compete with anything other than a BC, or maybe a Golden.

    – Even with a Border Collie, the dog needs to be robotically accurate and compete year-round for several years just to win out of the first few levels. This means that you have to rehearse the same dull exercises over and over again–it could be years before you get into a level that has retrieving, scent work, etc.

    – It seemed to make the competitors much more “cut-throat” and unsociable than in the N. American system, because there can only be “one winner.”

    – Because pretty much no breed can get a title unless it’s a BC, other breeds in the UK (at that time, anyway), were bred solely for physical beauty and not for brains or athleticism. For instance, my Papillon in America is from a line with several multi-MACH/CH/UD dogs. But breeders in win-out system countries have no incentive to try to breed something like an agility-lines Border Terrier, or an obedience-lines Mini Poodle. Breeds other than BCs are strictly “conformation only.”

    I should mention here that I’m not anti-BC. My retired guy snoozing next to me is a BC with 30 titles in eight sports. However, I don’t think it is in the best interests of people OR dogs when people are forced to buy BCs just to be able to have a tiny HOPE of winning out of Pre-Beginners!

    As far as international agility goes, almost every competitor I’ve met or seen on video is a 20-35 year old marathon running skinny person. As a 48 year old out-of-shape person with no cartilage in one knee, it’s all I can do to get around the course at a trot.

    I love seeing the huge variety of breeds in N. American agility, and I love that people can do agility with ANY breed they love, including everything from Chihuahuas to Great Danes.

    I recently moved back to the U.S. after 5 years in Turkey. I was one of the first people to put on agility seminars in Turkey. That first year of seminars, people had all sorts of breeds. Over the next 2 years, despite the total absence of classes, clubs or agility competitions in Turkey, all agility-interested people started importing Border Collies from Europe. These were mostly people who were very novice dog owners, people with no clubs, no yards, and no agility equipment; who lived in high-rise apartments in a city of 15 million. In other words, not ideal BC owners. But they wanted these BCs just “in case” agility took off in Turkey. And since most decent breeders wouldn’t ship dogs to Turkey (with no registry at that time, and still no agility), they mainly ended up importing a number of human- and dog-aggressive BCs.

    When I tried to dissuade them from getting BCs, and get more city friendly agility breeds (like Papillons), they acted like I was trying to prevent them from being “successful.” Since all the Europeans have BCs, this must be the ONLY “worthy” dog to do agility with.

    Anyway, that’s my very long-winded and totally subjective opinion about win-out systems and their fall-out. Give me a titling system any day!


  16. Babbi Dilbeck, DVM says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 8:13pm

    So, I guess the message I get from this is that those of us with dogs that aren’t World Team contenders should just stay home and let the big boys compete in agility and we should just not worry our pretty little heads about it. I, for one, am more than just a bit offended by the obvious disdain that is held for the “little people” and their poor slow dogs. I thought that the UKI agility was intended to let you guys push yourselves and run your dogs on dangerous courses all you want . . . have fun with that . . . I hope the “winner take all” attitude serves you all very well. I’m happy to step to the line with my average or below-average dog and have fun with each and every run. I certainly hope that agility in the US doesn’t become a club exclusive to people who are that competitive.


    • Susan says:
      Friday, March 8, 2013 at 2:55am

      Ouch! Respectfully Babbi, I suggest you re-read what I have written because none of what you have suggested is in this blog post!

      I make a point of saying how much I love the diversity of dogs we see here in North America but I also love the drive and willing to take risks you see in Europe.

      The entire point of the blog was to help spur on innovative ideas so that we may someday look at bringing them both together . . . er without judgements:).


  17. Billie O'Connor says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 7:07pm

    Great blog! I’m new to the sport so it’s interesting to get a reminder of how young the sport is. In Australia we have a titling system and tricky course design (not as tricky as Europe but trickier than North America). This has meant we spend a lot of time getting great turns on our dogs but not enough getting them to run flat out. Australia has only recently started to play on the international stage. Due to the quarantine laws we rely on the kindness of host country owners to allow us to run their dogs. It is an incredibly hard challenge but also a truly amazing learning experience. You can watch other countries on video but until you try to run their dogs, you don’t really ‘know’ it. I’ve seen the positive influence this has had on the sport here, with handlers coming back changing their training and teaching others. My dream for agility is for the sport to grow so that more people are aware of this brilliant game we play and are inspired to participate at all levels. The history of sports suggests that this sort of awareness is created by pushing out of the comfort zone and creating an exciting spectator sport.


  18. Debbi says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 4:04pm

    Wow..what an awesome blog!!! And timely too.
    I have watched posts on youtube from fellow puppypeakers from Europe and have absolutely loved what they do NOT just in agility but OBEDIENCE too! I want my dogs to have those skills and thanks to a very kind gentleman from Spain I was able to access the International Obedience Class Rules..I didn’t even know they existed. My dogs are engaging so much more in training because of these new challenges for speed, accuracy and focus. Love it Love it!I have been competing in CARO Rally because they continue to up the anti and offer the “C” level concept for those looking for greater challenges for themselves and their dogs. So everyone can find a path that suits them. I think this is a good marriage of “fun” and “risky”.Thanks everyone for great posts..gets you thinking and appreciating the opportuhnities out there. Can’t wait for the next challenge!!


  19. Lee Baragona says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 11:05am

    Excellent analysis of the difference strengths and weaknesses of each system. Like others, I would like to know how the lover of, let’s say, Bernese Mt. Dogs view agility in Europe. I’m guessing they never get out of the lowest beginner class…are they happy there for their entire careers or do they leave (or never start) and find something more interesting to do with their partner?

    I love that all breeds have an outlet in AKC agility; I think it gets a lot of people who might otherwise be couch potatoes off their couch and enjoying their dog.

    That said, I personally LOVE the european type challenges, even tho I have zero interest in national/international competition as a goal. But…I have a drivey fast dog who enjoys it too.

    One comment I have a different take on….”So often people criticize those of us that aspire to compete with the best in the sport claiming they don’t want that, as their goal is “only to have fun in agility.” The implication there is that …. the run is less fun for the dog”. My take on it is that the weekend warriors who just want to have fun aren’t criticizing the more competitive handlers; they’re saying please don’t make those international type challenges part of everyday AKC courses because it will take the fun right out of THEIR weekend. They don’t train for those challenges, so their runs are an exercise in frustration for both the handler and the dog, no fun for anyone. And I think those handlers outnumber the other type by far in America.

    The Master C class is a great way to please everyone – let the handlers sign up for the type of course they want to run: C for challenges or regular Masters for a “typical” AKC course.


    • Andreja says:
      Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 4:48pm

      In Slovenia (Europe) we have a combination of the two systems. We have three grades. You get from 1 to 2 by getting three clean runs. You get from 2 to 3 by being first, second or third three times.

      A person with a Bernese Mt Dog has every chance to get to grade 2 (if they can run under course time), but grade 3 will indeed be difficult to reach. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for every dog to get to grade 3.

      I like our system, but I do wish that there would be more jump heights available because some breeds that are fast and agile really do become less popular because of their size.


  20. Brenda Lund says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 11:04am

    I’ve been working my way through the Internationalization blog posts and noticed that very often the blogger’s reaction to international style courses is related to the breed of dog they run. I’ve trained and run 4 breeds, Borzoi, Scottish Deerhound, a Golden like retriever mix and a small Cattle Dog. My teen daughter runs a Border Collie. The international style courses are way cool and fun with the BC and the ACD, not so much with the Borzoi and Deerhound. For the really big guys even the “simple” courses are all collection and tight turns (don’t get me started on tunnels). There are so many reasons people compete in agility and it would be very sad if we got to the point where only certain dogs with a specific structure and very athletic handler could hope to Q. Hopefully there is enough room for both types of venues. Maybe this trend will lead to a giant dog venue with 18″ wide dog walks (safe for a St Bernard), 28″ tunnels, larger distances between jumps, standard course times based on breed and size, and really, really big rings. In those conditions a Borzoi can absolutely handle treadles and backside jumps over a long career. I recognize that this would be very expensive to develop, but it could be awesome.


    • Ali says:
      Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 11:23am

      I totally agree that there needs to be a big dog orginization! There’s one for little dogs, should be one for big dogs too! I don’t have a big dog yet, I want a great dane eventually, and when I do I want a safe way for that dog to enjoy agility too! It’s painful watching big dogs duck into tunnels and jump way too high. I worry about their joints especially since their lives are too short as it is.


  21. Michael Gooch says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 8:02am

    With every dog trick trained came a deeper, stronger understanding of my dog. The more challenging the trick, the more time and energy that I put in. The greatest benefit in the trick’s small pieces that I can draw from in teaching that trick is the smile on my face, and the stronger my lifelong memories, and appreciation for my pet.


  22. Åsa says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 6:31am

    In Sweden we get like 95 dollar a day for judging. We may judge up to 250 dogs per day. Plus money for gas, of course. But money doesn’t matter much.

    And some of the competitors always complain about the course design 🙂


  23. heather says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 2:18am

    i love that susan mentioned about people who say they only run for the fun of it. i run for fun, but I also like to win! i like the speed, i like the challenges, and that doesn’t mean that i don’t love my dogs! i think handlers feel pressure to not admit that they take the sport seriously instead stating that they enjoy the extra time with their dog. i’ve been doing agility for years now and I can say that i enjoy my time with the pups much more now. I can enjoy it because i’m confident in my handling and training and we run as a team.


  24. Lia says:
    Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 1:43am

    I am in Australia, and we have the titling system here. 3 Qualifying rounds to get Novice Titles, 5 for Excellent and 7 for Masters. I like it as it does mean that you are against the course and it gives you a chance to progress even if you don’t win.

    I feel that the win out system would cause a lot of beginners to drop out at the lowest levels. It would be disheartening to be stuck in the lowest level for a long time if you get qualifying rounds but kept getting beaten by an up and coming youngster of a more experienced handler.


  25. Gail Thompson says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 10:13pm

    As a judge, I don’t worry about whether I get invited back or not based on my course design as far as difficulty goes. Our club likes a challenge and we have not invited judges back because their courses were too easy. I find that the people I trial with prefer a challenge that they can go home and work on. Maybe it is just me, but I don’t pay much attention to the q’s. My dog doesn’t usually get any and I will probably just enter FEO when I am ready to try Masters courses. I also find that there is a huge difference in challenges offered by different judges. I have heard complaints from people in Ontario that feel that judges are being invited back so handlers can collect Q’s and thus titles. Personally I like the thrill of a great run, faults or not. The most exciting run I ever had was at a Nationals where I truly ran my heart out to win. My dog bailed off the top of the A-frame, but even if she hadn’t we still probably wouldn’t have placed well but the feeling of going for it was priceless.


  26. Claire says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:50pm

    I think a win-out system has tremendous advantages…for those who can win-out, of course!

    We see that influence in the higher level competitors; it allows the cream to rise quickly, and appears to select high-level competitors very well. But what % of the agility handlers in any European country actually DO progress, VS. the % that languished for years in the lower levels because they come in second or third on a regular basis?

    I think that there is something to be said for a system that allows everyone to have some level of success, by pitting handlers not against each other as much as against the course and the clock.

    What is the longevity in the sport in the different systems? Do dogs who run under a win-out system get retired earlier if that can’t progress? Are handlers actually content to stay in grade three (or whatever) for years? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would be interested to find out.

    I really think that the best agility organisation or system is one what can provide satisfaction and challenging competition for as many segments of their target audience as possible. Not everyone WANTS to be International material, but I think most DO want to stay sharp and stay challenged.


  27. Adrienne says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:43pm

    UKI is an attempt in the USA to balance out the American titling system with the European win-out system. You have to earn points to title, once the points are earned you *must* move up. But you get MORE points for a win or second place. The larger the class size the larger the points. It also is supposed to be presenting challenges that are more European in design. I will say that the average courses are far more difficult than the typical American ones. I like it though, I like the challenges.

    I run TDAA, ASCA and UKI. If we had more UKI trials around here, I would probably start my next dog there and run that as our primary organization. Sadly, there are only a few shows per year.


  28. Sharon N says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:16pm

    What a brilliant article. Well written and impartial. I hope all Americans read this and take it to heart. It is true about many not wanting new challenges as it would impact their “Q” rate or take them out of their current comfort zone. Not sure if there is an answer, but this is a great article for all to read and ponder over.


  29. Elizabeth K says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:09pm

    I defiantly appreciate that in the US my miniature dachshund and I have an opportunity to compete in this sport because of the flexibility in jump heights and lowering the a-frame. And that his little midget legs running their heart out don’t have to be compared in speed to other dogs. I have no doubt that if I were living in Europe we would have never even tried agility.

    But I’ll admit the difficulty in the masters courses I’ve seen lately is highly lacking. I don’t think I’ve had to do anything but front crosses in the last 3 competitions I’ve gone to. You know what’s just as fun as the Q? Seeing your dog pull of a crazy handling maneuver because you’ve trained the skills. I hope to see more European flared courses in the future.

    Because we jump 4 inches in AKC I end up with a lot of blue ribbons, mostly due to no competition. You know how those blues feel? Meaningless, because their is no challenge. A qualifying score with no challenge feels the same.


  30. Fiona H says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:23pm

    Fantastic blog Susan. Love the impartial and analytical take on the differences (from a kiwi win-out system perspective).


  31. Tiva says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:22pm

    Susan, I never knew that you’d been doing dog sports since before I was born. My partner always tells me off when I say I want to “be like Susan”–now I feel a bit better. Maybe one day…

    In New Zealand we are on the European win-out system. I am just a novice and I have been doing dog sports for ~3-4 years. I only JUST won out of the basic classes because I kept getting second place (with clean runs).

    I love watching competitions with complex courses and seeing the approach of each handler/dog. If you don’t challenge yourself then I think that that is rather dull. I’ve never seen an American course, but I’ll take your word for it Susan.

    I’m moving to America in May, so I will keep this article in mind when I go to shows and see what all the fuss is about. Thanks for the heads up!


  32. Dawn says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:21pm

    I know nothing about the european events, but if all is based on risk and speed, are the events as open to competitors of all ages and all levels of physical ability? I do like that there are people of all ages and conditions able to compete and enjoy agility. I know I dont push my dogs as my physical health would not allow me to do that.


    • Caroline says:
      Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 6:21pm

      Of course Dawn 😉 From 10 to 70 and more, all ages,most not the sportive kind,overweight… 😉 With dogs with distance skills or juste running close to their “not so much running” dog…If you run for fun, you don’t care to be running with the top if you and your dog have fun and it counts all over the world I guess…

      We even have a class in Belgium for “veteran dogs” from 7 with specific courses:lower bars, no A frame,…


  33. Melissa Myers says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:17pm

    GREAT post Susan! Gave me a lot to think about and I love your balanced appraoch!


  34. Willy "Hammer" says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:13pm

    Little tidbit of info:

    In the software industry, “internationalization” is referred to as “i18n” because there are 18 letters between the i and n. For my company, i18n is the process we go through to make sure our product is *capable* of being translated to another language (which may included needing to see buttons in a right-to-left order for languages like Arabic and Hebrew).

    We then have the “localization” or “l10n” which is the actual process of translating the product to a different language than what it was natively written in.

    …The More You Know…


    • Andreja says:
      Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 4:24pm

      I was just about to add that. Internationalization a new word? I hear it regularly! 🙂


  35. Sarah says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:10pm

    Thanks Susan!
    I really hope we’re moving toward a happy co-existence of the hobbyist and the competitor with respect for the different goals each person has in agility.


  36. Caroline says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 4:49pm

    I think this is a great article! I’m from Belgium and I was really wondering why american’s/canadian’s courses were so “easy” and your article gives me answers!

    I didn’t know judges received money according to the number of dogs! Here in Belgium they receive 25eur for their judging day+0,25eur per km…And mainly they are not doing more than 200km on a judging day…So, money is certainly not important for our judges 😉

    I think it’s a good thing to get this “competition spirit” of having fast dogs because it promotes people wanting from the beginning their dogs to be highly motivated,focused on obstacles,…and even if they are not the fastest,it certainly promotes dogs who are found of agility…

    Anyway,I find your system of sizes quite interesting as here many breeds are unpopular because the uncertainty of their sizes and if the dogs falls in a “higher” category it can be very uncomfortable for him.

    I would also like to say that even if in Europe the “speed” and “complex” parts are more present,certainly 90% are still doing agility for fun with no high level goals but they still want to do it fast 😉


  37. Kathryn says:
    Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 4:41pm

    I think the gap may appear to be more of a chasm than it actually is because we (or I, anyway) tend to see only the high-level competitions from Europe and elsewhere and compare them — consciously or not — to the weekend trials with which we are most familiar. If, instead, we compare what we see from Europe with the most competitive events here (Canada Cup and the like), the differences appear much smaller. My guess is that if we compared the average weekend trial here with the average weekend trial there, the gap would also seem smaller. I mean, even with the win-out system, people have to start somewhere.

    I love that the range between novices and the highest end of the competitive continuum is getting bigger as more opportunities are added at the “top” end. I just hope that the range doesn’t start to shrink by knocking out folks who would otherwise turn into long-term competitors given the opportunity to have some early success. Sure, add challenges that keep moving the top bar higher. But let’s not forget that everyone at the top started in an entry-level position.

    My biggest concern is that, even as competition gets more challenging and training rises up to meet it, dogs and handlers are being overfaced. Raise the top bar, yes, but not at the expense of those just starting out — whether they have top-bar aspirations or not.


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 4:49pm

      Very valid point Kathryn and one I agree with whole heartedly!


      • Jean says:
        Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 12:43pm

        Something I never see mentioned is the relatively short span of time we have to train and play the game with our dogs.

        Training a 7-8 year old to take the back side of a jump is going to be more difficult (or to go out further in distance )then a young one. Personally, I go for the speed even though AKC rewards consistancy but I am glad we have the choice. At my age it can be difficult for anyone to realize i am running as fast as I can. LOL

    • Caroline says:
      Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 4:55pm

      Kathryn,I’m from Belgium who’s certainly not a challenging country in the international agility…Anyway,I find your top competitions (at least the one I see on Susan’s videos)are still way “easier” than our “average competition”

      Just,for example, the distance between obstacles…We most of the time have 5 meters between jumps (sorry I don’t know how much it is for you),we have threadles,pushes,tunnel traps,…from the beginning…It can also vary a lot from a judge to another but obstacle discrimination for example is highly important, we always have tunnels,contacts,…very close one to another…


      • Briana says:
        Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 7:45pm

        Caroline, It would be really interesting if you could post or link some videos of “average competitions” from Belgium, for those of us here in the US not very familiar with the differences. It would be cool to see the differences between US “average,” “top competition,” and Belgium’s “average” and “top competition.’

      • Caroline says:
        Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 3:01am

        Briana,here’s the link to my video’s…Sweet,Equinox,Fender are in “grade2” so middel difficulties,Equinox and Fender are not well trained…Hokami is in the highest level “grade 3” but I’m not a good handler at all, but so you can see the kind of courses we’re running ;-)You’ll see how different it can be from one competition to another. Oh, and in “friends” it’s a mix of different grades


      • Ann T. says:
        Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 12:30am

        Hi Caroline,

        Thanks for posting the link to your videos. I am in the US and found them very interesting, informative and fun to watch. I thought you looked great, nice handling and wornderful team work.

    • Beth says:
      Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 10:34am

      Very well said. I am a newbie to agility and want to be challenged but not discouraged. I will never compete at the very highest level but I want to get to my and my dog’s highest potential. And that may take awhile 🙂


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