Click here to view the course maps and qualifying rates from the 2018 AKC/FCI Agility World Championship Tryouts.
Welcome to a Bad Dog Agility chat with Linda Kipp. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
Esteban: Welcome to the chat, Linda, and thank you for taking the time to join us today.
Linda: Thanks for inviting me!
Esteban: I’ve seen and heard comments from many
Linda: I am not accustomed to designing FCI style courses, although I set up a lot of them in my yard. Since our USA Team will be competing on these types of courses, I wanted to make them as authentic as possible. The AKC did not give me any guidelines about course design, but I told Nancy Gyes that this would be my basic approach. I researched courses by Renaud and Silfverberg (our two judges at the upcoming FCI WAC) and used some of the elements that I saw in their courses, along with other FCI judge’s elements, and put them together in a different way.
Esteban: I love that you did that. I strongly feel that’s the best way to both prep potential team members, but also identify teams that will do well on that type of course. The dominant theme to me in many of the courses this weekend mirrors the current trend abroad→ forcing handlers to run a long line but bookending that line with technical pieces where most handlers want to stay close to certain obstacles or sequences. You got me in round 1 on the dogwalk. Without much separation on the serpentine-blind before the dogwalk, I found myself not as far ahead as I would have liked. Do you think European courses have moved too far in the direction of “running” rather than “handling”?
Linda: I guess it depends on who you are. I am getting old. I am almost 65 years old and short, only 5’1” tall. For people like me, that is a concern. I would not want courses in typical American trials to ask for as much running as we are seeing in many European courses. However, in this particular event, the WTT, that is something that I wanted to test. We are not going to be competitive overseas unless our handlers are good runners and can handle this sort of course really well. I don’t think that our Team wants handlers like me on the team!
Esteban: You’re very modest and unassuming. For folks who don’t know, Linda is a former AWC team member with her border collie Jessie Lee. She was a 2-time AKC National Agility Champion at 24”, USDAA Grand Prix and Steeplechase Champion at 26”, 3-time AKC/FCI AWC team member in 2000, 2001, 2002 and part of the large dog team that took gold in 2001. So you have had that international experience. I think that as fast, mobile handlers continue to push the envelope, we might see more gambler type distance challenges in agility and that could open the door back open for some of that distance work from years ago.
Linda: Thank you for bringing up those special memories! I was much younger then, however, and a much faster runner!
Esteban: You’re welcome, I still remember Jessie Lee as a beautiful jumper.
Linda: She was very special. About your previous comment about seeing more gambler type distance challenges, I think that is very much happening in some European courses and I would like to see more of it. That would test training and handling more than just running.
Esteban: I’m definitely in favor of that. Otherwise agility would turn into a more complex version of flyball.
Linda: I am seeing quite a few European courses where the handler is restricted by the dogwalk and must handle their dogs from a distance. I was wondering if the Renaud Standard courses for small and medium dogs at the WTT would require some of that, but they did not, as the handlers were generally able to meet their dogs on the other side of the dogwalk. If those courses had been used for the Large dogs, we might have seen some different skills being used.
Esteban: That leads in very nicely to talking about the difficulty of the courses we saw this past weekend. I’ve heard more than one visiting judge let slip that they challenged the Germans and other countries’ handlers more than they did for us. Did you “dumb things down” for us this past weekend?
Linda: My original versions of some of the courses were a bit harder than the final versions. Nancy was concerned about having enough qualifiers. However, I think they were still very challenging, and, at the end of the day, I think that the difficulty was about right. I did not think that Stefanie was easy on us either. I think that her courses, particularly the last Standard courses, were very challenging. I also thought that Renauds Large Dog Standard was VERY difficult. I have felt, looking at some of the visiting judges’ courses from prior years, that some of their courses were a bit easier than I expected.
Esteban: You obviously put a lot of thought and work into your course design, and as a competitor I greatly appreciate that. The new scoring where handlers could still get points even with a 5 fault probably helped as far as Nancy’s concern about having enough qualifiers. It was very interesting to see the new scoring and how it affected everyone coming into Round 5. Getting back to course difficulty, I felt like it was probably “just right” for the United States. In general, if other countries are running on tougher tryouts courses and having a lot of success at the actual event, I want to trend in that direction as well. Some people will think this scares competitors off but I think that’s mildly insulting and most competitors will rise to the occasion, push themselves, learn new things, etc. Was there any kind of coordination between the judges to ensure there weren’t five easy courses or five crazy hard courses?
Linda: There was no coordination between the judges on that, but Nancy and Carrie were able to review all courses before the event, so they could maybe have pushed things in one direction or another. But honestly, I felt like I was quite free to design the courses that I wanted and the input was more in the form of suggestions. I think it is often hard to tell, looking at courses on paper, what will really be hard for these exhibitors. I had a bit of an edge in that I built some of the earlier versions of the courses in my yard and ran my fast young Border Collie on them. I then made things easier or harder based on what she showed me.
Esteban: That’s a great point. One adjustment that was made during the event was changing the double at the end of the large dog course to a regular jump, as the white dogs showed many dogs would end up on a very slice approach.
Linda: Actually, that change resulted from another change made at the event. Originally, jump #21 was approached on the opposite side. I was not totally satisfied with the ending, but it did make for a straight approach to the double spread at the end. After the course was built, Nancy suggested that we might change the approach to jump #21 for a more interesting ending. I agreed that it would be more fun, but had some concern about the resulting approach to the double spread. After the white dogs ran, we could see that there was a problem and replaced the double spread with a single. I was very happy with how the course ran after that change.
Esteban: That’s right! I completely forgot about that. I marked the change on my course map so I wouldn’t forget. And the ending definitely had a big impact on the results as many dogs flanked wide at #21. Okay, I’ve got the large dog qualifying rates for you:
12/69 = 17%
4/69 = 6%
17/69 = 25%
24/69 = 35%
10/69 = 15%
What do you think, looking back at the Q rates?
Linda: I am assuming these were not just clean runs, but also included the 5 fault Q’s?
Esteban: It does not include time faults. So if you’re clean but have time faults, Sarah counted it as a Q, and if you had a 5 fault, she called it an NQ.
Linda: But the dogs with time faults could not earn any points towards qualifying for the Team.
Esteban: Yes, so these percentages are useless for that, but they give a nice comparison to each other.
Linda: Then I feel pretty good about those numbers. Renaud’s Round 2 for the large dogs was definitely the hardest round of the weekend. My JWW course was maybe a bit easier, but wondering how many had time faults.
Esteban: Did you feel like your standard course was harder than your JWW before the event?
Linda: Actually I did not. However, I have to confess that I did make the JWW course a bit easier before the event because my dog had trouble on my original. But some of that just depends on the particular dogs and the particular day. Hard to predict.
Esteban: Agreed. One thing we ask tryouts judges every year is how they differentiate their challenges for small vs medium vs large heights. In past years, courses have often been virtually identical except for a jump or two. However, especially this year, I feel like each course was really well tailored to the height, and this especially affects small dogs (in a positive way) as they have challenges that they will actually have to face when they go abroad. How did you approach this issue?
Linda: I definitely made some of the spacing tighter for the smaller dogs and thought about how each course could be handled. But mainly, I wanted to make each course one that I would have fun running. Not sure that the size of the dogs made too much difference, except for spacing.
Esteban: I definitely enjoyed running the courses and I didn’t hear any complaints this year. I love how “open” the courses were, where small errors in calculating or controlling your dog’s line might lead to an off course, but you had to run those parts at full speed or you simply wouldn’t be competitive. This is very different from course designs where the dogs operate in very tight spaces at times, like at AKC national events. What are your thoughts on spacing differences between tryouts and national events, especially as they might relate to 24” jumping?
Linda: I would really like to see larger rings at all of our National events. When I designed courses for the AKC Nationals two years ago, the size of the rings was only about 95’x95’ as I recall. Very difficult to get an interesting ISC course into that space. At the WTT, I was working with a 80’x130’ ring, I believe, which is hugely different. As far as Premier courses and regular AKC courses, the regulations for regular classes currently mandate much closer spacing than FCI courses generally use. Premier courses can have larger spacing if nesting was sacrificed. AKC regular classes require about 18’-21’ between most obstacles while current FCI courses generally have 23’ or more between most obstacles. The actual FCI regulations say that the maximum spacing should be 23’, but current FCI judges tend to be much more generous than that. In my regular AKC courses, I try to have 20’-22’ between most obstacles since I think this allows more flow and helps out the larger dogs.
Esteban: I think that’s been a source of contention for aspiring international competitors—premier hasn’t given them the kind of open FCI-style courses they were expecting. On a side note, I’m a little worried that as judges put their “hard stuff” into their premier courses, that the masters courses are getting easier. We know for a fact that yards per second continue to get faster each year. Do AKC judges ever talk about premier courses with each other?
Linda: Premier courses, like all AKC courses, must cater to a lot of different people. My own preference is to design my Premier courses with European FCI elements and spacing as much as the ring size allows. However, many competitors don’t appreciate my efforts in that regard. Many exhibitors that enter Premier are simply trying to qualify as easily as possible as a step towards their Agility Grand Championship. Those competitors are not going to care very much about European elements and spacing.
Esteban: That’s interesting; it reminds me of trying to finish that last Snookers or Gamblers Q to finish your ADCH (editor’s note: Agility Dog CHampion is the championship title for the United States Dog Agility Association). If you weren’t very good at those games, you were just waiting until an easy one came along so you could pick up a Q. This really speaks to the delicate balance that organizations like the AKC have to maintain between different factions and interests among their pool of competitors. Do you see any drastic changes in philosophy or course design coming in the near future, or have we reached a kind of equilibrium in American agility, at least for a few years?
Linda: I think that many judges are making an effort to open up their courses more since they are feeling pressure from the large dog people. That is probably a good thing. Perhaps we will see less 18’ spacing between obstacles. However, until American rings get bigger, it is often very hard for judges to design more open courses. Here in the west, we don’t feel this a much since most of our rings are about 100’x100’ clear span. However, in many parts of the country, rings are tiny and have lots of obstructions in them. They may have several poles that we have to design around or ceiling ducts that hang down low and dictate the positions of Aframes and Dogwalks. These things really limit course design.
Esteban: Yes, I LOVE indoor venues on a good surface but you often sacrifice space. How do you feel about tunnels? People (like me) have noticed that at the national events, at least one jumpers round will not have any tunnels, and I wondered if this was an acknowledgement that very large breeds often have to stoop and almost crawl through them, conferring a major advantage to medium sized dogs. Do you ever consider this when putting tunnels into your courses?
Linda: I wish that the AKC allowed more tunnels in their regular courses. I think that many other judges feel the same. It would make course design easier and would lead to more open flowing courses, especially in small rings. I do feel for the very large dogs that must crouch to crawl through tunnels, but they are a very small percentage of entries. While they have this disadvantage, they also practically step over the jumps so that part is easier for them. I have friends with fairly tall dogs, about 24” tall or so, who don’t mind tunnels at all. I like tunnels and I generally have them in all of my courses, including JWW courses.
Esteban: It’s an interesting issue. I ran a pretty good rottweiler years ago and when side-by-side comparisons first came out years ago, I did some and discovered she was losing time to elite border collies in the chute and the tunnel, every single time, but not on turns or jumping or contacts, which I found shocking. Since then, I try to do what I can to raise awareness about tunnels. I’d love to see them be even 6 inches bigger. Perhaps the agility equipment businesses would be very happy about that. Okay, before I let you off the hook, we have a few questions from the audience. What do you think about letting dogs qualify at their natural height (say, 20”) in order to compete at the two tryout events, knowing they have to jump 24” abroad?
Linda: I would be very opposed to that. Jumping 20” is a very different experience than jumping 24” and they will compete abroad at 24” so we need to evaluate them at that height.
Esteban: I’m leaning in your direction but feel less strongly since the courses they run on to qualify for tryouts are so different from the actual tryouts courses as well. Some people are making the case that since spacing is tight on typical AKC courses, then jumping 24” is extra bad so let everyone qualify at 20” instead. I can see both sides, but like you probably have, I’ve seen some elite dogs that compete almost always at 20” go abroad and struggle mightily at 24”/26”.
Linda: I can see their point on this. I hope that more judges open up their courses to allow 20-22” or so between obstacles on AKC courses.
Esteban: Me too. What do you think about teeter calls and perhaps instant replay? Many people came into this weekend expecting “international” judging of the teeters, meaning generous calls on potential flyoffs and were a bit flustered when Stefanie Semkat called them on it.
Linda: I watched Stefanie’s calls on the teeters and thought they were very accurate. FCI rules are very specific on the teeter, just as AKC rules are. However, in both venues, judges tend to get a bit lenient on regular weekend trials and exhibitors are unpleasantly surprised at the large events.
Esteban: Great point. What about running contacts in general? A few years ago it seemed many judges were cracking down on them in that sharp turns were often seen in order to test them and/or blunt their advantage. But in the past two or three years, we are seeing a lot of straight exits and approaches, but with technical pieces before and after the dogwalk, as in your round 1 course. Do you keep them in mind when you’re designing standard courses?
Linda: When I design courses for an average AKC weekend trial, I try to vary my contact approaches and exits. I do not think that all courses should favor running contacts, nor do I feel that all courses should favor stopped contacts. In this event, the WTT, I did make an effort to test control around the area of the contacts. Running contacts are great, but I wanted to make sure that the handlers could have control following them so provided sequences to challenge that. It looked like Stefanie and Renaud did that as well.
Esteban: I like that approach, and the one thing I’d like to do over from this weekend is that dogwalk. We hit yellow but I panicked and threadled too early and couldn’t get to the backside of the next jump. I always have to give props to the judge that trips me up or forces me to think really hard about something on course.
Okay, we have one last question from someone: “What was the most common obstacle performance error you observed during Tryouts? To me, it seemed contacts. I wonder why this is since I imagine every handler there had proofed their criteria to the highest standard.”
Linda: It is always difficult to proof contacts enough, especially when all of that pressure and adrenaline is involved! It did seem like contacts were a common fault, but there were lots of other errors also! I think it was very difficult for even the best handlers and dogs to negotiate all of those challenges that came one after another on those courses. Mental management was key. One thing that impressed me so much about Daisy Peel’s performances was how completely under emotional control she was compared with many of the other exhibitors.
Esteban: Daisy had a great weekend and has a lot of experience; she’s certainly come a long way. Great answer—pressure and adrenaline, but those are two aspects I really like about agility. It’s a double edged sword.
Linda, thank you so much for joining me on this chat. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, and thank you for judging as well. I loved your courses and the event was fantastic. For anyone who has never been and can attend, go, whether you are a spectator or competitor, you will love it.
Linda: You are welcome! That event was a thrill for judges as well!