by Brenna Fender
06/09/10

 

 

 

 

Trying Out to Face the World

By Brenna Fender with photo courtesy of Marcy Mantell

 

The American Kennel Club is preparing to take a team of 12 dogs to the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) World Agility Championships in Reiden, Germany on October 1-3, 2010. Team tryouts took place May 7-9, 2010 at the Leatherdale Equine Center in Roseville, Minnesota, with judges Scott Chamberlain and Mark Sjogren presiding over the approximately 78 team hopefuls. Team Coach Nancy Gyes, Team Captain and AKC Director of Agility Andy Hartman, and others were on hand to observe the competition, through which six dog and handler teams (two per each jump height) would win their way onto the AKC World Agility Team. The event also provided the opportunity for AKC officials to evaluate dogs and handlers to help determine who would fill the additional spots on the Small, Medium, and Large dog teams.

The FCI event offers only three jump heights. The Small team dogs, jumping 14", must have a shoulder height of 13 ¾" or less, the Medium dogs, jumping 18", need to be 16 7/8" or less, and the 26"-jumping Large dogs have shoulder heights of greater than 16 7/8". At Tryouts, dogs measured over the strict cutoffs were relegated to running “for exhibition only” as demo dogs for the weekend. Their handlers’ hopes for making the team were dashed for the year.

Volunteers began equipment set up at 9am on Friday, and competitors checked in starting at noon in preparation for a 1:30pm-6:00pm practice time. Competition began at 8:00am on Saturday, kicking off the first of five rounds spread over two days. The first day hosted two Standard runs and one Jumpers with Weaves (JWW) run. In each case, Small, Medium, and Large dogs competed on different courses which is how the FCI Agility World Championships are run. At the end of the day, scores from each round were totaled and the highest scoring dog and handler in each height class took spots on the team. Before bedtime on Saturday, Marcy Mantell and her Shetland Sheepdog, Wave, secured a spot on the small dog team, Karen Holik and her Shetland Sheepdog, Sizzle, took a place on the medium team, and Channon Fosty and her Border Collie, Icon, won the first spot on the large dog team.

The new team members got no rest on Sunday, since they continued to compete with the remaining team hopefuls. Three more spots, one per jump height, were to be determined based on top placements in all five rounds of competition. Dogs with clean runs placing in the top 30% of each jump height in each round got points based on the number of dogs in the class. The highest cumulative point winners in each height would join the team. So Sunday’s Standard and JWW rounds were crucial for all those in direct contention, and also for those who had had an excellent showing overall in addition to a great track record over the last year. The rest of the team spots were to be chosen at a later date based on track record and other factors, so a solid performance throughout the weekend was very important.

Competitors who earned the first spots on the team did not disappoint on Sunday. Each of them placed in one or both of their remaining rounds. In fact, in all three cases, these new team members also were the cumulative winners over all five rounds for their height. The rules state that when the same competitor wins both spots, the second place on the team should go to the dog with the second highest number of placement points. So the AKC/FCI World Team added Dee Anna Gamel and her Shetland Sheepdog, Kelsi, to the Small team, Diane Goodspeed and her Shetland Sheepdog, Demon, to the Medium team, and Terry Smorch and his Border Collie, Presto, to the Large team.

As usual, the level of competition and agility skills demonstrated at the World Team Tryouts were quite impressive. Andy Hartman, says, “I probably sound like a broken record but I think that our sport continues to excel and progress. We see that through our judges’ course designs, though organizations making changes to rules and equipment, and so on. People are taking better care of themselves and of their dogs, and the level of competition continues to get better. Look at the top dogs this year and how consistent they ran over five rounds!” Diane Goodspeed, who has never competed on the AKC World Team before, says, “The competition at Tryouts is always excellent. By the time each team has met the entry requirements and made the trip to Minneapolis, you definitely have a roster of top notch agility teams who are always well prepared for the technical, challenging courses. The dogs and handlers competing in all three heights definitely had the skills and confidence needed to be competitive through all five rounds.” Terry Smorch agrees: “The level of competition…was very high. I think this year more dogs had a chance to win the second spot on the team going into Round 5 so there was more pressure to lay down a great run.”

One new challenge at this year’s Tryouts was the footing. Karen Holik says, “The Tryouts are usually held in an indoor soccer arena because the FCI World Championships are usually held on various types of carpet/soccer turf. This year we ran on a dirt surface trying to replicate the surface we were told we are going to have in Germany. Some people were not happy with the surface because it was at times difficult to run on.” Large team member Terry Smorch agrees that the footing was a factor in the competition: “I think dogs and handlers were slowed down a bit this year with the dirt surface compared to the artificial turf used in previous years.”

Of all the tough courses used at the event (many of which were made more difficult than their paper versions thanks to some last-minute tweaking), many handlers point to the Round 4 JWW course as being the most fun (although several called it the most challenging as well). Goodspeed says, “It was well designed and allowed handlers to apply their teams’ unique skill sets. My favorite courses always have multiple handling options. At Tryouts, this meant each handler had to make hard choices about which skills to use for the cleanest line and fastest effort. Let the chess match begin! In Round 4, there were multiple handling options. Some handlers chose to front cross before the tunnel while others pulled up to rear cross. A few handlers ran #13-#15 as a serpentine while others used a combination of front crosses. And the final three jumps could be handled as a 180 serpentine or as a pull through.” Holik adds, “I found [this course] to be the most difficult. I don’t think it was too hard for that particular competition, but I believe it had as many challenges as you could possibly have in one course. It certainly made you think! I like challenging courses. When I have to concentrate throughout the whole course, I always do better.”

What’s on tap now for the new World Team members? Practice! Smorch says, “I’ll be focusing on conditioning, brushing up foundation skills like jumping, contacts, weaves, and handling skills, working on specific elements we expect to see from the judges, and doing course work. I’ll be backing off on trialing a bit as well so we don’t get burned out, and we have two team practices we’ll be going to.” Goodspeed also has a plan for her pre-World Championship training: “For all major competitions, I use a very structured training schedule. With roughly 18 weeks to Worlds, I have time to move Demon through all three phases: rest and fun, foundation training, and then course work. After two major events in six weeks, our first goal is to have some fun doing more hiking and playing. Once we’ve both recovered, we will again go through a variety of European courses looking for short sequences to use as practice sets. I will also revisit or create drill sets to work on a few weak spots. Finally, we will begin running full courses to test our foundation training and build stamina.”

Scheduling rest amidst the training process is important. Experienced team member Holik says, “I will take some time off from training from now until the end of June. I will condition my dog and myself July through August. I will run courses/drills in August and will take some time off in September to rest for the event.”

Courses

Click here for practice setups as well as courses from Tryouts.

Follow-up

On May 24, the AKC announced the rest of the team members for the 2010 event. The list boasts many returning faces as well as some fresh ones. Congratulations to the AKC/FCI World Team!

2010 AKC/FCI Agility World Team Members

Small Dogs

  • Wave, Shetland Sheepdog, Marcy Mantell
  • Kelsi, Shetland Sheepdog, Dee Anna Gamel
  • Breeze, Shetland Sheepdog, Anne Stocum
  • Ice, Shetland Sheepdog, Heidi Vania
  • Blink, Shetland Sheepdog, John Nys

Medium Dogs

  • Sizzle, Shetland Sheepdog, Karen Holik
  • Demon, Shetland Sheepdog, Diane Goodspeed
  • Mickle, Shetland Sheepdog, Maureen Waldron
  • Rush, Shetland Sheepdog, John Nys
  • Jimmy Dean, Shetland Sheepdog, Nancy Kleinhans

Large Dogs

  • Icon, Border Collie, Channan Fosty
  • Presto, Border Collie, Terry Smorch
  • Scream, Border Collie, Ann Braue
  • Solar, Border Collie, Daisy Peel
  • Maja, Border Collie, Silvina Bruera