a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Contributing to Dog Agility

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Contributing to Dog Agility

SUMMARY: My contributions, small and medium


For some reason I got to thinking about how the sport of agility has changed in the 10--almost 11--years I've been competing. Certainly in major ways, like the addition of several more sanctioning organizations (CPE, DOCNA, Teacup agility...) and the addition of dozens of new classes and titles.

But it has also changed on a simple logistic level, locally and statewide and even worldwide. And I've helped in some small ways.

Awards for Championships

When I started competing, my club (The Bay Team) offered patches--which we bought from a supplier--for each title earned at one of our club's trials. If you were a member, you could get a patch even if you earned the title at some other club's trial. The patches for Championships were a little fancier than the others, but they were all the same size and shape. You could buy the same patches on your own, so it was a nice benefit to get them for free. But that's all you got for earning a championship, other than the right to run a victory lap with your dog to wild applause and the joy, relief, and excitement of earning such a special title.

As time went on, the patches became less available. We considered giving pins instead, but they were even more expensive and seemed to be not as popular.

One weekend after I'd been competing for about 4 years, I was attending a seminar near an ongoing AKC agility trial. A friend (Gail) who competed in AKC agility came wandering by at the end of the day to say hi to her friends. She was carrying a bar from a jump and it had signatures on it. I asked about it. Turns out that She and Flint had just earned their first AKC agility championship and the AKC club had given them a bar from their final jump and their friends were signing it. Apparently a carryover from AKC obedience championships. I thought it was a wonderful idea and promoted it as vigorously as I could at Bay Team trials by having markers in hand and personally running out to hand people a bar from their last jump when they earned their championships. I also plugged it more discreetly (I hope) at other club's trials when dogs earned their CH's--and since Remington and Jake both earned theirs in the following few months, I inquired politely of those clubs whether they awarded bars for CHs. I don't believe that any of the all-breed agility clubs (USDAA and NADAC at that time) awarded jump bars until I started promoting it.

Finally I didn't have to promote it any more because people liked it and it self-perpetuated.

It probably would have made the jump from that one AKC agility club to the rest of the agility world eventually without me, but I am the one who started its existence in northern california USDAA and NADAC clubs.

Gate sheets on easels

When I started competing, the gate steward simply had a hand-held copy of the small-print catalog and a pen. They'd wander around in the general vicinity of the ring, calling the names of dogs who were up next. As a result, people who wanted to check in often couldn't find the gate steward to do so (hence various kludges to make them more recognizable, like wearing bright orange vests or such), or if they could find the gate steward, there were always 5 or 10 people trying to look over their shoulder to see how far down the running order we had gotten and how soon they were up. It was unweildy to say the least, but that's how everyone did it.

I attended several obedience matches and trials in those first couple of years, and your ring order was handled in various other similar manners. Then I went to a much larger match with a San Francisco club, and they had large boards next to each ring with a couple of dozen hooks on which they could hang numbers that matched your armband numbers. That way you could easily see when you were up (as I believe they just removed the numbers of those who had gone and moved the other numbers up).

A light went on in my head that something like this had to be the solution to the gate steward problem. Agility didn't really run by armband number in California, it ran by dog name, so we'd need to have tags with the dogs' names. And we easily could have 100 dogs in a class, so we'd have to have 100 tags and some way to manage them. I thought of several possibilities, including buying business-card-sized magnets and attaching the dog's and handler's names to those and just reusing them over and over on a large metallic board. I don't remember what all the clever possibilities were that I came up with, but I kept running them by Karey Krauter to discuss the shortcomings that they all had and how we might alter the idea to make it work.

Finally, after a tremendous amount of pestering from me that we HAD to find a better way to do it and that large posted lists of SOME sort were the solution, Karey said that maybe she could just print out a copy of the running order list in a really large font and we could post them on easels. So I dug out my old easel and from somewhere we found another easel (I'm pretty sure this is before we took the huge step of trying a 3-ring trial) and karey printed the big sheets for the next trial and the rest is history. Very soon thereafter the club bought a bunch of its own easels, and now everyone in the agility universe prints copies of the running order lists in large fonts and posts them ringside. To my (limited) knowledge, no one had ever done anything like that in agility before Karey and I came up with it.

Worker Appreciation Gift

I didn't come up with the Bay Team's idea for having a raffle for workers, but I did come up with the name WAG, which the much-evolved worker raffle is still called at Bay Team trials.

Agility web presence

I didn't create the first online web presence for the Bay Team; Candy Gaiser had at least membership forms and generic entry forms up on a server somewhere pretty early. And Melissa DeMille had a one-page Bay Team web page as a subpage of her own web site. But I took it and ran with it.

I convinced the club to fork out the money for our own domain name; we probably weren't the first agilty club in the world to have its own domain name, but we're the first that I'm aware of. I believe that lots of the other clubs realized it was possible by seeing bayteam.org come into existence.

I created pages and pages of all kinds of info in (what was then--1997?) almost state-of-the-art condition. Many clubs followed our lead, and I still see pages or sections of web sites in many other west coast clubs' web sites that follow the model I created on the Bay Team site.

It wasn't all one way; I "stole" ideas liberally when other clubs came up with ideas for pages or info that I thought were nifty. But I've always felt that our site was, at least early on, a leader in agility sites and was one of the first very few agility club sites on dogpatch.org to earn a gold star for usefulness, of which I was rather proud.

Premium formats

I wasn't keen on the very amateurish layout of most agility premiums when I arrived on the scene. I volunteered to take those over, too, and experimented for a while with different layouts for each trial both to be fun and to make each trial's premium easily identifiable. But that was a LOT of work and eventually I just came out with what I felt was a fairly nice, relatively attractive, more-easily scanned layout. West coasters will recognize this layout (image coming later) that many clubs still use, although much modified and mucked with so I don't like it as much.

Then, when we started doing CPE, I decided it was time for a whole different and more updated look, so came up with this layout (image later), which west coasters might also recognize as being used by a few other clubs who provide CPE.

Oh yeah, CPE!

(Added Monday morning 8/28) Then there's the fact that Bay Team now does CPE trials instead of NADAC trials. That wasn't my original intention. I wanted it to be an alternative to our NADAC trials, because I was just too fed up with NADAC and I wanted more local trials that *I* wanted to go to. I attended CPE trials out at Starfleet Agility and thought it was pretty nifty, so I started promoting it as something that other people should give a try when Starfleet started having more CPE trials. At the time, I think they were the only club in California offering CPE.

When Bay Team moved its tradional November NADAC to July, I suggested that we keep the November weekend and turn it into a CPE trial. Took a bit of convincing and promoting and research, and I volunteered to be the chair to get things going, not only for a new venue, but also a new site and a largely entirely new show committee. We actually drew quite a crowd--but it was also one of the worst mudfests I've ever attended and we had to end it one run early because they said we were tearing up their field too much. But apparently people had a great time because they wanted more.

Well, turns out that CPE announced that the next CPE National Championships would be in northern California, so I suggested that we replace JUST ONCE, JUST FOR THIS YEAR, our Spring NADAC with a spring CPE to allow more Bay Area folks to qualify for the Nationals. Once again, we drew a pretty big crowd. That year, our NADAC July trial was our last one for the club, largely because they would require a completely different set of heavy contact equipment for us to continue to offer our trials, and CPE didn't. There were plenty of other reasons for dropping NADAC--I wasn't the only one frustrated to downright angry with them--but that was the last straw, and somehow we ended up doing 2 CPE trials a year instead of 2 NADACs. I wasn't the one pushing for that, really, in case anyone wants to whup someone upside the head for that. Some of our members weren't thrilled about losing NADAC, but most people were delighted for the alternative venue, and I was certainly the one who brought CPE to the Bay Team.

Bay Teamer of the Year and State of the Club Address

(Added Monday morning 8/28) I was Bay Team President for one 2-year term, and if I did nothing else, I formalized the occasional casual gifts or awards that the club gave people for outstanding service, turning it into Bay Teamer of the Year (plus a few assorted special awards), and I made a concerted effort to have a year-end (not too long speech) lauding people's achievements and talking about the club's state. I pushed it with the following presidents, and so far they're continuing that tradition. I don't know how much most people know about either of these things or even care, but I'm hoping that they'll matter in the long run and at least to the individuals who are certainly worthy of recognition.

Is that it?

Maybe, maybe not. Lots of experiments that didn't catch on for one reason or another. Others maybe have. Will have to continue to think about it.

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