a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Winning Dogs

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Winning Dogs

SUMMARY: Ashley and Luka again

Ashley noted in class last night that he has, so far this year, entered 7 Grand Prixs with Luka and won all of them. That means that no one else in 16" has earned byes. I'd imagine he's not popular among other 16" handlers on the west coast. That follows after winning all three major AKC events in the last year.

What kind of dog does it take to do that, you might ask? Those of you among the more experienced probably realize that the dog has little to do with it. Luka was a hesitant, worried, not very fast dog when they started. Ashley is an energetic, athletic, intelligent, driven, obsessive young man who has absorbed every piece of info needed to improve their weaknesses and incorporated it diligently--and I mean more diligently than I've ever seen anyone--into his training regimen.

He has worked very hard at getting to where he is, and it just proves my point that almost any dog, with the right handler, can be a champion. It's just a little easier with certain breeds.

They won Steeplechase and Grand Prix at the Northwest Regionals; we'll see what happens this weekend at the Southwest Regionals.

If you already had byes under your belt for Grand Prix, would you keep entering? There's no money to be won, no big shiny trophies. Sure, the Qs are useful points in accruing one's bronze, silver, gold, and so on, but would you feel odd about shutting everyone out like that? I think, if I were ever in a position like that, I'd just keep on entering. I mean, if I'm at the trial anyway, I might as well. It's good practice, it is points towards higher titles, and it feels good to push myself and to do well. And I think it would feel even odder to say (even if only to myself), "Well, I won't enter because I'm so much better than everyone else and I want to give the others a chance."

Back in high school, where I competed in speech and debate, there was much discussion along similar lines at the state championships the year I qualified. The two members of one of the two finalist debate teams had already qualified for the nationals in their individual events. At the nationals, they would *also* be allowed to compete in other events, such as debate, even if they didn't win at the state level. So, if they conceded the final debate at state, they could still enter it at nationals, and then the other team would also be able to go to nationals. If they won, however, they'd be shutting out everyone else from nationals. Should they concede or should they do their best to win the state title? They, naturally, competed and won.


  1. Of course he should keep entering those GP's. It's great practice and why shouldn't he? He can shut people out of getting byes for the Regionals but they can still get in the finals on their own during the Regional. I think once you win a bye for Nationals that you can't shut anybody out for that, whoever's next in line gets the bye. And again, you can always get into the finals at Nationals by working your way through the rounds. It's a competition, may the best dog win even if it is the same dog all the time. Good for him, it sounds like he works hard and deserves it.

  2. I should have also noted that I haven't heard anyone suggest anything to the contrary. It's more of a philosophical question.


  3. And, by the way, I think what he's accomplished is amazing and wonderful. :-)


  4. Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't the number 2 dog get the bye if the number 1 dog already has one?

    I agree that the *almost* number one most important element of the successful teams is the handler's drive to succeed, followed closely by the handler's skill at running that dog. But I disagree that you could take almost any sound dog of appropriate size and build, give it to the best handler and that team would win.
    It *has* to have a lot to do with the dog's actual athletic ability--the ability to run fast, corner tight and jump long when needed. Otherwise you'd see the same people winning over and over again with different dogs. And before you point out that that's exactly what Linda M. And Nancy G. and a few others have done, they all have something else in common--the ability to be able to choose the best puppies for their sport. And you might also add, the resources to afford to be able to spend all their time training and competing and getting fit.
    I can think of at least a dozen handlers who were very successful with one dog and then sort of faded from view. But the only person I can think of who's been very successful with an average dog is Susan Garrett. Her DeCaff was chosen for her athletic build but Susan had many challenges with her. For example, she was afraid to walk on grass, didn't like to have the weave poles touching her, etc. But Susan and DeCaff have been very successful despite DeCaff not having the most drive to do agility in the world.
    And I can also think of lots of successful handlers who go through several dogs before they identify the one who will really stand out.
    I'm not making any judgements about any of these people, by the way. I think as long as you're kind to your dogs and make sure they get what they need to be happy and healthy, you don't neccessarily have to keep every dog that comes yur way to still be considered a good person.

  5. Byes--I think it's true that at the regional the 2nd place gets the bye if the first is already in, but I'm not sure. It's not true at your run-of-the-mill GPs.

    OK, I'll admit that "almost any dog" was an exaggeration. I can't picture a Bulldog, for example, ever being at the top in dog agility unless it was an anomoly for the breed. And, as I said, some dogs are easier than others--I might have previously paraphrased from a Clean Run interview with Marcus Topps who said that his first dog, a husky, did well enough, but he had to expend most of his energy getting the dog to perform, whereas with his BC, both he and the dog willingly and eagerly give everything to try their best. And why would he or anyone want to go back to the Husky breed?

    Note also that I didn't say "give any dog to the best handler and they'd win"; I said " almost any dog, with the right handler"... and there's a difference. The right handler might be one who understands the breed, whose personality is matched to the dog, and who has the appropriate time and energy and willingness and skill and athleticism. Yes, that probably defines most of the top handlers. Maybe my hope is forlorn and we really are headed to an all-BC future in the bigger-dog classes. Maybe if Ashley were to get a BC he'd fail miserably because many of the training skills he's developed with Luka wouldn't apply; or maybe he'd be so successful that he'd never go back to a Pyr Shep. I think the latter would be sad for the agility world. But, on the other hand, I'm not doing agility with unusual breeds, either, any more, so there ya go. I've got dogs who can compensate for me not being a driven, athletic, skilled handler. And I pay for it every day. ;-)

  6. If it's your year, it's your year and I have to admit that if I were Ashley, I would go for whatever I could go for.

    Being pretty new to the sport, I don't know their story, but am very encouraged by it and appreciate you sharing a bit about their past. It's great to hear about those that have the means, energy and talent to get to the top, despite those pesky challenges faced along the way.

    Good luck at the Regionals this weekend. Once we get another year under our learning belt, we hope to see you there!

  7. Part of what makes agility fun, especially with the tournament events, is the level of competition. I would be very disappointed to hear that someone had decided not to enter their dog for fear of winning! I certainly wouldn't take any satisfaction of 'winning' an event by default.

    I always want to compete against the best dogs out there, it gives me something to reach for.

    Heather and Lord Fenwick (the #2 dog, and damn proud of it!)

  8. Me, too, and that's exactly the reason I love having excellent teams in my class every week--I don't have to wait for competitions to be challenged.


  9. It's gotta be tough though to *always* have so many outstanding, nationally ranked handlers at every trial you go to. It's inspiring to see the best, to compete with the best, etc. But if you almost never get a chance to win the class because of the sheer number of great handlers in your area...Well, I think I'd find it a tad discouraging.

    On the other hand, the up side to that is that you have so many great people to take lesson from. Around here we're pretty much on our own.