a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Why Are There So Many Agility Organizations?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Are There So Many Agility Organizations?

SUMMARY: In some parts of the U.S., you have almost a dozen sanctioning organizations, or "flavors," to choose from. So--why?

NOTE May 18, 2024: I just reread this and realized that many listed items have changed or gone away. Someday maybe I'll update this... -Taj MuttHall ... OK, I just added or marked things in red that I know have changed. But I've been out of the sport for several years.

In my previous post, I listed the various organizations that provide rules under which people can compete and earn titles in dog agility. So, why so many flavors?

Let me ask you this: Why so many types of vanilla ice cream? There's regular vanilla. There's premium vanilla. There's low-fat vanilla. Sugar-free vanilla. Vanilla bean. French vanilla. Vanilla with chocolate chips. Vanilla with cookie dough. OK, which of those would you regularly stock in your freezer? Which would you never touch with a ten-foot set of weave poles? Sure, they're all vanilla, but the differences are important.

The agility organizations are just like that. Sure, they're all dog agility, but the differences are important.

Here are just a few examples (note that I'm not fluent in many of the organizations so most examples are with those I'm more fluent in):
  • How often do the rules and/or the equipment specs change? Examples: 
    • USDAA has a reputation for moving slowly and ponderously, much to many people's frustration (just ask about allowing 24"-spaced weave poles, to name one). ]
    • UKI tries  to manage flexibility and communication when changes are proposed.
    • NADAC has a reputation for changing things frequently, seemingly at the drop of a hat. 
    • Either of those extremes can drive people nuts, especially club organizers and equipment purchasers.
  • What equipment is allowed?  Examples:
    • NADAC has disallowed the teeter-totter and spread jumps as dangerous. And the closed chute and maybe others? They also added hoops and maybe others
    • UKC allows (even requires) the swing plank, sway bridge, and crawl tunnel, which none of the other organizations do. 
    • USDAA allows double (2014?) and triple spread jumps
    • Some people don't want their dogs doing certain equipment--or DO want their dogs doing certain equipment.
  • What are the specifications for individual obstacles? For example, 
    • NADAC prohibits slats on the aframe and dogwalk as safety hazards (dogs stub toes, break nails, etc).
    • USDAA requires them as safety elements (prevents slipping, gives dogs better grip going up, etc.)  2014: I believe that USDAA now requires rubberized contacts without slats.
    • CPE allows either one but the club is supposed to state it in its premiums. Some people feel that slatless dogwalks confuse their dogs versus the teeter. Some people feel it makes no difference.  
    • As another example, the length of the yellow zones on the contact obstacles vary. If you have a long-strided dog with a running contact, you might prefer CPE's longer contact zones over USDAA's.  USDAA's Aframe was considerably higher (therefore steeper) and NADAC's considerably lower (therefore more running than climbing) than "average" for a long time.
  • How obsessive are the rules? For example, 
    • AKC has become extremely strict (some say unreasonable) in stating exactly when you must remove the leash from your dog at the start line, what you can and can't do at the start line, and what penalties you face if you don't leash your dog immediately at the finish line. 
    • USDAA is much more relaxed, although all organizations want the dogs under reasonable control.
  • How many faults are allowed and what kind? For example,
    • in USDAA Jumpers and Standard, your run must be clean to earn a Q, even at the Starters level. 
    • In CPE Jumpers and Standard, you can earn Qs with a variety of faults, which decrease as you go up in levels. 
    • USDAA and AKC count runouts and refusals; CPE and NADAC don't. 
    • USDAA judges the up contacts as well as the down contacts; I think that most or all other organizations don't.
  • How high does your dog have to jump?  
    • All organizations base the jump height on the dog's shoulder height and then some throw in extra qualifiers (length of dog's back versus legs, age of dog, etc.). But where they divide the jump heights and how high those heights are varies considerably. 
    • For example, my dog Tika must jump 26" in USDAA unless I move her to Performance, where she can jump 22".  Boost must jump 22", unless I move her to Performance, where she can jump 16". 
    • In CPE, Tika's *regular* jump height is 20" and Boost's is 16"; CPE gives two additional tracks of competition, one 4" lower than regular, the other 8" lower than regular. So I could in theory jump Tika at 12" and Boost at 8". 
    • Some people do not want their dogs jumping the higher required jumps or their dogs simply can't jump the higher jumps, usually for structural reasons (some dogs aren't built for jumping).
  • What's the atmosphere like at trials? 
    • CPE participants generally find that it's a relaxed atmosphere.  CPE has so many levels and height groupings and low qualifying requirements that lots and lots of people earn Qs and placement ribbons. In addition, CPE trials tend to be smaller--CPE allows clubs to limit entries.  
    • USDAA events tend to be intense. USDAA has many fewer levels and fewer height groupings, so placements are harder to come by. USDAA trials can be huge; USDAA does not allow clubs to limit entries. Around here, 3- and 4-ring trials are not uncommon.
    • UKI--people seem to think it's friendlier? Wayyy back I judged a couple of novice trials for UKI, so I don't really have enough experience.
  • What are the courses like? 
    • NADAC and ASCA courses tend to be open and flowing. 
    • CPE courses tend to be small and generally fairly simple. USDAA courses are usually large (using most or all of the 100x100-foot field) and can be technically challenging. 
    • AKC has a bit of a reputation for tight, choppy courses. 
    • UKI wants fast, flowing, challenging courses that don't jerk the dogs around a lot.
    • Teacup courses are designed exclusively for small dogs, who may have a variety of challenges on courses on which much larger dogs also run.
  • How fast does your dog have to be? 
    • CPE's course times are extremely generous. 
    • USDAA has some classes that require that your dog be in the top 15% in his class to earn a Q. 
    • NADAC times are extremely tight; your dog had better be fleet of foot, particularly in the upper levels.
  • What variety of classes are offered? 
    • AKC for the longest time offered only Standard and Jumpers; recently added the FAST (sort of gambly like). 
    • USDAA offers Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, Snooker, Pairs Relay, and the tournaments Steeplechase, Grand Prix, and DAM Team (although the tournament classes are really just slight variants on the regular 5 classes). Also in late 2000s (?) added Masters classes, standard and jumpers, intended to be technically complex and modeled more on European courses.
    • CPE offers 7 different classes, some of which are similar to USDAA classes and some of which are entirely their own. 
    • NADAC offers 6 or 7 classes (I've lost track), which  are mostly different from those offered anywhere else. 
    • UKI offers classes similar to what you might find in USDAA or AKC.
    • Some people (like me) love the variety. Some people (particularly those who start in AKC) find the variety intimidating and prefer the clarity of simply  numbered courses.
  • Are mixed breeds allowed to compete? 
    • As of late 2000s, AKC allows mixed breeds in sports such as agility. Can you say "AKC" (not)? Other organizations don't care what your dog looks like, as long as she's healthy and sound and old enough.
  • Do you want to compete at the top of the sport, possibly including internationally?  
    • AKC's program is affiliated with the FCI for their world championships. 
    • UKI agility started in the U.S. in the mid 2000s. It is based on the English UKA. Has grown immensely in popularity since [as of 2014]. Not sure about international competitions
    • USDAA's program is affiliated with the IFCS, lesser-known and not [yet] as prestigious.
    • CPE has no international affiliation. It's not a particularly competitive venue. Only a few of those who are at the level where they could be finalists at AKC or USDAA national events will compete in CPE trials. 
    • Some people feel that competing against the best that the sport has to offer helps them to improve their own performance. Others prefer not to have to compete against those who have made agility competition their primary focus.
    • There are I think 2 or 3 other international competitions besides the FCI now, and that's all I can tell ya.
I could list many other chocolate chip or low-fat variations, but this should give you an idea. Now time for some nice peppermint-stick ice cream.


  1. Very informative post.

    USDAA trial entries are unlimited? Holy. How does that work in places with, say, snowy winters so winter trials must be held indoors, presumably in venues that allow for no more than two or three rings? Is it common for days to start super early and end super late? AAC allows limited entry -- I just assumed all organizations would.

    Thanks again for the eye opening post.

  2. You have to make sure that you have enough space and judges for the expected draw. I think that the mere fact that it's winter and likely to be cold and rainy makes it somewhat self regulating. We have one under-cover venue that's large enough for 2 rings only. We have had usdaa trials there with over 450 runs per judge. But it's in the north bay--2 hours north of me, which puts it much more out of range for those folks from southern california (L.A. area) who will come up for trials closer to where I live. So that reduces entrants a bit.

    The events offered also can reduce the draw. Like, last weekend we offered only Team on Saturday. Lots of people won't do team, and also then won't come up for just one day of agility (sunday), so it self-limits.

    Yes, we always start early anyway. Usually first dog on the line at 8:00, often 7:30 if we think it'll be a long day. I don't ever expect to be done before 5ish at a USDAA trial, and am pleased if we are done an hour or two earlier.

    I can't speak to how people with snow handle it--I'd guess that the threat of traveling in snow also self-limits attendance at trials in those areas.

  3. Good points about self-limiting. I keep forgetting not everyone is as desperate for cold-weather trials as Walter and I are!

    Most of the trials we go to are pretty much 8am-5pmish too.

    I'm hoping to try CPE in 2010. There's one club in my parts (a two hour drive) that offers one or two CPE trials a year. All those games look like fun, a nice change from the usual.

  4. I love that we have so many venues to choose from. Something for everyone. I would take up UKI if they offered it around here. The jump heights look so much better than USDAA.

  5. I loved your summary.