December 28, 2014 by Julia
The American Kennel Club is currently the most popular venue for dog sports in the US. When you are around dog training talk as much as I am (both physically and digitally), it is inevitable that people will start making comparisons between venues. How each venue is portrayed depends on the speaker’s preferences. Almost every time I have heard one of these conversations, one venue was being heavily favored and the others were being dismissed or disparaged to some degree. I once heard a woman say that AKC Obedience was “simple shit” compared to IPO. I took offense to that, given the hard work I put in with Xena to compete in AKC. Certainly, some parts of IPO are more challenging but it is easier in other ways too.
It drives me batty that people feel the need to measure venues against each other. I think the reason people are tempted to do it is because there are similar skills and exercises in many of them. Obedience has heeling, recalls, and stays. Agility has jumps, tunnels, and weaves. You can train to complete the entry level titles for the same sport in multiple venues with minor tweaks or variations on the exercises. But that doesn’t mean the venues can be compared “apples to apples.” Each venue has its own unique requirements and challenges. Not better or worse, just different.
The two venues I’ve had the most exposure to are AKC and IPO. I’ve competed in Obedience in both venues and trained and stewarded in AKC Agility.
For most AKC Obedience and Agility titles, you need 3 qualifying performances to earn your title. Earlier levels allow some leeway for green teams – an extra heel command in Obedience and several attempts at the weave poles in Agility, as well as several other accommodations. In Obedience, long with the overall score requirements, there are minimum scores for each exercise. If you get less than 50% of the points for any one exercise that is considered a failure and you will not qualify.
Beyond their entry level title, IPO requires training in three disciplines (or “phases”). Within a phase, you can fail a single exercise and still earn the title provided you reach a minimum score. You also only have to compete once to earn your title, versus the typical 3 qualifications needed in other venues.
Among the other venues, there are similar variations. One obedience venue might have more lenient regulations for commands or scoring, but introduce jumps at the entry level. Agility venues may have simpler/shorter courses but higher jump heights. Wag It Games, a less formal venue which was developed by a Maine woman, includes lower jump heights and contact obstacles but requires 5 qualifying scores to earn a title instead of 3 like most other venues.
In short, there are many different venues with many different requirements. You can compare them all you’d like, but please keep in mind that “better” is in the eye of the beholder. Looking down your nose at other venues only prevents you from seeing the opportunities it could provide. Remember, it’s all dog training.
I’m excited for this coming year as I plan to explore a variety of venues with Delta. I’ll be registering her with Barn Hunt so she can join her mother and siblings in earning “RAT” titles. Several nearby venues are holding CPE trials so we’ll be able to explore some competition agility before we’ve finished training teeter and weave poles. And depending on how her January obedience class goes, we may dabble in CDSP and UKC. Except for Barn Hunt, I’m using all of these as a warm up for AKC competition. The less formal nature of these alternative venues will allow us to valuable ring practice without the same pressure.
Meanwhile, I’ve been taking advantage of my newly-matted training area in the basement. We’ve mostly focused on the homework from agility class, but tonight I decided to play around with some of advanced obedience exercises. Even if our obedience doesn’t have the same “X factor” as Agility, she’s still pretty darned good and pretty darned cute. I’m eager to see what new things we’ll learn in our Heeling Games class.