When the American Kennel Club first revealed their Canine Partners program, I had no real interest in it.
They stipulated that mixed breeds were going to be eligible to compete at select trials, but were going to run in different classes and earn different titles. While this incensed many of my fellow mixed breed dog owners, it was not nearly my main reason for being uninterested.
Rather, I simply thought that it was not going to be the best venue for us. Trials are long and only have three classes at most - Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, and the optional Fifteen and Send Time (FAST) class. They are busier than other trials, and, from what I've been told by some, tensions run higher. There aren't as many ways for novice teams to avoid "problem" obstacles like the teeter or weaves. The list goes on and on, and I'm sure people have their own things to say about this organization and all the others, too.
Lately, though, I've changed my tune. Considerably. Now that mixed breeds are competing equally with purebreds, thus eliminating the need for separate classes, ribbons, and other expensive amenities, many clubs in my area have opted to open their AKC trials up to all dogs, pure or mixed. Because of this, it makes plenty of sense to try out this venue - we have a fairly large number of trials to choose from.
The prospect of competing in AKC continues to get brighter and brighter for me. Marge and I are more familiar with AKC courses than any other, as this is the style that my club predominantly teaches. And, her teeter fears are steadily dwindling as we continue to work on it. What's more, Marge can wear a collar during her runs at AKC trials; while it does nothing except give me a sort of false security blanket, I kind of like the idea of Marge running around on a field with a collar on as opposed to without one.
There are still potential problem areas for us, yes - but I think one of the best things about our extremely probable career at AKC trials are the locations. Aside from being convenient for me - there are several trials being run right here on my island this year - Marge is familiar with the majority of the trial sites. This, undoubtedly, should be a stress reducer for both of us.
My one big worry about AKC trials (and CPE too, for that matter) is the question of getting Marge measured. I can't imagine that Marge is going to take kindly to having the wicket placed over her back, let alone more than once (multiple measurements are necessary to obtain a height card, at which time the dog no longer needs to be measured). To combat this, I'm hopefully going to have access to a measuring device in the next couple of weeks, so that I can start the training off on a very positive foot.
My only other concerns are show size - but, from the sounds of CPE enthusiasts, their trials fill up, too - and noise. Marge did not have an aversive reaction to the tents and commotion at the AKC trial I took her to in May of last year, and, as most of you know, had no problems at the NADAC trial we ran in this past November. I can't imagine that AKC trials feature any more bangy-clangy-squeaky noises than CPE trials - in fact, there are probably less in AKC, since a sizable chunk of CPE classes are completed by the sound of a buzzer. Barking dogs are something else we'll have to contend with, but this goes back to the aspect of our familiarity to the trial sites - we should have plenty of places to hide out if it ever gets to be just a little bit too loud.
My instructor is adamant that Marge will do fine in AKC - she tells me that she's light years ahead of the skills needed to successfully finish the Novice classes. She's even pushing for me to do more trials than I already have planned. While I don't plan to heed that advice, simply due to money and time constraints (and the fact that I think too many trials will, indeed, stress both Marge and me out), it is nice to think that she's aiming even higher than I am.
Call me crazy, but I'm really hoping our April 2nd debut in AKC goes smashingly. I'm going to try out both venues this year - about four each of potential AKC trials and CPE trials in my schedule - but I feel like my heart is already set on the big stage. I don't really know why I'm so drawn to it suddenly, but perhaps it's because of how much I see it and hear about it in comparison to the other agility organizations.
My mind has already (very prematurely) wandered to the the thought of the prestigious Master Agility Champion title. I've watched endless videos of handlers and their dogs crossing the finish line, picking up the final jump bar and making their way around the field in a state of total elation, to a chorus of resounding applause from the crowd.
Can that be me and my mutt one day? Only time will tell. All of you know that I don't do this with my dog for the winning or the glory - I do it for the fun and the bond it helps us form with each other. We're simply going to try it; we may wind up hating it altogether. But, in the meantime, it doesn't hurt to dream.
And now, after that musing, let me present to you how my backyard has transformed over the last few days: