HISTORY OF AGILITY & DAD'S HISTORY AS A CLUB
by Terrie Demierre
(Terrie is a retired veterinarian who lives in La Center, WA)
For the last 10 years Agility has been the fastest growing dog sport in North America for a good reason. The training culture in the sport is purely positive, so the experience upon entering and advancing through the skill levels is extremely rewarding and lots of fun for dog and handler alike. It is also addictive. The rush of adrenaline plus the thrill of successfully negotiating a tricky course at top speed while dancing like Fred Astaire with your canine partner is a sensation you want to experience over and over again. And when it doesn't happen like that, as often it doesn't, you are just itching for the "next time!"
How did this exciting sport get started? Who was crazy enough to think it up? People who have a long history jumping horses and training dogs -- the British, of course.
John Varley was a member of the Crufts Dog Show Committee charged with filling the dead time between the end of Obedience Championships and the start of the Group breed judging. John was an excellent showman and had long been connected with the horse world as well as the world of dogs. He had an idea of what he wanted -- something fast and exciting, with a lot of spectator appeal. He contacted Peter Meanwell, a well known dog trainer, to help him develop a safe and fun jumping event for dogs and their handlers. Peter called upon his training buddies, and together they built the equipment, laid down the basic rules, and put together two teams of four dogs each to compete against each other. And so they did for the very first time on Friday, February 10th at the 1978 Crufts Dog Show. The crowd went wild.
The next year in 1979 there were three teams at Crufts and Olympia. By now it was obvious the sport was here to stay, and the Kennel Club held the first official Agility Trial at Crufts in 1980.
It doesn't sound so long ago, does it? It is even newer here in the U.S.A. A Texan named Ken Tatch saw the sport in England and, recognizing the sports potential among North American dog owners, started the United States Dog Agility Association in 1986. USDAA is now the largest Agility organization in the world with 25,000 registered competitors competing in six countries. Six years after Ken started USDAA, Sharon Nelson from Idaho formed an Agility organization called the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) which thrives to this day.
The AKC was not blind to the fact that the popularity of agility among dog owners was growing like wildfire. This was not a bandwagon to be missed, and they launched their own agility program in 1994. It wasn't long before Agility became the fastest growing program in the AKC.
Other organizations that sponsor Agility events in this country are the United Kennel Club (UKC) and a group called Canine Performance Events. CPE, like NADAC and USDAA, limits its efforts to Agility and is becoming increasingly popular here on the West Coast. The AKC and UKC, of course, sponsor a myriad of other dog events as well.
Why are there so many different organizations? How do you choose between them? So many trials, such little time! There really is a difference between them.
A USDAA trial will appeal most to people who are very competitive and like running four courses a day with each dog. The courses are technical and the times required to qualify are demanding.
CPE is at the other end of the spectrum with a relaxed atmosphere and an equally relaxed time required to qualify on the course.
NADAC also promotes a relaxed atmosphere with less technical courses and at least four runs a day. Their course times, however, are demanding. You can be relaxed, but you had better not dawdle!
AKC trials land somewhere in between. Their course times are modest, the courses are tight and technical, the atmosphere is competitive but not bloodthirsty (at the local level), but there are only two runs a day offered. Next year clubs will be allowed to offer a third class if they wish.
UKC has little presence here on the West coast, so I am unfamiliar with their rules or the atmosphere at their trials.
Agility folks call the choices "flavors". We each have our favorites. I trial in USDAA and AKC, but many people choose to trial in only one venue. Whatever flavor you choose, believe me -- it will be yummy. You should try it!
As the sport of dog agility grew in popularity, a group of local agility enthusiasts recognized that there was a need in the community for a dog agility club. Durango Agility Dogs (DAD) was established in the spring of 2002 to offer training, support and competition opportunities to members in the Four Corners area. The slate of officers included Lynne Fickett as president, Linda Jean as vice president, Karen Backer as secretary and Pam Leisle as treasurer. Eric Backer produced the newsletter, Kristen Burnham was chair of training, Mark Rosenberg was the equipment chair, Roberta Eickman was in charge of public relations and marketing, George Jean handled agility field maintenance and LeeAnn Vallejos was membership chair.
DAD began offering agility classes on July 9, 2002. George and Linda Jean generously offered their property for the DAD agility training site through 2004. In 2002, DAD co-sponsored a NADAC/AKC fun match at Durango High School with Durango Kennel Club. In 2004 DAD hosted its first NADAC sanctioned trial in Bayfield, CO. The following year the club hosted June and September NADAC trials at the Bayfield site.
From those early beginnings, DAD has grown to over 50 members. The volunteer-run club continues to enhance its training program to appeal to all levels from beginner to competition as well as offering multi-day seminars presented by top agility experts. The club has continued to maintain and purchase new equipment to ensure safe training and trialing experiences.