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What It's Like to Compete in the AKC National Agility Invitational

I recently got to find out what it's like to compete with the best agility dogs of every breed.

 |  Dec 26th 2013  |   2 Contributions


"Congratulations! Your dog has been invited to participate in the 2013 AKC National Agility Competition in Orlando."

My dog? But ... he's a Saluki. Not a Border Collie, Golden Retriever, or Papillon. Not a traditional agility breed. But that's the beauty of the AKC Invitational. While most agility trials are Border Collie after Border Collie, the AKC Invitational invites the top five dogs of each breed. That means only five Border Collies -- but wow, what an amazing five! And yes, five Salukis! Okay, maybe our five Salukis weren't quite as wow-worthy as the BCs, but for Salukis? Yeah, WOW!

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The Saluki invitees Kim Fountain and Sahdiq; Caroline Coile and Pepe; Chris Klein and Valur; Jaqi TerHaar and MeMe. Photo by Robin Ohrt.

It was the first year five Salukis had been invited. Invitees are based on MACH points accrued throughout the years, which can only be earned by qualifying at the highest level of agility. You earn one MACH point for each second under the standard course time you run. Oh, and the run must be perfect. The top Shetland Sheepdog had something like 5,596 points. The top Saluki (my Pepe!) had 33.

Look out, Shelties -- here come the Salukis! OK, so maybe our Saluki contingent wasn't a serious threat to the Shelties and Border Collies. But there were still Saint Bernards, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and at least one each of Basset Hound, Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Irish Wolfhound, and Neapolitan Mastiff. I was pretty sure we could take them.

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Salukis Sahdiq, Pepe, Valur and MeMe. Photo by Robin Ohrt.

Only -- the Neo was slow but dogged. The Basset's ears didn't trip him up. The Wolfhound squeezed through the tunnels. At least one of those Saint Bernards was flying. And the Entlebucher Mountain Dog was nothing short of amazing. But this is the fun of the AKC Invitational. Nowhere else on earth do you get to see this assortment of breeds performing in agility. And while I knew the Pyrenean Shepherds and Pumis were the up-and-coming breeds to watch, it's one thing to say it, another to see it. Those dogs were rocket-fueled.

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Look at Pepe go! Photograph copyright Michael Loftis.

The AKC Invitational consists of four rounds of competition, plus a final round for the top qualifiers. Scoring is different than regular agility trial scoring. At the top (Masters) level, at a regular trial, one error and you're out, with a score of 0. Here, each error cost you 5 points, subtracted from your total of 100. And each second over time cost you 3 points. On our first run, we missed two contacts -- the yellow zones on the downside of the teeter and the dog walk -- for 5 points each, plus we got off to a bad start when he tried to walk around the first jump, for another 5 points off. Our score of 85 wasn't dazzling, but plenty of dogs did worse. Here's the course plan.

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Photograph copyright Michael Loftis.

Round 2 was a Jumpers With Weaves round -- no contact zones! But I misdirected him, got a refusal (where the dog either stops in front of a jump or runs past it) on jump No. 3, which took up extra time, and we ended up with 5 points off for the refusal, plus 12 points off for being 4 seconds over time, for a score of 83. Here's the video:

The venue is noisy and stressful, and many of the dogs who normally did well were running poorly, either from stress or just being tired. Pepe had already been competing in conformation the four days before, so he was definitely tired. So tired that he didn't want to get out of bed the next morning! But we had to be there at 7 a.m. to walk the course for round 2, so we trudged in just in time.

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Photograph copyright Michael Loftis.

Walking the course is an essential part of running agility. The courses are made up of up to 20 obstacles, arranged as though a psychotic drunkard had placed them. Your job is to memorize the order and figure out the best way to direct your dog from one obstacle to the next. Various traps are intermingled where the dog thinks he should keep jumping straight but instead must veer off. You have 10 minutes to walk the course; it's never enough time.

Pepe's round 3 run was slower than usual, but it was going well until I forgot what side I had planned to have him on after the weaves, tried to fix it and drew him off course. It costs us a 5 point refusal for a score of 95. Here's the video:

Round 4 was what they called a hybrid course; it included two contact obstacles -- Pepe's nemesis! He never can seem to get his paws in the yellow zone. But maybe because he was tired, he ran slower than usual, touched the yellow on both the A-frame and teeter, still came in under time and scored a perfect 100!

In the end, Pepe ended up as high-scoring Saluki, and placed 82nd (out of 145) in his class. I have never been thrilled with an 82nd place before, but I could not have been more proud of him! No, he didn't make the finals -- only the elite did -- but like all the competitors, we were proud to just be there.

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2013 AKC Agility Invitational Winners. Standing (left-right): AKC Agility Director Carrie DeYoung; 8" winner Andrea Samuels & Carly, Papillon; 12" winner Estelle Robinson & Ziggy, Chinese Crested; AKC Field Representative. Kneeling: 16" winner Tammy Hall & Zu-Zu, Pumi; 20" winner Jamie Herren & Zip, Border Collie; 24" winner Melanie Rock & Shiloh Rock, Doberman Pinscher. Credit: Great Dane Photos © AKC

But some dogs not only showed up, they kicked butt! The height division winners were:

  • 8" class: Papillon: Carly (CH NAC MACH5 Starstruck Anticipation MXB2 MJS2 OF T2B)
  • 12" class: Chinese Crested: Ziggy (MACH4 China Road Ziggy's Split Decision MXG MJS2 OF T2B)
  • 16" class: Pumi: Zu-Zu (MACH3 Vidam Kertesz Sugar MXG MJG OF T2B)
  • 20" class: Border Collie: Zip (MACH11 No Limit MXS3 MJG3 MXF MFG TQX T2B5)
  • 24" class: Doberman Pinscher: Shiloh Rock (MACH6 Rock's Indian Sunburn MXB2 MJB2 OF T2B)

Every dog had his or her bio read during one of the runs, and a streaming video on the Internet. Results were instantaneous; the gate steward scanned a barcode from a tag we'd been given as we walked in the ring, and by the time we were out the score was posted! I'd been warned about the noise from the dock diving and demo area next to us, but there was a wall between and it really wasn't that loud. Floors were covered with a thick rubber surface that was non-skid and cushioned; I never heard a single complaint about it. The equipment itself was brand new and state of the art. The AKC Agility Invitational scored a perfect 100! 

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier

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