The Fortune Cookie

On a Saturday night a number of years ago I went out to my favorite Chinese restaurant with some friends. That night the fortune in my fortune cookie was unlike any I’d ever seen, or have seen since. It was a blank piece of paper. On Monday I was let go (RIF’d) from my job. Coincidence?

I am going to summarize my findings from a brief survey I conducted on the impact of the economy on dog agility. Be mindful that I am not a scientist or even a statistician. I just take it all in, and then regurgitate it.


There were 88 respondents to the questions. Though predominately these were on the Northeast and Midwest, there were respondents from every region of the U.S. Also, there were several respondents from Canada.

In the study I assigned these scores to individual responses:

+1 to a positive response (no economic impact)
0 to a neutral response
-1 to a negative response (measurable economic impact)
blank to no response

The four questions earned these total scores:

Impact of the economy on class participation -45 / -15
Impact of the economy on seminar participation -48 / -48
Impact of the economy on trial participation -69 / -51

Impact of the economy on keeping the dog 0 / +27

The first number represents the total number of negative responses.

The second number represents the mitigated total. That means starting at zero the number goes up for a positive response and down for a negative response.


My results are based on an insignificant statistical sampling, which are probably skewed by the by the notion that the majority of respondents were reporting personal observations based on their own adverse economic straits.

It’s worth noting that responses to seminar participation had no positive numbers to balance the total scores. People were clearly more likely not to respond to the question at all than to say something positive.

The question of trial participation cannot be completely assigned to the economy in spite of what we might want to make of it on a visceral level. The truth of the matter is that the number of agility venues is increasing, the number of host clubs is increasing, and the average numbers of trials per year per host club is probably marginally increasing. What all of this means is that competition might easily be nearly as important a factor as economy.

Discussion of Factors

A lot of people have been dramatically affected on a personal level by this economy. Many cited rising debt and compromised income. Several have lost their jobs having dramatic consequence in their ability to participate in this recreational sport. The high cost of gasoline was a constant feature chiefly affecting participation in classes and trials. There was certainly some acknowledgement and relief at the downward trend of gasoline prices.

Several respondents reported animals other than dogs to care for, including cats, birds, horses, and other livestock. In difficult economic conditions many animal lovers are responsible for more than just their dogs.

Many respondents mention that they participate in multiple sports that competed for the dog recreation budget. These sports run the gamut of your imagination (obedience, disc, freestyle, dock-diving, earthdog… you name it).

More than a couple respondents mentioned that the housekeeper had to go to free up more money for the agility bug. And, I quote this from one respondent: I guess dog agility is sort of like liquor stores and bars, even in a tough economy it’s too much enjoyment to not do it.

Impact of the economy on class participation

Of the participation questions respondents indicated that the weekly class (or schedule of private lessons) would be the last thing they give up. Agility class is a continuous and reliable recreation, learning experience, and avenue for social networking.

While most respondents answered as consumers; some answered as providers. One respondent noted that for classes the topic of money comes up in the initial interview a lot sooner than it used to. But those providers should take note that the most common complaint by the consumer respondent is about increases in class fees.

A surprising percentage of respondents have made budgetary concessions to keep the overall expense of classes down. A student who might have done two classes a week with one dog will cut down to a single class every week. A student with multiple dogs will take fewer classes, alternating sessions, splitting sessions, taking fewer “slots”.

A few respondents noted that the cost of driving to class was equal to or greater than the cost of the class itself.

Impact of the economy on seminar participation

In general respondents indicate they make these extraordinary purchase decisions based upon who is the seminar presenter; and what is the cost of the seminar.

Many respondents simply will not do seminars. It is unclear whether they have ever.

A few respondents mention that they look at very specific kind of content information about the seminar leader like what kind of dogs they understand, whether their system might provide any new kind of information.

Some demonstrated a degree of outrage at the high price of seminar presenters, feeling that top trainers are not in the trenches and don’t feel everyone else’s pain in this economy. There was no mechanism in this survey to measure whether the seminar presenters’ fees are unrealistic or whether the host clubs tend to charge at a premium for a profit.

Impact of the economy on trial participation

This topic was uppermost in the consideration of most respondents. It’s worth noting that the negative impact of a down economy appears to affect trial participation to the greatest extent. Certain geographic areas seem to be immune: a region of New England, the state of Colorado, and a mystical area in California measured no negative scores whatever.

One thing is clear, agility trials are a “Buyers’ Market”. The consumer can take all kinds of things into consideration: The stress level at a trial; the presence of smart alecks or crabby people; the timeliness/organization of the conduct of the trial; the friendliness (or lack thereof) of the host;

The most universal budget cutting comment pertained to the cost of travel: How many hours of driving? Is an over-night stay required? Many respondents have cut out overnight travel altogether. Some cite increased motel and hotel fees for dogs.

Respondents generally intend to make careful budget decisions when there are multiple choices and are more discriminating in choice of venue for trials. Most limit participation to specific venues (organizations) and have cut back on the number of venues in order to focus on a favorite venue, or two.

Some respondents indicate a preference for 3-day and 4-day trial opportunities. A few respondents indicated more interest for venues that provide multiple course/run opportunities in a day. These responses are contrasted with others who cut their expenses by limiting the number of runs they do at a trial especially when they are running multiple dogs.

There were plenty of complaints about increases in fees and charges for trial participation: Trial fees still inching up; increased fees to clubs/hosts by venue organizations (the AKC featured notably in this complaint).

A very few respondents noted that they are picky about who the judge is in making trial entry decisions, noting the tendency of some judges to offer ugly ungainly courses without flow, or with unreasonable challenges.

Impact of the economy on keeping the dog

Okay, this really was the wrong question for this survey. I’m always aware when working with agility people that it’s rather like preaching to the choir when it comes to discussions of the care and keeping of our dogs. For the most part the dog is the very last thing that most will sacrifice in this life, no matter how bad things get. [Like I say above, the house-keeper goes long before the dog.]

However, this question did invite a number of anecdotal comments that indicate a strong awareness of hard times for dogs in the broader context of American culture. Rescue workers report that dog surrenders are at crisis levels. It has never been this bad. Behavioral trainers indicate that many dog owners are faced with training problems they cannot afford to solve.

There were many comments indicating getting a new dog for agility would be out of the question, or the decision would have to be put off. The respondent might desire a new dog; but getting a dog in this uncertain economy mightn’t be the best choice.

Several respondents mentioned economic woes in other dog related services or sports. Some use their response to note the cost of feeding, supplements, dental and medical care for multiple dogs has become oppressive; and possibly the quality of care and the frequency of care has been compromised to an extent.

You’ll note that most respondents declined even to answer this question. I assume this means that the answer is too obvious to merit a response.


The Query

I posted this query to the AGILEDOGS Listserv:

Monday, January 05, 2009 11:17 PM

Impact of the Economy on Dog Agility

What is the impact of the economy–arguably our worst economic slide since the Great Depression–on the sport of dog agility?

This should be applied to a number of activities:

* Weekly classes

* Seminar attendance

* Participation in trials

* Keeping a dog

It might be useful if you reply to me offline at so as not to clutter up the list server. I’d be very interested in what =

region of the country you are in.

Please let me know if your own conclusions are:

* Personally compelling

* Observational

* Anectodal

I should also be interested in those of you play the game in a country other than the United States. It is a world economy, after all.

Thanks for your attention.


Bud Houston

blogging at

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4 Responses to “The Fortune Cookie”

  1. Kathy K Says:

    Like the Dr Seuss quote. Doenst make one very popular around the Kennel club here, though. Thanks for doing the survey. Interesting results. Kathy

  2. Nora Says:

    I don’t know what the cost is for other dog sports, but I do Flyball and Agility and there is so much Agility locally that I just don’t travel for it, since I HAVE to travel for Flyball tournaments. However, Flyball entries are much, much cheaper–usually around $120/team for the weekend, and if you have 6 dogs and split between the 6, a Flyball weekend is cheaper even factoring in gas and a hotel stay (usually just overnight for us, as we will get up really, really early and drive out the morning of the tournament).

    It was a bad time for AKC to raise their fees, IMO–trials just aren’t filling like they used to–but even though USDAA entries tend to be cheaper (except for tournament classes) it’s pretty much a wash–$4 or so cheaper per class doesn’t do much for you if you are entering everything with more than one dog. Even if you enter only what you “need” to finish a title (and if you want to do Grand Prix and Steeplechase, that right there is a day of AKC agility without FAST–never mind the rest of the classes you’re paying for for the weekend). And you generally have to commit a full day to USDAA (show up at 7:30 for checkin, don’t leave until after 5:00). Time is as important to me as money, especially weekend time, when I can get things done that I couldn’t during the week.

    Unfortunately, in order to be good at trialing you have to TRIAL. You probably won’t qualify much if you only do a few trials a year. Which makes it difficult to cut back a lot if you have goals you want to reach.

  3. Linda Says:

    Very interesting survey results. As Trial Chair for an up coming trial, I have been very concerned about what possible effects the latest financial downturn will cause. I noticed that some people cited cost of overnight trips. Did you get any comments about people buying RV’s rather than staying in motels? Personally, this has saved me some money since I run three dogs and only trial where I can dry camp on site for $10-20 per night.

  4. Judy Casserberg Says:

    I only do TDAA – except one AKC trial a year at our breed specialty. And I don’t trial much as I own a small business and weekends are workdays. I have noticed a reduced number of people at our dog obedience class but we have a yearly membership and can train as many dogs as we want so it hasn’t made much difference to us. My trialing is limited by timing and personal schedule more than anything else.

    But I am the trial chair for our local TDAA trial and how people view their agility dollar is important. The cost of renting a facility is my biggest concern at this point. That number makes a big difference in how much a local trial will cost. I think that if I can control that, I would have enough local folks to fill a trial. It would be great to have enough local trials that people wouldn’t have to worry about the travel expenses.

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