The Agility Community

Today we’re preparing to host the 2018 Petit Prix, which is the national championship event of the Teacup Dogs Agility Association. This is my favorite agility competition each year, by far.

The Petit Prix is never really a huge event numbers-wise. Taken on balance it’s about the size of your average neighborhood agility trial, and certainly nowhere near the maddeningly huge national events hosted by the big agility organizations in America.

We’re past the closing date, and I have nothing to sell. But, I have something to say that has been gnawing at me for a time.

Pioneers and Champions

Participation in dog agility isn’t really growing in this country. Indeed, it is modestly shrinking just about everywhere. It’s all about money, which should be no surprise. But it’s a more complicated problem than just cost.

We are losing our champions, the pioneers who embraced this sport back in the 1980’s and 90’s. We have lost people like Ruth Van Keuren, and Zona Butler, and will soon lose Jane McManus (when she finds a buyer for her property up in South Boardman, Michigan. This is not an exhaustive list. Agility people all around the country remember the early champions of the sport that created the agility world and inspired them to train dogs and play the game.

Zona Butler’s name when I first met here was Zona Tooke. So I’ll always think of her as a heroic Hobbit, like Bilbo. She was the unstoppable force in Colorado who turned her small farm into an agility training center; spent weekends running around the state to do agility demonstrations; carved out agility events at county fairs and the state fair. She was an early advocate for the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA). The history is more colorful and complicated than that. But it’s important to remember Zona as a heroic Hobbit.

When she retired, Zona and I had a chat. She complained to me that a lot of new agility training centers had popped up around Denver. And their chief marketing strategy was to denigrate her, bad-mouth her, and so steal her students.

I reminded her of something I had read. In East of Eden Steinbeck wrote that pioneers came to Salinas Valley, California and scratched civilization into the poor land and established streets and farms, commerce and a community of families. But they were poorly remembered by those who came after and were swept aside by whores and bankers who profited from the now fruitful place.

The Complicated Market-Place

What’s really dragging down our sport is that we don’t focus on “community”. Instead, the focus is on profit. Hang out the shingle and rake in the dough seems to be the primary motivation.

Ruth Van Keuren was a marvelous champion of our sport. I co-authored a book with her back in the day, that focused on how to train dogs for our sport. But it’s very important to understand that her primary motivation was to bring children into our sport and use dog agility to teach them to be dog trainers, and dog lovers and compassionate caretakers of their canine charges. She had a huge family oriented 4H program that literally created the next generation of agility players in Minnesota.

When we lost Ruth, we also lost her vision and her motivation. So where are the young people in our sport today? Without Ruth, and moreover, without her motivation, then we are lost.

The Expense

Okay, dog agility is too expensive for the young player. And in our depressed economy we’ll define “young player” as someone into his or her 30’s.

The typically American agility player is a bit of a woos. So, trial and training must to be heated and air conditioned; we need to have turf; equipment has to be rubberized. And as we’re pretty much lost the pitch-in-and-help generation, an agility trial must have “paid” workers. This is a recipe for expense that cannot be avoided or mitigated.

I have a lot of compassion for and understanding of the agility training entrepreneur. You have lots of money invested in building , fixtures and equipment. You have bills to pay every month. And if you rent your facility… then you are trapped by inescapable recurring expenses.

What to do?

And, by the Way

Thunder Pawz is hosting an Invitational Tournament in Peoria, IL on October 20 and 21, 2018. Entries are about half the cost of any traditional agility trial. And, because the club isn’t beholding to any agility organization half of their income will go back to exhibitors in a fun sweepstakes format.

You can download the premium here:

The Thunder Paws sweepstakes tournament is an experiment in growing their agility community. If you have the weekend off, this might be a lot more fun that mowing the lawn.

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One Response to “The Agility Community”

  1. Linda Locke Says:

    We need to be open and welcoming to new agility competitors. I am relatively new to the sport, it was not easy to break into agility. NDAL is a perfect solution to those you want to put a toe into agility rather than jumping all at once.

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