Recently, my cousin-in-law Joanie and her chocolate Lab, Lulu, competed in their first Agility Trial. Joanie was hoping Lulu would just make it through. She not only made it through, she exceeded Joanie’s expectations.
Joanie explained to me that the dogs are scored in two categories: Qualifying (or Q-ing to seasoned competitors) and Place.
To qualify in its level, the dog has to do the event with only a minimal amount of “faults,” like refusing to do something, doing something out of order, or jumping onto or off of the top of the A-frame instead of going all the way up and all the way down. There’s an area about three feet from the beginning and end that’s called the contact area. It’s painted a different color from the rest of the A-frame. At least one of the dog’s paws has to touch the contact area or you get a fault. Each fault is worth a certain number of points that are deducted from the run.
For Place, judges look at total number of points plus time. Speed and a clean run (no faults) are the goal.
Lulu did three events: Standard, Colors and Jackpot.
In Standard, the judge sets up a course of 13 numbered obstacles and the dog has to do them in order. In order to qualify for Level 1, she could only get docked 10 points. She did everything in order, but when she got to the top of the A-Frame, she sailed off it and didn’t touch the contact area. She lost 15 points, so she was an “NQ”, or no qualifying. However, she came in first place in her level!
In Colors, the judge lays out two overlapping courses. One is marked with purple numbered cones, and the other with yellow. The handler tells the judge which course the dog will follow, and prays the dog will not choose the other, thus losing points. Also, the usual faults are counted. Lulu did this one perfectly and at breakneck speed. She got a Q and first place!
In Jackpot, the course builder sets up obstacles in the ring, but the handler plans her own course, trying to rack up as many points as possible. The dog earns one point per jump, three points per circle obstacle (tunnel, elevated tire), and five points for the contact obstacles (A-frame, seesaw, elevated dog walk). After 30 seconds, the timer blows the whistle and the handler brings the dog to the center, where a four-obstacle course is set up. The dog has to go through the four obstacles in order, but the handler is restricted to being in a small area in the center of the course.
Of Jackpot, Joanie says: “In this one, Lulu racked up a ton of points — I actually had to do more obstacles than I had planned because she was so fast, but when we got to the center part, the last two things she had to do were run through a tunnel, and then jump over a jump that was outside the handler working area. I got too far ahead of her while she was in the tunnel, so when she came out, I had to stop short so I didn’t go over the line, and she stopped right next to me and wouldn’t budge! So, we lost two points for not doing the last jump, and she didn’t Q because she didn’t finish. However, she took first place in her level because of speed and points!”
Joanie continued: “So, we came home with three first-place ribbons and one Q ribbon. Whew! It was a total blast. I made one mistake and she made one mistake. Pretty good for a first time. Now, she has to Q in all of the rest of the events (I think there are a total of six) before she can move up to Level 2. Then, she has to Q in all of those in order to move to Level 3. This could take years!! Most importantly, we really had a lot of fun. I’m definitely going to do this again!”
Max with Lovely Lulu.