(Originally written March 20, 2017)
In Canada, we have Regionals which are qualifying events for AAC Nationals; however, they are also an event of its own right. At Regionals, agility enthusiasts and competitors meet for a weekend and run six courses (two standard, two gamblers, and two jumpers). These courses are designed by Masters Judges from across the country and a selection is sorted and sent to the event for another Masters Judge to judge. All dogs, regardless of level in their regular competitions, go head-to-head with other dogs in their division (e.g., 16” Specials, 6” Double-Drop Veterans, 26” Regular).
The goal of Regionals is to accumulate as many points as you can; these points are earned in each of the courses. In Standard, you start with 100 points, and each fault is deducted from that 100. Run clean, and the difference between your course time and the standard course time is added as bonus points. In Jumpers, you start with 75 points, with the same principles as Jumpers. In Gamblers, the points you earn in the opening are yours to keep (provided you attempt the main gamble). If you get the main gamble, you get a bonus of 35 points. It is very rare, but 0-point runs are possible.
These points are then tallied at the end of the six courses, for the dog/handler team’s Regionals score. If a dog/handler team accumulates 350 points or more at Regionals, then they have qualified to enter Nationals! If you qualify, you don’t have to go, but if you do want to compete at Nationals, you need to qualify for it first. Each qualifying team is awarded a beautiful Qualifier Rosette!
But that’s not all…. Within each division, there are placements based on the team’s overall Regionals score. For example, 16” Specials dogs can compete for placement ribbons (again, fancy rosettes). The number of placements depends on the number of dogs entered in the division. The winner in each division receives a trophy from AAC! There is also acknowledgement of the top team across all divisions. There are no Q’s for titles and no individual class placements. It is simply the overall performance across the six courses.
Aside from the fancy ribbons, trophies, and the chance to qualify for Nationals, there are other important reasons to enter Regionals. First, the event is a lot of fun! Everyone runs the same course, which means everyone gets to enjoy watching their friends run the exact same course. This makes for a lot of cheering, groans, shared discussions of “what are you doing for this section?” It introduces a new level of sports psychology and challenges for the handler, and can highlight training gaps. Conversely, it can also highlight your training strengths!
Speaking of training, there is nothing like an event such as Regionals to help motivate you out of a training slump. Pushing yourself out of a comfort zone means you are more likely to try new things in training and to introduce new challenges to your dog. These new challenges keep the game fresh for the team, and help take the dog’s skill to the next level.
Finally, here’s the biggest reason why I love Regionals. It is truly the ONLY consistent test of my team’s agility skills and the impact of my year’s training with my partner. It is the same level of complexity/ease each year. All other competitions do not provide me with that type of feedback, because we progress and the judge changes. So the type of course in May 2017 (Starters) isn’t the same type of course in May 2018 (Advanced) or May 2019 (Masters). Also, because the courses at the Regionals are from an assortment of judges, it provides a more reliable measure of our skill than a single trial with one judge’s courses. My team might excel at that one judge’s style of courses or we may fail. With multiple judges’ courses, we are less likely to have an evaluation bias based on judge’s style. We also get a chance to run a course from someone who is too far away to be brought in for a regular trial!
With my previous three agility partners, I had waited until I felt we were nearly perfect before entering our first Regionals. That approach meant that my first two partners NEVER saw a Regionals event. It also meant that Kelsey and I have never not qualified for Nationals. Yet I know we missed out on a lot because of that approach.
That is why I’m entering Jenga now. He has all his equipment skills, we have sequencing skills, and he is old enough to compete. We are not perfect, we have a ways to go before I would consider us qualification-guaranteed-ready; however, this is the best time for me to get a true baseline measure of his performance skills and our team skills. I am not expecting to qualify for Nationals. I’m not even expecting to place! Those are outcomes, they are not my focus. Rather I will enjoy our experience, and I will have fun, walk away with our list of training gaps and a list of our training successes!
If you are a Canadian agility enthusiast/competitor, I hope you too consider entering Regionals. It’s not just for the wonderful and talented Agility Gods of our country. It is an event that is meant to be accessible to all competitors of all levels. If your dog doesn’t have the equipment skills, sequencing skills, then now is not the time. But if you do… take the leap to the next level of fun and feedback!