Tearing Up the Course (Part 3): Competing with Your Pit Bull

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Even if you and your pit bull started agility training "just for fun," the time may come when you look at the incredible canine athlete jumping and weaving her way through your home agility course, and you begin to wonder about competing and earning titles.

Which Agility Organization

As discussed in part one of Tearing Up the Course, agility trials are held by local training clubs and sanctioned by several national organizations, each with their own rules, performance ideals, scoring systems, and titles. So, what are your options as a pit bull owner?

AKC - American Kennel Club

Until very recently, your dog had to be a purebred of an AKC recognized breed to compete in AKC agility trials. For pit bull owners, this usually meant your dog either had to be an AKC registered American Staffordshire Terrier or look like one in order to qualify for a Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) number (formerly known as an ILP--Indefinite Listing Privilege--number). Mixed breed owners and those with non-AKC purebreds were out of luck.

But not anymore! Thanks to the AKC's brand new Canine Partners program, your pit bull is now eligible to compete and earn AKC agility titles even if he does not resemble a purebred AmStaff. This is good news, because in most parts of the country, AKC trials are the most plentiful of all the agility competitions. Your dog has to be spayed or neutered to apply for a PAL or Canine Partners number, and it's up to the local training club holding the AKC sanctioned trial whether they want to allow dogs that aren't AKC recognized purebreds, but most of them do.

AKC courses tend to be tighter with more challenging angles, but the course time allowance is more generous than USDAA and NADAC. Trials are open to dogs 12 months and over. There are three levels--Novice, Open, and Excellent--and there are no weave poles when competing in Novice. In addition to being able to earn titles in the standard class at each level, there's also one non-standard titling class: Jumpers With Weaves is available at all three levels and consists of only jumps, weave poles, and tunnels. The AKC also offers a Preferred division at each level with lower jumps and additional course time, which is great for older dogs.

USDAA - United States Dog Agility Association

The USDAA is America's oldest agility organization as well as the largest international authority responsible for setting the standards for the sport of canine agility. USDAA trials are open to dogs of all breeds (including mixed breeds) aged 18 months or older.

Higher jumps, taller contact obstacles, narrower planks, and faster course times combine to make USDAA trials the most challenging. Many people find that USDAA trials are far more competitive and less relaxed than the other venues, especially at the Masters level. But don't let that deter you. Things are much more laid-back in Starters where you'll begin. USDAA is for the top athletes of the canine world; less athletic breeds tend to fare better elsewhere.

USDAA's three levels are Starters/Novice (Novice is for handlers who've already earned an USDAA title with a different dog; Starters is for those totally new to USDAA), Advanced, and Masters. In addition to the standard titling class at each level, there are four non-standard titling classes (a.k.a. games): Jumpers, Gamblers, Snooker, and Pairs. Jumpers is a fast and fun course consisting of only jumps and tunnels. It's a great choice for a super fast, young pit bull who is perhaps not solid on all the obstacles yet. USDAA also offers a Performance division with lower jumps heights, no spread jumps, a lower A-frame, and additional time allowances that's a good option for older dogs.

NADAC - North American Dog Agility Council

At NADAC trials, the focus is on safety, speed, and fun. There are presently about 160 NADAC affiliated clubs in the US, and trials are open to dogs of all breeds (including mixed breeds) aged 18 months or older.

Courses tend to be spacious with plenty of distance between obstacles, so handling mistakes are less likely to translate into faults. Moreover, a number of obstacles common to other venues have been removed from NADAC for safety and other reasons. These obstacles include the teeter (seesaw), chute (collapsed tunnel), spread jumps (doubles and triples), broad jump, and pause table. Some other obstacles, such as the A-frame, are smaller, scaled down versions of what the other organizations use. Course times, however, are fast.

NADAC does not penalize refusals, and while most other venues require a clean run to earn points toward a title, NADAC allows you to earn a reduced number of qualifying points with five faults or less. This makes NADAC particularly suitable for someone new to agility, especially if they have a fast dog. NADAC's three levels are called Novice, Open, and Elite, and there are separate divisions for Veterans (dogs over 7 or handlers over 60) and Junior Handlers (handlers aged 17 or under). Additionally, no one offers more games (non-standard titling classes) than NADAC. There's Tunnelers, Touch N Go, Weavers, Jumpers, Hoopers, and Chances.

CPE - Canine Performance Events

CPE is relatively new on the agility scene but growing rapidly. Presently there are about 140 CPE affiliated clubs in the US. Emphasis is on fun, and trials tend to be relaxed and laid back. CPE allows dogs of all breeds (including mixed breeds) aged 15 months or older.

Trials are structured to allow new handlers and their dogs to experience success early on. Jump heights are a little lower and course time allowances are more generous. Moreover, there are no weave poles and no teeter in CPE Level 1. Additionally, CPE--like NADAC--allows you to earn points toward a title even without a clean run (you are allowed up to 10 faults at levels 1-4 and up to 5 faults at level 5; only the C level requires a clean run to qualify).

CPE offers six levels of competition and six non-standard games classes. The games classes are divided into three categories: Handlers Games (Colors and Wildcard classes), Strategy Games (Jackpot and Snooker classes), and Fun Games (Full House and Jumpers classes). Titles are earned in the standard class and in each of the three games categories. CPE also offers Veterans, Junior Handler, Enthusiast, and Specialist divisions with lower jump heights and greater time allowances.

UKC - United Kennel Club

In UKC agility trials, the focus is on form and precision over speed. Mixed breed dogs can compete with a Limited Participation registration. The vast majority of UKC clubs are located in the Midwest and the East, so UKC agility isn't an option for people in many parts of the country. Trials are open to all dogs aged 12 months and older.

UKC courses are smaller, tighter, and slower. They also feature several innovative obstacles--such as the sway bridge and crawl tunnel--not seen elsewhere. Proper execution of the obstacles is stressed at all times. For instance, points are deducted for entering or exiting contact obstacles at an angle. Jumps are lower and time allowances are quite generous, as the emphasis is on precision and control.

CPE Level 1, NADAC Novice, USDAA Jumpers, and AKC Novice are all great choices for your first agility trial. If you think you and your pit bull are ready for competition, check the organizations' websites for upcoming trials in your area. You'll need to register with the organization of your choice, and make sure you study the rule book carefully before your first agility event. Of course you do not need to limit yourself to one organization. Many people compete in two or even three venues.

Not sure if you're ready for competition? Try a Fun Match or Show & Go first. These events offer the opportunity to run an agility course under the conditions you'll find at actual trials. Your run will be timed, judged, and scored, plus you'll get a chance to experience check-ins, pre-run course walk throughs, and working with a judge in the ring. Check Clean Run for a list of upcoming Fun Matches in your area.

Good luck!

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