After beeing a part of, and judging a big and amazing championship like FCI European Open I am left with so many emotions. It is really such a powerful, intriguing and heavenly experience, and at the same time you get to take a look at how far we have gotten with agility, and where there are room for improvement on the different levels of our beloved sport.
The magic “7”
The last year, especially after the Agility World Championship in 2022 there has been an insane strong focus on the 7m in the designer world. Discussions on our national FB page in Norway, on Agility Europe FB page, and in different judge forums. The sport is moving in the direction of more flowy courses, more distances, more secure obstacles and more focus on trained skills in our dogs in addition to the handlers being able to handle while also moving. It came as no surprise to me that this was also the focus of FCI when the courses for EO were sent to be approved and later built.
The mindset when designing
I must admit that for me the process around designing for EO gave me an extra challenge; maintaining the safety for all dogs, creating fluid and nice lines in courses with the correct skill level for such an event, even with the focus of strict obeying the 7m-limitation in mind. I am a real agility geek, and I have developed a strong passion for course design and the meaning of good course design to educate young dogs to “find” nice lines and more experienced dogs to show them that they can do amazing shit. Now I really had to focus on this one rule
To me, a good agility course should be safe, fluent and rely on the natural movement of the dogs. The dog should have room to land, take some steps and have time for lead changes, regain balance, receive a command and abide by it. In this way, I think the current rules in FCI are discriminating against Large dogs. For small and medium dogs this is not a problem. For intermediate, and especially large dogs this is not possible with only 7 meters in between two straight jumps. I had large dogs take only one stride between numbers 16-17. This means that the dogs should be able to land, change lead, look at the handler where to go, listen to the command, take off, and not touch any bars on the wet grass. All in one stride.
I marked some dots for take-off and landing sites for large dogs:
The safety of giving more distance
By using turns to give more space, the dogs could regain balance between jumps. Imbalanced dogs lead to jumping into wings, falling over at the landing side. If I, the judge and/or the handler is not perfect, the dogs will have fewer strides to; regulate, change plan, change leed or regain balance. We might not have any significant direct injuries (luckily) this weekend. But we sure had a lot of bars, wings and dogs falling over, unnecessary sliding, dogs ramming into the handler’s legs or just facepalming down in the dirt. I also saw a lot of dogs being absolute heroes making it through so much crazy stuff.
Distance ≠ speed?
The most common argument against increased distances is the dog’s speed when you talk about it, but there are many ways for us judges to regulate speed. To reduce speed, we can add wraps, cross the course along the short side instead of the long side of the course and have a lot of turns. To increase speed we can put straight long tunnels, straight jumps and cross the course the long way.
Crossing the course the long way to add speed
Crossing the course the short way, adding wraps and more turns gives less speed
Both of these visuals have a lot of space between the jumps, but one is still giving more speed than the other.
The complexity in the speed discussion
9m vs. straight tunnels.
If 9 meters between jumps is «dangerous» because of high speed, what about a straight 6 m tunnel with jumps straight before/ after? Even with a minimum distance of 5m, you will have at least 16m in a straight line. Or even two 6m tunnels after each other. Still within the rules.
Speed controlled by coursedesign
In my opinion, the speed should be controlled by the course. It should never be regulated by shorten distances between jumps. It is simply not fair to the larger dogs. To make rules of short distances to limit speed limit is both counter-productive, an unlogic rule that erases the authority of the rules and it limits course design. In my opinion, it also affects the safety of the dogs.
We need to balance of the controlling of speed for safety of the highest motivated dogs, combined with creating lines and flow that do not reduce motivation for dogs with a lower motivation (which too many wraps and collections in a course might result in).
Limitation of course design
I was in the end satisfied with my courses in EO, obeying the 7m rule.
As mentioned we measure the distance between center-center of the jumps. So when I used backside/inside turns all the time I got more space, up to 9m on the dogs line
How distances are measured vs. meters on the dogs line:
Even though this is a good solution for the dog now, it restricts course design a lot. You have to make everything “add up”, still abide by all the other rules, make it safe and interesting.
Judges are humans too
In addition to all the written rules, there are so many things with course design to have in mind that I will not even try to list it. And with all this in mind, I think it is too demanding to ask judges to every time make such perfect courses that are also within 7m. Allowing more distance would ease the design for all judges, experienced and not so experienced ones, and in the end ensure the safety for larger dogs, even when the judges are not creating perfect lines.
With today’s rules judges quite often have to decide whether to break the rule or to make a nice course. This again does not give the rules a lot of credit and reliance.
How about the other rules and regulations?
The immense focus on 7m seems to be clouding other rules and giving a reason to “arrest” progressive and passionate judges. Several times during the weekend I and the FCI-delegate had to double-check stuff on the course after suspicion of incorrect meters. Even after the course was already approved. Luckily I had an FCI delegate that also had safety as his main object, so it got continuously resolved.
An example of a rule I observe ignored regularly is the dogs line after the tire:
In my opinion, for the sake of dogs safety, the respect for this type of rule and common sense is more important than the 7m-distance limitation.
The road ahead
To improve the championship, the flagships of our sport I think all judges should be nominated through FCI. FCI should be an organ for discussion between countries, and a place to choose judges that are relevant for the development of the sport. I also believe that the national judge also should be appointed through the FCI. Not all countries have relevant international-level judges, and the FCI-agility committee should be able to be the judge of that, not the national club.
Rules keeping up with the development
So many top-athletes and judges think that a rule is wrong that is the case with the 7m rule points to a too-rare change in the rules. Now the rules can change every 5 years. To make continuous progress in our sport the rules need to keep up. Agility is not the same as it was 5, 10 or 15 years ago.
To make the rule changes relevant it is also super important to active and involved judges and teams towards their countries’ FCI-delegate and the national committee for agility. Judges should continuously be curious, really observe when judging, stay humble, discuss with other judges and agility teams and be active within the sport themselves. The rules should be as few as possible to make them relevant and reliant.
Judge education and cooperation
I was super lucky to get an extensive ( and sometimes a bit harsh😉) design education from Jan Egil Eide. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me so much more knowledge about our beloved sport. For that, I am forever grateful. I am also lucky that Norwegian judges have made a culture for sharing and discussing course design with an open mind with only the best interest of our dogs in mind. I think it gives great premises for the agility future.
I wish the judges for next year’s EO the best of luck! It was an amazing experience, an insanely cool atmosphere and I made memories for a lifetime!
My courses for EO 2023