AKC Payouts Highlight Competitors’ Goals

This is an op-ed about changing the way AKC approaches its national event, international team tryouts, height classes, and brand new premier class.

Every year, the AKC gathers a diverse group of handlers and dogs under the umbrella of its National Agility Championship, which will be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma this week. Below is a chart of the payout schedule for a warm up run, which will not count for advancing toward the finals or challenger round, at the event. By taking a quick look at where people chose to spend their money with respect to this warm up, we uncover some interesting trends.

ISC and Premier Standard Sweepstakes Payout Schedules
ISC and Premier Standard Sweepstakes Payout Schedules

What’s the difference between ISC and Premier? Both are considered more challenging than the Master level. Basically, ISC reflects the style and challenges of FCI agility, the governing body for international dog agility that culminates in the Agility World Championship. Premier includes many elements handlers see on an international level, but customized for the AKC, with differences in rules and style from FCI. Please note that for this event, Premier will count toward titles but ISC will not.

1115 of the 1254 dogs attending the NAC are entered for this warm up run. For various reasons, 139 teams have elected not to run. How many people are specifically avoiding the relatively advanced handling challenges present on premier/international courses?

Let’s move on to the Preferred dogs, who are generally older and slower than dogs in the Regular class. In the regular height classes, 158 of the 916 (17%) of the dogs entered ISC. In the preferred height classes, only 10 of 199 (5%) entered ISC. This difference will surprise few people; does it imply that competitors perceive ISC to be more difficult than premier in terms of handling and/or competition?

Did people consider the potential prize pool for each class? If they wanted to win more money, they should have entered premier rather than ISC. The largest payouts for each height are all in the premier classes, except for one height—the 26” class, where the winner of the round will secure a spot on the European Open team. There are similar ISC spikes at 14” and 18” where spots on the European Open team are up for grabs. Clearly, the desire to make the EO team is a deciding factor for many people, even though only one spot is available in each height.

What will happen next year? A chain reaction is taking place; the domino that is falling comes from the drop in large dog height at the European Open and Agility World Championship from 26” to 24”. The existence of ISC was partly an attempt to use nationals to help determine Team USA for these events. Now, the process has become muddled as a 26” class continues to exist but without a 14” and 18” class in regular competition. Currently, the non-border collie breeds in 24” are protected since fast 20” dogs with international aspirations are forced to jump either their natural height or 26”. Without a 26” height class to compete for internationally, as even Team USA tryouts for those teams have dropped to 24”, the AKC may again be risking a border collie invasion of the 24” class.

Overhauling the international team selection process is a must for the AKC, but beyond the scope of this op-ed. Still, if AKC removes nationals as a nebulous, subjective factor for picking its international teams, they can comfortably remove ISC next year and continue to develop the premier program—its own specific brand of ISC. They can also remove the 26” class as the sudden drop in 26” entries from 64 dogs in ISC last year to 42 dogs this year is no coincidence. ISC class aside, 26” entries at nationals have dropped from 60 in 2014, to 42 in 2015, to 29 this year! Hopefully, this will create a stronger team to compete abroad while making the selection process more transparent and fair, all while protecting handlers and dogs who aren’t interested in international competition (even though they are very interested in handling challenges from international courses) at both local trials and national events.

Esteban Fernandezlopez

A long time agility competitor and co-creator of Bad Dog Agility, Esteban is serving as the first Editor-in-Chief of Dog Agility NOW.