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Supporting Starters Through Seminars

How can one club get more competitors to try USDAA agility? By Brenna Fender



Diane and Stat at the 2013 Cynosport World Games. Photo courtesy of GreatDanePhotos.
Diane Sanders of Contact Sports Agility in Illinois wanted to help develop interest in USDAA in an area where USDAA agility isn't common. She decided to offer an "introduction to USDAA" seminar in conjunction with the first of two USDAA trials at Forest City Dog Training in Rockford, Illinois. Gayle Dixon, a USDAA newbie herself, helped arrange the seminar, which was held January 24, 2014. This gave competitors plenty of time to enter the March 14-16 trial. 

The instruction was both informative and highly organized. Diane Sanders said, "We decided to break the seminar into two [sections] and all participants were given a handout with our PowerPoint slides on them (80 of them!) to take notes on during the lecture portion. The first [section] was a two-hour PowerPoint presentation broken into four parts and taught by four different instructors." Three out of the four presenters were both USDAA judges and long-time competitors, and the fourth was a highly successful USDAA competitor (Sanders herself!). This wealth of experience and expertise made for a detailed and helpful program. 

USDAA Masters judge Jennifer Siegel led part one, which included an introduction to USDAA programs, jump heights, classes, equipment, and titles. Sanders said, "There were a lot of questions on jump heights so each competitor was asked to look up their dog's height at the withers in each of the height charts to place their dog in a championship, performance, and veteran height. This helped when explaining the equipment so they could make the translation to their dog's A-frame height, long jump length, spread widths, et cetera."

From the PowerPoint presentation....

The second part was taught by USDAA Advanced judge Emily Klarman. This portion addressed the differences between AKC and USDAA (all the seminar attendees had previously competed in AKC, Sanders said, so they used it as a frame of reference). Topics included differences in equipment, judging differences, regional and national competitions and their qualifying requirements, and what Sanders called "culture differences" (no collars during runs, the fact that puppies are allowed at trials, and so on). She says, "We had links to a few YouTube videos taken at a recent USDAA trial showing puppies playing on the sidelines, people cheering for each other, dogs playing off-leash away from the ring.... People seemed really interested in the relaxed atmosphere of a 'real trial;' when they had been hold USDAA was very competitive, they assumed that meant strict and uptight. We explained what a great venue it is to start a young dog [in] and how relaxed it is for a nervous dog as well as all the ring experience you can [get]." 


The presentation emphasized USDAA's sense of fun as well as focus on competitive challenge.

The third part, a focus on the Gamblers class, was taught by USDAA Masters judge Beth Diehl. She explained the rules, strategies, and terminology. Examples of courses were shown for Starters, Advanced, and Masters so that competitors would know what to expect at all levels. 
 
A detailed look at Snooker, taught by Sanders, was the final part of the seminar. She explained the rules, the opening versus the closing period, super Q's, and strategies of the game. 

The Snooker lecture then led into the second section of the seminar: running an actual course. Sanders says, "Because Snooker is a very uniquely USDAA game, we then set up a Snooker course for the participants that entered the working portion of the seminar. We walked it together, we answered a lot of questions, and we all ran it with a real judge out there calling numbers and a timer that buzzed when time was finished. We talked about it and re-walked and teams that had [time left over on their first run] did more aggressive plans and those that ran out of time did less aggressive plans. We talked about playing to the dog's strengths and minimizing courses that had their weaknesses. We had a blast! Everyone was laughing and having fun but still really pushing themselves to be as competitive as they could be in this new game. At the end I gave out a coupon for a free snooker class entry at my upcoming trial so there was no excuse not to give it a try for free!" 

The Forest City facility was beautiful and spacious - a great place for the seminar and trial! Photo courtesy of Forest City Dog Training.

All four seminar instructors donated their time and the club only charged enough to cover the cost of heating the building and providing snacks. The goal was to make the seminar available to anyone who wanted to come. About 30 competitors signed up to attend to learn more about USDAA. Unfortunately, a blizzard kept many of them from attending, but the interest was definitely quite high. 

At the trial, the Starters competitors that attended the seminar were well prepared for the challenges of USDAA. This increased confidence and success. Dixon attended the seminar and then entered the trial, her first USDAA experience. She says, "The information that was shared at the seminar was very beneficial, it answered a lot of my questions, and made me much more at ease with the differences between venues. It truly made me much more comfortable when I entered my first USDAA trial! Since then I have participated in approximately four more trials and plan on continuing!" 

USDAA novice competitor Janis Foor also found the seminar to be very helpful. Foor is an experienced AKC competitor with her three dogs (Jordan, a Boston Terrier; Addie, a Boxer; and Max, an American Eskimo) but had never tried USDAA until she entered the seminar. She says, "I thought that I would try USDAA since Beth [Diehl] and Diane [Sanders] always talk about how friendly the trials are. Jordan stress sneezes when he trials in AKC and hasn't gotten a Q in over a year, but we had a blast. No sneezing! The games were fun and the people and judge were very friendly and helpful. The seminar and trial were a very positive experience and am looking forward to our next USDAA [trial]. I wouldn't have shown in USDAA without doing the seminar and getting to try some of the games."

Trial judge Bud Houston praises the club's efforts to educate new competitors. He says, "The intro seminar for USDAA agility is a terrific idea; making an early introduction to agility games and demonstrating that USDAA agility is simple and fun (contrary to popular perception). I'm impressed that a club will engage in this sort of education program."

Are you interested in setting up a seminar for USDAA newbies in your area? If you need help getting started, please contact Andy Hartman at Ahartman@usdaa.com. 

Brenna Fender is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Florida with her husband, two children, three dogs, and various other creatures. Want to submit articles to USDAA.com? Contact Brenna at bfender@usdaa.com.

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