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A Great Start in a Small Space

J.L. Gauntt describes a recent Intro Program Only trial.


On Sunday, September 2, 2011 Artful Dodgers Agility hosted USDAA's newest program offering, an Intro Program Only (IPO) trial in its training facility, the Oriole Dog Training Club (ODTC), in Woodlawn, Maryland. All four Intro Program classes were offered: Gamblers, Standard, Snooker, and Jumpers.

USDAA's Intro Program went live on August 1, 2011 with the stated goal of helping newcomers, both human and canine, to make the jump from training curriculum to formal competition, USDAA-style. These goals are a perfect fit for what Artful Dodgers/ODTC's agility training director Terence Murphy and his wife Michelle Murphy are currently seeking for the agility training program at the club. Terence has been Artful/ODTC's agilty training director now for not quite two years and is looking to expand the club's USDAA participation.

Competitors walk the course for Intro Gamblers. For both Standard and the Gamblers course designs, only two contacts are required which really helps to fit a course into a smaller space.

Club treasurer David Brawley gives USDAA agility a try with judge Sally Josselyn watching.

Club members training with Artful Dodgers/ODTC have a lot of choices to make when deciding what to train and where to trial. The Murphys look at the Intro Program as being a good way to expose more club members to USDAA agility in a supportive training environment.  Terence explains, "The first thing many of our newer club members try these days is CPE. The Intro Program Only trial [works for new agility competitors] just as well or maybe even better since it was [held] at our facility.  The small site really helps to contain the zoomies and it was especially good for bringing out a new dog and giving them that first taste of trial atmosphere."

Club members and non-club members attending the trial were very pleased with how it went. Many positive comments were received: "The courses looked great," "It was the right number of entries," and "We had time for a ribbon ceremony - unheard of these days at a regular trial."

Michelle Murphy preparing to hand out placement and qualifying ribbons. Ribbons are optional at IPO trials, but costs of holding an IPO trial are so low, Artful Dodgers/ODTC decided to offer them since it's so much fun to get those first ribbons.

I attended the event myself with one of my Masters level dogs as an For Exhibition Only (FEO) entry for training purposes to work on my A-frame contacts and recalls off the start line. I very much enjoyed watching my dog light up when the Frisbee unexpectedly came out. Perhaps my favorite part of attending, however, was getting to spend dedicated time helping with some of my newer students starting out; this is very hard for me to do at a regular trial since I am usually so busy with what's going on in the Masters ring.

Janet Gauntt and Sequel ran "for exhibition only." Club member Virginia O'Connell and Alice had a great first USDAA experience, earning a Q and 3rd place in Intro Gamblers

So how much dog agility can one do in a small facility? With a little bit of creativity, quite a bit! Artful Dodgers/ODTC operates in two side-by-side 4000 square foot buildings designed for office/warehouse activities. The agility building has a matted working space measuring 40' x 80' which fits the 3200 square foot minimum required to hold an IPO trial. Terence stationed the gate steward at the door joining the two buildings. Crating, scoring, and seating was in the adjacent building. As is also the case at the club's obedience show-and-go matches, having spectators in a small building like this is problematic. Terence solved this by setting up a video camera attached to a monitor in the crating area.

At this event, 36 competitors entered a total of 39 dogs. Some were club members and and some were not. About half of the dogs were new to the trial experience. "People were pretty much entered in everything," Terrance explained. "Weave poles seem to be the limiting factor in what people appear to enter."

Licensing fees are very low and the training facility costs the club nothing, so an IPO event can be quite profitable. Terence and Michelle chose to issue $25 vouchers towards other Artful Dodgers/ODTC trials to people who came as dedicated workers. "Since there are so many beginners there, having experienced people for key positions like gate steward and scorekeeper [helps keep] an IPO trial running smoothly," he explains. "Now that what we know how to set up an IPO here, we can see that the amount of work isn't too much different from what we do to set up for the obedience show and go. We'll just need to keep track of things so we can have different people able to set up as well for future IPOs."

Club member Sheila Mehring is shown here on deck to enter the ring. Sheila brought several of her Westies to try out USDAA.

This event was Michelle's first time being a secretary for a USDAA trial. Software running on the USDAA website was used to build the test schedule. The latest version of the agility trial secretary program used for the club's regular USDAA trials now supports Intro classes, so she used this software to organize the IPO trial. "The office staff was very helpful." Michelle thinks they'll look into scheduling another IPO trial later this year as well as adding Intro classes to the club's regular USDAA trials. She was particularly pleased to see the number of mini dogs entered in the trial.

Michelle Murphy and dedicated worker Janet Schriver score the Intro Gamblers class. Competitors were able to approach the score table at all times and check their scores on the results monitor and ask questions if necessary.

The dogs and competitors were not the only ones learning new trial skills. Intro Program classes can be judged by anyone with USDAA experience, so they offer a good opportunity for someone wanting to try their hand at judging. Intro Judge Sally Josselyn is a long-time competitor who has been running her Australian Shepherds in USDAA agility since 1994, putting ADCHs on five dogs. With that kind of experience, she had little problem with the rules, but said "Preferably I would like to do a judging clinic before I do the next Intro." As a judging gift, the club gave Sally a copy of Clean Run Course Designer in advance of the trial. That really helped. When I asked Sally what she enjoyed the most about judging an IPO trial, she said, "Surprisingly enough, the course design, even though that was what scared me the most. I was very proud of it when it was finished, like 'Look what I did!' The tight dimensions were a bit difficult to work with; it dictated a lot of things in the design that I would have preferred to avoid. And it was probably more difficult than if I had a standard square ring.  But I ran the courses by an experienced judge first and then the course reviewer was helpful in correcting a few things. The club made it easy. They had dedicated ring crew that was experienced. Course building [for the next class] (using the baseline method) started immediately after the last dog ran. Thankfully I knew to provide baseline course maps because the club has asked for a set-up course the night before.  And there was a person was there who knew how to use the timers."

Artful Dodgers/ODTC member Ann Pribyl handles Molson through the weave poles. Six weave poles must be performed in the Intro Standard class, but competitors may choose to avoid them if not quite ready for them in the Intro Gamblers class. Weaves are not required at all for Intro Snooker and Intro Jumpers.

And what did Sally think of the actual judging experience? "I thought it was very similar to your typical starters class; a few struggled, a few really wowed me, and there were many that showed promise. I was glad to see a lot of people that I had not seen at USDAA before and very happy to see that they were willing to try classes they hadn't done before. I was particularly glad to see how well people did at Snooker; in fact, [they did] a bit better than they had done in Gamblers."

Besides A-frame and jump heights, one of the big differences between an Intro Program class and the titling and tournament program classes is that For Exhibition Only runs are permitted. During an FEO run, multiple attempts are allowed at obstacles and toys may be employed on course.

Sally definitely found that to be a positive part of judging an Intro trial. "One of the best things about the whole event was the ability of people to go from titling to FEO in the middle of the run. Or, in the case of one of the dogs that wouldn't leave the start line, not even in the middle of the run. That was great that she could go and get a ball and get this dog off the start line and have a great run and experience with it after that. I felt great that I was able to advise her to go get a ball (it was her very first trial and she didn't know she could do that). It was a very good way for them to finish up the day with a great day instead of leaving discouraged with the feeling that they weren't going to be able to do agility. That was my feel-good moment of the day and I'm very thankful it was an option that they could change mid-stream."

**Click here to watch Claire Schwartz run his 14-month-old Swedish Vallhund, Pewter, and earn his first ever Q at this event!

Check out courses from the event:

For more information on Intro Program Only trials, please click here or contact Andy Hartman at ahartman@usdaa.com.

Janet has been active in agility since the late 80's as a exhibitor, instructor, judge, and board member/advisor.  She has been a member of the Oriole Dog Training Club since 1982 and is one of the original organizers of the Artful Dodgers Agility arm of the club.  She believes very strongly that beginner dogs and handlers should have the same fun and ease of introduction into the sport she was privileged to have so very long ago.

All photos by Virginia O'Connell.

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