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The Super Q

Competitor Tamar Fuhrer provides tips and strategies for obtaining a Super Q.


If you listen closely during any Masters Snooker briefing or walk-through, chances are you'll hear at least one or two people say they "just need one more Super Q" for their coveted Agility Dog Champion or Performance Dog Champion title.

We all know Snooker is a strategy game, that once you "get," you usually love. It's not always easy and it's definitely humbling when your plan goes awry or you and your dog have a great run ... but are the first dog below the line to get a Super Q again! Most of us have been there at least once, if not on a regular basis.

The Snooker Super Q is the one Agility Dog Champion/Performance Dog Champion requirement where dogs have to compete head-to-head. While there is a competitive component to Steeplechase/Performance Speed Jumping and DAM/Performance Versatility Pairs, there is not a finite number of qualifying scores. Conversely, the number of Snooker Super Qs for a given height is dictated by the number of dogs entered. One must both qualify and place in the top 15% of dogs in ones height group to earn a Super Q, and three are required for both the Agility Dog Champion/Performance Dog Champion and Snooker Master titles.

For a moderate speed dog, the Super Q requirement can seem incredibly daunting at first. Whereas placements in Jumpers, Standard, Gamblers, and Pairs Relay are irrelevant for the titles  its just the team versus the criteria and the clock  they may need to beat dogs in their jump height that are significantly faster. But Snooker is also labeled as a "strategy" game: handlers can choose how to tackle the opening for points, deciding between going for the highest points, the most flow, ability to finish the closing, or avoidance of off-course opportunities. And, as several handlers with moderate speed dogs noted, it can happen.

Beginner's Luck

Sometimes it's not knowing what's on the table that gets you the prize. Marie Doremus of Southern California, who competed in the C22" jump height with her Aussie mix, Kendall, said that she learned about Super Qs on their very first time in Masters Snooker, when Kendall earned one. "We chased the next two for over a year." Sharon Golding was competing with her Husky mix, Tiger, around the same time, height, and location as Kendall, also had a stroke of beginner's luck. "We got our first two Super Qs our first weekend in Masters Snooker, and I didn't even know what the Super Q by his points meant." 

Val Reiner and her All-American, Jiff, earned their three Super Qs post haste, on their first, fourth, and fifth Qs. "At this point we were newly in Masters and any Q was good for us," says Val. "I wasn't necessarily trying for the Super Qs, but just to do as well as we could on course." Lisa Barrett and her pit bull mix, Fly, also earned their three Super Qs and Masters Snooker title very quickly, "I wasn't trying for Super Qs. I was simply trying to get us both comfortable on Masters Snooker courses. I was thoroughly surprised to learn that he had earned three Super Qs."

Others, on the other hand, took a little longer to get the first placement. Elliott Kaplan and his Lab, Wrigley, earned their first Super Q on their 10th Snooker Q.  Maureen Hughes and her All-American, Tigger, earned their first Super Q on their 17th PIII Snooker Q. 

Not Going to be the Fastest

Those with moderate speed dogs attested that they couldn't earn a Super Q when speed is the main component. When several dogs are tied on points, placements come down to time. Elliott noted that he and Wrigley, "had multiple high 40 scores on three reds only that didn't get a Super Q because we tied on points and lost on time." In other cases, the opening was doable to go for multiple seven-point obstacles/combinations and still complete the course. In this case, it became a foot race more than a game of strategies. Lynn Sigman, a USDAA judge who currently competes in the mid-Atlantic with her Swedish Vallhund RingoPhire, said that the 12" and 14" classes in her area are full of very competitive dogs including multiple international team members. "Some courses are about getting 51 points as fast as you can. These are not my courses," Lynn says. 

Marie said that once she, "accepted that some courses were not meant to be three sevens for us, and planned according to Kendalls strengths," the Super Qs came.

It's All About Strategy

So, how did the Super Qs come for those who claimed that their dogs could not necessarily win in a foot race? While many said that they had to hope that the faster dogs crashed and burned, in reality, once the teams honed their strategies they found themselves becoming more successful.

A. Catering to the Dog's Strengths

Lisa said of her hound mix, Jenny, that she was "an athletic jumper who always ran the tightest line and left bars up." While she was conscientious, and had slow weaves and inconsistent contacts, a jump-heavy Snooker course offered her a place to shine. "My strategy was simply to design the shortest, smoothest course that used mostly jumps. She even won 22" Snooker once when the six was a serpentine of three jumps. The faster dogs knocked bars, while Jenny kept them up." Lynn said that she usually disregards what her competition is doing. "I can't beat them at their own game. I can only win by having the best possible plan for me and Ringo," she said.

B. Picking Nice Lines

Many handlers said that they would go for flow, so that their dogs would accelerate, accumulating high points and having sufficient time to complete the closing. Lisa said that she would work to minimize the total distance they had to cover, such that "if there were four reds, one in each corner, I always designed an opening that went as directly as possible around the perimeter." Maureen noted that, in time, she took that approach too. She originally, "would try to plan higher point openings instead of focusing on Tigger's path." Once she relied on going with a flowy course design and Tigger's path, Super Qs came more easily than her prior strategy of hoping to get lucky and snag a Super Q when a faster dog erred.

C. Going for the Close

As many Snooker veterans know, completing the closing in Snooker is a major advantage, as the full close is worth 27 points, whereas a three-seven opening is 24 points. Maureen gave the advice that, when given the option while running a moderate dog, "don't do the four reds if the dog wont have time to finish the closing, unless the seven-point obstacle is something you don't think your dog can complete." Likewise, Val said that with Jiff, her strategy "is to go for the courses that will earn us a large number of points in the shortest time." When you go for the close, says Val, "other dogs will fail and the Super Q will go to the dog who finished the closing."

D. Scoping out the Competition

Despite the struggles of earning three Super Qs after many attempts, no team asked to be handed one by others taking low-point openings. Still, Elliot noted that attending shows that the most competitive dogs were in absentia helped from time to time. Elliot said that, on occasion, he would look for shows that major competitors were skipping, due to conflicting events or less-than-ideal grounds.  Although the field would then be a little less deep, the number of Super Qs being rewarded was lower as well. Other than that, he says, "I just ran what I thought was the best path for us and hoped other teams crashed and burned."

E. Relax

Easier said than done, but Lisa says to relax. Marie agrees, "Don't obsess" about the Super Q. Lynn is testament to this, noting that, "I wish I had kept track and could tell you how many times I got a Super Q with just 37 points!"

After the Fact

All of the aforementioned teams earned their Agility Dog Champion or Performance Dog Champion titles, and earned the coveted three Super Qs. Now that the pressure is off, do they like the game? Lisa gives a resounding yes. "It's my favorite class.  The constraints of snooker inspire creativity - an opening might flow better by doing combinations inside out (B, A, C), or by starting with a distant red, or by sending to the backside of a jump, or by using unorthodox approaches." Similarly, Maureen enjoys Snooker, "because of the analysis required to find the best course for my dog. I like brainstorming different courses and then weighing them against each other to choose what I think will work best."

Val said that she enjoyed the spontaneity of Snooker, since she likes the challenge of having to think on her feet. "One time, I watched the path of the dog ahead of me and changed my plan on the spot. If it wasn't for my bobble at the end, we would have taken the Super Q from the person we watched. I wasn't trying to take away the Super Q, just liked his path."

Despite having to edge out faster teams, many like that their competition has a go big or go home mentality. Marie said that in her area, most handlers go for the win, regardless of whether they need a Super Q. "That is what I love about this class, no gimme, you earned the Super Q," says Marie. "I love seeing handlers challenging themselves and their dogs. I love seeing someone go for broke and hearing the cheers when they make it or the support and appreciation when they crash and burn."

But not everyone is a fan of the game. "I hate snooker! I've always hated Snooker!  Tiger was good at it because he was a Velcro dog but I've never liked it. If something unexpected happened on course, I am rarely able to recover from it," joked Sharon. Elliot noted that while he had to play it to earn certain titles, it's not his favorite game, in part because, "I do not like the fact that it is the only class where the team can be forced to end on a bad note, by having to stop if they err."

And many teams said that once the three Super Q pressure was off, they racked up more with ease.

Final Words of Wisdom

Lynn reminds fellow competitors that one reason why Snooker can be so fun with a consistent, moderate speed dog, is because a dog can excel even it he is not the fastest. "Strategy doesn't help much in Jumpers and Standard; everyone is doing the same path ... so it's all about who is faster. In Snooker, however, strategy is everything, so speed is not the be-all end-all. It's more about who has the best plan." Lisa says to run Snooker for the fun of it, not for the Super Q. "Design the best course for your dog, aim to cover the least real estate, have fun, and the Super Qs will come." 

Photos:

  • Kendall with Marie Foret Doremus (photo credit: Matt Meiring)
  • Jiff with by Val Reiner
  • Wrigley with Elliot Kaplan (photo credit: Ellen Zieske) 
  • Tiger with Sharon Golding 

Tamar Fuhrer lives in the Los Angeles, California area, where she works as a Transportation Planning Manager for Metro, Los Angeles County's transit agency. She began training in agility in 2012 with her first dog, All-American, Murray (affectionately known in the Southern California area as "The Murr"), and quickly became hooked. Murray is nearing his PDCH, and just needs to decide when he wants to lie down on the table one last time. She is also enjoying training Riff, her Lowchen puppy, whose party animal spirit aptly titles him her "#YOLO" dog.

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