15 November 2011
On jump heights. USDAA and WAO.
Jump heights are difficult to get right. In most places in Europe, they only have 3 jump heights, and because I'm american, I'm going to use inches for this post. So for FCI/EO type competitions, the only heights available are 14"/18"/26". Do you see a gap there? Let's see, maybe 22 is missing? Yeah, in FCI every dog over 16 and 7/8" tall has to jump 26". That's not right. But FCI is slow to change. For some reason they seem to like having twice as many "Large" dogs as Small and Medium dogs. I'm not sure why. Makes a lot of sense to split that class and have a 22" height for smaller "Large" dogs.
But alas, I have no say in FCI. I really wanted to talk about the USA anyway. Here in the US, we have 2 major organizations (I am ignoring all the smaller ones that don't strive to create dogs/handlers that can compete at a National/International level). AKC has a lot of jump heights. Possibly too many, but it's probably better to err on the side of "too many options" than on the side of "not enough". In AKC, each jump height includes all dogs within the range of 2" above and below the jump height, with the sole exception of the 8" class which goes up to 11" at the withers. So for the 16" class, dogs from 14" to 18" tall jump the height. For 20", that is dogs 18" to 22" tall. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm pretty sure dogs on the high end of the range have a really easy time with the jumps most of the time, and I think a 22" tall dog competing against a 18.25" tall dog isn't quite right. But at least I understand this system. Luckily for me, in this system, Kiba falls into the high end of the range, and so she can enjoy jumping 16" which is very easy for her, and puts her at an advantage against 14.5" dogs.
In USDAA they have chosen to create a system where every dog jumps higher than it's own height at the withers. This is a problem. Especially because their heights are 12/16/22/26" - and once again there's a large gap, not as large as the FCI gap, but 12 and 16 are 4" apart, and 22 and 26 are 4" apart. So why are 16 and 22" half again as farther apart at 6"? In USDAA, all dogs between 16" and 21" tall are assigned the 22" jump height. I don't think this is at all fair. When you're assigning jump heights, you need to look at the typical body types of dogs within a height range. And dogs at the 16-17" tall range generally do not find 22" to be a very easy jump height. Many of these dogs choose to run in Performance because they feel that jumping their small dogs over 22" jumps is too hard for them.
Another problem in USDAA is that many people feel that the small dog divisions are driving small dog competitors to compete in AKC where the heights are friendlier. Again, in these heights, the body types of the dogs involved do not make higher jumps easy for them. There are a lot corgi's, valhunds, and terriers. Jumping 3" over their shoulder is quite difficult for some of these.
I have a solution! Here is my proposed "ideal jump heights" for USDAA. Not that I pull any weight with them, but perhaps my solution will go viral and create an uproar and perhaps SOME kind of change will happen.
I would use these divisions: 10"/14"/18"/22"/26"
This division has a lot of advantages. You create a smaller Championship height for dogs who have trouble with 12", but without going so low to 8" that the jumps seem like tiny speed bumps. You create 14 and 18", drawing the crowd of competitive FCI and EO hopefuls who would really enjoy having an american organization with those heights available. You keep the 22/26 which I do think are good, competitive jump heights. but you can slice off that section of dogs under 18" or so and stop forcing them to jump 4-6" over their shoulder for the 22" height.
My cutoff's for such divisions would be as followed, and are based primarily on my anecdotal but extensive observations of body type and height of dogs I've seen over the years:
10" jump height - dogs up to 11" tall.
14" jump height - dogs up to 14.5"
18" jump height - dogs up to 18.5"
22" jump height - dogs up to 21.5"
26" jump height - dogs over 21.5"
While some of the heights include a very small slice of dogs who would be slightly taller than the jumps, no division includes dogs that are a LOT taller than the jumps, I think every division forces dogs to actually jump, not just step over speed bumps. It will raise the heights for some dogs, and lower them for others. The dogs who will have a raised height will be brought in line with international standards at FCI, and while I know USDAA likes to pretend they don't exist, just like AKC, the reality is that they DO, and that is the standard that most people look to when they look for the ultimate international competition level.
I would also go the route of AKC and force Performance participants to jump the lower jump height. But that is a personal peeve of mine and I know many disagree with me. I, personally, feel that if your dog is no longer capable of jumping spreads or doing a higher aframe, you probably should just allow the dog to jump the lower jump height too. But I am very conservative in my views on taking care of my dogs' bodies.
As far as WAO, hell, I think those heights I listed would be great for them too but they want to differentiate themselves from FCI by trying to create small and medium heights that are not "border collie heights" as they put it.
I have applied with Kiba for the USA Team for WAO. I think it would be the ultimate irony if I was denied a spot on the team because I didn't compete in 22" for the last year. Considering that WAO created the 20" jump height specifically to try to be fair to smaller border collies and lure the FCI Medium dogs into coming to compete...it would be extremely ironic if I was left off the team for refusing to jump 22" with my small border collie and compete against larger ones. Isn't that sort of exactly the point the WAO was trying to make, after all? Anyway, if we don't make that team, I'll either see if I can afford the EO, or just skip international competition this year, aside from taking Trig to Tryouts for FCI Team. I expect she'll do fine at Tryouts but I have no urgent feeling that she'll actually make the team. She's not even my dog, after all...