The 2005 AKC National Agility Championship has come and gone and we've left the warm sun of Tampa for the blizzards of New York. Stamp, the only Norfolk Terrier who qualified for the National Championship, finished somewhere around the bottom of his class of sixty dogs and I was (still am) thrilled! Don't get me wrong. It's not that I have low expectations for my dog. Competing at the Nationals, unlike `everyday' trials, is an all or nothing proposition.
There is nothing to be gained by running conservatively, since the point is not to earn a leg, but a placement, and that requires speed. Speed, of course, requires taking a lot of risks, and therein lies the story of Stamp's descent to the bottom of the ranks. He may not have run clean, but boy did he run fast!
When I first contemplated doing agility with Stamp, Norfolks were not considered `competitive' in the sport. On the contrary, they had a bit of a reputation for being slow. Shortly after I started training Stamp, I joined the Noragility list, an internet forum for people training Norfolk and Norwich in agility. (Ed. Note: The Noragility list can be accessed through Yahoo Groups.) Some quotes from posts at that time illustrate what we all thought we were up against:
Unfortunately, since we were all having similar experiences, it did not dawn on any of us right away that we might be wrong and that Norfolk were perfectly capable of high speed running. It's hard to remember, now, how slow Stamp was when we started, but looking back over various training notes reminds me that speed wasn't always his thing. I'm not sure exactly when I started thinking that he had the potential to be fast, but thanks to the influence of a number of excellent trainers and coaches, most notably Elicia Calhoun and Joan Meyer (Joan owns Wizard, the #1 Norfolk of all time in agility competition) Stamp's speed began to improve. By the time we actually started to compete, he was a fast dog. The real question was, "how fast?"
Coming to the National Championships gave me the answer I needed. Stamp, it turns out, is fast enough to compete on equal footing with the best in the nation. Wow! In his one qualifying run, Stamp was in 12th place out of 61 dogs competing, putting him into the top 20% of dogs in his height division.
His other runs were marred by missed weave poles or knocked bars, but video analysis showed him to have exceptionally good speed on those parts of the course he did correctly.
We have a lot of work to do -- this was the first major championship Stamp and I ever competed in -- but several people whom I greatly admire and respect felt that, based on what they saw this time, Stamp could definitely be a contender in the future.
More importantly, while I of course think Stamp is the best dog in the world, objectively there's no reason why other Norfolks can't do just as well, or, quite realistically, better.
I hope that each year more and more Norfolks will make it to the Nationals so that we can show the world what wonderful competition dogs they are. I know of several up and coming youngsters who should, with more practice under their belts, give Stamp a good run for his money.
That said, there are many reasons to participate in the Nationals other than for the competition, or to see how your dog compares. When you're there, no matter how well or poorly you do, you are guaranteed to have fun and to learn a lot. The AKC works hard to make everyone feel special, and from the moment you arrive and get your `goody' bag, until the moment you pack up and head for home, you know you're part of something great. What a thrill to step up to the start line and see bleachers full of spectators all ready to applaud your run!
The 2005 Nationals are history, now we're preparing for 2006. Get out there and train, we want a few more Norfolks to join us!
ANTIC, March, 2005
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