From Anne.
The AKC 2006 Invitational Finals will be televised on Animal Planet on Sunday, Feb 11th, 2007. It will repeat on 02/15/07 and 02/18/07.

2006 was the first year this event has been held.  It is designed to showcase the different AKC recognized breeds that compete in agility.  Only the top 5 dogs in each breed were invited to compete, thus this limited the dogs who could compete at this event. This is a very unique approach to a national competition. Even in the final round only one dog  was allowed into the finals to represent their breed. If there were two dogs of the same breed (and same jump height) that did well on previous rounds, only the top dog of that breed was allowed into the finals, and the second spot was given to a less competitive dog of a different breed. 
While forcing the variety of breeds shown in the finals, which most people will enjoy watching,  the level of competition is most likely diminished. With that said, this will still be a very interesting event to watch.  Many top handlers in the country did make it into the finals and we can all learn from their handling choices.

Click here to review the agility course map.  We had fun running this course in class. I find that you will get a lot more understanding of the televised program if you have first had a chance to run the course yourself.  You have to appreciate that the conditions are not at all the same.  The surface is different and the whole energy of the event is missing, but still, it is fun to run and imagine how you would do if given the opportunity to be in the finals.

Click here to watch  videos of the winners of each jump height.  It is very interesting to analyze the different handling styles successfully utilized on this course. As a group the 8”, 12”, and 16” winning handlers handled their dogs in a very similar manner using front crosses. The 20” and 24” winning handlers mostly choose to crossed behind their dogs instead.

Notable differences:

Watch how the 12” handler leaves her dog to perform the A-frame contact alone and gets ahead to the tire and performs a front cross.  She turns for the front cross before her dog is with her and her dog wastes yardage (which equals time) coming back around to the front of the handler.

Compare this section with the 16” handler.  He performs the same maneuver with his dog but achieves a tighter turn because he is working the turn with his dog, rather then ahead of his dog.

Another interesting section to review is what the 16” handler does for the ending sequence. He chooses to leave his dog to perform the teeter on its own as he gets ahead to perform a front cross after the next jump.  In this case he is not using the front cross to turn the dog but rather to make the ending more of a straight line.  His dog performed the teeter well on its own and the ending was quite smooth.

The 20” handler (Jane Simmons-Moake) is a well known national level competitor.  She has written books and articles about agility.  She is best known for her skill in handling her fast goldens at a distance. She only performs one front cross on the course (after the tunnel) compare this with the 16” handler who got in five front crosses.

Notice how after the dogwalk Jane stays on the dogwalk side of the triple.  This maneuver of having an obstacle between you and your dog that you don’t want them to do, is called “layering” the obstacle. She slides out of the camera frame for a second but that is why.  Then she performs a cross behind to turn her dog into the correct end of the tunnel which gives her just enough time to get her one front cross in.

Compare this section with the winner of the 24” class.  The handler does not layer the triple and really has to work to keep his dog from going into the tunnel.  There is a great overlay video comparison of the 24” dog (Diesel) with the 20” dog (Susie).  Diesel has a good lead going into this section but Susie is able to catch up and beat Diesel into the tunnel and I think it is because Jane did not make the tunnel so inviting by choosing to stay out of that section by layering the triple.
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