Sunday, July 11, 2010

July Birthday #1 and What is Really Preferred

Today is Cadi's fifth birthday! We remember her littermate, Dillon, who did not get to celebrate this birthday with his siblings, Cadi and Maverick, and his family/friends. And so we started this day remembering him and being reminded that we cannot take one minute for granted.

This morning I had a date with Asia and our tracking partner on campus, and since the tracks have to age at least two hours, I decided to take Cadi along and hike up to the M over campus. I am certain they installed the M as a way to entice me to join the U of Montana faculty and so in my mind, it stands for Mary-Ann!

Anyway, I took Cadi on the hike -- it goes straight up for ten miles!!!! Okay, it only feels that way -- but it really is a series of steep switchbacks that is a "kick your butt" climb and even hurts coming down -- so a great hike!!! Asia needed to conserve her energy so Cadi and I went alone in honor of her birthday -- here is a picture that I took with my Blackberry from the top. You can see the campus Oval in the background -- Asia tracked right through there later :)

So a couple of other things. First -- yes, they cut Dear Husband's shirttail after he did his solo flight. It seems a little odd -- maybe Barb can explain this tradition??!!

Second, I wanted to discuss jump height and agility and how a community can impact our choices, feelings, and experiences. The height that a dog jumps in agility is based on their shoulder height -- Bernese Mountain Dogs who fall within the Breed Standard for height all jump 24 inches. Agility is, of course, more than just jumps -- there are other obstacles as well -- but jump height is the most significant difference in an agility course based on the dogs.

There is a category of Agility called "Preferred" and basically the difference is that the dogs jump one height lower (four inches) than Regular Agility, and they get a few extra seconds to complete the course. The titles are the same, except the addition of a "P" for Preferred -- so an NAP if Preferred and an NA if not. Also, a dog cannot earn an agility championship (MACH) from the Preferred classes so that is different, but in a couple of years a dog will be able to earn something called a PACH (Preferred Agility Championship).

Maize is one of the few champion berners to have earned the two excellent level agility titles (AX, AXJ) from the Regular classes (i.e., she jumped 24 inches) -- however, it took us FIVE years. Now, some (okay, probably a lot) of that was my own lack of skill and a lack of a consistent place to train etc. but still -- five years is a long time, a lot of flunking, and and a lot of $$$$$$.

Consider human sporting events -- how many "big" Olympic hurdlers do you see?! And how many linebackers are built like Lance Armstrong? How about horses -- how many Clydesdales compete in the jumping events at the Olympics? I am sorry to say this but yes -- size matters.

You don't have to be a Physics Professor to know that more mass is going to take more something to get off the ground (I am not a Physics Professor, obviously) and more mass is going to land with more force -- duh. And so there is a reason that top agility dogs are NOT Bernese Mountain Dogs or Newfoundlands -- and there is a reason I am not a hurdler.

So why do agility with a berner at all? Well, it is super fun and kind of addicting and the dogs really seem to enjoy it. Our Birthday Girl, Cadi, LOVES agility and at 25+ inches, she jumps over her shoulder height -- but still, as she has progressed through the levels (Novice, Open, Excellent) I am seeing more knocked bars and this was the same with Maize. It is not a physical problem -- I think it is a physics problem.

I have Cadi as thin as I dare and she is about 84 pounds -- she really is better closer to 90. There are berners doing well at Regular agility who are about her height but have WAY less mass (and probably better handlers :) -- those berners are not champions and nobody would accuse them of being exceptionally typey berners. This does not mean they are inferior -- they are not -- but comparing Cadi to them is like comparing apples to oranges -- or an Olympic hurdler to an Olympic mid-weight wrestler.

This is where it gets sticky and we see how community impacts us. There is a community of agility berners -- well, a community of their owners anyway. I am not alone in perceiving that Preferred Agility is viewed as "less than" -- that those titles are not as valued (apparently four inches and a few seconds makes a BIG difference -- no comment). One person shared that when asked, an owner said she would be doing "real" agility with her berner (as opposed to Preferred). OUCH.

It shouldn't matter what other people think, should it? But members of a community ARE impacted by what other people think, and I am apparently not immune to the pressures of my social groups. And so when I noticed the bars going down and started to think about moving Cadi to Preferred Agility, I was extremely upset with myself to discover that I had internalized the community's norm and was feeling like a failure -- because I was intending to lower the jump height of my CHAMPION berner by four inches!!!! Big SIGH.

I was steamed. So let me get this straight, I thought to myself -- you have a champion berner who has nice type (i.e., has decent bone/bulk/mass) and who has the most perfect disposition and who is an incredible athlete and smart as they come and titled in multiple events and so on -- and the failure is what?! That she meets the Breed Standard in such a way as to make jumping 24 inches not quite as easy for her and maybe not even in her best interest?????!!!!

And to my community -- so let me get this straight -- if a berner does not meet the Breed Standard for size/type and so is a better agility dog than my heavier champion -- MY dog is the inferior one if her agility titles are from the Preferred class? Hmmmmm.... I said to myself.

If all I wanted was a tri-colored agility dog, I would go for a really cute tri-colored border color -- I love those! But I want a tri-colored BERNER who looks like a berner should look -- I am not breeding agility dogs or obedience dogs or whatever -- I am breeding and competing with Bernese Mountain Dogs who conform to the Breed Standard as well as I can make that happen -- and in as many ways as I can make happen (and let me add that BMDCA members agree to only breed in this way).

What I discovered through this process of self-reflection prompted by a stinking "P" at the end of a title was that when one community "group" conveys a message -- however subtle -- that they are superior, it causes the others to 1). be mad; and 2). want to show how Group Superior is full of Shit (pardon my language, but I suspect you have heard that before and it conveys my sentiments rather well at this moment). This is not conducive to community or being a nice person, both of which are important to me.

But the truth is that we cannot change other people (darn it anyway) and so they get to think what they want (however misguided). And hey -- if not having a "P" at the end of a dog title is what it takes for some to feel smug and superior -- well, what can you say about that?! But listen -- I think I will take the "P" in exchange for also being able to have the CH (champion), and I will try hard not to feel superior because that would not be nice -- and being nice is very important (most of the time).

So a few more things and then I will shut up about this -- if you want to run your berner in Preferred Agility for whatever reason, you go for it! You and your dog are a rock starP and that is still a rock star.

There is nothing wrong with running Regular Agility with a berner!!! And there is nothing wrong with running Preferred Agility with a berner!!!! But let's be clear about our reasons, and let those reasons be our own. I may run Air Zoey in Regular, or maybe I won't -- but whatever I decide it will be based on what *I* think is best and not on trying to impress anyone else.

There are so many life lessons in all this but I will trust that you -- Dear Reader -- will be able to discern them for yourself. In the meantime, we have a birthday to celebrate and invite you to join us -- wherever you are!

xo to Cadi -- she is, as Kathy said when Cadi was a wee puppy, something special and we love her (Cadi and Kathy! :)


  1. Rock on my P friend, or X friend, or F friend. Whatever the letter may be,or not be, let's remember what it is all supposed to be about...and I would like to think that I don't need to type what it is supposed to be about....

  2. MA, I don't care if someone gets a MACH or a PACH or a PAX. Because seriously, getting 20 double q's with a dog is amazing. And if I ever get an NA on the big boy brother of Cadi's I will be estatic. And it doesn't matter to him if he is jumping 24 or 34, it's not about the bars!

  3. My thought about the agility, rally, obedience, whatever programs--it's all about the conversation they allow us to have with our dogs. The programs give us a vehicle to have that conversation, the competition gives us a yardstick to measure how well we're communicating. I know that getting ready for a match or trial has kept me on track and gotten me off the couch. So, let's all get out there and participate! (And sometimes, it's not about the ribbons--things like "Dock Dog" are just plain fun!)

  4. Mary-Ann, even though it has nothing to do with Berners, your words about Regular and Preferred are a big help to me as I consider the possibilities in front of me in a search for a pastoral call. I love looking at pictures of your dogs and reading about your life, but I want you to know how much I appreciate your honesty and wisdom, too. Thank you.

  5. OK, my second comment today. We pilots always like to act as if "Aw, shucks, it was nothing," but (psychologically speaking) soloing is a fairly big accomplishment...that moment when you are really ALONE, and if you don't keep your head together the aircraft will certainly come down but may not, ahem, land. So we like to mark the event but (aw, shucks) in a typically backhanded sort of way that also says "congratulations but don't get cocky". Legend has it that in the days of biplanes the student sat in the front seat, the instructor in the back, and when the IP needed the student's attention he would tug on the student's shirt tail. Thus cutting the shirt tail is sort of like cutting the apron strings. The other way of celebrating soloing is being thrown in a dunk tank by your supposedly good friends. This is more of a military tradition--legend has it that this originated with Navy flight training to remind the new pilot that his element was still the water and not the air. The Army (and thus the Air Force) kept up this tradition, probably because the first Army flight training bases were (and still are) in Texas and if you've ever been on a black top flight ramp in the middle of a Texas summer you'll understand! Civilian flight schools tend to like shirt tailing: they usually post the tails (with student's name and solo date) on a wall at the school, which has the added benefit of inspiring confidence in new prospective students.
    I myself have been both shirt tailed (after soloing a Piper Tomahawk at a civilian flight school in Modesto, CA that I paid for) and dunked (after soloing a T-37 "Tweety Bird" at UPT at Reese AFB that you generous tax payers paid for--thanks). So--congratulation to you Kim! Way to go! (And don't forget that other aviation tradition--to present your soloing IP with a good bottle of his favorite libation!)

  6. What a GREAT post M-A and I couldn't agree more... And so true, Bell and I have been looked down on for running preferred. I have a dog with grade I elbows who loves to jump... I'm not going to ask her to put any more stress on those elbows than is necessary to get the job done. I decided to just love getting out there with my goofy girl.