The 12 teams chosen to represent the United States at the 2012 FCI Agility World Championship returned from Liberec, Czech Republic, earlier this month with a gold medal in Large Dog Team Jumping, a bronze in Small Dog Team Jumping, a seventh in Large Dog Individual and a fifth in Combined Large Dog.

Four Border Collies, seven Shetland Sheepdogs and one Pyrenean Shepherd, along with their handlers, made up the 2012 AKC/USA World Agility Team. Photo courtesy of Carrie DeYoung, American Kennel Club.

Both Carrie DeYoung, director of agility for the American Kennel Club, and Nancy Gyes, the team’s coach, say the 2012 team was well-prepared, more cohesive than past teams and worked as a true team. “This group completely connected,” DeYoung says.

“First off, there’s just this whole group of really nice people,” says Gyes, “with enough experience to help some of the newcomers. From the first practice, they decided that they really wanted to enjoy the experience. Basically, we just got really lucky. It was a great group of handlers with nice personalities, and they all got along with each other. They worked at supporting each other.”

The AKC/USA World Agility Team takes a break from posing for official team pictures to promote the video they made together at one of their two training weekends. Photo courtesy of Carrie DeYoung, American Kennel Club.

Part of the team’s enjoyment came in the form of a video they made, similar to the one done by U.S. Olympic swimmers this summer.

But it definitely was not all fun.

The FCI event is always challenging, Gyes says, because European agility is quite different from that done in the U.S. because of the course layouts. She explains that when competing in the U.S., you may have a “few side changes,” in which the handler moves to the other side of the dog, and “five or six threadles on a course,” meaning the dog must take two or more obstacles without changing direction. A European course will have many more of each. “The challenges come one after another after another,” she says, “with no downtime in between. American agility is usually much more straightforward.” The AKC doesn’t allow particular setups of obstacles, mainly for safety reasons. “The AKC has certain moves they don’t allow judges to do.” In agility, the judge designs the course that he or she will oversee. In Europe, Gyes explains, the courses are designed by “a lot of different judges with different ideas about what creates an interesting course.”

The U.S. team is “always” at a disadvantage, she says, “because we don’t run on these courses every weekend.”

That hasn’t, however, impeded Gyes in her involvement with the U.S. team. She started 17 years ago as a team member and this was her sixth year as the head coach.

Assistant coach Kathie Legget hugs Small Dog Team member Dee Anna Gamel and her Sheltie Kelsi after what will be her last international competition run. Now 10, Kelsi is retiring from international competition. Photo courtesy of Carrie DeYoung, American Kennel Club.

One of the strategies for competing well even with that disadvantage – that Gyes is willing to reveal – is her study of the judges who will be at the competition and of the courses they’ve designed in the past.

“I start preparation even before team tryouts in May,” she says, by sending out information about the judges to everyone who plans to try out for the team. Once the dogs and handlers – each duo is selected as a pair – are selected, “we communicate via email.” She details what the coaching team expects to encounter in the fall, and she doles out homework, drills to practice that incorporate the “challenges” they expect on the various judges’ courses.

Then, all of the dogs and handlers, plus the coaching staff, get together two times over three-day weekends before the October competition.

Gyes says she thinks this year’s team was as well-prepared as it’s ever been. Thanks to the Internet, they had “a lot of access” to the courses judges had set up in other countries prior to the FCI championship. “This year we seemed to have a lot of access,” she says.

While the various courses were challenging, she says, they were also “fair.” She said the team didn’t have any of “those moments” when they thought a particular course was just insane.

The color of these poles cost the AKC/USA team a medal when one dog mistook them for the broad jump stanchions. Photo courtesy of Carrie DeYoung, American Kennel Club.

In addition to the difficulty of the European course style, the team faced two other obstacles – no pun intended – this year. The weave poles were orange and blue, and easily confused with the stanchions for the broad jump, Gyes says. One dog got confused by that, and the fault cost the team a third medal. Also, both the barrel and the fabric for the chute obstacle were a dark color. However, all of the dogs were able to adjust to that. “We didn’t fail on the equipment challenge of the chute,” Gyes says.

Another team did lose points on the dog walk. “The dog went into the contact zone, but turned around and touched above it, then went off. In AKC, that’s nothing,” Gyes says. “In FCI, that’s a something.”

“There was some disappointment because we came so close to some of the big medals for teams,” she says. However, as far as she’s concerned, “the team did great,” and she “can’t ask for anything more.”

This year’s championship was a bit different from the last seven or eight, when three dog-handler teams ran each course, and each score counted. For 2012 and the foreseeable future, four teams run each course and the lowest score is dropped.

Gyes explains that this changes the game, but it is preferable from her point of view. The fourth team to run the course knows exactly what is needed to win, and can really pour on the speed when appropriate. If the first three teams all have clean scores, the fourth can work for the fastest score. On the other hand, if there’s been a fault, it’s up to the fourth team to do a clean run.

For individual events, Gyes says “you have to run as hard and as fast as you ever have in your life while going clean.” That means using every bit of training that “you’ve been doing for years.”

The AKC/USA World Agility Team in Liberec, including AKC Director of Agility Carrie DeYoung, standing at far left, Assistant Coach Kathie Legget to her left and Coach Nancy Gyes, standing at far right. Photo courtesy of Carrie DeYoung, American Kennel Club.

As with any sport, canine or not, the mental game is a “big part of it,” she says. The championship was extended to three and one-half days this year to accommodate the four-team setup. So, there was a lot of downtime, Gyes says. The teams would be at ringside all day long, but only have one run. “They were really long, hard, tiring days,” she says, “and you only have one event to look forward to.” However, she says, “The team did a good job of handling the mental aspect of it and trying to take care of themselves.”

The Large Dog team was all Border Collies, a favored breed when it comes to winning in agility in the larger dog divisions. Photo courtesy of Carrie DeYoung, American Kennel Club.

Gyes attributed the gold win in Large Dog Team Jumping to two dogs that had “extremely fast times” and four handlers who “are the best in the world, really,” calling all the dogs, “phenomenal. I wouldn’t have expected them to do any less than what they did. They all ran perfect courses.” The all-Border Collie Large Dog team was made up of Silvinia Bruera and ‘TCAM,’ MACH Ni-C-Era High Tech TCAM, Channan Fosty and ‘Icon,’ MACH4 Hob Nob Cult Classic MXF, Daisy Peel and ‘Solar,’ NAC MACH4 Super Sun OF, and Tori Self and ‘Rev,’ NAC MACH Sagehill’s Change the World MX MXJ OF. Alternate Terry Smorch and ‘Presto,’ MACH4 Hob Nob Up Tempo Night Flight MXF TQX, were not needed and remained in the U.S.

The Small Dog team which captured a bronze medal “did the same thing,” Gyes says. “Two of the dogs had extremely fast runs which helped put them up on the podium. Very similar to the scores that the large dogs put up.” That team included Laura Dolan and ‘Race,’ NAC Bare Cove Tri to Keep Up MX MXJ NF, Dee Anna Gamel and ‘Kelsi,’ NAC MACH9 Hilltop Kelsi Lee Kinsella, Denise Kilpatrick and ‘Tyler,’ MACH3 Plail’s Catch Me If Ewe Can PT XF, and Marcy Mantell and ‘Wave,’ NAC MACH7 Plail’s Few and Far Between CDX RN PT MXF TQX. Alternate Barbara Davis and ‘Skecher,’ MACH Jahdo Skechers at Strathspey XF, stayed behind.

Daisy Peel and Solar on the course in Liberec, Czech Republic. The pair returned to the U.S. with seventh place in Large Dog Individual and fifth in Combined Large Dog. Photo courtesy of Carrie DeYoung, American Kennel Club.

The other big wins were for Peel and Solar, who took seventh in Large Dog Individual and fifth in Combined Large Dog. “She’s an extremely experienced international handler,” Gyes says. “She’s been to Crufts. This is her third time at the championship. She has a lot of confidence that’s been gained from her international experience. She’s just a very good handler who likes to push for everything she can get out of her dog. Solar’s a wonderful jumper, and he’s got a great working attitude. He always tries to do exactly what Daisy asks him to do. He also has running contacts, so that helps. It definitely gives you an advantage.” When a dog has “running contacts,” it means he touches the yellow zones on the obstacles as required by regulations without stopping to do so.

This year’s Medium Dog team was made up of all Shetland Sheepdogs, except Ashley Deacon and Pyrenean Shepherd ‘Luka,’ NAC MACH3 Luka De La Brise. The remainder of the team was Laurene Galgano and ‘Token,’ MACH18 Karefree Ticket To Ride FTC1 TQX T2B2, Jean Lavalley and ‘Cheer,’ MACH2 Taylormade Cheer For Me XF, and John Nys and ‘Rush,’ NAC CH MACH5 Bare Cove Blu Lite Special, with alternate Maureen Waldron and ‘Mickle,’ MACH4 Plails It’s All About Me! MXF TQX, who, again, stayed in the U.S.

DeYoung points out that although no alternates were needed this year, all three were “so solid that any one of them could have stepped in,” and the team would have still done well.

The FCI Agility World Championships have been held on the European continent since they’re inception. Gyes says Czech Republic was “an incredible place to visit. The people were lovely and helpful. The venue was wonderful. It was one of the most exciting events we’ve been to. Everything about the visit went easily, which is great for dogs and handlers.”

She expects to coach the team again in 2013 when the event will be held in South Africa.

For a detailed account of the team’s time in Liberec, visit the AKC’s FCI World Agility Championship results page, then click on each item.