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Q & A Regarding Changes to Measuring from Neil Flood

Emma Mak
 

I appreciate everyone’s patience while I put together this Q & A since the announcement on Wednesday. In addition to the Q & A, I’ve added some philosophies and perspectives to try and help shed some light on some of the why behind the decisions. I do not wish for the below to be entirely representative of every board members opinion. There are a number of cases where there simply was not unanimous agreement. I will do my best to call out what is my opinion, and what was more consensus based. If you disagree with my perspective or logic, and want direct feedback, my email is below. Additionally if you want direct opinions of specific board members, their contact information is available on our website, and I am sure they are happy to answer you. When possible I’ve tried to tag people who raised questions, so they see the replies. 
A little background before I dive into the withers vs ulna decision. As a board we discussed the measuring methodologies on the table, but we started with a discussion of the problems that existed. Two themes stood out:
1)  the optionality of measuring was a real problem
2)  forcing competitors to police themselves was unfair and problematic.
We looked at the dog sport landscape, and to the best of our knowledge, we are the only sport that didn’t require measuring. Most of us had all received the feedback regarding the unfairness of certain dogs heights, and the fact that people were disenfranchised with racing teams who never measured. It created an unfair racing environment. Compounding the problem was putting the onus on competitors and judges to have to call dogs to be measured should they not agree with the height. It puts an unnecessary wedge between competitors. Before deciding on a measuring method, the board members agreed that measuring could not be optional. They also agreed that competitors would no longer be able to “challenge” another team’s height dog measurement(s). 
 
We then began to dig in to a measuring methodology. I don’t think there is anyone on the Board of Directors that will make the argument that measuring a dog at the withers, with a proper stance, is the easiest measuring method. I was personally quite impressed with the FCI ulna measuring device. While all ulna measuring devices still have a level of subjectivity involved, it has few variables involved in doing the measuring. With that in mind, there was concern if measuring the ulna was philosophically the correct way to determine a dogs jumping height. With that in mind, we decided to look and see if the data between ulna length and withers height was close enough to choose the simpler measuring method. 
 
We were very lucky, and appreciative, to gather a large data set at CanAm that allowed us to compare the two. What we learned from the data made things incredibly difficult. If the data came back and showed a tight enough correlation, allowing us to keep the jump heights the same, or close,  while introducing a simpler method, we would have switched. We didn’t have a set percentage in mind we needed to meet, and I feel like that “magic” number varied amongst board members. What the data revealed was that we could do no better than keep 45% the same with some very concerning percentages of dogs going both up and down more than an inch. Changing or tweaking the formula became an exercise in determining comfort level in how many went up an inch or two, and how many went down. Personally, that was disappointing, but I didn’t want to change to an easier method if it wasn’t the right thing to do. It just didn’t sit right that two dogs of the same withers height could jump 2” different heights. A majority of board members also did not wish to change, but it was not unanimous. The decision was made to stay with measuring withers and begin the difficult tasks of the next steps.
 
 
Now, let’s dive into some Q & A, or at least themes of questions asked. 
 
Q) Why didn’t this go to a delegate vote (from @Joanne Fryia and @Jennifer Rohling)?
A) The answer to this one can be placed squarely on me, as some board members did raise this question. I have said, on more than one occasion to the board, that delegate votes shouldn’t be used to answer a question just because it’s hard. We were all elected to the board by the membership, and our job is to think and act in the best interest of the membership. That’s why we were elected. I feel delegate votes should be used in cases where we have incomplete understanding of things. In this case we all spent countless hours discussing and analyzing the information. 
In the most recent example, the Board put in trial rules for open, which at the time weren’t too popular. After a trial period, we needed to know what people thought (i.e. we had incomplete information) so we put it to a delegate vote. The membership chimed in and the rules were put in permanently, and also applied to the other classes. In the case of ulna vs withers, I challenged the board to make a decision that they feel is in the best interest of the organization. They have already poured countless amount of hours into looking at the problem, and I feel they were qualified to make that decision. I don’t feel I was elected to conduct surveys when we have the information to make a decision. I have no issue if you personally feel differently, but that is the rationale behind why that decision occurred.
 
Q) Why are there no names associated with the vote on withers vs ulna?
A) Actually this was just a clerical mistake. We have a new secretary this year, and they weren’t aware votes were supposed to be public. We will get it updated. In the meantime below are the votes. Additionally when the topic came to vote, in my role as ED I required a ¾ majority vote in order to make a change. Here are the votes (listed alphabetically by last name):
 For change to ulna
Kathy Haney
Lynda Mantler
Aaron Robbins
 Against change to ulna
Dirk Elber
Dana Hanson
John Hendriks
Leerie Jenkins
Emma Mak
Because the vote was not tied, the Chairman, Steve Corona, does not vote.
 
Q) Why was there no talk of breed at all when considering whether height changes for moving from withers to ulna measurement are acceptable?  Is it not SAFER to move to the ulna so that dogs such as, for example, Corgis would jump lower?
 
A) We can’t release the raw data with the breeds, as it’s of utmost importance that competitors that volunteered for the CanAm Measurement Study have their anonymity preserved.  But to give you an idea of how breed doesn’t really factor into the issue, please see the attached document which details the changes up and down for one of the options presented. For the CanAm study we focused on dogs that would most likely be height dogs in NAFA (17” and below at withers).  Short legged dogs such as corgis and miniature pinschers do not appear on the report at all (i.e. they didn’t change up or down from withers’ measurement).  To further illustrate that it’s not breeds with extremely short legs skewing the data, and that large discrepancies are very likely to be seen with large dogs too, you can see from U-Fli’s height report that there are multiple whippets and border collies that would set 9,10,11 inch jumps in U-Fli, based on ulna measurement. 
 
Q) Are we looking at alternative measuring methods than the wicket?
A) Yes, absolutely. We’ve decided to commit to measuring at the withers, we didn’t decide the wicket is the method we need to use, although to be practical,  it will have to do for the short term. We are looking at alternatives, and frankly we may have to develop something in-house. We are open to ideas. Some of you have already provided ideas and we’ve begun to look into them.  Please let any of us know if you have concepts or ideas to make the measuring process itself easier for the dog and handler
 
Q) Are we looking at different allowable methods for measuring (i.e. on a table)?
A) Absolutely. We already have a proposal to discuss regarding using a table, or something similar. We think it’s a great idea. If you have other ideas, again, please let us know.
 
Q)  “So one bad measure from a CMJ and that’s it. No second chance ?!?” (@Monique Cadman Cole)?
A) No. This is something we already discussed, but in our release this detail wasn’t called out. The board already agreed that the only person that could request a dog be re-measured, would be the owner. So if you get measured by a CMJ, you, and only you, will have the ability to go back for a follow up measurement. Final details are still being worked out, but the point is no one can ask you to re-measure but you. Anyone can have a bad day, and we want owners/handlers with some recourse if things don’t go well.  Keep in mind that the CMJs won’t just be measuring in the morning before the first day of racing.  Our intention is for them to be available a lot during a racing weekend to give opportunities for a calm environment and an opportunity for you to bring your dog for measuring when they are calm and ready.
 
Q) You said you didn’t choose the ulna measurement because it would impact too many dogs, but you are also exploring -6” below the withers. Can you please explain the logic? (Paraphrased from numerous people, including @Janice Ridley, @Jen Giacci)
A) Excellent question. I brought up this idea. I will preface this one though, and say it’s being discussed, currently has a lot of support on the board, but  has not been agreed on unanimously. If you have feedback, please email me. I will gather and share info with the board. Here is my logic on this topic. We have been operating in a model whereby dogs could have been racing a long time, and having never seen a wicket. In addition to making measuring mandatory starting October 2020, we also took steps to remove ambiguity from our stance, and what is acceptable and what is not - this started about 24 months back. My feeling was that there is a very real chance that some dogs that have never seen the wicket might currently be jumping lower than what they measure when the time comes. My intention is not to force people to run higher and leave them feeling disenfranchised. Therefore, I put it out to the board to consider lowering heights to -6” from the withers, as the ultimate goal is NOT for people to get measured then have to run higher. 
 
Q) Following up on that, what about lowering the minimum height to 6”, and what about the maximum?
A) These topics are out there but haven’t been thoroughly discussed. A concern is that all the host clubs would need to have their equipment redone. We certainly don’t wish to impose a financial burden on them. We need more information from clubs that host events, or provide equipment for events, on the actual impact of this change.
 
Q (or comments really) NAFA doesn’t seem to be listening to it’s members, or it doesn’t care what they think.
A) While there may not be agreement with some of things NAFA has done, suggesting they don’t listen or don’t care is incredibly far from the truth. There isn’t a single member on that board that doesn’t care. The only reason they are on the board is because they care. You don’t spend 1/3 to 1/2 your vacation time in a given year dedicated to an organization whose members you don’t care about. We also most certainly listen. Every year I’ve either been on the board, or functioned as ED, I’ve listened to people upset about the jump heights dogs were running. I’ve listen to people [rightfully] complain about the challenge process to height dogs. I’ve listened to people very concerned about ensuring height dogs are valued. I’ve also listened to people wanting a different measuring method. When we looked at a new measuring method, I very much cared that a minimum of 10% of the people’s dogs would jump higher, and I didn’t like that. I also cared that if we adjusted the formula to ensure they didn’t jump higher, there would be a significant portion of existing height dog owners that felt completely devalued. I have no problem discussing or disagreeing on what we do, and why we do it, which I think is healthy, but please be cautious when insinuating that the 10 people who are working incredibly hard for this organization don’t care and don’t listen. 
 
Q) Is this system devaluing tournament judges (from @Lyndsy Dvorak and others)?
A) Perhaps this is a difference in perspective, but I feel it’s the complete opposite. I have done flyball for over 20 years, and never has a standalone measurement from a tournament judge been unchallengeable beyond the event in which the measurement occurred. What we are putting forward will mean that if you get a measurement from a tournament judge, that measurement will be good for 6 months, and no one can “challenge” that measurement. That’s far more authority than has ever existed before. If a competitor doesn’t like it, they are free to remeasure their dog at subsequent events, but they are also free to run under that measurement for 6 months. 
If that dogs gets measured by a CMJ and it’s different, then we (NAFA) need to ensure our judges are aligned and enforcing the same stance. That’s a problem that exists now. In fact it exists in organizations that measure the ulna too. There are examples of two judges measuring the ulna for different jump heights. The solution is to circle back on education and training. 
 
The CMJ program is in no way meant to devalue tournament judges.  NAFA values ALL judges, as they are crucial to making our events run smoothly and to foster a fair environment for competitors.  The reason for changes to the measuring system are BOTH to address the concerns of competitors feeling some dogs have not been jumping the right heights AND to prove to competitors that have doubts, that NAFA judges are getting the measurements right.  It is impossible to see exact withers’ height, just by looking at a dog.  We want to put suspicions to rest, and also create as much consistency as possible for measuring technique.  The relationship between CMJs and tournament judges will not be an antagonistic one, but rather a mentoring one (when needed), and one of cooperation.  CMJs can also learn from tournament judges as, where the CMJ is not familiar with the region’s dogs, tournament judges can pass on that knowledge. We’re also looking to have CMJs work throughout a racing weekend with competitors to allow for a calm environment for dogs to be measured.  If there is a discrepancy between the measurements done by a tournament judge and a CMJ, the ultimate decision will be with the CMJ, but both will be encouraged to look at possible reasons for the discrepancy and work together to get the measurement right.  The CMJ program would not be something unique to NAFA.  Something like it is used for AKC and USDAA Agility.
 
 
Q) CMJ related question from @Kelly Robins-Walt?
1) What were the qualifications you went by in choosing your CMJ’s?
2) Where is NAFA getting the money to pay for the travel costs of the CMJ’s?
3) How is this “new” system simpler and easier on the dogs/competitors?
A) All good questions raised by Kelly.
 
1) When the original group of 4 judges were selected, the board, as a whole, huddled up and tried to find 4 measuring judges that 
-      We felt extremely confident in their ability to measure to the standard we had outlined based on direct observation
-      Were geographically dispersed enough to cover our map. We have one in each in the northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast.
-      Were confident in their ability to measure such that we could put them in any situation and they would not be intimidated. 
2) This item is extremely important. The solution will have to be fiscally responsible. The Board is flushing this out. I won’t speak for them too much, but it seems likely the pool of CMJs will be expanded. The concept is very similar to the VMO in AKC agility (in fact we discussed with a former AKC agility director). The program of CMJs will certainly go through some rework now that measuring will be required.
 
3) I will split hairs a little, but we are looking to make it as simple and easy as possible while looking to our goal of a level playing field. It certainly will not be “simpler” than no measuring. Having a dog measure every single event, would be an unacceptable burden. We are saying that a tournament judge’s measurement will be good for 6 months. In some, or many regions that can be the bulk or all of a racing season. That’s not too bad. We want the CMJ to be used for finality, with some guardrails around it to avoid perceived biases and conflicts of interest.
 
Q) Will dogs of a certain age be grandfathered in from required measuring? 
A) This was discussed. There was concern that creating exception groups could leave lingering problems. I am personally not opposed to re-opening the discussion, but that’s a personal opinion. I don’t know if that is shared with enough of the board to go forward. I can see both sides of this argument. If you have more insight feedback, please email me and I will share opinions and/or ideas with the board.
 
Q) Will extremely short dogs be waived away from measuring?
A) I personally hadn’t considered that, but I am happy to take that to the committee or judges. There is certainly a component of common sense, balanced with equality in measuring. Ultimately we are asking a judge to sign off that he certifies the measurement (or jump height) is accurate. I don’t know their feelings on that, so I would want to consult.
 
Q)  Won’t mandatory measuring create crazy long lines, especially at the first events after this becomes a requirement, say at CanAm 2020?
A) It only makes sense to have a transition period before the go live date for the mandatory measurement requirement to avoid long line ups.  Definitely there will at least be a set time period beforehand where you can measure by a tournament judge and have it valid as of October 1, 2020.   In fact, if you have a measurement done by a tournament judge and it’s in the database since the wording around stance has been tightened up, there’s a good possibility that will be adequate.
 
Some final thoughts to wrap up. First, if you have questions, please send them my way.  I will do my best to answer what I can, and while there may be items we may not align on philosophically, I will do what I can to answer the why behind opinions or perspectives.  While the opinions may differ, knowing how we reached a decision, I feel can lead to better understanding.
 
Lastly, there will be a big election in the fall, with 4 spots up (3 board, and the Executive Director position), and at a minimum 2 new people will be elected. If you feel passionately about the organization like all the board members do, and want to see changes, considering running. It’s not important that you agree with everyone, and it’s better to get different perspectives and ideas. 
 
I hope you found this helpful and I was able to provide a better understanding of what is going on. 
 
Sincerely, 
 
Neil Flood
Executive Director, North American Flyball Association