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Ringside Seat

Agility trials and tribulations

Here are ten short stories, beautifully observed, written by The Agility Whisperer, the Garrison Keillor of British Agility and illustrated by Kim Blundell. Sit back and enjoy the gentle humour, charm and honesty of these delightful insights into agility.

Excuses Heard Around the Agility Circuit

  1. He never runs well first thing in the morning.
  2. On another day we would have won that class.
  3. The judge set the wrong course.
    Thinks: Sorry Mary Ann, you will have to do better next time!
  4. The rings were too close together.
  5. The wind brought the pole off.
    Thinks: On a clear, still, sunny day I donít think so.

  6. The rings are too far from the camping.
    Thinks: So who got tired Ė you or the dog?
  7. He thought the plane was a bird.
    Thinks: Moral. If you have got a gun dog donít go to Letchworth

  8. If  I had got there on time I could have won that class.
    Thinks:
    In your dreams

  9. There were too many obstacles.
    Thinks: The first one was getting out of bed!


Heís Gone and Done It

It never ceases to amaze me that people find the sight of a dog relieving itself in the ring so amusing. Of course not everyone enjoys the spectacle. The handler who is next to run has a problem, either from the residual smell, which might distract the dog or the quagmire caused by pouring copious amount of disinfected water over the offending area.

The scrimer often gets involved in the cleaning up process. It is amazing how often the bucket of water is placed just outside the ring, near the scrimerís chair. By the end of the day, numerous dogs will have cocked their legs against it and it will be covered with soggy cigarette ends from the nervous handlers who have mistaken it for an ashtray.

Matters do not improve when you get to 'the place'. The judge will point a foot where the water is required. S/he will be wearing the new shoes bought for the judging appointment. You try to aim the water where it is required, but it usually ends up coming out as a deluge, covering, not only the new shoes but also the new trousers.

Dear God, please letís not have any accidents today.


Wheeling Around the Ring

Walking the course is not only about getting the obstacles in the right order, it is also about identifying the difficult parts of the course and deciding how best to get your dog through them. I hear you ask, 'we all know that, so whatís new?' Whatís new is that walking the course has become an art form.

Competitors run round the course pointing at jumps, first to the right and then to the left, looking like escaped planes from a flying display. They dip first one wing and then the other, often finishing with a victory waggle as they dog fight their way through the stragglers who stand looking at a trap, in confusion or dejection. What these latter day air aces forget, is that by the time they reach the particular obstacle, which they have waggled their wings at in such grand fashion, their dog will be long gone and they will be lucky not to nose dive into the ground.


Some Daft Sayings

  1. The toiletís have moved.

  2. The bitch, which has just run, is quite some dog.

  3.  Mother talking to a fractious child, at a burger van. 'Shut your mouth and eat your burger'.

  4.  My dog could have won that class with its legs tied together.

  5.  That course was easy. I could have done it with my eyes closed.

  6.  Sheís a mini handler.


Calling All Competitors

There can be few more thankless jobs than that of Caller. Have you noticed, there are either no dogs on the line or the queue stretches half way round the ring and someone always mutters, darkly, about dogs being taken out of turn or turning up late.

If there is any aggravation and occasionally there is, it is usually directed at the caller. Spare a thought for the poor individual. How were they supposed to know that the judge would decide to take a break, just as they called the next thirty dogs? How are they meant to know what the impact which other classes will have on the running of their ring?

Come on, itís a rotten job. Give the poor old caller a break and just remember that Callers do it with a smile, but only if you ask nicely.


Whatís in a Name?

I am sure that there must be someone out there who knows how a bum bag got its name. OK perhaps they would let me know Ė only explanations suitable for reading before the watershed please.

We are all familiar with the universal judgesí instruction of 'no bumbags and no tit-bits' and it seems fair enough to insist that a competitor should not get an unfair advantage by the use of a training aid and I shall not enter the realm of exactly what is a training aid and also what constitutes double handling. We are all sure that we have seen it and much discussion takes place about it and the fact that the judge has not seen it.

Do we need a second and third official, as in other sports? Surely not. Any transgression must be down to oversight rather than an attempt to obtain an unfair advantage. However, I am really perplexed about the bum bag. The tit-bit is also not one do dwell on. However, coming back to the bum bag, how can anything which is worn at the front have got stuck with this name?



Trial and Retribution

The large lady came past at full speed. She was red faced and blowing hard. However, she still managed to draw the attention of other competitors as she bellowed. 'Iíll kill him when I get hold of him.' If she was referring to the dog, there was no chance of her getting hold of  it. It kept a good five paces away from her.

A well known, experienced judge, who was between dogs, came over and suggested that the competitor had got the wrong technique. It was hardly likely to come to her if it was under threat of death. The lady, who by this time looked more like a beached whale turned on him. 'Donít be daft. Iím talking about my husband. He was meant to be looking after the dogs. Heís probably gone to sleep, lazy s** that he is.' The judge beat a hasty retreat and nodded to the scrimer that he was ready for the next dog. Whatever else he was, he was not a marriage counselor.


Setting Up a Dog

One of the bits of a round which the scrimer sees, is the setting up of the dog. You are doing your best to attract the attention of the competitor, so you can tell them to start. Now this should be an easy matter. However, when nerves take over, anything is likely to happen.

Handlers who leave the dog on the line and make their way to the first 'difficult' part of the course are a particular source of amusement. You really need someone to have a bet with. Will the dog stay? If it does stay, will it then make a mess of the first part of the course, which the handler assumed would not be a challenge to the dog.

Of course the dog may not hold the stay. It may even get its nose under the first pole, giving it no chance of jumping it, but also starting the clock and giving an alert judge cause to fault it.

The funniest thing of all is to watch a handler repeating the word stay and the dog ends up by his/her side with both of them competing in a dash for the finish.


 Pole Picking

The other day I witnessed an incident, which in its own way was quite amusing. It could, however, have had serious consequences.

One of the female cadets went to pick up a pole. The jump was one which was jumped twice and there was no time to put the pole up before handler and dog returned the other way. The judge, seeing what was happening, went to head off the cadet. The maneuver was not a great success and in the end, handler, judge and cadet all collided. The dog looked on with an expression which could only have meant 'you stupid humans'. Fortunately no-one was hurt and the handler waived her right to another run with five faults carried over.

What the incident does point up is the need for proper briefing of cadets and others who take on the job of pole picking. Whenever I do this job, I always try to walk the course to get a feel for the tricky bits, where poles are likely to come off and to check whether it is possible to put poles up unobtrusively on jumps which are taken twice. 


An Orchestrated March of The Lemmings

Have you ever wondered what happens to handlers, when the call goes out to clear the ring? The ring has been chock-a-block with people all marching to the beat of an ancient drum. All are intent playing their part in this orchestrated march. All take exactly the same route Woe betide anyone who tries to go against the flow. The looks they receive would wither a rose at five paces. Who would dare to be different? There are a few fool-hardy souls, but for the most part the dance goes on and on, like a giant conga. It is like some colony of ants going about its tasks.

Then comes the call, 'Clear the ring' and the handlers fall off some agility cliff, like a so many lemmings. Where they go, no-one knows, but at the call for the first twenty dogs, none of them are to be found. 


About the author...
The Agility Whisperer
is one of the small band of partners, mostly male who drive their other half to agility shows. He soon realised that this was not an exciting prospect and that he had to do something about it so he volunteered his services and was sent with a scout to pick up poles on a Mini Jumping course. Soon he realised that this was the equivalent of sending an apprentice carpenter for a dozen sky hooks or a clerk for 100 assorted ticks.

Cartoons: Roo Roo Design