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Casper & Callie

A short story in support of the 4th height...

Casper's first, and only, rosette Ė Judges Special Anysize Agility September 2014 Training and competing in dog agility has had a massive positive impact on Deborah Noon's life, but she now has considerable concerns about the lack of an appropriate jumping height for dogs like hers which measure 'borderline' Large. This article sets out Deborah Noon's experiences of competing in agility with her rescue collies, Casper and Callie, and explains why she is supporting the campaign for the adoption of a 4th height in Kennel Club competitions.

Both my dogs have had a rough start in life, having joined our family through the RSPCA.

Casper is a compact white collie with a black head. He was the first to join our family, arriving as a dizzy bundle of fear and anxiety in 2011.  He settled in quickly and we started attending obedience classes, and then later agility training.  After a shaky first few weeks, Casper suddenly found his feet and to everyone's amusement those feet were usually on the A Frame or the Dog Walk - equipment he still enjoys with a passion.

Our trainers worked hard with us, with me especially as Casper picked up agility very quickly. I was so happy when, after almost a year, our head trainer said we were ready to enter our first show. I arranged for Casper to be measured and was shocked when he measured borderline Large.  I knew he could be re-measured in 12 Ė 24 months but, as he was already seven years old, in reality, it felt like his time in agility was ended before it had begun and I cried most of the way home.

My trainers tried hard the following day - and for weeks afterwards - to pick me up and to see if there was any way Casper could jump Large but he just couldn't do it. I managed to change his first show entry to the Anysize Jumping class, but my heart wasn't in it. I know he missed his beloved A frame.  As an agility newbie, I think the idea of waiting for a second KC measure for Casper became embedded with there still being a faint hope of this being overturned at some point.

I mistakenly didnít enter Casper in other competitions but instead entered the occasional Anysize Agility classes when they were available. I believe this lack of consistency meant the confidence he had built in training was never transferred to shows. As a result, we have never seen him reach his full potential, with the exception of one show last September where he had an Anysize Agility run every day and won his first and only rosette, a judges special for his enthusiasm. If memory serves me correctly, he snuck in a double A-frame!

 Callie, a successful first year jumping Standard and Large heightCallie joined us in 2013
Despite struggling with her time in kennels before being re-homed, Callie and Casper hit it off straight away. She was very frightened and hyper-alert to everything. Our ears and those of our visitors were treated to high pitched alarm barking on a regular basis over those first few weeks, often accompanied by puddles. Keeping her calm after being spayed was nigh on impossible, and it seemed forever before we could do the socialisation at club which would help her deal with people and dogs in a calm manner.

Callie took to having a job to do immediately and loved agility from the start... apart from the tunnel.  I spent a significant amount of time lying in a rigid tunnel to convince her it wasn't that scary.  At least, thatís what my trainers told me it was for. It could have been to see how much of a twit I could make of myself!  Callie was measured and, somewhat in a daze, I accepted that as she was slightly taller than Casper she must be Large. By this point, she was jumping Large comfortably at training.

Even though Callie is a much more athletic build than Casper, it had always struck me when we were at training next to my sister's dog (see picture), or later at shows next to some very large dogs, that she was significantly smaller and, therefore, being asked a lot in jumping Large. I started to question the impact that this may have on her joints from landing.

Callie's first shows were independent and UKA, and I opted for her to jump Standard, which she comfortably measured into.  Immediately I felt happier with this, and we had some very good results early in our agility career which I put down to her ease of jumping and my increased confidence at that height.

 Casper, Callie and Scooby, my sister's dog. Is it right that these three should jump the same height?Agility has had a profound effect on my life
I have developed a deep bond with my dogs, gained in physical fitness and met some lovely people. It has improved my analytical skills and memory, but decreased my bank account significantly. 

With Callie, agility has allowed me to set goals, achieve them and set some more. I have continued to compete in KC despite the lack of a 4th height as for me this activity is about several things:- spending time supporting and being supported by my clubmates, taking part in Team and Pairs competitions, challenging myself and being tested against a wide range of grades, dogs and handlers and learning from the experiences of others. For those that say I have other options, I would lose all the above.

My first full season competing with Callie has been successful in KC, UKA and Independent shows at Standard and Large height.  I protect Callie as much as possible from the effects of jumping by training on lower heights, regular hydrotherapy and massage and lots of fitness, warm up and stretching exercises. My belief has grown that a 4th height is required more than ever, in order for KC shows to be inclusive of a wide range of dogs and those new to this roller coaster hobby.

We hear about the importance of grass roots enthusiasts and competitors. Casper, Callie and I are grass roots. We never aimed to be Agility Champions but to have fun, have choice and take part with our club. Casper is now eight years old so any change would be too late for him. My hope is that Callie will be able to jump the appropriate height at KC shows and that I don't have to start limiting my KC show entries as she ages. I really believe that the impact of the 'missing' 550mm height has deterred others from entering KC shows.

This is echoed in the conversations that I have had over the last year. KC shows can be inclusive and recognise and support the efforts of all abilities and offer a wide range of classes but I believe a change is needed to implement this as soon as possible.

About the author
Deborah Noon
started agility training in October 2012 with with her dog Casper. Her other dog Callie began training in June 2013. They now train with High Peak Dog Training Society, near where we live in Stockport.

She and Callie compete regularly at Grade 3 in KC and Novice UKA across the North West and East Midlands, particularly enjoying the shows in picturesque Bakewell. Casper unfortunately retired from Agility in May 2015 on veterinary advice.

Deborah has valued the opportunity this year to support and enter two heats of the Fitzpatrick Referrals 4th Height Jumping Cup.

First published 18 June 2015