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Your Agility Debuts

Mem-or-ies are made of this...(refrain)

Everyone remembers their first time... their first agility show, that is. You'd been having a great time training your dog at agility class, and then your instructor suggests that you might be ready to take the next big step into the world of agility competition. But things rarely go as planned. Email your first experiences in the show world to Agilitynet.

For more stories of first shows, this time told from the handler's point of view,
see Your Dog's First Show

 Richard Partridge (Part 2)

Murph the TwerphoundAlthough this is not strictly my first run, I've been chasing dogs around Agility courses for the last couple of seasons, I think it just about counts because of all the 'firsts' in the run.

Last April we took on Murphy, a completely barmy but lovable Irish collie X puppy rescue dog, immediately identified as the only example of the Irish Twerphound. As we are an Agility household with five dogs, he was obviously destined to show his paces in the ring. Sheila decided she would take on training him as she only had the stroppy Yorkie, so off she went.  Now you must realise from the outset Murph is a complete bundle of energy and overflowing with enthusiasm.

The first hurdle was to get him to settle down in the company of other dogs. He saw all of the others as playmates and it took about two months before we would dare let him loose at training. After this things went well. He took to jumping, leaping through tyres, he weaves like an eel, and apart from the usual collie problem of considering the last four feet of any contact equipment to be a complete waste of time, he was good on the contacts.

He was old enough for the Nursery class at UK Agility in July, so off we toddled. Sheila put him through his paces. They were brilliant, Murph missed the contact on the A -frame, mainly because he got to it too quickly for Sheila, who was gasping in his wake, and went over unsupervised. The only other fault was at the penultimate jump.  He took it beautifully and Sheila was so chuffed she told him 'well done,' so he spun round for a treat, bumped into his handler and they stumbled past the last jump. However, they went back and completed the course.

Then came disaster! 
Sheila crocked her knee, so for the first proper run at Tenterden yours truly got the short straw. I had not trained the Twerphound, apart from running around the jumps, weaves and seesaw in the garden, Murph had not run a full blown competitive course. I had not run him over dog walks, A-frames or through tunnels, but what the heck.

Those who were there will recall that it was a beautiful hot day at Bodiam. The advice (and common sense) was to keep the dogs quiet and cool until the last minute. I took Murph into the exercise area with his Frisbee and gave him a pretty hard work-out to try to use up the excess energy... some hope. 

I put him on the line. He stayed. So far so good. Nothing fancy. I went to the first jump wing and called him over. He went over like a rocket, over the next and then came back to me and grabbed my hand to pull me to the next jump. He dragged me to the jump, let go and went over it, then came and got me again. I shook the blighter off, stopped and told him to sit. He sat.

I thought perhaps we should try things a bit slower, so I walked along the course, talking gently to the dog, and things went fairly well for a while, until we reached the A-frame. As I needed to change sides at some point I decided to put Murph onto the A-frame, run like the clappers to the other end and stand at the bottom to stop him, then pick up the other side. 

Twerphound don't not play this game. Halfway down he hopped off the side and came past me with a wicked gleam in his eye. By the time I'd turned round and chased after him, he was going into the wrong end of a tunnel, but by this time I was too hot, too puffed and past caring, but at least we only had a straight home run, which went fairly according to the way the judge intended.

At least we took the first and last jumps in the right order, the dog did not leave the course - although there were times when I wished I could - and we arrived at the finish more or less together.

For all of this effort Sheila's words of encouragement were along the lines of that I 'bleeping well bleeped' that up and she 'bleeping well hopes' I have not ruined the 'bleeping' dog!

Ah well, it all in a day's agility fun, but next time she can take her own 'bleeping' dog, even if she has to go round on crutches! Roll on Stour Valley. (17/08/04)

Aftermath...
From Richard Partridge himself.
Would you believe, that Murp pulled a third place in Beginners Jumping at UKA Scambles, his third competition. I knew that I had collected a second with our Mini, but did not realise that Murph had done anything except embarrass me! We needed to get away so asked a friend to collect Bandit's rosette, and was amazed when she delivered two, telling me the second was for the Twerphound.  (14/10/04)

 Rachel Vine

I was just looking at the web page and saw the article about your first ever agility experience and can not resist emailing in! My first agility show was about two years ago when I was 14 then. I had been training my dog Pip (Pippin) for about 18 months and felt quite confident. The show was in Aylesbury and after a half hour journey in the car thinking of all the things that could go wrong, I certainly did not anticipate what I was about to face.

I had entered three classes and my first was Starters Jumping. I was quite late in the queue and was able to watch others go round the rings, but this still did not comfort my nerves. As I waited in the queue, I talked to my instructor and then, before I knew it, we were at the start line.

The first five obstacles were jumps and a tunnel. Pip completed these fairly successfully. Although he was a bit hesitant and not very enthusiastic, he was completing them without fault. However, all was about to change as we approached the corner of ring.

Pip glanced up to see a one of the ring party's chair. Hung on the back of it was a coat. Pip's attention was glued on this coat and there was nothing I could do or say to get him back. Before I realised what he was doing, he had cocked his leg! I was gob smacked!

Eventually I got him back, and we completed the end of the course. As I stepped over the finish line, reality came back to me and I had to go and face this man whose coat had a new fragrance to it. My stomach was in knots. I walked around the ring and, with my bravest face, I deeply apologised and took the coat to wash off in the toilets. On returning I offered to pay for the coat to be cleaned, but the man was very nice and forgiving about it and said, at least, he had learnt not to do that again.

After recovering from that I thought things could only get better! I could not have been more wrong! Next was Elementary Jumping. Although just experiencing a very humiliating course, I was not completely disheartened. I walked on to the start line and was ready to give it my all! Pip, however, had other ideas.

After jumping the first hurdle I knew it was going to be a disaster! He had no enthusiasm whatsoever! It took me about a minute for him to do four obstacles. And if nothing else could go wrong, he promptly squatted in the middle of the ring and to my absolute horror did a poo! At this point I was on the verge of tears. However, I cleared it up and finished the course. Pip was not in my good books! I watched the other members of our club go round and, after much discussion, decided it was far too risky to complete my last course - Elementary Agility - with Pip!

Although my first show was a complete disaster, I have certainly learnt lessons! Since then I have competed and made sure Pip's bladder was well and truly empty! There have been no other embarrassing incidents! The best he has done has been a 21st! I was very proud! I am still very keen and have just started training my new collie Ellie who seems a little keener than Pip! Let's hope her first show isn't as disastrous as Pip's!   (13/03/04)

 Pat May

A Triumph of a Different Kind

'There is nothing you can do in the ring that hasnít been done before,' the whole class tried to reassure me as I took the entry form for my first show, but as I looked down at the list of classes I couldnít help wondering if I was making a huge mistake. They didnít have my dog, and they didnít have all the worry that went with him.

Iíd bought Jamie two years earlier from a rescue home. He was a thin, tired sort of dog and heíd stopped eating.

'Itís kennel stress,' they told me. 'Heís had the runs for days and nobody wants him.' I took him home, fed him and brushed him and the next day we went for a little walk. It was only then that I discovered his problem.

Jamie didnít like people. I was shocked. This hadnít been mentioned in the kennels and he seemed to like both me and my husband. Heíd shown no signs of aggression, and we thought we had a nice dog.  I couldnít believe heíd tried to bite a neighbour.

'Perhaps itís just a one off,' I thought, but over the next few days Jamie gained in strength and confidence, and he made it clear that no-one was going to be allowed in his space unless they wanted a severe mauling. There was no question of taking him back to the kennels. He was a large dog, and he could be dangerous in the wrong hands. If I couldnít train him, he would have to be put to sleep.

When I was sufficiently confident that I could control him on the lead, I contacted an experienced dog psychologist and we went to training classes. The whole class was warned about Jamieís aggression but, although the classes were well run, it wasnít the right environment for him. He felt confined and stressed even though we trained in a large hall. Then along came the psychologistís husband. He was starting a beginnerís class in agility and, as it was being held in a field, I thought it might just suit Jamie.

Iíve lost count of the number of times this poor man got bitten as he tried to persuade Jamie onto the dog walk or the see-saw, and to his credit he never once blamed Jamie or refused to let me bring him to the class. Eventually Jamie began to settle down, but I never thought I could compete with him.  I was afraid that if a judge eyeballed him he would lose control and all my training would go out of the window. If I was lucky Iíd get kicked out of the ring and, if I wasnít, thereíd be a court case.

It was a year and a half before I could be persuaded to go to a show. To say I was nervous was the understatement of the year, however, I trusted the trainer and the others in the class. They clearly thought Jamie was ready for the experience.

Just to add a little pressure I decided to raise some money for charity, so I asked people to sponsor Jamie for every obstacle he tackled in the ring.

It was a lovely sunny day when we stood on the start line for Elementary Jumping but of course my nerves transmitted themselves to Jamie. We were eliminated about half way round but to my delight, Jamie stayed with me. He ignored the judge and he tackled every obstacle. I was delighted. Heíd  jumped all the jumps, although not necessarily in the right order, and he seemed quite happy in the show atmosphere. To the people watching it was just another newbie struggling round the course, but to me it was a triumph. I knew then that Iíd be able to compete with Jamie in other shows and never again would we be left behind wondering what this competition lark was all about.  (07/03/04)

 Cayley Turner

The first show I went to was at the Bath racecourse at the end of August 2003. It wasnít only my first show; it was a first for my WSD dog Sammy (Splash of Colour) as well. In the weeks leading up to it, I was in a permanent state of panic because my dog had never completed a full-length course before.

They all say itís good to have nerves, but I didnít have any! I was so glad because my dog was 18 months old, very sensitive, and I feel that any nerves wouldíve dented his confidence.

My first class was Elementary Jumping. My immediate worry was the weaves being No. 2 on the course. However, I neednít have worried because Sammy excelled himself and went clear in about five seconds slower than the eventual winner.

Riding on beginners luck, I went into my next class, which was Elementary Agility, and again a clear round about five seconds slower than the eventual winner. If only the rosettes went up to 25th place.

They say things come in threeís and they werenít wrong. My last class of the weekend was Starters Jumping. There werenít any weaves, which lead to a winning time over 17 obstacles of about 16.50.

Sammy and I have since been in two more classes and got two more clear rounds.

Supadogs will be are next port of call, so I can only wish and hope for the same - only a bit faster next time and a placing would be good. (07/03/04)

Ann Harmes

Stuart and I both entered our first show at Wirral on the same day. My first dog was Mostly Moss who was a complete nutter and, although quite a good Obedience dog, showed very little in the agility ring!! 

My first run was Elementary Agility. We were amazed by the amount of weave poles that the inconsiderate judge had placed in the ring. We had only ever done 6 and Moss could obviously count! At leas,t he did save his snapping weave pole trick for another day!

I then stupidly entered him into the Knockout competition - manic dog against another manic dog - not a good idea!
(06/03/04)

 

Jim Webster

Liz and Jade went to Obedience classes and when they progressed to Class 3 were invited to go to agility training. Diane was recruited to do the agility training - a younger and quicker pair of legs, or so I thought. All went well and Diane and Jade entered their first competition at Lanark Racecourse in 1998. Jade came first in Midi Jumping and second in Agility. This agility game was brilliant, so I entered her for another meeting.

In the meantime, Diane left home to take up a new job and could not come to the next meeting, so I turned up at the Bearded Collie Club/Fair City meeting at Dabbs in September, with Jade having done no agility training with me. I just used to go as a spectator and a helper with the equipment.

When I got there, I asked the head trainer who was going to run Jade and he said that I would have to do it, as there was no one else. So I was a nervous competitor - a couple of club members walked the course suggesting different things but I did not know if I could do it with Jade.

Remembering courses was - and still - is a problem with me The first event was a Jumping course, and I got lost in a box so a big E. The second event was a Time, Fault and Out. It seemed straightforward, but after about the sixth fence I went the wrong way and lost Jade, until I heard the head coach shout that I should follow the dog. Jade was on the dogwalk waiting for me to catch up (She knew the course!). For that effort, we got a fifth place.

In the last event, an Agility course, Jade went very well and I achieved our first clear round and a third place. From then on, we were hooked on agility.

After prizegiving, the head coach said to everyone that the next time I entered that I should give Jade the bus fare from Aberdeen. She could then turn up and do the courses herself as she could read the numbers better than her handler.  (06/03/04)

 Richard Partridge (Part 1)

'What on earth,' I asked myself, 'am I doing here?' 'Here was the start line of the Jumping course at Golden Cross Equestrian Centre at the Downland Show where I was about to launch into my first ever competitive Agility round. My stomach was churning, my knees were locked, my mind was blank, and to make things even worse, Gemma looked confident, ready to obey my every command!

Twelve months earlier all I knew about Agility was that it looked fun when I saw it being done, and our dog Bandit is good at jumping onto chairs when told, but slower to jump off! I thought it would be a good idea to join a club. Bandit could hone his skills - he had been trained before we had him - and I could get some much-needed exercise.

So here I was. And, as they say, the only way is up, so I told Gemma to stay and tentatively took a few paces. Gemma stayed. So far so good. I called Gemma and off we went. All went well to start, and my legs relaxed, my stomach relented and decided to keep breakfast inside.  The seconds and the jumps flew past. As always Gemma was acting the star. 

Halfway round -  disaster! I completely forgot where we were and what came next! I was faced with two clear choices, and as the sand is not deep enough to dig a hole to hide in, the first was not an option, so I stopped, and with great dignity looked around, refreshed my memory and finished the course. Needless to say we did not cause any great rearrangement to the leader-board, but Gemma wagged her tail as if to say 'didnít we do well?' and everybody was very encouraging.

Things rapidly improved after that, and with a lot of help from the faithful dog we came away in the end with two rosettes, and I had learned that walking the course means much more than taking a casual stroll!

What I noticed though, having been in the 'hot-seat' is that disasters overtake to a lot of people, even the ones who we consider our superiors and are very skilled and experienced. What I also noticed is that when it happens to these folks the reaction always sympathetic and encouraging. It helps, believe me, because in the two competitions I have done since that fateful day Gemma has faithfully followed my (wrong) instructions. We have been eliminated, but there has been nary a boo nor a jeer. Agility people are much too nice!

I admit that my introduction to competition has been relatively easy having the benefit of running a well-trained and experienced dog (Thanks Alec and Denise Welsh for the loan of Gemma) and rewards are possibly easier to achieve, but if any of you newcomers are of a mind to give it a try my suggestion would be to go for it!  At any show you will see dogs and handlers who are not there expecting to win. They go to enjoy a day out and enter into the competitive spirit. And you realise it is amazing just how good you and your dog are when the adrenalin starts.

P. S.  I originally wrote the above nearly a year ago. Since then I have won more clear rounds with Gemma and a few with our own Papillion Mini, Bandit.  BUT, the feeling on the line is still exactly the same.  (06/03/04)

RainŤ Wellman

Our first show was in August 2003 at The Agility Club Show - at Luton - in Starters Agility. We wew both very new to the sport; Blue and I began training about 18 months ago.  Blue is a rescue who is nearly five years old so was a little late starting agility, but he loves it.

We got to the show early walked the course, which was fine until I had to join the queue. I was so nervous I was sick twice, and in the loo so many times I really wondered why I was putting myself through this.

I finally managed to get myself together and get in the queue again. Blue was so excited he was up for anything. We got on the start line and off we went, over the first hurdle. A good start I thought. We went on to do the next few jumps and dogwalk, which was fine until the owner of camper van by the side of the ring happened to have a dog called Blue and called him. My Blue thought he was calling him so off he went to investigate. He went up to the judge as well as a member of the ring party, I think, then probably two circuits round the ring and finally, after a lot of coaxing, he eventually came back to me. We got E'd, but I was so glad to get out of that ring. I was terrified.

Thankfully we have both improved since then. I am not so nervous when on the start line. We have managed our first placing, a seventh in Starters Jumping, and we have managed four clear round rosettes.   (06/03/04)

 

Heather Chaplin

'Well here goes,' I thought as I took my place in the queue for Elle and my first Agility competition. It was the Open Mini Jumping at the Rugby DTC Open Agility Christmas Show late last year and it was VERY cold.

The dog in front of me looked vaguely familiar, but I kept my concentration on trying to remember the course and thought nothing further about it until, just before I was due to go in, the person in front of me stepped up for her turn and I realised that it was none other than my doggie heroine... Mary Ray!

At this point I started to have palpitations, decided that discretion was the better part of valour, muttered some lame excuse to the person behind me in the queue and quickly vacated my position in the line. However, I shouldn't really have worried as Mary took the wrong course - like many others.

Finally, I did pluck up the courage to re-join the queue. Elle and I had a great time running our own (unique) version of the correct course which involved Elle deciding to go through one of the tunnels three times and avoiding most of the weaves! The judge luckily thought it was hilarious and even complimented me on my 'super little dog' so Elle and I are now looking forward to having another go very soon. Meantime, we're practicing those weaves, and I'm trying to teach Elle that she's only supposed to do the tunnel once!  (06/03/04)

 Brenda Tenten

My first show was so long ago it is now historic (okay: 1986) No one told me you could enter more than one class, so I went all the way to Scunthorpe to run my rescue Weimaraner Freya in Starters Agility. We completed the first section, then it was the soft tunnel. Freya did everything except go through it - walked on it, sat on it, jumped over it, lay down on it. So, the first of many big 'E's'.

To 'bring out ' my next dog, Perdi the lurcher, I chose Rugby - then the biggest show on the circuit - on her first birthday, the youngest age at which you could compete then!  What happened to 'choose a nice small quiet first show for your beginner dog'?  (02/03/04)

  Sue Jones

My first show was in 1989 at Rugby. I had a 12 month old Chihuahua, Little Leapfrog from Hull (pet name - Jody.) He got his KC name in the days before I realised it wasnít a good idea to tick the box and let the Kennel Club assign a name for you!

I started training Jody at 11 months old and he took to it straight away. He was a game little dog with absolutely no fear and, as my sister was entering Rugby show with her GSD, I decided to enter Jody as well.  I can't remember whether his first class was Agility or Jumping but, whichever it was it didnít matter, because he sat on the start line and refused to move. We didnít even get over the first jump!

Later on in the day he was entered in another class and I thought Ė well things can only get better Ė and surprisingly they did Ė much better. He set off straight away, and we ended up with our first clear round. He never looked back after that and we gained many clear rounds. He stopped climbing A-frames at the age of ten but continued to do the jumping until he was 12. (02/03/04)

 Christine Robson  

I remember my first Agility Show all too well AND my very first round as it was caught on camera. I still have the video evidence!

My very first Agility show was held in Dundee on the14 April 1991. I ran my very first ever dog at the Show. She was a little scruffy, long haired mongrel that I had bought from the the local Cat and Dog Home.  Her name was Scouse. I didn't choose her name - my Ex Husband did, hence the reason he's now my ex!

At the time of her first Agility Show she was five years old.  Shell suits were the order of the day and were the 'in thing' for handlers to wear. Mine was a very fetching black and peach number!

The Club I was attending at that time (Gleniffer AC) had only just started up so we didn't have all the equipment that you would have seen at a show in those days, i.e. brush jumps, bone jumps, therefore, we were at a slight disadvantage as Scouse and I hadn't even seen or practised any of these obstacles before.

Unfortunately at our very first run ever (Starters Agility), the first obstacle was a bone jump. The round was doomed from the start! After running under the bone jump three times - eliminated at the first obstacle, how embarrassing! - the Judge indicated to me to carry on. This I did, but on carrying on I noticed that Scouse was getting slower and slower.

'Oh no', I thought. 'I just know she needs a poo. What will I do?  Will I carry on and hope that she doesn't disgrace me, or will I stop now and leave the ring?'  Common sense didn't prevail and I carried on in the hope that I would reach the last obstacle before she let it all out.  It was not to be. Scouse just couldn't hold it in any longer and after the dog walk, it was all over... she let it all out! Now when your dog poos in the ring, it's not strictly the end of the world, but for a first timer -it certainly feels like it! (01/03/04)

 Paula Triggs

My first show with Ross, my noisy Hungarian Vizsla was at Nottingham. We started off nicely on an Agility course, over jump, tyre, another jump, and instead of turning right into the weaves the little swine had spotted a loan spectator on the far side of the ring scoffing a big bacon butty. Being a greedy young gundog he abandoned his course temporarily to sit in front of the spectator, probably drooling, and when he didn't get a share came back to complete the course! 

Bless him, NOT! (01/03/04)!


 Nick Jones

I entered Starters & Intermediate (?!) as a 'helpful' club member told me not to enter open as I'd be up against the likes of Dave Powell - also shows how long ago it was!  (01/03/04)