The true facts according to Peter Lewis
Dog agility is a fairly new sport, created merely as a demonstration in the late 1970s in the UK. Little did Peter Meanwell think in 1977 when John Varley asked him for assistance in devising an entertainment for the audience between the Obedience and Breed competitions in the main ring at Crufts that the largely jumping style course would develop into an international national dogging sport. The rest, as they say, is history.
Several of Peter's friends in the Lincoln area including Stuart Gillam, Kevin Foster and Albert Davies who were to become his team, helped build the equipment. Fred Welham and Trevor Jones of Yorkshire also made invaluable contributions. Peter realised that to add interest it would be necessary to involve another club so he contacted Trevor Jones of the Yorkshire Working Trials Training Society to produce a team of four dogs. All the people involved at this stage helped each other with training ideas and modifications to equipment where it was felt that an improvement could be made.
Trevor Jones' team was selected from Yorkshire Working Trials Training Society and included:-
The first actual agility demonstration actually took place on the first day of the show, Friday, 10 February and, according to a report in The Kennel Club Gazette, it took place in the 'big ring' before the Group Judging. After the the handlers had changed into smart tracksuits as a team uniform, they competed against each other with such success that it was obvious from the crowd reaction that this innovation would be seen again.
The following year of 1979, after qualifying rounds, three teams appeared, and these were the Pontefract Dog Training Club, The Rugby Dog Training Club and The Yorkshire Working Trials Society. A further Agility milestone was reached when the finals of the Pedigree Chum Agility Stakes were held at the International Horse Show at Olympia during December 1979.
The first Agility Test to be run under the new Kennel Club Regulations was the event staged at Crufts 1980. The three teams to qualify at an eliminating round to compete in this event were Pontefract DTC, Yorkshire WTS and the Waldridge Fell TC.
Appropriately it was judged by Peter Meanwell, who having been mainly responsible for the sport's development, had the onerous task of being the first judge to interpret the regulations. Without doubt this was a wise choice, for who could be better than the sport's innovator to handle the first official test. Knowing his enthusiasm, he asked Peter Lewis to act as his score steward which he willingly accepted as he wished to play a full role in helping to establish what he had started. In the very brief time they were in the main Crufts arena, it was apparent that this sport was a winner with the spectators.
Spectator sport, not
All these points plus the fact that the wagging tails indicated a high measure of canine enjoyment told us that this now official dog sport would not die. 'I am proud to have been instrumental in starting what has become a world-wide dogging activity enjoyed by dogs and their owners in the thousands,' says Peter Meanwell 20 years later, 'and I'm maybe somewhat self-satisfied that the obstacles, working systems and judging system are virtually unchanged since that first event at Crufts 1978.'
In 1980, The Kennel Club became the first organisation to recognize agility as an official sport with a sanctioned set of rules, and the first agility test to be held under the new regulations was the team event at Crufts that year. The event was judged by Peter Meanwell, with Peter Lewis as his scribe. Peter Lewis and John Gilbert (one of the few original 1978 competitors who continues to participate in agility competition, training, and judging) went on to play a major part in spreading the sport of dog agility across Europe and around the world. 1983 saw the founding of the Agility Club, the first national agility club in the UK publishing the Agility Voice, the first agility magazine.
Thanks, John Varley and Peter Meanwell, for such a great fun sport to enjoy with our dogs. Agility is fun!
Source: The Agility Dog by Peter Lewis (1981)