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An American in Burnham

A dog agility weekend the BAD way

Mike and Sandy Birdsall were planning a holiday in the UK, but four weeks of 'doglessness' was more than Sandy could stand. She was currently in the process of training her first agility dog, a young Border Collie. Perhaps she could learn some things from the country where agility was born. Colin Palfrey e-mailed this report.

Mike had long yearned for a return trip to Europe. He had spent a year in Duisburg, Germany as an exchange student in high school. For me, however, the mere thought of being in an airplane for more than eight hours caused heart palpitations. Tantalized by the promise of wonderful alpine hiking in the Swiss Alps, roaming the Black Forest of Germany and the mountains of Wales, I relented, but with one caveat. I absolutely had to be able to attend a weekend agility show in the United Kingdom.

Colin Palfrey After some effort, I found a list of agility shows for Europe on the Internet. We were pleased to find a show in Essex on the one weekend available to us in England. I e-mailed Colin Palfrey, the Burnham and District show contact, requesting additional details. He generously provided us with directions to the show site, information about public transportation, and even helped make advance reservations for us at a local pub. We were set. Well, almost.

I had agreed to contact Colin some time after we arrived in Europe to confirm our arrival and finalize arrangements for our visit. We had three glorious weeks of touring Switzerland and Germany, yet Colin still had not heard from me. (OK, in my defence I made a couple of unsuccessful attempts.)

The show day dawned and I was feeling quite guilty about it. 'Let's just sneak into the show and be inconspicuous,' I said to Mike.

Welcome
As we approached the show site, I had a sense of being back home. The show grounds spread out before us could have been Anywhere, USA - the look of the three rings, the vendor booths, the hordes of vehicles camped around the grounds, etc. It was somehow comforting. It was not, however, possible for us two Americans to be inconspicuous. We did try. But alas, we looked like - well - Americans. Sooner than I could believe, Colin appeared, introduced himself and others from the club, and we were made to feel so very, very welcome.

We learned that this show was positioned near the end of the long show season and billed as a fun family getaway weekend. It is this club's one and only show of the year - and quite an undertaking for them. As with most clubs, there is a relatively small core group of dedicated members who do more than their fair share of the work.

Standard classes offered on Saturday were Novice and Elementary Jumping, Starters Agility, and Open Agility. Sunday featured Novice and Elementary Agility, Starters Jumping and Open Jumping.

Both days featured a non-standard Open class. On Saturday we were treated to Open Box Pairs, a relay race of sorts run on a jumpers with weaves course. In an ideal run, the first dog and handler cleanly runs the course, returning to the 'box'. Dog and handler number two then leave and execute their clean run. The team is scored on the time elapsed for both runs. But, as one might well imagine, clean runs were the exception, not the rule. Whenever an error is committed, the dog and handler must return to the box and the other pair must restart from the point where the error occurred.

Agility is fun
This class was great fun to watch and made for hilarious entertainment in some cases. Several times the audience enthusiastically joined in to help direct a handler who was confused about where to restart her dog on the course. During one run, about halfway through the weave poles an energetic male dog got overly excited. He grabbed his shocked handler's leg and repeatedly took indecent liberties. She repeatedly tried to redirect him to the weave poles, but to no avail. Eventually she was saved by the judge's whistle.

Sunday's non-standard class was Helter-Skelter. This fast-paced jumpers with weaves course started in a counter clockwise circular run, which continued in ever tightening circles - eventually ending at the pause table in the middle of the ring. (I thought it looked pretty easy until I tried it back home and watched my energetic young border collie knocked down three bars!)

There were some very good performances and nice smooth handling, especially in the open classes. It was fun to watch seasoned veterans, both human and canine. I especially liked the giving of ribbons for the top 20 placements in each class. My hero is the lady exhibitor who collected her ribbon and boldly exclaimed 'not bad for 70-year old knees!' The serendipitous (go ahead, check your dictionary!) Special Awards were another fun and encouraging touch. They were given out for any performance that inspired the judge. A rather young girl received one for her exceptionally fine handling, in spite of making one small, but fatal mistake during her run.

We enjoyed the obvious atmosphere of camaraderie and spirit of encouragement that extended to so many participants, rather than stark competition. And the friendly style of administration of the 'business' affairs of the show would not be possible at a much larger event. The BAD club members clearly enjoy their sport and each other, as well.

Ring party
For Mike and I the highlight of the weekend was being invited to help out with the rings, such as picking up knocked down bars and running handler's leads to the finish line. It was just a small thing, perhaps, but it made us feel like we were part of the club's team.

So what did this American learn from the country where agility was born? That once again - as demonstrated by this show - bigger is not necessarily better.


Sandy BirdsallAbout the author...
Sandy Birdsall
has been involved in the sport of dog obedience competition for more than 25 years. She has taught tracking, all levels of dog obedience, and is a previous Training Director of the Dog Obedience Training Club of Anchorage, Alaska. She currently owns two border collies - Squeak (11 1/2 years old, now retired) and Flyer (21 months.)

Sandy and Mike live in Issaquah, Washington (USA).


Editor's note: Yes, folks, they found the show details on Agilitynet. If you are coming to the UK on holiday this year, why not include an agility show on your list of 'must-sees.' Just check the Agilitynet Show Diary for a local agility show. You'll certainly be welcomed!
Cartoon: Eric Gurney in How to Live with a Neurotic Dog by Stephen Baker