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Raiders of the Last Bark

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Rowanís Debut

Bronwen Green is currently writing a book about her doggie adventures over the years. In an Agilitynet scoop,  you can now read the first chapter here... before it is serialised in tabloids.

Rowan, our hyper two-year-old cocker spaniel, and I had been attending an agility class for about a year now, and we both loved it. Being a typical cocker spaniel, he is bright, busy but blessed with the concentration span of a gnat! So it is quite a feat to get him to concentrate on anything.

When Sue, our trainer suggested we 'have a go' at a small local show it seemed a fun thing to do. However, the day before the show I was having serious misgivings. That morning I had spoken to the Show Secretary to clarify how long the show would take. Slowly the truth was beginning to dawn. The classes are quite small she said, only 50-60 dogs in some! That was small! Did I realise I had to be there before nine to walk the course? Er... no, I hadnít.

The next day dawned bright and cold It was August after all. The show was literally only ten minutes from home so I was quite relaxed about getting there. However, when I arrived, I could see I had still seriously underestimated the level of professionalism. There were camper vans and caravans, and people had travelled from far and wide just to take part. Having parked the car and got to the competition rings, I was greeted with the comical sight of hoards of people running around the courses without their dogs! Iíd seen show jumpers walking the course without their horses but this was something else.

Imagine 60 people running around in a relatively small area looking for the correct approach and ways of shaving off the odd second. Turning to the lady next to me I asked what must be a really novice question 'Why havenít they got their dogs with them?'

'Oh my dear' she said ' thatís absolutely against the rules'. Dogs donít go into the ring until they compete.

'So whereís the practice ring?' I casually asked, thinking they always have those at horse shows.

'Practice ring? There is no practice  ring. You practice at home or at your club'.

Rowan and I slunk away at this stage trying not to look so amateur!

Immediately on our left I saw a sign that I did recognise, 'exercise area'. A euphemism for dog toilet. So off we went, thinking I would get Rowan comfortable, then leave him in the car with the tailgate open while I got comfortable. Then I would go and walk the course with the best of them.

The queue for the ladies toilet was horrendous and you only had until 9.00 am to walk the course. It was now eight minutes to nine. Needless to say there was no queue at the menís. So keeping my head low and eyes averted, I dashed for a cubicle in the menís loo, bitterly regretting the large, caffeine charged cappuccino Iíd had first thing in the morning. Luckily there were no men there as I entered. However, coming out, I was not so lucky and several startled men jumped as I shot past the urinals.

Next was the serious business of walking the course. You quickly learn that this is not a time for social chitchat or making new chums. The concentration is intense and it needs to be as, there are loads of obstacles to negotiate. My heart sank as I realized the jumps were much higher than the ones we had been practising on and that the course was so long. The most Rowan had done was about ten obstacles in one go; here there were twenty!

The fear was palpable
I needed another wee already. But there was no time. It was nine o' clock and the judge was telling the contestants they had 45 seconds to get around the course. Now I understood the sudden preoccupation of everyone in sight putting on their trainers!

We were number 22, so at least I could watch others go through their paces first. Thank goodness we were, because at this stage other little bits of agility etiquette began to raise their heads. Why did no one take titbits and toys into the ring? Because its not allowed. Thatís all right, I thought, as long as I've got them in my pocket, Rowan would know they were there and would follow me. Youíve guessed it; these had to be removed as well! Then the ultimate test of the ownerís courage, no collars or leads in the ring. At this stage I think I was slightly hysterical as the lady next to me said 'not to worry, this was a really low key show'. She had just returned from one on the south coast that was a week long and had over two thousand dogs in it. Somehow that didnít help.

Rowan watched the competitors going through their paces and it began to dawn on him where we were, agility. So he started doing what he always does at his weekly class, scream his head off while waiting for his turn. The gentleman in front of me who had a wonderfully calm looking mongrel turned and said, 'heís a vocal little chap isnít he?' But before I had a chance to explain that it was our first show and he was really excited, it was our turn. Frantically rubbing sausage into my hand so it would at least smell as if I had a titbit, when we entered the ring.

The first three obstacles were a straight line of fences, a good eight inches higher than anything we had tackled so far. Pointing Rowan in the right direction and giving him a little push, off we went. I ran down the side of the fences while Rowan decided to run in the opposite direction to "check out" the strange man in the middle of the ring (the judge). Shrieking at the top of my voice and waving my hand as if it contained the worldís largest sausage, Rowan stopped in his tracks and dutifully hurled himself back towards me. Quickly positioning myself at the first fence again, I shouted, in what I hoped was an authoritative voice, 'Hup, his command for fence jumping. Rowan looked at the fence and flung himself over it, but obviously was surprised at how high it was.

Moving more quickly than I had in years, we were off and he threw himself over the next two fences and onto the seesaw. Here, I made a fundamental error. I forgot to steady him as he reached the top of the seesaw; consequently, he hit it running at a great speed and was fairly jettisoned off the other side and landed in an undignified heap at the next obstacles, four fences in a square.

Brave little soul that he is, he dusted himself down and looked at me to see if I still had the 'sausage'. I tantalisingly held my empty hand up to the next fence and said 'hup.' Rowan had no trouble with these fences because he now had a new and exciting way of tackling them. You run under them, far less bother and much quicker! Nothing would then induce him to jump over them.

Conscious of the 45-second limit on the course, we abandoned the fences. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed the judge drawing a finger across his throat; how rude I thought to pass some sort of comment on our heroic efforts. I later found out this is agility speak for telling the scorers someone is eliminated.

Onwards we went, oblivious to the world and our eliminated status. Over the dogwalk at a good lick, through the tunnel, over the big A frame and the spread and under every single other fence there was on the course !

We both shot through the finish, where someone had considerately placed Rowanís collar and lead to a chorus of 'well dones', and 'brilliant for a first go!' We were both quivering with excitement by this stage, heady on the partnership that got us both around the course and already planning our next adventure. Well, maybe it was just me doing the planning. Rowan had found my bag and was busily stuffing down as many sausages as he could in one go.

About the author...
Bronwen Green  lives in Norfolk with her two Cocker Spaniels Jaffa and Rowan and a Haflinger pony called Hazel. She has been a dog owner for over 30 years and is currently writing a book of her doggy adventures called Raiders of the Last Bark, due to be published next year.

Apart from running her own publishing firm, she has also recently started a company called Animal Magic which organises fun and educational activities for dogs, horses and their owners in the North Norfolk area. For more details, phone 01263-722669 or e-mail bronwengreen@t-cnews.co.uk