Agility along the Seigfried Line
Australian Matt Tovey met his German wife, Stella Moeller, on his travels while she was holidaying in Australia. They lived together, first in Germany and then in Rhones-Alpes region of France. They've now moved back to Germany. On the way, they discovered agility. Matt explains in an Internet interview.
Q. How did you and Stella get
into agility in the first place?
It was our vet who suggested that we try agility as a means to give Jess more work to do. We visited a small local dog club in France, and all three of us loved it immediately!
Less than a year later we entered our first competition, and we've been competing now for about two years. In France only pedigree dogs can compete in the primary competitions, so we have not earned any 'titles' with her.
We got Asterix, our second BC (male), so that we could both run courses at competitions. Asterix is now just over one year old. Our next dog will probably also be a BC. But we do agility because our dogs love it, and not the other way around.
How is agility organised in France vs. Germany?
In France, most dog sports are restricted to pedigree dogs. However, French agility has some classes (e.g. the 'Open'), where non-pedigree dogs may compete.
French agility caters for dogs of all sizes from A (very small) to D (very big), while German agility divides dogs by sizes into Mini and Standard.
Only France offers an 'Espoir' class for trainers under 14 years of age.
Q. Where did you train in France
and where do you train now. How did your chose your present club?
Probably because we lived in a rural area, the club was quite small. There were about six of us hard-core agility enthusiasts, and another five or so who also trained less regularly. Over summer we'd attend competitions nearly every weekend, each of which is quite a social event. Everyone seems to have family living around the area, most of whom also had dogs and competed. No French agility competition is complete without a sunshade, some bread, meat, cheese - and, of course, wine!
How did you find a new club
when you moved to Germany?
Q. How do your two clubs compare in
things like their facilities and equipment, grounds, cost, distance to travel, instructors,
social events (if any) and whatever else is relevant?
Our club in France didn't have a lot of equipment. We had only one of most of the larger obstacles. Instruction was informal, and apart from some individual obstacle training for beginners, it was composed pretty much of setting up a course, and running it a few times. As I remember it, it cost about 300 FF (30 pounds) per year. We did agility training twice per week, and obedience once a week.
The club was very convenient. It was literally just around the corner, opposite the Val Thoiry shopping centre near McDonalds. There was a clubhouse but no hall. I can tell you that agility training in the Jura foothills (near Geneva, Switzerland) in winter can be cold! Geneva is not as cold as you might think. Northern Switzerland and Munich are much colder! Training, however, goes on every week, regardless of the weather or holidays.
Our first German club, on the other hand, was a pure agility club and in contrast, is very organised. Lessons are divided into size and ability of the dogs, and the ground divided into two rings. We've found the club quite expensive - 150 DM (£50) for 10 one hour lessons. I don't know what this club does over winter. We have one lesson per week, and I would estimate that about 60 dogs train agility at the club in total.
Our second German dog club is more local. It has a large terrain, divided into three fields. The club uses an equestrian hall in the winter. (From previous experience of competitions held in such halls over winter, I'm expecting it to be dry, but very cold!) One area is used for obedience, another for agility and the last is used for the clubhouse which includes a dog-socialising area.
Perhaps one of the most visible equipment differences between these larger German clubs and France is that Germans make use of the training slalom (one that can be separated into a chute, and has wires and angled poles). Our club in France taught the slalom the hard way!
How does 'dog socialising' work?
But I should say that this takes place well away from the ring. I would not train at a club where this was permitted to take place on the course. As an aside, every dog owner has a responsibility for their dog's actions at all times. In France we watched dogs very carefully when they were off leash - especially some of the males. Here they all seem to work it out.
Q. What about training?
People are free to go off and work on other obstacles in the mean-time, which I haven't seen elsewhere. This club is a little larger than back in France with about ten people training agility at a time. The price is comparable - roughly £50 per year.
At the agility club, Jess participates in a more experienced group. They set up a course and then run various longish (about 15 obstacles) variations of the course. Asterix went into a Beginner's group, where basic obstacle training and some very short sequences is done.
Personally, we make extensive use of clicker training. But that's just what I've picked up from the Internet. I've yet to see anyone else using a clicker here in Europe, although I've created some interest in the clubs. Asterix will work very hard to get his click!
To get an agility license in Germany you must be a member of a German dog club which is registered with the FCI. You must also have passed the Begleithundepruefung, which is a reasonably difficult obedience test. That's what we're working on that at the moment!
What did you like best about French agility? Ditto Germany agility.
In France the CNEA (umm.. National Association for Education & Agility) has free software available which calculates the classifications, prints the pre-formatted result sheets for each entrant, and compiles a diskette of the results to be sent back to the CNEA. Nice, huh?
On the other hand, I think that the Germans have some innovative ideas with regards to training methods, but what I see as 'new' could be old-hat to others! I also like the structured training, and think that the Germans can be very good at being structured, yet flexible.
At our French club's last trial, for instance, I was very happy to be sitting out by the ring-side, entering the results directly into the software, courtesy of my (very old, very cheap) laptop PC. Between events I'd duck over to the clubhouse, plug in to the printer, and print out the results. This year I'll run a network cable instead and maybe connect some giant TV screens. Or maybe not. Seriously, computers sure do make light work of handling all that data.
Q. What do you like least about
A. In France we sometimes found the informal training methods frustrating. In Germany, it has taken us much longer to be accepted, and I can't say that we've yet (it's still early days) formed real friendships within the clubs.
Did anything surprise you about German agility when you first started.
Have your first impressions changed?
One of the things that has always attracted me to the German culture is the element of efficiency and structure in it. When I first started in Germany, I was both pleased to see that this was applied to dog training, but also concerned that, misapplied, it can be inflexible. I'd hate to see a short-term visitor to Germany prevented from doing agility because, for example, they didn't have the right papers for their dog, or because the club rules couldn't accommodate such an idea.
I have now seen examples of both, and I think that just as our informal training in France had its pros and cons, so does the German's structured style.
The breeds doing agility here are pretty much the norm - many BCs and Shelties as well as a few Aussies and Beardies which is quite different to France. We seen a couple of Belgian Shepherd, too. All the obstacles are the same, however, the Germans don't mind having two tunnels in succession, and the table seems to get very little use.
We have yet to see what competitions are like here, but both Jess and Asterix will have to get an obedience certificate before they are allowed to compete. Also, there's no discrimination against mongrels here - hurray!
dogs in danger
Hope this gives you an idea of some of the things which could be interesting to other agility people especially since British handlers are sure to be moving about now that the quarantine regulations have been eased. BTW is there further relaxing of the British quarantine? I remember being not particularly impressed when the 'dog passport' originally came out - it was really too expensive to be of use for us. I'd certainly love to be able to bring our dogs to Britain for holidays.
I hope I've had something interesting to say! If I've inspired more questions, feel free to ask them.
Matt Tovey and his German wife Stella moved to the Rhone-Alpes region of France in 1995 and lived there until recently. In 1997 their first Border Collie Jess joined them.
Since then their circumstances have changed a lot. They are now expecting their first child, and have relocated to Munich. They hope to see some more of Europe before they (eventually) all move back to Australia.