Mary Ann Nester went to Switzerland to find out if the hills were alive with agility dogs. When Veronica Hanmer of the Union Canine de Trelex invited her to give a week-end agility course, she yodelled yes, yes, yes! Although she would have to leave her own dogs and husband at home, she felt the opportunity to meet agility enthusiasts abroad was too good to be missed. Maybe she would find a dog called 'Maria.'
The Union Canine de Trelex has about 150 to 200 members and runs classes in puppy socialisation, obedience and agility. It is one of seven clubs belonging to the Association Suisse de Sports Canins which has been in existence for about seven or eight years. Located in the Swiss Romande, everyone speaks French.
The cabin is the place to go for a mid-morning break of coffee and croissant and it is big enough to cater for dinner parties of twenty or more! It also provides storage space for equipment. The puppy pen is enclosed by a chain linked fence and is not far off the size of many English training halls. After puppy classes, it serves as a parking area for dogs whose owners are otherwise occupied eating sandwiches, moving the A-frame or working a second dog.
To ensure maximum safety for their dogs, the Union Canines de Trelex needed a bulk supply of pegs. I convinced them that pegging the weave poles to the ground would stop the wobble-effect and allow their dogs to wiggle through them without lifting the frame into the air.
I also suggested pegging down the collapsible tunnel. David's collie, Toby, entered this obstacle at such speed that I thought he was going to turn it inside out. What a difference when the entrance and exit (not too tight, s'il vous plâit - they're not all mini height!) are pegged down. When the chute is pegged, the dog has to run the length of it, even if exiting to the left or right. It is worth pegging any obstacle that is likely to move or be lifted off the ground.
Veronica and Lindsey explained that dogs must be licensed in order to register their progeny with the Kennel Club. They must pass a 'beauty' test (confirmation, colour, etc.) and temperament test. The temperament test includes an assessment of breed characteristics: for example, Golden Retrievers must demonstrate a natural ability to track and retrieve.
to know you day
We had a banquet in the evening at the clubhouse and I gave a presentation on the English agility scene illustrated by slides taken during the Longleat Show. I wanted to give them an idea of the sheer numbers of agility competitors going out each and every week-end to run their dogs and get eliminated. A question and answer session followed focusing on topics such as sponsorship, the classification system, and pre- course nerves. It also gave people the opportunity to ask me personal questions like, 'How old is your Miniature Poodle, Brillo?' or 'How often do you train your dogs?'
After a picnic lunch, I briefed them on course-walking; for example, how to detect and avoid traps and how to negotiate start and finishing poles. We ran a competition to put everything into practice - Minis and Maxis ran over the same course and were placed to third. I was very impressed with everyone's performance, especially sixteen year old Sabrina and Dolly, her Bouvier X. Dolly looked like an enlarged version of my very first dog, Jip, and I couldn't help but have a soft spot for her. Sabrina's Dolly loves agility and tries to always be in the right. It is very difficult to pilot a dog who is so fast and tries to guess the handler's wishes. Although Dolly did not achieve a clear round this time, when she does, she will be hard to beat.
Time to Go
My advice is never pass the up an opportunity to do what you do at home in another country. The problems of a foreign language, customs and Kennel Clubs can all be overcome - especially when your hostess is Veronica Hanmer. A common love of dogs doing what they love best will break down most barriers and widen your personal horizons.
Running Aslan, a lurcher dog, at agility competitions got Mary Ann hooked on the sport and Bounty, a German Shepherd Dog, and Tam, the Border Collie were soon added to the household.
Mary Ann's most successful dog to date has been Brillo Pad, a Miniature Poodle who took her to Olympia and Crufts. Brillo also competed in the Draw Challenge on National Lottery Live!, winning Mary Ann the privilege of pushing the button that released the evening's lottery balls in front of millions of television viewers.
Daz, another miniature poodle and most recent addition, was bought for competition in the Mini ring, but grew too tall! He has proved that size doesn't matter. He entertained the crowds at Olympia as one of the 'fun dogs' and has strutted his stuff in the ABC competition (Any Breed but Collie) at Crufts.
Photos: Mary Ann Nester