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On Being a Team Player

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Advantages and disadvantages

Having now run in various teams over the last 14 years, Dawn Williams sometimes wonders why we put ourselves through it. Do we do it for the pleasure(!), an extra run at a Show or to qualify for yet another Final?

Firstly, it might help to get on with all your team mates because, as sure as ‘eggs are eggs,’ you will at some point pick up faults or even be eliminated - unless, of course, one of your team members is a certain Lee Gibson and Rory! A good relationship with your team members is a definite requirement as they must understand that however hard you and your dog try, occasional mishaps will happen.

Also you do need to have a dog which can work under pressure. It is one thing going it alone in a singles class but to have added pressure of an extra three pairs of eyes watching your every move can be quite unnerving. I always insist on going first. Then I can get my run over and done with and the rest is up to the three remaining members.

Crufts 2002 - Semi Finalists DundeeThe major team events
The two which have been going the longest are the Pedigree Chum Team Relay and the Crufts Team event. I am sure everyone would like to qualify for these finals even though the two are quite different events in their own way.

The Pedigree Team Relay Final is held outdoors and so the dogs can work to the best of their ability, but it does have a baton change. This baton changeover can be the test as to the fastest team. A smooth changeover between each member can - and does - save seconds and, incorporated with four fast, consistent dogs, can be a winner over and over again.

Although a team of four, the Crufts Team Final is really based and calculated on four individual wins. This event can almost be run on an individual basis as there is no worry about a baton changeover. Luckily the Kennel Club have now introduced a better surface for our dogs, and as we saw this last year, the dogs were running much better. Hopefully this will encourage those people who were not so keen to qualify for Crufts to become more eager to participate and make it more competitive.

St. David's TeamSelection
Choosing a team is more of a club’s individual choice. Some people say it is better to have four fast dogs in the team; others prefer to mix and match. It does also depend on the available dogs that are going to the Show and their ability. I would think that other clubs have their own strategies on how they put their teams of dogs together.

St. David's is fortunate (or maybe unfortunate!) enough to have a pool of dogs where any permutation of available dogs going to the show would make a strong team challenge. It really is luck on the day, for as we can see watching the teams events nowadays, some of the other teams out there are very strong indeed.

A team's running order can play a very large part in their strategy during the day. To be running early on in the competition, you need to put four very good rounds in. Nowadays it's not easy to qualify on five faults. You will almost certainly see the top three teams on the day put out four clear rounds. A late running order can be beneficial for the odd time you do not get four clear rounds and four steady clear rounds will do.

I must admit to it being painful to watch the handlers doing this but, if that is what it takes and they want to qualify, then that is what is needed. They would not be able to do this when they reached the Crufts Final because of the fact that in the Final is run where all the teams first dog runs, followed by all the teams' second dog etc. I have never found it particularly easy to run a steady round especially with my older WSD, Flo, who enjoyed the speed over the contacts. Our team knew if she was barking when going over the contacts, then she would get the touch points. In that respect, I always enjoyed the flowing team courses!Team meeting at Crufts 2000

Team spirit
Feelings can run high when you are in a team. One of the worst feelings in the world is the one when you are the only team member to come away with the faults and the rest go clear. At this point you want a large hole to open up and suck you in. Secretly, I am sure the rest are glad it wasn’t them. Then there is, of course, the ultimate high when you have all gone clear, with a cumulatively good time and you have to hover around the ring-side and endure the rest of the teams rounds - while not looking too obvious, of course!

City of Birmingham 1999 winnersAbout finals
Reaching the finals of Team Events is a great achievement when you see the amount of teams which can be entered at a Show. Having been part of a winning team at Birmingham Champ Show (Pedigree Team Relay) when Betty Tallentire judged the Final in 1999 and also part of a team qualifying for the Crufts Team Event in 2000 - Steve Croxford being the Judge then - I know nerves play a part with everyone, however cool they look on the outside.

Luckily for each team that comes first, second and third in the vast majority of team events, there are trophies for each of the four members, and should you be lucky enough to be part of the winning team of a Team Final there is, of course, the crystal for each person to display with pride around their home.

It is a good feeling being part of a team that works well and gets on together knowing that, if you all get it right, you have a good chance of competing at that longed for Team Final.

Finally we have yet another Team Event to go for, the Natures Team Challenge which unusually is a jumping event, and sounds as if it could be an interesting one to take part in and watch.

About the author...
Dawn Williams came into agility by chance in 1986 when she acquired her first dog, a Crossbreed called Gem. Originally they went to pet obedience classes at her local training club which had recently relocated their agility training classes to an Agricultural Showground in Shrewsbury. In 1987 she started with agility.

She started competing in March 1988, and her first Agility Show was at Yarkhill. Some of you may even remember the venue!

Dawn now lives in Oswestry with Don and their 11 dogs which still includes her first dog, Gem. She regularly competes around the country with her two competing dogs, Flo and Billie. They have successfully bred two litters of dogs from Flo (Moonlight Don’t Stop me Now )and Daley (Rudyard Daley). Most of the pups have won into Senior/Advanced status.

Both Dawn and Don now take their own training classes at the Showground and are affiliated to St. Davids DTC.