More evolution than revolution...
Nicola Garrett has been one of the top UK's competitors for well over 20 years and has been lucky enough to compete in Europe since 2000. During this time, she says she's seen things change... a lot of change. She has sent us her thoughts on the new generation of agility equipment which we are beginning to see on the agility scene.
The first time I competed abroad was a real eye opener. The equipment was just like ours had been over ten years ago!
Ten years can feel like a long time, believe me! Over the last decade, Europe and the rest of the world have improved so much. They were not content to leave things as they were but are constantly working to improve on both their equipment and their handling/dogs.
Their equipment especially has moved forwards in leaps and bounds. It has gone from rickety old garden equipment to high tech aluminium equipment and rubber contacts. Now they are working to develop electronic contact equipment. It's the same sort of changes that we have seen in agility since it began, now they are now accelerating at a much higher rate than us.
That's not to say that we havenít made changes. Recently we have introduced larger spaced, one-size weaves which are much better for the dogs than to keep changing between a range of spaces. Some dogs never had a problem with adapting to different sized weaves, but youngsters usually struggle. Of course, there will always be some dogs that prefer it the way it was before but overall, now that we have a set distance, I feel that is much better for larger and smaller dogs alike.
Rubberised contact equipment
I made the decision to purchase my own set of rubber contacts, not only for my own personal use but also to provide top class equipment for the people whom I train, ranging Champ handlers through to youngsters who are just beginning their agility career.
I decided to purchase my contacts from First Contact - not the cheapest but I felt that they were excellent value. I felt they were well researched and of a good design, and we were already seeing them in the ring, which means that I know my dog will be able to train on something that they will then go and compete on. The design has also been tweaked already since the first set they made which shows me that they are a manufacturer that constantly strives to improve their product. The design is similar to Smart-99 equipment that is from Europe which is often used at the World Championships and many other European competitions. I have to say that they seem so much safer than running on wood contacts, especially in the wet.
I often train very enthusiastic dogs that really accelerate at equipment and often seem on the verge of falling off equipment. No names mentioned... Dave Howard and Freddy! We would often avoid the dog walk and see saw with Freddy when it rained, but we negotiated the rubber contacts in awfully wet conditions and could barely hear Freddy glide over them with no thought to falling off at all.
Rubberised contacts are like running on a sports ground which gives you that extra spring when you run, so it must be better for dogs toes and joints as it seems to act as a shock absorber. As for moving this equipment around, it feels no heavier than the wooden contacts I have been using.
With the different manufacturers comes the different types of rubber surfaces. Some feel a lot smoother than others. I choose First Contact equipment because I felt their rubber has more texture than some of the others and therefore more grip.
And then there are several different methods to apply the rubber skins to the contacts themselves. You can do-it-yourself or pay someone else to do it for you. I choose to buy my equipment rather than do it myself as I always seem short on time and my wooden contacts needed altering and repairing.
The question now is knowing which type of equipment you will get when you arrive at a show!? Will it alter what show you go to? Probably not, but I know I for one would prefer attending show a that have rubber equipment. It's expensive and not always practical for everybody to have both rubber and wooden contacts, but at the moment I donít see what other choice you have?! Unless you are able to train at different venues, that have the different types. It will be interesting at the end of this season to see how many shows still using wood!
For me rubber contacts are the way forward. They seem to act like shock absorbers and so logically should be far safer for the dogs which is for me the most important thing. How will they wear? Only time will tell but nothing lasts for ever!
Personally I wasn't to keen on the aluminium wall that we saw at the FCI Agility World Championships last year. If a dog knocked it over it was so noisy it did seem to scare a couple of dogs. So that's definitely not something I want to purchase.
I hope you all enjoy your competition season with whatever contacts you see, remember nothing is perfect all of the time!
She lives with her partner Mark and their eight dogs in the West Midlands
Nicky is now sponsored by Pro Plan Pet Food
You can find out more about Nicky and her dogs at http://agilitydogz.co.uk/
First published 14 May 2012
Change is needed but I believe it needs to be managed - just like the change we've just had regarding weave spacing. It was announced in good time, allowing us to adjust equipment and train before facing it in the ring when, if the dog gets spooked, we would have no chance to allow the dog to try again and might result in a problem for a long time.
Different materials behave differently and, by all means, try it out but do it in a practice ring, not in the competition ring. If you are supplying something, new please provide practice equipment as well so the dogs have a fair chance. Not everyone has enough money to buy all the different types of equipment we now come across or even have access to it at various training venues.
In the meantime, I urge all show organisers to detail which equipment - aluminium, wood, plastic / rubber or painted etc. - you will be using at your show so we, as competitors, know and, at least, have a chance to get the dogs used to it before we are faced with it in the competition ring. (16/05/12)