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Ring Etiquette

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Mind your Ps and queues

After a meal, should you fold your serviette and place it neatly back on the table or should you crumple it into a ball and put it on your plate? Does the answer depend on whether you have been eating at MacDonaldís or a four star restaurant? Rules of etiquette control the behaviour of particular social groups or social occasions and the agility circuit is no exception. Itís time to examine the codes of conduct of the ring. Do you have the manners of a courteous Cavalier or do you behave like an uncouth Jack Russell? Mary Ann Nester muses on agility table manners.

Imagine that the show committee members are your hosts and hostesses at a party and the show ground is their home and castle. The judges, scrimers, pole pickers, scorers and callers are all cherished members of the committeeís family roped in to make the party swing. You want to have a good time and be invited back to the next party so try to avoid upsetting anyone and trashing the place!

Here are some rules of etiquette that should turn you into the perfect guest. Most of it is common sense.

It all starts here. Park where you are told. The only people that are going to be allowed to park near the rings are the show committee and their kith and kin. If you park where asked, the road ways will remain open for fire engines and ambulances and no one will be blocked in behind the marquee.

1. Do not try and run down the parking attendant to bag a spot in the shade under a tree. St. Johns are still queuing on the slip road and wonít be able to resuscitate him for at least another twenty minutes.

2. Do not accelerate to eighty in order to beat another car into a space near your friends. A dog or child might appear in you path. No one has brakes that good.

3. If you have a reason for asking for another parking spot, say so. The car park attendant might indulge you. He doesnít want mobile homes stuck in the mud and will put you on hard standing. If you are travelling with a little old lady with poodles who hobbles rather than walks to the rings, he might try to squeeze you in a little closer to the showís epicentre.

The exercise area
The exercise area is for letting your dog loose to stretch its legs and go to the toilet.

1. Pick up the poo. All of it. If you have five dogs off lead evacuating at the same time in different corners of the field, odds are you are going to miss some.

2. Donít let your dogs pee on the poo bags, in fenced off areas or on other dogĎs heads.

3. Approach the exercise area in a controlled manner. Donít let all your dogs off the lead to run out at eighty miles an hour. They will bulldoze into a little old lady walking an ancient poodle and she will be in hospital for the next three months. Consider walking your dogs in pairs which will take longer but will make the exercise area safe for little old ladies.

4. If you are throwing toys for your dogs, do not be surprised when a ball-crazed collie joins your lot for a game. When one of your dogs gets possessive of the toy and bites the intruder in the head, ask yourself it you really wanted an extra vet bill this month.

5. The exercise area is not for socializing your dog. If your dog has a behaviour problem this is not the place to solve it. Better to look for solutions in controlled environments instead of the mayhem of an exercise area.

Walking the course
You will not know where you are going when itís your turn to run if you miss this out. Each competitor will want to make the most of the limited time allowed to learn the layout of ring.

1. This is not the place to stand with your friends at a crucial corner discussing East Enders. The ensuing traffic jam of bodies will be astounding. Chat elsewhere and keep things flowing. Other people want a clear look at the judgeís challenges.

2. And if you want to see what the course will feel like at a run, wait till the crowds thin a bit and watch where you are going. The poor old lady with the ancient poodle canít nip in and out of the wings as easily as you. Things moving toward her at high speed are frightening. She is still recovering from the broken ankle and ribs when she was knocked over in the exercise area.

3. Donít eat and walk the course. The bacon roll will wait and you will be much more comfortable sitting down to eat it rather than walking from obstacle three to ten. Those of us who have dogs with zealous noses will not appreciate the trail of crumbs.

4. When the judge asks you to leave the ring, do so immediately. He wants to get started doing his bit for the party. If you still donít know which way to go after the dog walk, itís probable you never will - especially if you stand in the queue, still trying to learn the course and watch the dog before you take a wrong turn.

Booking in
You need to know your name, your dogís name and your running order to book in and join the queue.

1. Your running number is your calling card. When the helper working the pads asks for your running order, have it ready. Make sure it is the running order for that class - not the class you havenít walked yet or the running order for your second dog. If the memory needs a bit of oil and you canít remember a maximum three digits running order and the course, hold your ring card in your hand. If you have stuffed it in your pocket and spend five minutes on the line searching for it while emptying tissues, treats and car keys on the ground, no one will be impressed with your sense of occasion. Remember your running order or write it with indelible ink on your forehead.

2. If you are asked to come back later, do so. Did you really want to join a queue of thirty dogs evaporating in the sun? However, if the queue is short and you have a reason for wanting to join it, explain yourself. Perhaps you have clashing running orders or you are competing in a pairs or knockout on the other side of the show ground. Someone will try and understand your difficulties and accommodate you in the queue, but you will only get their back up if you shout or act aggressively. Whining and pleading is better.

3. There is no need to mug the person doing the booking in. It wonít get you into the queue any more quickly. Four people shouting numbers that are on four separate pages on the clipboard will only confuse the poor old lady with the ancient poodle who has been allocated a sit down job because of her ankle and ribs.

This is your chance to have a last look at the course, discreetly warm-up your dog and to focus your mind.

1. Donít talk to people who look completely blank. They are either hung over from Saturday nightís rave or they are trying to find the zone - that place where they are alone with their dog on the course and have gone clear.

2. Keep your warm up in proportion to the queue. Doing fast heelwork up and down its length with a few cartwheels thrown in will not be appreciated by the handlers whose dogs arrived ready revved.

3. If your dog has a problem queuing and likes to take a chomp out his neighbour, get someone else to stand in your place. Donít rejoin the queue too soon. The handler on the line will not love you for allowing your pooch to snap his gnashers at her dogís back side. Wait - what wait?

4. Donít queue unless you are queuing - it makes clutter. Do not add your friends and family to the queue. This is not the place to discuss Aunt Maisieís wedding plans because as soon as they move off to get a burger, the queue becomes five people shorter. The poor little old lady with the ancient poodle will go into crisis looking for her ring card (which she wonĎt find because it came off her ring clip this morning walking the course when she collided with the handler who wasnít looking where he was going). What hope does she have of finding her zone?

5. The only people allowed to queue jump are volunteer helpers from other rings. They are keeping the show running, so itís only fair that they be given a little leeway queuing. However, if five ring party members have already shoved in front of you, ask them to get behind you rather than in front!

Getting ready
This is an important part of preparing to enter the ring. In a very short space of time, you will leave the queue and step onto the start line. Do it with grace and decorum.

1. Hang up your jacket up. Forget about hangers and hooks. How to avoid getting it wrinkled and dirty? I believe that whoever finds a solution to this problem will be the next agility great. If you put your jacket on one of the ring poles, it will end up buried under other competitorsí jackets. The pole will bend, the jackets will slip to the ground and a passing dog will pee on it or rifle through the pockets and eat all your treats. The problem is exacerbated when a competitor mistakes your jacket for own and walks off with it. The reason why you are wearing a size 12 instead of a size 8 is revealed when you discover the car keys donít fit your Volvo. So choose your pole carefully! If you can extricate your jacket without everyone elseís falling into a puddle, youĎre a real star.

2. Ask a friend to hold your jacket. There never seems to be one around when you need one. However, if you spot someone idling by the queue remember to politely ask them to hold your clobber rather than thrusting it into their hands without a 'please' or 'thank you'. If not, you will pay the consequences. You will finish your run and the heavens will open. Your friend will be sheltering with your jacket in a caravan awning. If only you knew which one, you could join them.

3. Donít throw your lead. Iíve seen leads thrown over the scrimerĎs head, at the kneecaps of fellow competitors and once, at the judge. They have all flinched and breathed a sigh of relief that their eye hasnít been blacked with the snaffle. The little old lady with the poodle is thinking of purchasing a crash helmet to protect her from flying leads. She thinks that no one has ever been hurt, but there is always a first time and itĎs bound to be her.

Your score
Whether you have gone clear or been eliminated, youíll want to see it in writing.

1. Donít crowd. If there are too many people squeezed in the score tent, it will collapse and crash. Hurrying to find out your result wonít change it.

2. Politely ask to look at the tickets. Donít grab. If your ticket gets lost or put in the wrong pile, you will be livid. Approach the scorer cautiously. She will protect results with her life from you, the wind and coffee spills. Itís a big responsibility.

Prize giving
This is what we all wait for.

1. Well not everyone. If you havenít heard the loudspeaker announcement or your dog is vomiting in your van, youíll miss it. But itís nice to be there and collect a rosette or applaud your friends.

2. Always thank the judge for the nice course. Okay okay. It was a nightmare of a course, but you went clear so stop complaining.

Everyone loves to watch agility. Help the competitors keep their dogs in the ring.

1. Do not picnic on the ring rope. You may find an ancient poodle in your hamper along with the ham sandwiches. The little old lady frequently forgets to feed him.

2. Do not play with your dog and his new toy on the ring rope. If you squeak it to get your dogís attention, you may discover that the terrier on the A-frame has become fixated and leaves the ring to attach himself to your sleeve.

3. And donít forget the dogs in cars parked by the rings. Not only has watching agility from the comfort of their cages driven them wild with excitement, but the noise has terrified and frozen the ancient poodle onto the dog walk. Will the day get any better for this dog?

Tying up dogs
Dogs are tied up for a variety of reasons in a variety of places.

1. Practise your recall. If you have to tie up your dog to walk a course, go the Ladies or visit the secretaryís tent, donít forget to collect it!

2. Have you chosen a safe place to tie your dog? Is the pole loose? Does it have another dog already attached? Is your dog strong enough to upend the score tent if he decides he would like to follow you into the exercise area?

3. Ask yourself if your dog will behave himself when he is tied up. If he lunges out, grabs passing ankles or tangles himself, maybe it would be better to put him back in the car or ask someone to hold him.

4. Donít tie your dog to other peopleís property without their permission. How would you feel if you returned to the car park to find a strange dog with his lead hooked onto your bumper?

5. The shorter the time that your dog is left, the better. Do not leave your dog tied up to a ring pole while you walk three courses and go and get a coffee. Out of sight is out of mind. Anything could happen. Your dog may have been all right when you left, but now he is being bonked by the little old ladyís poodle sharing his stake. She doesnít know any better and you didn't know the ancient poodle had it in him.

Most of us do know better. I have been guilty of most of the transgressions listed, but then I am an uncouth American who dines at MacDonaldís. It saves worrying about which knife and fork to use!

About the author...
Mary Ann Nester
came to England from New York in the early 1970ís and never went home. In 1997 she set up Aslan Dog Training, a dog training school named after her first agility dog, a lurcher. She offers classes in obedience and agility in Northampton and has conducted training days and workshops throughout Britain and Switzerland.

Her credentials are impressive. She is an Agility Club Approved Instructor and an experienced competitor and judge. Her dogs have competed as finalists at Crufts from 1997 to 2002 and have been members of the teams representing Great Britain at the World Agility Championships in Portugal 2001, Germany 2002 and France 2003.

Mary Ann shares her knowledge of dogs as the guest 'expert' on BBC Radio Northampton answering listenersí queries and is a regular contributor to the agility magazines Agility Voice and Agility Eye.

When not chasing her own dogs round an agility course, Mary Ann is a part-time receptionist at a local veterinary practice.

Mary Ann says that she is not the ' little old lady with poodles!'