I've always admired those Agility Demonstration Teams in their smart red and gold track suits, that one sees at major dog shows. Seeing them displaying how effortlessly their dogs, usually Australian Kelpies or Border Collies, dive through tunnels, scramble over A frames and soar over triple jumps, made me think that one day I would like to have a go at the sport with a dally. After all if those breeds can do it then it should be a piece of cake for a Dalmatian!
After watching my little girl dog 'Jaffa' some time ago, balancing on her hind legs when searching for rabbits in long grass, I decided that perhaps the time had come to try Agility. Luckily there has just been a major change in the rules for Agility in Australia taking the emphasis away from sheer speed and moving it towards a more controlled activity. I say lucky because, not being in the first flush of youth as one might say, the new rules suit my demeanour better. No longer do we see dogs doing a mad dash around the course, scattering hurdles like chaff around them in a mad almost insane desire to go around the course in the fastest time and hang the consequences. Now one mistake and you are out of luck for a qualification, a clear round within the course time set by the judge is the aim. Much more my cup o' tea. So how does it all work?
There are three levels of Agility (much like the levels of Obedience) Novice, Open and Master with three corresponding qualifications Agility Dog (AD), Agility Dog Excellent (ADX) and Agility Dog Master(ADM). Three qualifying scores at Novice level entitle one to claim the post nominal AD for one's dog and so on. Open level is the competition level as well as a qualifying requirement for the ADX. Seven passes are required at Master level as qualification for ADM.
The judge designs the course for the trial choosing from a number of pieces of equipment, which are of greater variety and difficulty for the higher levels, and decides upon a speed he believes the dogs should maintain in running the course. From this and the length of the course is obtained the Standard Course Time. This time is a constant for all sizes of dogs, Small (<= 380mm at the withers), Medium (380 to 550mm), and Large ( >550mm) though the hurdles and other obstacles that require jumping are set at a differing height and /or length for each size dog.
On the morning of the trial, the judge shows the course design to the Trial Manager who organises Stewards to erect the equipment in accordance with the Judge's requirements. We the exhibitors, look on trying not to let ones heart sink right down into one's boots as you see that the judge must have realised that your dog, liking the High Walk and disliking the Tunnel, will fly over the Walk that he has placed close to the entrance to the Tunnel no matter what orders, commands and pleading for the contrary you give her. Once the obstacles are pegged down and the course measured by the judge, the exhibitors are allowed to walk the course to decide how to handle their dog for differing obstacles. Would she be better on the right hand or on the left approaching the triple jump; can you take a risk and call the dog over a particular piece of equipment to save time, or should you play it safe and try and make up time somewhere else. Ask yourself again how did the judge know about Jaffa's preferance for the High walk compared to the Tunnel. Then you look around and see that others are having the same thoughts and that makes you feel better.
After walking the course the exhibitors all gather around the Judge for the briefing. Nervous titters greet the usual exhortation by the Judge "I expect you all to qualify today with such an easy course!" Then he gives you the measured distance, the speed he expects the dogs to maintain and the Standard Course Time. It is traditional that this is replied to by groans and eyes turned to heaven in disbelief by the exhibitors ..... it's all part of the fun. While all this tension is building up Jaffa has been laid on her side in the sun giving herself an occasional scratch because she feels uncomfortable having been washed the evening before, but you get your own back as you give her a run round to warm her up before you are on. The activity makes you feel better as well, rather than watching the other competitors charge around the course. "Watch that bottom corner," someone mutters, "it's as slippy as all h..ll there."
At last it is your turn. You place your dog on a sit stay at the entrance to the course. "Timekeeper ready? Competitor ready? ...... GO!!!!" Shouts the Judge. Call her. "GO Jaffa".."Spread." "OVER.Good dog" Four meters later there's the tyre like a big yellow lolipop. Line her up with the command "Tyre!" thrust your arm at the tyre "THROUGH" and she sails through like a bird. Get her under control now for the weavers are next, "Steady Jaffa......Weaving" Line her up with a quick pat at your left leg. "WEAVE, Back, WEAVE, Back," eight times in and out with your hand, willing her to weave through the poles and not miss one. Must remember to cross her behind me before the Tunnel to keep her away from the High Walk. "WEAVE, Back, WEAVE, Back" will it never end. Yes we're through, did she miss one? No time to worry now. "This side Jaff. Stay away from that Walk or I'll....Tunnel" pant "THROUGH" pant pant, clap your hands to encourage her through that long hot canvas sock. "Good girl!" I can see why she doesn't like it. Pat on the leg to bring her onto the left side again. Make sure you go far enough along to align her up with the High Walk. "Walking Jaffa." She knows what I mean and leaps towards the ramp. "Steady." She must touch the yellow part, hand flat and parallel to the ground as you sweep her up the ramp. She is flying now, got to get to the end ramp before she does, pant, pant,pant. "Steady Jaffa" caught her in time; hand flat again to keep her walking down the ramp; must touch the yellow, I will her. "Good Girl.......Table" line her up "UP" and she skids to a halt on the top. "Five, four, three"counts the Judge. Must get around the other side to line her up with the A Frame while keeping my hand up to stay her on the table. "Two, One" God I'm getting old. pant pant. "Go" cries the Judge and Jaffa launches herself at me; twist around to keep her on my right "Scramble" I point "OVER" and the A Frame jerks and bucks as she hits it on the full and scrambles to the top; got to get to the other side to stop her from jumping down from the top. "Steady" hand flat and parallel to the board to guide her down onto the yellow. Damn, didn't make it in time. I wonder if the Judge saw? pant pant pant; now it's the Broad Jump, she'll eat it. "Jump" pointing to the limit poles, "OVER" well clear, have I gone far enough to stop her from reversing back over the jump again? "Clever girl" draw her around in a big half circle to align her with the Triple Jump. "Big-one." Must get the timing right "ONE" count her steps, one and a bit: "TWO" one and a bit "THREE." Gee she looks lovely jumping. Go for the line now "GO! Jaffa GO!" and we're through. Jaffa prancing around like a dervish, my head between my knees, pant pant, I'm just too old for this, pant pant. "Thirty eight point one two seconds and one fault" intones the Judge. Damn he did see. Perhaps I should have brought her to my left side...................
Published in "News Spots", the Newsletter of the Dalmatian Club of NSW Inc, September 1997
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