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Lean back, put your feet up and enjoy the wit and wisdom of The Agility Whisperer as we roll out his alternative agility alphabet, starting with A, B and C. We'll add another letter or two each day until the whole alphabet has been trotted out.

Click on the alphabet below to get to the letter of your choice.
 Aa  Bb  Cc  Dd  Ee  Ff  Gg  Hh  Ii  Jj  Kk  Ll  Mm 

 Nn Oo  Pp  Qq  Rr  Ss Tt  Uu  Vv  Ww  Xx  Yy  Zz

is for... no, not Agility but Advice
Have you noticed that lots of people think they can run your dog better than you can yourself? Well, it has to be said that they may possibly be right. They may also have helpful observations to make about how you run your dog. Sometimes, though, we are bombarded with advice and end up more confused than we were before.

There is no doubt about it that the best thing to do is to listen and try things out for yourself. Some ideas will work well with your dog, others will not. You must be selective and have the strength of will not to do something just because a particular famous handler does it. If nothing else, we soon learn that running a dog is a partnership and every dog is different and every handler is different. That makes for a wonderful variety and a whole lot of ways of doing agility.

is for Boredom
Agility boring? Surely not. Now before you move on to C, admit it. There are times when agility is boring. Only the most committed of us can watch a class from start to finish (They are known as judges).

For most of us there are short bursts of activity, when three classes have to be run at once and then there are interminable periods of waiting for the last class on a Sunday afternoon. I see that I have now got your attention. You have all been there and letís face it, it can be boring, particularly on a wet day when you cannot even get the dogs out for a good walk. You cannot go to the bar because you have to drive home later and there are only so many times that you can walk past the same stalls.

is for Caravan and Car Parking
I do not want to appear critical. Clubs do their best. However, I can feel a but coming on. You all know what I am going to say, but I shall say it anyway. What are the chief moans?

  1. Distance from rings

  2. Boggy or uneven ground

  3. Difficult access

  4. No shade for cars in the day park

  5. Noisy dogs or party animals in the camping area.

There is usually something to moan about. There is the inconsiderate parker who makes life difficult for everyone else. There is the club who booked eight places together and find they need ten. Then there is the poor guy who spends half of the weekend trying to get the caravan level and his television to work. It makes you wonder why we bother. Or perhaps itís just that we enjoy a good moan.

is for Dragons
Many of you assume that dragons were cleared from the land by the English Patron St. George. They have, however, been making a come back.

Take the landlordís wife at my local (please). Yes, you have guessed itís the George & Dragon. Anyway back to agility. There are dragons roaming all parts of the United Kingdom, and they are not just the red ones on the Welsh flag.

At this point, I have to put my trust in St. George. I can already feel the fiery breath, but I try to tell it as it is and there are definitely dragons around the agility circuit. These are the formidable women who dare you to step out of line or to complain. They are stalwarts of their clubs and let us give thanks for them. Without their drive and commitment the agility world would be a lot poorer.

is for Elimination
Have you noticed how the signal for an elimination has evolved? There are still some judges who use the time-honoured method of a slitting motion across the throat. A few more flamboyant types finish off with a thumbs down. It is a signal which has stood the test of time. As we watch the unfortunate partnership, we can imagine the gladiator being thrown to the lions.

More recently there has been a tendency to use a signal of crossed arms, as if the judge is trying to fend off a vampire. What will be next, a string of garlic hanging round the neck?!

is the unutterable 'F word '
F is for the word which should never be spoken. It is the word which the handler mutters darkly to him/herself as they leave the ring, making sure that the judge does not hear the muttering. People, at ringside, turn away in embarrassment.

A few unfeeling characters use the immortal platitude. 'It does not matter.' Of course it matters. Why else would there be such pent up tension in the competitor. The answer is failure. F is for failure. Hopefully the dark mood only lasts until the dog comes out for its next run.

is for Gambler
Now it may be just me, but Gambler courses baffle me. Okay, I know it is a way of adding a bit of variety to the day and some of the gambles can be quite ingenious - so much so that the judge is the only one who knows exactly how it works. The ones which involve some form of specific challenge at the end of the round do at least have some logic. It is the ones where you have to guess the time which your dog will do which really nark me.

I know that handlers should have some idea what sort of time their dog is capable of over a particular course. Have you noticed that some of them have started taking stop watches with them when they walk the course? Anyway, I think that it is basically unfair that the best dog can be unplaced, just because the handler put in a stupid time. There, Iíve got it off my chest and feel better for it.

is for Halitosis
No, we have not got sidetracked into the dental surgery on the way to the ring, and we are not talking about all the lads who had a curry and a few beers the night before, although that can be a bad enough experience, even for members of the ring party at five paces.

I assume that you all know the difference between an agility dog and a husband. The husband has dogís breath all the time. So itís not original, but it is worth another airing. Note the subtlety of the second joke!

What I have really got in mind is the handler who receives a leaping dog in his/her arms. The dog then proceeds to lick the handler with a great show of affection. Surely they must know that all the dog wants is for the handler to regurgitate food for it and as for the halitosis, we can only imagine what is going on in that intimate huddle.

is for Interference? Intimacy? Inquest?
I couldnít really decide what 'I' should stand for and was half inclined to let you do this one for yourself. However, that is not what I am paid for (Pay, who mentioned anything about pay?). After serious consideration - five minutes at the most - I decided that I had to stand for Inquest.

You have all heard it. You have probably all done it. I am referring to the endless analysis of what went wrong with the round. Sometimes it goes on for so long that we are in danger of getting back to 'B.' Now come on or we will move straight to 'Y'. Some of us would like to get on our way before the daylight finally goes. What about I for intimacy? Well, I think we should draw a veil over that.

is for Junkie
It is true. There are a lot of junkies on the agility circuit. They say they do not know why they bother to get up before dawn to set off for a show and arrive home again long after dark. They threaten that next year they will not go to so many shows or not travel quite so far.

Weíve heard it all before. Come the next season, they are trying to fit in just as many shows, maybe even more. In the middle of winter, these people become depressed. The doctor diagnoses SAD, but what does the doctor know about it. They are suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Never mind. It will soon be spring again. Just get out your agility diary and start planning for the new season.

is for Knockout
I know that 'K' should stand for the Kennel Club. Love it, or hate it, it is the most influential organisation covering dog breeding and sports.

However, this is an alternative A to Z, and Knockout competitions have a specific place in the agility calendar. The objective of the game is to reach the last handler and dog still standing. Well, it looks something like that, although I am sure that it is much more technical. Progressing through the rounds is great, but the longer you keep going the more stamina is needed by both dog and handler. It is amazing to see teams set off with a flourish and after three or four rounds they begin to flag. A Knockout competition is not for the faint hearted, although they usually draw quite a bit of support from ringside.

is for Lonely
It is an old clichť, but there are people who are lonely in a crowd. It should come as no surprise that this applies to agility as it does to the wider world.

First of all, there is the dog which gets left in the van when all the others go out. We should also remember the people who try to speak to us, but who get brushed aside because we are too busy or have to be somewhere else. Heaven forbid that we should have so much to do that we cannot spend some time in conversation with people who look as if their world has just caved in.

is for Misery and Mania
If I was producing a business A to Z, it would be obligatory for me to reserve M for Motivation. Even in agility, we often talk of motivating the dog and sometimes even the handlers. However, I feel justified in including those opposites, misery and mania.

'We do it for fun.' It is an expression we hear around the agility circuit. My observation is that, at what ever level they compete, most handlers are competitive and want to do well. It would be a strange sport if it was otherwise. This means there will be joy and despair and the accumulated effect over a few weeks of competing is, for some, misery and mania. The misery of several bad results can torment the individual and the mania of repeated success can lead to a loss of a sense of proportion.

is for Notorious
It has to be said that some handlers and some dogs achieve a certain notoriety. There are dogs which achieve this status for a variety of reasons. Examples are numerous. Some will not stay in the ring. A specific version of this is the dog which runs off to the burger van. There are dogs which will refuse to spend a penny until they get into the ring. You all know them and in their own way we love them.

The same thing applies to the handlers: not spending a penny in the ring, of course. However, there are handlers who hang around at the start of a class so they can run first. There are others who always want to run at the end of a class. These are just a couple of examples to give a flavour of what I have in mind.

is for Optimist
Donít we just love the competitor who comes out week after week, rain or shine and hasnít a hope of ever getting out of Elementary. At the back of his/her mind, there is the prospect of reaching one of the big finals.

Good luck to them I say. They are the optimists of the agility world and the bedrock of many clubs who do more than their share of humping equipment and are never jealous of the success of others. These really are the people who do agility just for the fun of it and so what if the rest of us think they are misguided. It does not matter and one day, well you never know what might happen.

is for Pairs
I suppose that pairs has to be included in any A to Z list of agility. At one and the same time, they are the source of great fun and of confusion.

The confusion begins when the pairs partner fails to arrive, either at the show or at the ring. More announcements are put out for pairs and team events than any other and from a ring party perspective they are often nothing more than a darn nuisance. When a partner fails to arrive at the show it is the source of much greater concern, particularly if the person in question has been nursing along a banger, for longer than is wise. Usually everything sorts itself out. All we need now is for baton not to be handed over cleanly or the takeover to take place outside the box.

is for Queue
Well, what else would it before? You have been to enough agility shows to know that you queue for the loos. You queue for the bacon butties and you queue for your turn to run and, if you are lucky, you queue for your rosettes.


is for Ring Party
Okay, this is the time to give yourself a pat on the back. You will even get a public thank you from the judge. This is not a personal thank you, you understand, but it is nice that your contribution has been recognized. After all, you have, conscientiously, stayed with your ring, even to the extent that you missed taking your dogs to run. Okay, take some time out and bask in the warm glow of self satisfaction. Just be careful, though, or the halo might start to pinch.

is for See Saw
Some dogs love it and some dogs hate it. Some crawl over it and others fly it and depending on the judge, may get penalized for landing before the see-saw. The handlers fall broadly into the two camps represented by the dogs. Perhaps they just reflect what their dogs think of it. Love it or hate it, however, it certainly provides interest and is the topic of much ringside discussion.


is for Training Night
We had to get to the subject eventually. Let me pose a few questions. Is training night an opportunity for an intensive session on a particular aspect of agility? Is it just part of the social diary for handlers and dogs? Is it just a chore turning out on a cold, wet winterís night?

Most handlers have probably had lots of different feelings about training,and there is no doubt room for socialising as well as training. However, please do not distract other handlers who are trying to hear what the trainer is saying and remember that good training requires concentration. Then we can all have a drink.

is for Unfairness
Have you noticed how easy it is to be a judge from ringside. You see all the missed contacts which the judge in the ring has missed. You see the refusals better than he or she does and you even have time for a conversation with your friends at the same time. Even judges would be the first to admit that they do not get it right all of the time, but usually they are at a better angle to see exactly what has happened than the jury at ringside.


is is for Vitality
All handlers are looking for that special spark which will give them an edge, when it comes to competition. Diets, supplements and even secret nutrition formulae have been tried. I have even heard of one competitor who takes a vitamin combination intended for the dog. It is apparently cheaper than the human formulation. We only have to hope that sourcing of the ingredients was human grade quality!! He seems to be doing well on it and I have yet to hear him bark! 

is for Weaves
Like the see-saw, this is another piece of equipment which has its critics. Do they really keep a dogís back supple or do they do damage, particularly to young dogs and old ones? We all know of dogs who have slowed, significantly, at the weaves as they have got older.

Well, it's time for a hobby horse of mine - warming up. It could have been an alternative entry for this letter. All equipment presents a specific physical challenge for the dog, and we should not expect it to complete those activities without being warmed up first. That goes for the handlers too!

is for the Xmas Show
Hands up if you thought I was going to struggle for an entry. What can we say about a Xmas Show which is printable? It is opportunity for handlers to be sillier than normal. It often involves dressing a Standard Poodle as Father Christmas and turning a Large Munsterlander into a reindeer. One of the trainers is dressed as an elf. Sheíll never attract Robin Hood in that outfit (What on earth has Robin Hood to do with Christmas?!) Bah Humbug. Itís time I slipped away and left them to their nonsense.

is for Yawn
We have already admitted that agility might be boring. If you still do not believe me then take a turn around the rings and count the people who are yawning. All right, I will concede that some may be suffering from late nights and early mornings, but not all of them surely.


is for
Z is for ZZZZZZZ. By now you are probably ready for sleep. Donít forget to shut down the computer first.

About the author...

The Agility Whisperer is one of the small band of partners, mostly male who drive their other half to agility shows. He soon realised that this was not an exciting prospect and that he had to do something about it so he volunteered his services and was sent with a scout to pick up poles on a Mini Jumping course. Soon he realised that this was the equivalent of sending an apprentice carpenter for a dozen sky hooks or a clerk for 100 assorted ticks.

Thanks to the Cliftondale School for their dog alphabet in the font series.


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