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The way it was...

Agility Avid (nom de plume) has many, many happy memories of her early days of agility when it was a very new hobby dog sport. Equipment, teaching and handling techniques were in their infancy. The majority of dogs were slower in comparison to these days, and injuries were extremely rare. Some said that agility was for 'dogs with no brains', but she and her dogs were having fun. Avid looks back to her early dalliance with the sport.

I have been involved with agility for more years than I care to remember, having transferred allegiance from Obedience. I looked for a club and was mortified to be refused membership to one well known one and was directed to another where they asked about my goal. I replied instantly that I wanted to be good enough to enter competitions.

I have so many happy memories combined with some rather horrifying ones relating to some of the early equipment and training methods. Even in those days, I would speak my mind if I thought something was unsafe, not always making me popular.

I am not apportioning blame in anyway - nothing stays the same and improvements are continuing all the time - but some of the equipment was mind-boggling.

  • A-frames did not lower. It was common for a terrified beginner dog to have two leads attached to its collar and then to be hauled up over it. My early contact training consisted of the trainer standing beside the A-frame and saying yes/no with ref to down contact when our dogs completed it.

  • Tyres were tyres - yes, they were real tyres, often suspended by chains to a wooden frame. Here are two examples of tyres in those pre-competition days.

  • It was also known that clear Perspex was sometimes placed at tunnel entries to stop 'tunnel happy' dogs going in when they shouldn't – yes, really.

  • Some cloth tunnels had wooden entrances shaped like a house.

  • Weaves were a law unto themselves. Various methods of teaching them were used including walking backwards, using treats as a lure. Of course, nobody thought anything of repetitive weave practice. A few of us used to practice weaves during the obligatory tea, biscuit and cake break. I accidentally discovered that by uttering an Indian war cry rather loudly that my dog weaved much faster. This later proved very useful in knockout competitions at shows or displays as my cry invariably pulled the opposition out of the weaves.

    Our weaves were good as we used to use squeaky toys, balls etc. to try and distract the weaving dog. However, for the first year of competing, none of us could work out why our dogs never completed the weaves as they used to come out towards the end. Some knowledgeable person on the circuit suggested we counted our training weaves, which we did, and guess what... there were only 10.

And I encountered quite a few people who came to agility just to get their dogs fitter or reduce their dogs' weight.

A demo tyre

Inter-club competitions and demos
Before entering Open shows, we were expected in the nicest way to do inter-club events which actually were great fun and good experience. More often than not, they included events only vaguely relating to agility, but they did help us bond with club members and make friendships with other people when we did start to go to shows, some of whom I am still in contact with to this day.

We were also encouraged to take part in demonstrations before competing.

Not all demonstration venue were perfect. One in particular springs to mind. A village which was celebrating some sort of longevity invited us to do a demo in the garden of the local pub which was not ideal as the ground was rather undulating due to a mole invasion. In the event, it was decided to run the demo as a circular knockout, whereby those who ran their dogs away - yes, even in those days we did a sort of distance handling and layering - had to run across a rhubarb patch. We handlers had to jump rhubarb and vegetables and layer raspberry and black currant bushes etc. The demonstration team also consisted of two lively dogs - and handlers, too - whose dogs would compete against each other running down a line bursting balloons. This was a great crowd pleaser.

Tassle completing a run. Look Ma, no timing equipment.The wonderful world of shows
Then we got to hear of Open agility shows
and so the journey continued. We never looked back.

First of all, our club strongly stressed that you could only complete if you could do all the equipment.

At that time, show schedules were like gold dust at our club. You were allowed only one copy per person. Remember there was no internet then and no Agilitynet in those days. We knew nothing about The Agility Voice or The Agility Eye. If you were not fast enough, all the paper schedules could be gone. We learned to collect them from shows where they would be laid out on the Show Secretary's table. We had to enter by post by sending a SAE to the Show Secretary, and proof of post was recommended in case your entry was late. 

We used to compete at various venues where the quality of the ground was not always good. Sometimes it could be like a ploughed field, and I chose not to compete as I would fear for my dog's safety. At one show, the Mini ring grass had not been cut properly and the judge placed the weaves in the long grass. This upped the degree of difficulty for the tiniest that could hardly see over the long grass.

In those days, Minis were not respected nor were their handlers taken seriously, often being referred to as ‘Moaning Minis' with their 'handbag dogs' and the such like. By this time I had a Mini and I did take exception.

At another particularly sandy venue, the Mini ring was set up beside a rabbit warren. Well, you can guess what invariably happened.

Our Large dogs often jumped different heights in different rings being as at the time, Elementary was 2ft and Starters 2ft 6in. Dogs often had to jump really high a short distance from cloth tunnel. Note: The wooden house entrance to the cloth tunnel.

All sorts of disasters used to happen with hand timing as there was no electronic timing then. One memorable moment for me was a straight run for home on a slight incline – so I sent my collie ahead whilst I flailed way behind. You can guess what happened. The timer waited until I crossed the line before he stopped the stopwatch!

It was a rarity to have more than one dog competing or to own a van. Not many shows had camping, so they were smaller, often finishing early. I often used to go for a cream tea on my way home. I do miss those days... especially the cream teas.

Many people ran their dogs only on the left, resulting in an outcry around the rings when course design started to initiate right hand weaves.

Rings did not stop for anything and used to carry on whatever the weather. I remember score-boarding at one show during a thunderstorm when a number of competitors complained to the judge that the claps of thunder were putting off their dogs and were awarded another run. In fact, it was quite commonplace for a judge to say ‘Have another go.'

Most shows held a raffle for charity and when approached by the lovely 'Port and Lemon' to purchase tickets. Who could refuse?

It was not unusual to see handlers training in flip-flops, Green Flash tennis shoes or court shoes. Shell suits or tracky bottoms with stripes down the side were the commonly worn garments. Then along came the Lycra brigade and things began to change.

Looking back, it was a leisurely, mostly stress-free time for me. There was no tannoy telling you to get to the ring, pick up your poo or reminding cars to slow down etc. There were no catering vans or chuck wagons unless there was a pack of scouts doing refreshments. However, if an ice cream van appeared, that was heaven.

How far we have come
I have many, many happy memories of those early days and I remember with fondness the agility friends I made, the characters who have since passed away, the loud applause from the queue and onlookers when someone ran a clear round and, of course, the prize givings where so many gathered and cheered the winners on.

During this 2020/2021 agility drought, I realise that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time spent engulfed in this hobby. The trip down memory lane has brought back both sad and joyful memories, and I am absolutely confident that my agility journey will continue long after the current Covid health crisis has passed. I look forward to re-kindling hobby friendships within our community.

A big thank you for Janine Harvey for sharing some of her old photos.

First published 22nd March 2021



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