Vive la différence

Before leaving the UK, Theresa Lawrence checked on the Internet and identified an agility club not too far from her new home in Brittany. Upon arriving in France, her first priority – much to the disbelief of her husband Chris - was to visit that club. Off she went, undaunted by the fact that the only French she knew was what she had learned in school many many years ago. Where to start?

I arrived in a French registered hired car so I caught them totally unaware what was about to hit them. It didn’t take long to discover that no one spoke any English. I found it very difficult explaining that I wanted to compete in agility in France and could I join their club, please. I walked away not sure what had been said but was given a telephone number.  After ringing this number, I spoke to a French chap who spoke a bit of English. He told me to come back the next week.

Next week came and there I was.  It was explained to me that you could not compete in agility in France unless you were a member of a club. I had to produce all my dogs documents, and a cheque, of course. Everything in France involves a cheque. I was told that as soon as I produced proof that my dogs were insured under my house insurance that I could start to train at the club – and NOT before. I could not believe that there I was at an agility club and I couldn’t train my dogs - or even get them out of the car.

Never mind, a couple weeks later, I arrived with the appropriate paperwork and they allowed me to start training. The club consisted of four different rings - two agility and the other two for obedience. Only one dog at a time was allowed in the agility ring.

I then dropped the next bombshell. I wanted to enter a show. I found out that in France you cannot enter the show yourself. This is all done by the agility co-ordinator for the club who completes your forms. The president of the club must sign to say it is okay for you to enter the show. Another thing...

in France, everything is very official.  For each show entry, you have to give the club copies of your jabs including rabies which is compulsory in France. To compete in France you also have to have an Agility Licence  which all sports in France have. So unlike the UK, in France Agility is considered a 'Sport.' Wait. You've got it... yet another cheque.

Christian, President of the club and Jean-Michel, Treasurer and in charge of Agility section.

Sunday at Rennes.  As you can see you can get quite a big public crowd. And as always, the judge commentates all the way around!
Time came for my first competition
It was quite a big show – all of two rings! Yes, in France the normal at a show is just one ring with a judge and a maximum of 75 dogs per ring.  Two or three shows may have two rings but usually no more except at a selection for a qualifier. I was shown where I had to register, handing over my licence and showing my original jab documents for my dog.  You arrive at shows for 7.30am for them to start at around 8.00am. This is the same for nearly all shows. 

At each competition, there are four classes which consist of the Championship class which is for pedigree dogs only, the Royal Canin Masters Agility qualifier, the Grand Prix de France agility qualifier and at the end a jumping class.  There are no jumping qualifiers in France as this is classed as a more fun type class.  All classes by the way except the championship are Open status. Championship class there is Level 1, 2 & 3. 

You start at Level 1 with every dog which is great for the dog's experience.  Once you have made it to Level 3 (Seniors) you have to get three trophies each season to stay in Level 3 or you go back down to Level 2.  Oh and by the way, in France there are four size categories: Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large which includes Rottweilers etc.

A typical show finishes at around 6.30pm-7.00pm - very long day indeed. All the presentations are done at the end of the day. There are trophies for first to third places - though sometimes only to second - and no rosettes.  You are not allowed to leave the show early – except for exceptional circumstances. I remember not long after I had arrived a lady arrived at a show. The weather was very bad and so she decided to go back home, and consequently was banned from agility in France for three months. As you can see, Agility over here is very strict on rules. You would also not consider arguing with a judge because the same thing would probably happen. In fact, I was at another show this year when a chap disagreed about something with the judge and he would not let the competitor run for the rest of the day.

Facilities at the shows are very basic. There is usually only one toilet for both men and women, and sometimes this may be just a hole in the ground with a seat on top. In fact, I went to a show in November where there was no toilet. When I asked what do we do for the toilet, I was directed to the woods!  Didn’t realise how good we had it in the UK until I left.

When you arrive at the show you are given a hot drink and usually a piece of cake (free of charge). At lunchtime, you are also ways given a glass of wine or cidre (cider) before lunch - yet again, free. Usually at the end of the day before presentations, there is yet another free glass of wine. Everyone takes a packed lunch, and all the clubs sit around at lunchtime with their packed lunches - which always includes wine - and their table and chairs. It is very sociable, very much like it was when I started agility about 17-18 years ago in the UK. So, though France is littered with rules and regulations agility, is still fun over here and people at the top still cheer people on in the ring whether they have faults or not.

Kye (Touchango in Time) representing Brittany

I am so pleased that I have been accepted into agility over here in France so much so that I was selected to represent Brittany in the French Inter-Regional Challenge. The French take their agility very seriously, and I give them their due they have some very very fast dogs over here.  As people who were at the World Championships in Spain would have seen, although still supporting the UK, I also now support France.

Sam & the dogsAbout the author...
Theresa Lawrence
likes the life in Brittany especially for her daughter Sam and the dogs. She says you don't have to worry about children when they are out of your sight like you do in the UK, but work is very difficult to come by. The French government seems to be against people setting up small businesses and taxes them to the hilt i.e., 40% social charges out of your income and then 45% tax of what is left! 

Nevertheless, Theresa has just passed her French examination allowing her to board, breed and privately train dogs in France which she will be doing in the near future. She and her family will be moving house soon and intend to offer caravan facilities for those who want to bring their own caravan to Brittany and plan to enter a show or two in the area - or just want to have a holiday with their dogs. When she has new new house renovated, she will be offering B & B facilities, too.

She has just picked up a new WSD puppy from Chris Bolton. Quinn (Lunarlite X Factor) will be starting his sheepdog career in France. Maybe Theresa will write another article on his progress in la belle France!

First posted 12/04/07


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