I have been interested in agility for quite some time and seen it on YouTube and TV a few times, but I had never attended an actual competition. The local training club here TOTC (they are the best) hosted a USDAA trial this weekend and I signed up to help work it. I sauntered in a little before 8am and the place was already buzzing. There was equipment of all sorts going up, tables of goodies, and dog crates all over the place. Even better, there was coffee, kolaches, and donuts. Jackpot.
In turn for my coffee and donuts, I was quickly assigned the job of pole setter for the Relay or “Pairs” event, and had my very own chair at the side of the arena. First lesson of the day, don’t bring coffee or any other food items onto the course. Rookie mistake one. If you spill then there’s a yummy scent to distract the dogs. Sans coffee, as pole setter your job is to run around the ring setting the pole at the height the judge yells out and if a dog knocks one over, run out and fix it. I was setting poles at 8in, 12in, 16in, 22in, and 26in, depend on the dog size of course. So itty bitty dogs ran the course, then then next size up, next size up. Every type of dog was out there from a toy something-or-other and yorkies, to border collies and a Doberman, and everything in between. Any size dog, any breed dog, and any mixed breed dog can participate. In pairs, one dog would run half the course, they’d pass the baton and the second dog would start. Dog one did jumps, tunnel, teeter totter, and weave poles and dog two did the dog walk, A-frame, and jumps.
The next round was Standard Agility, which is about the same course as Pairs except one dog runs the entire course and there is a chute in addition to the tunnel. I was assigned as chute girl. Sure! Why not? Turns out chute girl is the dog agility version of ball girl. About every 45 seconds a dog was running the course, and about every 45 seconds I was hustling onto the course to re-set the chute for the next dog. Re-setting the chute is simply straightening out the fabric exit so the next dog can get through without entanglements. The first run, I discovered quickly that timing is important. Rookie mistake number two. The judge instructed me to go to the chute and get ready to fix it as soon as the dog went through it, but before it was finished with the course. So, I get up and start sauntering over to the chute, taking my sweet time until I notice the dog was coming back my way. I almost blew that one, but fortunately I just got an amused smirk and cautionary instructions from the judge. The last thing I wanted was a mad dog handler cussing me out for ruining their run, so from that point on, I did not saunter, I hustled. Back and forth and back and forth.
YouTube video of Standard Agility run:
In case I may have been tempted to flee after chute duty, they bribed me with a ticket for free lunch and with four dogs to feed, I never pass up a free lunch! During my lunch break, I watched the beginning Jumpers, which got me all excited. I didn’t realize they had an easier course for beginner dogs and/or handlers. I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to do that with Riyo? I will try. Before today I was very scared of trying an actual competition because I can imagine everything just falling apart because I or Riyo has a bad day. Now I see that falling apart is expected. It happens. You have a big noisy place full of dogs. So the worst that could happen is I just pick Riyo up and go home. Maybe in May at the next one we will star in beginners Jumpers! Though Riyo only runs this fast for dinner, one can aspire:
In payment for my “free” lunch, I went back to pole setter duty in an event called “Snooker,” which I still do not understand. Someone tried to explain the rules to me, but they lost me about 5 seconds in. There are points and flags, and some kind of pattern that I never understood. The judge is yelling out numbers as they are running and if a dog jumped over x jump instead of y jump it was bad. Again, I did not figure out why one jump this way was bad and one jump that way was good. Here’s a video of a very nice Snooker run:
Last event I did was the Advanced Jumpers. This time I was leash girl. This is a fairly simple job. The handlers remove the leash and collar from the dog before they run and chunk it in your general direction, sometimes without looking. So the only real issue is paying attention and not getting hit with a flying brass leash clip. While they run the course, in 18-30 seconds, you move the leash to a bucket at the finish line where many times the dogs proudly retrieve it themselves. The winner of that round was a border collie that finished in a little over 18 seconds.
Advanced Jumpers video:
And that ended the day of Agility and I came away with a better understanding of the sport, free meals, and a good bit of exercise. Next time, Riyo and I will be on the course!