Sunday, June 16, 2013

Agility Etiquette, part I. Considerate Crating

At a recent agility trial, I looked around at my fellow competitors and realized that many of us have lost the spirit of agility for the sake of winning.  I remember being in Novice A, it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.  When I would step up to the line with Hershey, I never knew what to expect.  Being new to the sport, I relied on those around me to be role models on how to act.  Many of today's competitors are not the role models we want our future competitors to mold themselves from.  Maybe a refresher course on agility etiquette could help.

Our local agility trials tend to fill, which  means a lot of dogs entered.  It is common for competitors to bring their older, retired dogs to the show because they can't be left alone at home.  It is also common practice to bring the "up and coming" pup to the shows in order to get used to the hustle, bustle and noise of a show environment.  This increases the number of dogs at any one show.  The trials and the entries are getting bigger, but the show sites are not so crating space is at a premium.  With a little thought and cooperation, crating space can be used effectively without any pain.

One of the best ways to save crating space is by stacking crates.  This isn't the best option for the larger dogs, but small dog crates can easily be stacked.  What is even better is to stack the small crates on top of big crates.  when I see a row of cocker spaniel crates lining the wall, I just shake my head at the wasted space.

Another space sucker I see at show sites is chairs and tables.  The main arena where this is a problem has wonderful concrete crating space....behind bleachers.  The answer here is so easy it sounds redundant. There is more than enough seating for everyone in the arena.  There is also space to crate directly behind some of the seats in the back row.  Leave the chairs at home and use the bleacher seats.  The space saved could give a novice handler a chance at finding a crating space.  If tables must be used, use them to stack your small crates on, or put it over your large crates.  What's even better is not use a traditional table, but a piece of plywood or plastic cut to fit the tops of the crates.

My last comment on crating space involves crate aggression.  I was at a show recently where my dog was crated upstairs and the rings were downstairs.  I was unable to find a way to get Boo from his crate upstairs to the ring downstairs without at least one dog or set of crates lunging, snarling, and trying to eat him. For some reason, these dogs always seem to be in large numbers in the highest traffic areas of a show site.  Surprisingly, the handlers seem to never be around.  (Probably because they don't like to listen to all the barking.)  Nothing unnerves a dog (and handler) more than to have a soft sided crate come flying across the room at you.  I think we forget that a dog walking down the aisle can't see inside these soft sided crates.  We often don't know if the crate is occupied or not until it lunges.  Dogs that walk past crates that are so dynamically charges can suffer from that anxiety when they get to the ring, if not as part of their normal life.  If a dog has serious crate aggression issues, perhaps a quieter and more protected crating spot should be chosen.  The high-level trainers I find who subject their dogs to this are a prime example of someone who should know better.  These dogs are being self-rewarded.  The equation is simple.  Dog sees animal approach it doesn't like.  Dog barks.  Animal goes away.  Dog is successful is chasing animal off.  Dogs don't understand that the dog is not leaving because they barked, they simply feel empowered.  "I am dog, hear me roar!"  There are many options to make a dog feel more secure at a show site; covering the dog with a sheet, moving the crate to a quieter spot, or crating out of a vehicle are a few good ones that come to mind and are successful.

Agility should be fun for humans and dogs, and the choice of crating space is paramount to having fun.  The right crating space, and an unobstructed path to the rings, can set the mood for the entire trial, and perhaps increase the possibility of a Q or QQ.  By thinking about our crating choices on our fellow competitors goes a long way to making it a better trial for everyone.

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