Personal Introduction to Agility
This article was written by Kate Payne. It is written from a very personal and humorous perspective that we are sure you'll enjoy.
Agility, for anyone who is still in the dark about this new AKC approved event, had its beginnings in the UK in the late 70's. It was an entertainment event at the Crufts show, and is based on equestrienne events. The dogs are required to go over jumps, through tires and tunnels, across elevated planks (dogwalks) and seesaws. All of this is done while racing the clock. Until August of '94, the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA Æ) was the primary titling association for the sport in the US. The first AKC Agility Trial was held at the AstroWorld Series of Dog Shows in Houston, TX last August -- and WE WERE THERE. So were a whole lot of other people, so why the excitement?
Well, my husband Dave Hall and I are crazy enough to do Agility with Vizslas. Crazy? Hey, this isn't exactly the breed that serious Agility competitors run out to get. Over the years we've taken a good bit or ribbing and occasionally have experienced some outright contempt for even attempting this with a pointing breed. The Versatile Vizsla, however, is the breed we love to live with, so, we work with what we have. We are currently working two dogs: Colonel (Mattapex's Col. John S. Mosby, CD, AX, AAD Æ (Advanced Agility Dog), FDCh (Flyball Dog Champion), and Bobbie (Mattapex Full Tilt Boogie, OA, FDCh ). Both dogs are out of dual stock, so a high energy level and prey drives that are off the scale have been a just couple of our challenges. In addition, Colonel is an "all or nothing" dog. Moderation is not in his vocabulary.
Dave put a CD (with thoroughly respectable scores) on Colonel with less than six months of lackadaisical training., so we knew we had a dog with a brain and some trainability. When Colonel was a bit more than two years old, I decided I would try agility with him. He learned his lessons well, but he had only two speeds: stop and GO! Colonel loved agility, but was determined to do it his way. USDAA Æ requires that the dogs run without a collar. The naked Colonel was a free man. It took a number of months for him to learn that "come" meant "come" whether or not he was dressed.
After about six months of training we started entering trials. Colonel is a highly trainable dog, but he is also somewhat dominant. At one of his first outings, he hopped up on the pause table as requested. I said "down" and gave a hand signal. Colonel jumped off the table. "Table," I commanded again. Back on the table he went. "Down!" He jumped up and put his paws on my shoulders and turned to the spectators with a big grin. As we left the ring Colonel took off running for his crate. He beat at the door. "Let me in someone, she's going to kill me.", He said. The lead was clipped on and we headed out behind the barn. Thirty minute down-stays are a real bore for both dog and handler! At another trial the inevitable happened. Colonel went on point on a pigeon in the middle of his run. We went back to the drawing board to refine our skills and learn discipline -- and hopefully to settle down a bit with age.
One night In August of 1992, as we were warming up before class, I heard another handler behind me calling her dog. "Victor, come," she said. Victor went, taking me with him. Blind sided by a large Golden Retriever that was now sitting on my chest, I lay on the ground unable to get up. Dave came strolling over to see what the commotion was about as I was helped to a chair. "Alcohol," someone said. "For a sprain?", I asked. No, to drink! Someone put ice on my ankle and a beer in my hand, and Dave was handed the leash and the dog. He had been backseat driving for nearly a year, so he felt confident to take over. When class was over we headed to the ER, where my broken ankle was put in a splint to await setting by an orthopedic surgeon later in the week. Sidelined for at least three months, I lost possession of my dog.
Dave trained for a couple of months and began competition with the Colonel. His first attempt ended ignominiously as well. Two obstacles before the end of the course, the top half of Dave's body got going faster than his feet, and he fell flat on his face. Colonel began circling his Dad at full speed, taking every obstacle in sight! No leg for them that day -- you simply must finish the course with your dog. The next day they had a clear round and earned that AD Æ. The road to their AAD Æ was fairly routine. Along the way they went to San Antonio for the USDAA Æ Grand Prix. Colonel earned a first place in the 30" class in Jumpers (one of the games). Dave was thrilled when a Border Collie owner came up to him and said that it was one of the most beautiful runs he had ever seen, and that Colonel's style epitomized what the sport should be all about. If only that person had seen everything that lead up to that triumph!
The Spring of '93 saw a new arrival at our house. We drove to Maryland to pick out Miss Bobbie. Finally, a dog of my own, the daughter I'd always wanted! She was pretty, bright, bold and tough enough to make a great agility dog. The best puppy kindergarten in Houston followed at age nine weeks. She began Agility after her preliminary x-rays were taken at nine months of age. She was trained from the beginning to know the concept of control. She is a delight to train, a joy to exhibit, and not nearly as exciting and reckless as the Colonel.
August '94 brought the first AKC Agility Trial. Miss Bobbie, recently out of season and still a little hormonal, earned her first Novice AKC leg with 89 out of a possible 100 points. Not what I hoped for, but I'm never one to sniff at a green ribbon, and it was pretty exciting to be the first Vizsla to earn a leg at the first AKC Agility Trial. Colonel, competing at the Excellent level, was up later in the day. Dave had worked hard at controlling Colonel's speed. He felt confident that he and his dog were ready. This was an impressive event. The AstroArena was decorated for the occasion, AKC dignitaries were on hand, photographers were everywhere, excitement was in the air. Dave and Colonel stepped into the ring. Colonel responded to Dave's direction and worked very well until he spotted the A-frame and the end of the course. He kicked into overdrive at that point and blew off the safety zone on the down side of the obstacle - something he had never done before in competition. It was over -- you cannot earn a leg if you knock a bar or miss a safety zone. After the dogs had run, we were milling about talking to the press. A local TV commentator asked to have some of the dogs run again for the camera. As each dog stepped up he asked the dog's name and breed. Dave said, "This is Colonel, and he is a Vizsla. Watch closely, because this isn't going to take long." Colonel took off at full speed and ran an absolutely beautiful clear round for the benefit of the cameras. Too bad he couldn't have done it five minutes earlier for the benefit of the judge. That's our boy.
We were unable to attend our Flash Paws Agility Club AKC trial in October, and not being ones to travel a lot to dog shows, we did not attend another AKC Agility event until our spring trial in March of '95. Dave had a last minute conflict on Saturday and couldn't run the Colonel. I figured the kid was under control enough by now that I could handle the job. I headed for the place where I would have handled that opening sequence with Bobbie. Colonel broke his stay, barreled over the first two jumps, and as I turned to direct him over the third jump, we collided and I was once again carried from the ring. Not only were my dignity and knee injured, but I had my own dog to handle later in the day. I was able to limp around the course with another handler in my class and tell her exactly how to handle Miss Bobbie at each obstacle. Bobbie responded beautifully, and earned two scores of 100 that weekend, for two first placements. It sure is nice to have a trained dog! Now, most anyone will run Bobbie for me if I need them to; while everyone in their right mind steers clear of "Killer." Colonel has earned quite a reputation for himself over the years. But, at last he is finally earning admiration and respect as a fine working dog. It has been a long and exciting road, and we wouldn't trade our Vizslas for any other dogs in the country
So what is our advice to anyone wanting to do Agility with
their Vizsla? Start with a sound dog. Solid working lines behind
him or her will probably be a big help. Obedience train early and
positively. Find a good training center. Keep your expectations
realistic, learn patience, and cultivate a healthy sense of
humor. It is all worth it. Nothing beats working with a breed you