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Crufts 2017 Agility Judges' Interview

05 April 2017    11:30
 

The Kennel Club interviewed agility judges Bill Glover, Alan Bray and Nick Robson, discussing how they got started in agility, the challenges of judging and sharing top tips for agility beginners.

Bill Glover

How long have you been competing in Agility?
My first show was in 1991, running a Standard Poodle.

When did you start judging and why did you decide to start?
In 1995 - a friend put me forward after being asked to judge at the same show. It's always been important to keep a flow of new judges coming in as agility continues to grow year by year.

What dogs do you own and handle?
I run two Border Collies aged ten and four in grade 7, and also have a youngster that's due to start competing this summer. He and my four year old are both home bred - my wife kept one from each litter as well, so there's never a dull moment!

How do you prepare for an event like Crufts? 
From a judging perspective it's mostly about designing suitable courses. There are many aspects to this - agility is on show to the public so the courses need to be achievable, bearing in mind the pressure of such an event for the handlers and the noise and excitement for the dogs. Some finals have as few as four dogs in them, and it wouldn't be good for them all to be eliminated! Technically the ring is quite small and the artificial surface needs to be taken into account as well, although the one used this year was absolutely superb.

What is the most challenging aspect of judging an event like Crufts? 
The courses are locked down far in advance as they're printed off to be given to competitors on the day. So once submitted they cannot be tweaked or changed, and things like obstacle spacing (the rules for which changed this year) must be correct. On the day there's very limited time for the judge to check the equipment before handlers are allowed to walk, so ideally the courses should be non-critical in terms of distances and angles. From a practical point of view it's very hot under the lights!

Did anyone in particular stand out in your judging?
Of course the overall standard was incredibly high but it was a pleasure to judge the overseas competitors - the Spanish handler Cristina Garcia Daura with her wonderful Malinois stood out for me, and it was great to have a competitor from China (Jimmy Chen) there. Of the home competitors Dave Munnings and Fame were on top form, and Ashleigh Butler's young dog Sullivan was simply amazing.

What would be your top 5 tips for someone starting in Agility? 

  • Find a good club with positive reward-based trainers that you are comfortable with.
  • Don't do too much too soon - it's easy to get carried away with young dogs, but agility training is a marathon rather than a sprint!
  • Keep your dog slim, fit and healthy through normal exercise and good diet.
  • Be open to new ideas and handling techniques - the sport is continually evolving.
  • But don't believe everything you read on Facebook!

What did you watch when you were not judging? 
Both judges are required to be at the ring while agility is taking place so there's not much free time during the day - even fitting in lunch was a challenge! I did manage to watch my son Max win the YKC under 12 semi-final on the first day though!

Anything else you think will be of interest to Agility enthusiasts and competitors? 
In the past there has always been a 4 metre wide boundary to the ring (using a different colour of carpet), which dogs can run on but is kept clear of obstacles so the audience and cameras have an unobstructed view. The new surface used this year was only available in a single shade of green, so the whole ring was the same colour. This meant that courses tended to 'creep' towards the edges when set up, making some of them a bit larger than planned!

Alan Bray

How long have you been competing in Agility?   

I have been competing in Agility for 26 years.      

When did you start judging and why did you decide to start?    

I started 22 years ago as I was asked, and I thought ‘why not?’ 

What dogs do you own and handle?   

We have nine dogs between myself and Louise my fiancé. Six are mine, of which two are from my late wife Jayne.

The names of them are Kruise, Tayla, Indianne, Tesla Girl, Tatianna and Ticita.

How do you prepare for an event like Crufts?     

It's all in the pre planning and getting good courses together. Over the Christmas period I spent time doing this so I felt assured they were the best I could provide.

What is the most challenging aspect of judging an event like Crufts?   

The courses being right! The most challenging part is ensuring they fit in the space provided, ensuring they entertain the crowd and making sure the competitors enjoy running them.

Being under the spotlight can be difficult, as there are replays in slow motion for everyone to decide if I got it right or not! I don't look at the screens or playbacks when I am judging, I am just confident in my decision.

Did anyone in particular stand out in your judging?    

Well, clearly all the winners and rostrum places, as qualifying for Crufts is an amazingly difficult task as it is, let alone landing a place in the top 3.

Some of the notable people were: Nicole Turner who did really well in the Novice Cup. Hayley Telling was just superb, running consistently at pace and clear – it was great to see her attacking the courses to sweep the board.

Will and Sue Rolfe in the Large Teams also stood out and their award was well deserved. Also our own Dartford Small Team winning the final was a great moment with four lovely clears. Then the British Open Agility heat with the running dog walk at the end which got the crowd on their feet with Bonny Quick with Ivy, Karen Marriott with Puzzle, Laura Chudley with Troy and Dave Munnings with Fame was simply amazing. 

But the International Jumping and Agility Final really stood out for me with Simon Brenca from Switzerland winning everything - it was just amazing, especially as none other than the legendary Jenny Dam from Sweden finished runner up. A special bonus for me personally was Raisa Vähätalo from Italy finishing 3rd overall with a Kruise granddaughter who was bred by my late wife Jayne.

What would be your top 5 tips for someone starting in Agility?    

  • Purchase a dog bred for agility from proven agility lines.
  • Find a good training club that is Kennel Club registered/listed status. They are all listed on the Kennel Club website.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Keep up to date about agility by using social media such as Agilitynet.
  • Enjoy it! Remember it's not life or death, it's just enjoying quality time with your dogs and your friends - don't be afraid to go wrong!

What did you watch when you were not judging?   

I was helping Bill Glover and Nick Robson who were also judging. When no agility was on I was spending time with my own dogs, undertaking interviews and photo calls - and shopping of course!

Anything else you think will be of interest to Agility enthusiasts and competitors?

I hope everyone enjoyed the courses and the competition. Obviously when you are a judge you want to ensure the courses run well and that everyone enjoys their runs and does well.

Nick Robson

How long have you been competing in Agility?   

I have been competing in Agility for approximately 25 years.

When did you start judging and why did you decide to start?   

I started judging about 20 years ago. At the time I was keen to judge as I believe it is essential that we try to put something back into Agility. I also enjoyed the challenge of designing courses and watching how the different competitors tackle them.

What dogs do you own and handle?  

My wife Christine and I currently have 8 dogs, all Border Collies and Working Sheepdogs. Five of our dogs are rescues, and I currently compete at grade 7 with Widget - a six-year-old rescue tricolour male Working Sheepdog. Belle is a fifteen month old Working Sheepdog bitch who we are training currently for Agility, and she shows a lot of promise. Belle also trains and competes in sheep dog trials with Christine and has done really well in nursery trials with her over the winter.

How do you prepare for an event like Crufts?

I spent a long time designing and planning the courses for the Championship Agility class on the Sunday, trying to create exciting flowing courses with an appropriate level of difficulty. I was very pleased with how they ran on the day on this year’s fantastic new artificial grass surface in the main arena.

What is the most challenging aspect of judging an event like Crufts?   

It has to be the pressure of judging in front of not only a packed main arena, but also the many also watching the live feed, all with the benefit of slow motion television which can be replayed to review my decisions! Also the responsibility I feel to all the competitors to make their Crufts experience a fair and memorable experience.

Did anyone in particular stand out in your judging?   

It was a fantastic and exciting Agility competition in all three height categories. The handlers who really produced some memorable and exciting rounds were Charlotte Harding, Dave Munnings, Toni Dawkins, Ashleigh Butler, Sian Illingworth, and of course Natasha Wise and her dog Dizzy, who produced a phenomenal round to win the medium Championship.

 What would be your top 5 tips for someone starting in Agility?   

  • Enjoy and appreciate your relationship with your dog.
  • Be positive - reward, reward, reward!
  • Remember if it all goes wrong in the ring it's very nearly always the handler's fault.
  • Be consistent with your handling and training.
  • Have fun and get involved in the sport.

What did you watch when you were not judging?   

We had a look at the Border Collie judging on Saturday, and of course the International Agility competition. It was great to see so many overseas Agility competitors and all the different handling styles.

Anything else you think will be of interest to Agility enthusiasts and competitors? 

I would like to thank and congratulate all of the handlers and their dogs who competed in the Championship Agility class. If you are lucky enough to get the chance to compete at Crufts enjoy the experience.

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