Dr Kriszty Cummings hits the international arena for the World Agility Championships

Agility is the fastest growing dog sport in the world, and it's easy to see why. It's a fun and fast sport that involves handlers directing their dogs through a course composed of different obstacles. The fastest performance with no faults wins! In Australia, agility is a very popular dog sport, with new clubs starting frequently and numbers growing every year. There are two organisations in Australia that run agility competitions - the Australian National Kennel Club (ANKC) and the Agility Dog Association of Australia (ADAA). ADAA's main aim is to promote agility on an international level as a global dog sport. They are a member of the IFCS which means Australia is eligible to compete at the IFCS World Championships.

In 2008, Australia was represented by a team of just two handlers at the championships but in 2010 a full team of 12 handlers were able to fly the Aussie flag! Due to quarantine regulations we were not able to compete with our own dogs so the host country kindly lent us dogs to run. Videos were sent to us in Australia so we could see our companions before we left. We were all very excited.

To qualify we were able to run our own dogs in two competitions in Macksville back in 2009. This ensured the best team was selected and that we had the ability to do all of the different classes at the event. This includes both large and small dog handlers (the dogs jump different heights depending on their height at the withers).

The event was held in Clevedon, UK from the 14th to 16th of May 2010. The world's best handlers and their dogs were there to fight for gold and we couldn't wait to be amongst them! We arrived on Friday the week before the competition to meet some of our dogs. It was at this point that I met Shaka, a very sweet tri coloured Border Collie. Sweet until we got into the ring, that is! He was very keen to run and had no problems with telling me all about it, all the way round the course.

Surprisingly Shaka and most of the dogs were happy to run with someone they have never met before despite some of the handling styles we use being completely different. The hospitality of the owners was outstanding, with some of the team dogs even allowed to come home and live with us so we could bond together and complete further training. During the week preceding the big event we met the rest of the dogs and spent some time training them. Conveniently we had the use of a field only a few minutes from our accommodation.

Dr Kriszty with Shaka
Shortly before the big event we were told which dogs we were going to be running, and I found out I would have to keep coping with those teeth (take a close look at Shaka's photo). We were also able to tour the venue, find out where the dogs would be crated, view the training arena and the place where we would be getting the dogs vetted (all competitor canines need the ok from a veterinarian before competing). The Hand Equestrian Centre was the home to the event and we were all very curious to see/ feel the surface as it was an indoor arena (most of us normally compete outside on grass). The surface we were going to be running on was very unusual; it felt like a mixture of sand and felt but was really nice to run on for both handlers and dogs. The dogs all coped with their practice session really well, although some of them certainly 'amped up' in the indoor venue (and that was with empty spectator seating!)

To calm the nerves and meet the other competitors the event organisers had planned a gala dinner. We walked into the cafeteria to find a very Australian-themed table, complete with a large inflated boxing kangaroo and the obligatory koalas and flags. The best-dressed table that night went to the Dutch team, they showed up in blindingly fluorescent orange dresses, top hats and tails with feather boas to finish, and were very noisy in their appreciation of the honour! There were teams from many countries present, from the UK to Japan, America to New Zealand.

The opening ceremony kicked off the championships on Friday morning with all the teams and dogs walking behind their countries flag to the sounds of the cheering spectators. It really hit home finally that we were there to represent our country. Considering we were all running borrowed dogs, Team Australia did very well over the weekend, and I know we all felt a moment of sheer terror the first time we stepped up to the starting line. In front of all those people, wearing the green and gold, to the shouts of 'Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!' Team Australia had brought a large spectator side, and they wanted to make themselves heard which they certainly did.

The presentations were held at the end of each day again with all the team members present and they were very reminiscent of the Olympics, with bronze/silver/gold medals being awarded on a podium and the national anthem being played for the winning country. After that, the dog and handler ran round the ring followed by their national flag to the music of 'We are the Champions' and 'Simply the Best' while everyone else cheered them which created a really upbeat disco like atmosphere with flashing lights (and much amusement when the dogs started chasing each other and wouldn't come back!)

By the end of Sunday we were exhausted but had truly enjoyed the experience of seeing everyone run as well as taking part. We said goodbye and thanks to our host dogs and owners, did the customary change of shirts with other countries and prepared to come back to Australia. The next World Agility Championships will take place in the USA so look out for Team Australia (Aussie Aussie Aussie!!)

Written by Dr Kriszty Cummings


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