June, july and August always seem absolutely manic for us as not only does Mary want to do every important event, it is also the busiest time of year for all the finals and semi finals that I run in the agility world. However, eighteen months ago we had accepted an invitation from the New Zealand Kennel Club for Mary to judge obedience and myself to judge agility then also agreed to call in to Australia on the way.
Just to top that off, when we were at Crufts this year, we bumped into the people from Samsung who, after a failed attempt last year, were determined to get Mary to South Korea this year. we went to the most wonderful place in South Korea where Samsung is doing so much and I will give a full explanation of our visit there.
But it’s okay saying you are going to do these things a long time in advance, of course when you get nearer the day you wonder if you are ever going to have the time to go! In the eight weeks before our leaving date, I had had events to run in Perth, immediately followed by six days at the Royal Showground in Stoneleigh, followed by being Chief Steward and Show Manager at our own Rugby Championship Agility Event. Mary was doing some photo shoots for a book she is hoping to write then popped over to Germany to take some training courses. She also took her annual training week in East Anglia which is never really advertised as a lot of the same people seem to go year after year with obedience training in the morning and agility in the afternoon.
After this, off we went to Southsea Show which is a quite unique event in itself as when agility started in 1978 for the first few years there were a lot of little one ring shows and the camaraderie amongst the competitors was terrific because of course everyone sat around one ring watching everyone else run.
Mary in Australia, weighing up the potential of a most unusual prospective dancing partner!
Southsea is the last one ring show I know of anywhere in the UK. They manage to keep it to one ring by publishing a very tight schedule with limited classes and by limiting the camping to around 45 units so in the main it’s a case of not being worth a lot of people going although there are qualifying events for most of the Pedigree dog agility finals. It’s a super show which we haven’t missed for years. And to make it interesting, it’s part of the huge Town & Country type event with a gated public of 50,000 or 60,000 so agility has a lot of good publicity as well.
After Southsea, we were off to Dogs in Need for our usual week’s holiday. This used to be the biggest agility event in the UK but I think that has now been passed by the Supadogs event but in saying this there were still around 600 caravans on site for the week with competitors from throughout the UK as well as a contingent from mainland Europe.
We were quickly approaching our departure date but before that we had two major events, the first being the Town & Country Festival at Stoneleigh, one of the original Pedigree dog agility events and the semi final for the Pedigree dog agility stakes at the Olympia Christmas Horse Show and this was to be the last time we would be running Stoneleigh under its current name of course. You may have seen the press release sent out by the Kennel Club about the Olympia Christmas Horse Show as they, in conjunction with Pedigree, are taking over the bulk of sponsorship at Olympia and introducing some new events there and it is good to see that the Kennel Club will be the major supporter of what we believe to be the most important singles agility event in the UK. We know that the carpet has improved tremendously at Crufts over the last few years but even though the Agility Championships are held there, at the end of the day it is still carpet. Yet at Olympia we have the finest running surface it is possible to get, the same as that used for the horses. And next year, we will also have finals for Novice Dogs and Midi Dogs joining our usual finals of Agility Stakes, Mini Agility Stakes and ABC All Stars.
The final weekend before our departure Down Under was the City of Birmingham Show where myself and the team helped to run the YKC agility events and we have the semi final of the Pedigree Mini Agility Stakes for Olympia followed on the Sunday by the finals of the Pedigree Pairs Relay and Pedigree Team Relay. And, for the first time in a little while, we had blistering hot weather as anyone who went to Birmingham knows. It was a glorious weekend so we were hoping that this was just getting us used to the wonderful weather we were to have in Australia as we were flying out the following afternoon. And yes, we hadn’t even done any packing yet!
When it comes to going away, we are very lucky as we have a house minder/dog sitter. If we had to put our dogs into kennels, the fact is that we wouldn’t be able to go virtually anywhere as we wouldn’t be happy leaving our dogs in kennels. That’s the trouble when dogs are part of the family and not just animals you take to a show. But as usual, the owner of Tina, one of the Shelties which Mary runs very successfully in the Agility, a lady called Shirley Turner, moved in the weekend prior to our departure plus Mary’s sister had moved down from Scotland last year and took up residence in an annex attached to our house. So this time we had two caretakers for while we were away.
When we travelled to New Zealand and Australia previously, we had always had one or two nights in either Singapore or Malaysia as we love both places and have some dear friends there who would collect us and look after us during our visit. But of course all this does is extend the journey time, so we had decided to fly straight through. I have to say, if you are travelling Down Under and can afford to travel in the next grade up from economy, then you should do so as I think this is the first time that I have ever had any sleep on a long haul flight. Those extra few inches of leg-room and elbow-width really do make all the difference. So I was feeling quite refreshed when 13 hours later we landed at Singapore for a two-hour break in the journey and made the most of it with a little break in the roof-top bar at Changai Airport before re-boarding for the remaining ten hour flight to Melbourne.
As is usual for me, when I’m on the way to a warmer country, I changed into my shorts after we left Heathrow as I always find it more comfortable to sleep that way and as we were going to Australia I did have the silly belief that I would be able to keep them on when I got there. But when we landed at Melbourne and came to a stop and everyone else was rushing to get their luggage from the overhead lockers, there was I opening my hand baggage to find some warmer clothes as the captain had announced it was ten degrees! We couldn’t really believe it – we had left at over twenty degrees in the UK!
Mary’s seminar at the Myuna Farm venue was well received by the 90 strong attendees,
many of whom knew of Mary from her videos or by reputation
It was a cold and wet Melbourne we arrived in at 5 o’clock in the morning. I think we all have this thought in our minds about how hot Australia is but you could fit the UK into it many times over and it can take four hours to fly from one side to the other and of course to put this into perspective, it only takes a couple of hours to get to Spain. The hosts for our stay in Melbourne were to be Clive and Sue Makepeace. As well as being a member of the governing council for working dogs in Australia, Clive is also an obedience judge and one of the most respected handlers in Victoria, and Sue likewise.
After resting up on our arrival day, on the Thursday we went to have a look at the Victoria Kennel Club facility (correctly called the Victoria Canine Association and previously referred to as the KCC). There is obviously an Australian Kennel Club as the governing body but each state has, for want of a better word, its own Kennel Club. I suppose it could be compared to the way that the Scottish Kennel Club governs under the auspices of the Kennel Club in London. We never cease to be amazed in other parts of the world by the facilities that are on offer. Normally we would be telling you about the buildings and grounds that the dog training clubs have and we have seen some of the other country’s kennel club showgrounds such as in New Zealand but we were still amazed when we arrived at the Victoria CA’s facility which was just so impressive.
They are still developing the site and in total it covers one hundred acres with at least 50% of it already developed and superbly landscaped. There is a very easy-on-the-eye low office block which contains all the administration for Victoria, next door there was a single storey building which looked a bit like a very large bungalow but which in fact housed the storage area and the Victoria CA Museum, and in buildings behind this there were lecture halls which are used as bases by dog clubs when they are not being used for lectures. However, the piece de resistance was a single-span 4,500 square metre exhibition hall permanently laid out in show rings, completely enclosed, and we were absolutely stuck for words. And all this of course was in addition to the numerous manicured lawned areas for outdoor rings.
The building itself is booked out for 48 weekends of the year and the only weekends free in the outer areas during the year are in December and January as I’m told the temperature is just too hot to show outdoors. The society which was hosting Mary in Australia tried to book the CA facility but unfortunately the only dates available for the exhibition hall were during December and January.
At the rear of the Victoria CA grounds, some of the area which was being developed there was allocated to all kinds of canine pursuits including gundog training, working trials, lure racing, ridgeback lure racing, afghan racing, agility, obedience and breed etc and something I have never heard of, a special area that had been build for earth dogs - a sport that is growing in popularity in Australia and where the facility consisted of a network of underground tunnels which the dogs had to go in to find an item that had been left in there then bring it back out again! This is probably a bit of a simplistic description but I didn’t have much time to dwell, although I did ask if anyone crawled into the tunnels to hide the lure, but they told me that when they built the facility they put in various trap doors which they could open up to drop the lure into the tunnel.
We were very lucky that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Victoria Canine Association, Mr Roger Hampson, found the time to give us a personal guided tour of the facility and a very interesting private viewing of the library and museum which is a relatively new feature and which, at this moment in time, he told us, they were still trying to build up. But even though it was not yet up to full capacity, there were still an awful lot of doggie items to look at.
The following day, Friday, we were due to go and have a look at the venue where Mary would be taking her training weekend but before that I went with Clive to help lay out the rings for the Croydon Dog Club one day agility show which was to be held on the Saturday, although there was some doubt when we walked round as to whether they would be able to hold it as the ground was already waterlogged and the forecast was much more to come.
But then I think we are all familiar with that kind of tale! This also gave me a chance to have a look at the Croydon Dog Club’s building because, here we are again, a quite familiar theme, dog training clubs in other countries receive much more help from the local council than we could possibly dream of in this country. In the case of Croydon Dog Club, they were given a piece of land in a recreation area by the local council and built their own clubhouse with the council’s help and support which consisted of a big training hall, club rooms, storage, kitchens and offices. And they didn’t need to purchase any land to go with it as, directly in front of the clubhouse, was all the grass recreation areas to be shared with other clubs. If only we could get our own councils to be as helpful and supportive!
We ourselves at Rugby Dog Training Club have approached the council after seeing small parcels of land for sale which we thought we could afford and have been told quite categorically that we would be wasting our money as they would not grant us permission to put even a rabbit hutch on it!
After our socialising and sightseeing it was time to get down to business. We had lunch with Jane Fall who is Vice President of the Golden Retriever Club of Victoria Inc and it was Jane who had organised the weekend Obedience and Heelwork to Music Seminar which Mary was due to take. I think she was a little nervous about how things were to go as they had never organised anything like this before, it was a big financial commitment for the club in organising it and obviously to an extent the club’s reputation was on the line to ensure it was a success, so I am sure that she worked extremely hard on it with her co-organisers Cheryl Gibson, Neil Paterson and Sharney Marmo.
An indoor shot of the huge Kennel Club exhibition Hall which is used most evenings
by dog clubs and nearly every weekend for shows
The venue for Mary’s seminar was Myuna Farm in Doveton and the place itself is like a city farm where families can bring their children to see all the animals. Also, one of the main features of the centre is an indoor riding school which is used for riding for the disabled during the week and the Riding for the Disabled Association had their base there and it was this indoor school that Mary would be using. A total of ninety people had taken a place on the course but only about ten would be handling dogs - the rest would be learning as they watched the others being trained.
As far as facilities are concerned, this was probably one of the best courses that Mary has ever taken. It just so happened that a member of the club was also a sound and vision engineer with his own company, so he provided the professional sound equipment including a head-mike for Mary and anyone who has been on one of her courses before will know that we have our own PA equipment for use in the UK because we do not think it fair to pay to go on a course and not hear what is being said. He also had a disco type set-up for the CDs that were to be played later in the day and a high-tech projector connected to a video player which was projected onto a six foot square screen high on the wall showing Mary’s routines and videos in all the breaks and both before and after the seminar.
It is difficult sometimes when I am doing a write-up on what Mary does because I am obviously biased but she has got a worldwide reputation for dog training and I would think she is one of the most well-known and talented people in the dog training world now, so although virtually nobody on the seminar had met her in person before lots of them had seen her on video or heard about her reputation. So there is an awful lot of pressure on poor old Mary when she takes an overseas seminar to ensure people leave at the end of the course having achieved two things:
firstly, to have furthered their learning on dog training and secondly to have had value for the time spent on the course and the money they have paid to be there. Well, I think it is safe to say that both of those aims were achieved. From her very beginnings in taking courses fifteen years ago, Mary has developed her own inimitable style especially since she has become a devotee of clicker training.
Dressed for success!
But unlike some clicker trainers, Mary still recognises that this is not the only way to train a dog so if handlers have a problem and they are not clicker training then she can still come up with the relevant answer to deal with it. She quickly developed a rapport with the audience and as soon as you heard them laughing, you knew she was getting the point over in a humorous manner and even the handlers working on the floor with their dogs and who she had to put right, sometimes in a humorous way, rose to the occasion. In fact, they did say there is a new phrase in Australia now, started by Mary, called "come on girl, shift your ass!" If you have ever been a spectator on one of her cabaret nights then you will know exactly what I mean.
In the morning, Mary covered most of the topics that the handlers wanted in Obedience then after lunch she moved on to Heelwork to Music and I have never seen people have so much fun. A lot of them had never attempted it before but even if you don’t intend competing in HTM there is so much fun to be had in training your dog to do the tricks. Let’s face it, most dogs are very intelligent and do not get enough to do, and this is where sometimes Obedience can be a little boring for them, so it does make life that little bit more interesting and exercises their brain cells if you can just introduce some of the most simple HTM moves. Also of course it expands the trainers own horizons. Well, the afternoon finished with a mass Heelwork to Music dance with, if you like, all the handlers performing on the floor to a simple routine.
The following day was a repeat and just as successful as the Saturday. Also at the closing of the weekend course it was good to hear one of the participants getting up and giving a speech of thanks not only to Mary for what they thought was a tremendous weekend but also to the Victoria Golden Retriever Club for having the courage and foresight to bring in a trainer of Mary’s calibre and they hoped that after the success of this event, the club would look at repeating the exercise.
So a great seminar which was hugely successful and a good start to our Around the World trip. This was followed by a little more sightseeing with Clive and Pam as there is some really beautiful scenery in Australia and it also gave us a chance to see one of the peculiar local customs in Australia. We were driving down one of the main routes along the coast when we were flagged down at a police road block and whilst sitting in the driving seat, Clive had to put a breath test machine in his mouth and give a good blow. It appears that they just choose a road and stop every single vehicle to give everyone a breath test. Perhaps it’s also a quaint old custom we should adopt.
Anyway, it was soon time to take our leave of Clive and Pam. We had a two-hour flight ahead of us along the coast past Sydney and on to the Gold Coast just down the road from a very popular resort called Surfers Paradise where Mary would be taking another weekend training seminar.
The Victoria Kennel Club indoor exhibition hall