There was definite willingness to learn down-under
It was a two-hour flight from Melbourne to Coolangatta Airport on what is the Australian equivalent of EasyJet, an airline owned by Qantas called JetStar. We knew that we were going to a holiday-type place because the plane was full of families obviously in the holiday mood, so we were looking forward to a bit of warm weather after the very cool conditions in Melbourne. And we were not to be disappointed. We flew into Coolangatta Airport on a wonderful hot summery type day with blue skies and lots of sunshine and as we landed we could see that the place was full of palm trees so we were looking forward to putting our shorts on.
We were met at the airport by Ann Bulke who, along with her husband Tony, owns and runs the Coolangatta Pet Motel. We had first met Ann two years ago when Mary took a course in Perth and she travelled across from the other side of Australia to attend the seminar and actually booked Mary to take a seminar then, full of enthusiasm and really dedicated to spreading the word of positive dog training.
Spot on time, Ann collected us from the airport and we were very pleased to see her again. It was about a 20 minute drive from the airport to their home at the Coolangatta Pet Motel. Although the kennels are only 20 minutes from a really busy coastal town they were in the middle of nowhere and up one of the steepest drives I have ever seen in an isolated position on the top of a hill. The property encompassed almost one hundred acres with at least one third of it as forestry.
The facilities were superb, all the food the dogs ate was home-cooked in the kitchen every single day and I could see why people drove from great distances to leave their dogs there. And of course the hospitality for us was first-class, waited on hand and foot but also told that whatever we wanted we could help ourselves to at whatever time we wanted.
Those deciding to camp for Mary’s course would be staying at Ann’s kennels in the big field opposite. Ann’s husband, handyman Tony, who seemed to be able to build or fix anything had put up a toilet block and shower block on the field and all the camping for the competitors was to be around that area. So it was nice for Mary to meet a few of the handlers before the course started. The venue for the course was just a few hundred yards down the road at an outdoor adventure centre called Camp Goodenough.
Unfortunately, all the facilities including the dormitory accommodation and restaurant were at the other end of Camp Goodenough and the unfortunate part was that these were at the bottom of a vertical hill. And when I say hill, I mean hill. The only vehicle which could drive down and back up again even though it was a concrete road, was a four-wheel drive. The facility had to be built like this because all the various activities that the children did at their camp were situated in certain areas down the hill and the whole place was built amongst very thick forest. I think some of the participants who were staying over at the camp had a bit of a shock when they arrived on the Friday and the owner did finish up running a shuttle service with his four-wheel drive but the facilities were superb.
I think it had been a few years since some of the girls on the course had slept in a dormitory but I hear they had a good time and the food was excellent. They also had a large indoor lecture hall facility with a big screen and video so this enabled us to play some videos one evening and show them a copy of the ‘Faking It’ programme, although we were quite amazed to hear that some of them had seen it on television in Australia!
The course itself which Mary took was going to be Obedience again with some Heelwork to Music. There were almost 100 participants and in some cases they had travelled thousands of miles to be there. I think the furthest travelled attendees were from the Melbourne area, Tasmania and Alice Springs. Quite a few of the participants were clicker trainers or had a basic knowledge of the clicker and if they knew nothing at all about it then they soon would through Mary as nearly all of her training techniques are now based on the clicker.
And Mary was on form once more so it didn’t take many minutes for her to win the whole audience over and set the tone for the weekend. She always tries to ensure two things happen immediately on a course – one is that she retains a good rapport with the participants to try to make the training serious but light-hearted and also she preaches the fact that all training should be fun.
There were some cracking dogs on the course with a variety of breeds. The morning was spent on pure Obedience which, as you may be aware, is more based on American Obedience than British, so the closeness of heelwork is not required which means that unlike the UK a lot of other breeds can be successful. Then the afternoon was spent on Heelwork to Music moves and routines. And as with Melbourne it was really good fun to watch all the handlers trying their hand at HTM especially when there was a mass training session at the end of each day. It is really enlightening for me to watch the seminars that Mary takes. I obviously pretty well know what she is going to say now, but I like to watch the audience and it’s great to see them learning and even if they are not handling a dog then it’s amazing to watch their reaction when under Mary’s tuition there is suddenly a vast improvement in the dog training on the floor.
I think I can probably measure the success of a seminar by the fact that Mary has already been booked to go back to Coolangatta in 2006, probably to take a five-day seminar. She has also had invites from participants on the course to a town just outside Melbourne and also Alice Springs, again all in 2006. I’m just wondering how we are going to fit it all in!
We now had a couple of days off before flying on to New Zealand and on the Monday Ann had booked us in to Sea World, so they lent us the car to go ourselves accompanied by Jill Houston from Perth who had been staying with Ann and Tony over the weekend as she was then travelling on to Melbourne where she was judging Agility at the Melbourne Royal Show. Sea World is situated at the other end of the coast at Surfers’ Paradise and is a huge place – I suppose you could say it’s something like the Sea Worlds they have in the USA and they had reserved two places for us to swim with the dolphins and which was to be the highlight of the day.
However, I declined to let Jill take my place but unfortunately what she had not told us was that she couldn’t swim! So although everyone was asked to use life preservers, in Jill’s place this would prove to be quite imperative! Anyway, Mary said it was an amazing experience and it was incredible to watch what they can do with these dolphins. Of course, this is how clicker training in all animals started, with dolphin training, and although they use a whistle rather than a clicker, the principle is exactly the same.
If the dolphin does something correctly, the whistle is blown and the dolphin knows he is going to get a fish for what he has just done. Mary even managed to have a chat with one of the trainers afterwards, to get an insight into a couple of points she had noticed. It’s a good job we don’t live there as she would be applying for a trainer’s job!
We had Tuesday off ready for our flight to New Zealand on the Wednesday so this gave us the chance to have a rest and get our packing done as we were leaving early in the morning. It had been a great trip to Australia, we met some smashing people and our hosts, Pam and Clive in Melbourne, and Ann and Tony at Coolangatta, could not have been more hospitable and friendly.
So it was with some regret that we left the Pet Motel with Tony to go to Brisbane Airport after Mary had got rid of all the fruit she had purchased but not eaten in Australia. We had to do this of course as you may be aware that it is an offence to take fruit into New Zealand.
On the way to the airport, we stopped for a final visit at the Olde Worlde Scottish Restaurant called MacDonalds for breakfast, bid our farewells to Tony and off we flew to New Zealand. I don’t think Mary was really looking forward to three days of Obedience judging but we were fortunate in that we would know a lot of the people there from a previous visit. And I remember my final thoughts as we set off on the plane from Brisbane – I hope we threw all that fruit out!
We had a good flight to New Zealand from Australia but unfortunately there was a delay on leaving which meant that we were an hour late arriving. But all was well until we got to customs when they x-rayed our luggage before entering the country and disaster struck – they found a tangerine!
Well, it appears that this is a criminal offence.Even though the same sorts of laws are used in Australia and it was actually a tangerine from Australia, it was hidden in the bottom of our bag and had not been noticed. Mary was hauled off to the Custom’s Office and given a lecture about importing foodstuffs. Then we were absolutely stunned to be told that Mary was to be fined $200!
The original intention had been for Mary to take a training day in New Zealand as well as judging, but that was before we realised she would be judging for three days which means three days walking around an Obedience Ring on her feet. Also I had forgotten that the first day’s judging was to be on the Thursday and we only arrived on Wednesday evening, so when we were met at the airport we really just wanted to get to the motel after all the delays.
The motel we stayed in was just round the corner from the venue which was a brand new one built by Waitakere Council called the Trusts Stadium. It was a huge single-span rectangular building with five breed rings, followed by a grooming/benching area and then on the other side of the partition wall were two Obedience Rings. Finally, on the grassed area outside were two Agility Rings for the one-day agility competition which was to be held on the Saturday.
It was a nice comfortable motel with a good sized room and we were informed on arrival that there was to be a pre-show meal with all the judges and officials at 8pm that evening which, due to our late arrival, was going to be a bit of a rush. But nonetheless we made it into the private dining room for 8 o’clock.
It was quite interesting to see how the New Zealand Kennel Club made use of the facilities they had hired. At the close of the show each afternoon, a breed society moved in and held an evening show in the venue. They call these ‘Associated Shows’, so on the Wednesday evening before the New Zealand Kennel Club Show started, there was a Pekingese National Show, on the Thursday evening shows were held by the Schipperke/Collie/Auckland Working Club and there were more shows held on the Friday evening. It’s a bit like Crufts finishing, then instead of the halls and rings staying empty for the evening, a single breed society could move in to hold their Open Show which certainly seemed a good idea to make use of all the facilities there.
On Thursday morning, the first morning of the show, Mary was due in the Obedience Ring to judge Test ‘A’. She had 50 dogs to judge and in the adjacent ring a local judge, Mr Bobby Brown, was judging Novice. Mary had judged in New Zealand before and was impressed with the improvement since her last visit but still thought that, like the last time, there was a lot of hesitant handling which in turn makes the dogs lag in the lower classes, and she did pass comment that perhaps some of the exaggerated movements of the handlers seemed to be more acceptable over there than they would in the UK. Her Caller Steward for all three days was to be Ted Willis. We have known Ted and his wife Sue for a long time and Ted was an absolute first-class steward who also arranged scent cloths, sendaways and retrieves to save Mary having to carry it all in her luggage. Her Scribe on the Thursday was Ray Murray. Apart from being an excellent scribe Ray is a Maori so a few bright sparks took great pleasure in announcing that "Maori Ray was stewarding for Mary Ray"!
The winner of Mary’s Test ‘A’ was Karuz with Caddo owned and handled by Karen Sadler who we have actually known for many years. She is an excellent handler and also trains dogs for films and television work. Cruz was a GSD crossed with a Siberian, a stunning worker! In second place was Sue Willis with Torquins Dancing Queen, a cracking young dog imported from the UK from a litter bred by Lyn White, a previous Crufts Obedience Championship judge. And Mary could only split the first and second places after a run-off.
On the Friday, Mary judged Special Beginners and in first place was Tara Sweet Pea, a soft coated Tibetan Terrier, owned and handled by Miss K Magorian. Then in second place, by just half a mark, was Todd, a New Zealand Handy Dog.
On the Saturday, it was time for me to do some work as I was going to judge Novice Part 1 and Part 2 and the Senior class with Mini, Midi and Maxi in each class. My co-judges in the other agility ring would be Bernadette Thompson and Alan McClumpha. The last time I judged in New Zealand, I did feel that I had made the courses a little too difficult so this time I did make them much more open and at the same time there is no doubt that the standard had improved.
But in saying that, I still had quite a number of eliminations and faults although I was well satisfied with the number of dogs who went round clear. In fact, I have to say there were some absolutely superb agility dogs but the major problem the dogs had was the handlers. In almost every case of elimination, it was the handler at fault and not the dog, through not giving a command, commanding at the wrong time, not being in the right spot or giving out the wrong body language. But, as I said, the standard had improved and I was really pleased with the placed dogs in my classes.
The winner of Novice Part 1 was Pico Santa Bear, a Toy Poodle handled by Mrs C Bennett.
In Novice Part 2, in 30.98 seconds clear, I had Neva Dee Question, a Border Collie owned by Miss C Marriner, and in second place was Highland Breeze, a Herding Dog also owned by Miss C Marriner. We had the opportunity to meet Miss Marriner again the following week and she is quite an exceptional young lady. I say young because she is only 14 years old and she is already one of the top agility handlers in New Zealand. I think they had all better watch out though as she is now also starting to train for Heelwork to Music!
The last class I was to judge was Senior. Again, I tried to make the course challenging but not difficult and of course the same thing happened – the handlers found their own faults but I was very pleased with my placed dogs which were all clear. The winner in 34.48 seconds was Agility GR CH Ace in the Hole ADX, a New Zealand Herding Dog handled by Mrs D Jackson.
While I was getting wet outside, Mary was judging inside in the dry and it was Test ‘C’ for her that day. She had 44 dogs to judge and as with all Obedience, it was in a complete running order so they had to work in their correct place. Again, she was very pleased with the standard and in first place was OB GR CH Castaways Just a Hussy CDX, a Working Sheepdog handled by Mrs L Ferguson, losing just 3.5 points. This is exactly the type of handling that Mary was looking for. She was a smart handler, with no-fuss handling and just got on with the job and her dog is super - this pair would do well in the Championships at Crufts.
Well, we both enjoyed our judging. Mary was exhausted after three full days and I was still a bit damp and muddy from standing outside in the rain but someone had mentioned re-presenting the winners’ trophies in the Best in Show Ring and as I walked past this ring I saw the other two Agility Judges presenting trophies but I really was in no state to go into the ring to present them and had not been asked officially. When I got to Mary, who was just preparing to leave the venue, no-one had told her at all that the trophies were to be re-presented so we just left without seeing or speaking to anyone official, We did hear that there was an after show dinner for the judges and officials but due to the long journey ahead we had to leave.
Mary’s ring steward Ted Willis and his wife Sue had invited us down to Taupo for a couple of days before our onward journey to South Korea on the Wednesday. They had very kindly picked up all our luggage when we checked out of the hotel that morning so when we left the venue we joined Ted in his vehicle for three hour journey to Taupo, Sue having left three hours earlier in a separate vehicle.
If you visit New Zealand, part of your tour has to be Taupo. It has a lake the size of an ocean, hot springs, stunning rivers and waterfalls – in fact as a tourist it has everything you want. And if you live there, you just haven’t got the pressures that we have on land at home. So for a very reasonable price and within minutes of the town centre, you can own a home on between one and two acres of land. Ted and Sue have a large detached house with a wonderful view over the town and lake and with their own training paddock. We didn’t need to do much sightseeing as we had been there before but they did take us for a look round and we did do all the usual tourist things but it was just lovely for Mary, after three days of hard work judging, to have a couple of days to relax and do what she enjoys most, which is training dogs.
So Sue invited a few friends round for some training with them. One young lady who came to see Mary and do a spot of training was especially memorable. She had actually won first and second place in my Novice Agility class and won first place in Starters’ Agility. But her talents didn’t end there because she is also a competent competitor in Obedience and the reason she wanted to see Mary is that she is also doing Heelwork to Music. She is extremely talented, fully supported by her parents and is destined to be one of the most talented working competitors in New Zealand – and she is only 13 years old, so definitely a candidate for the YKC if she lived in this country! I did ask her if she would be interested in competing in the International Agility at Crufts but unfortunately I think cost may be a limiting factor unless she can get a wealthy sponsor.
We had a lovely couple of days with some smashing people at Ted and Sue’s and as with dog training people throughout the world they are so hospitable. But on the Wednesday it was back up to Auckland Airport for Mary to face the music, or I should say to face the Customs people to pay her fine for the offending tangerine! We had persuaded Mary to pay her fine for two reasons - mainly because Mary has had several invitations to go back and take some training seminars in 2006 but also because we didn’t want Interpol turning up on our doorstep! So we paid the fine in cash and got ready for our flight to South Korea.
It was very nice of Diane who was in charge of the Obedience and Agility at the NZ KC Show to come to the airport to say goodbye and we did appreciate that gesture. And finally, I would have to say that the hospitality of Ted and Sue, and the pleasantness of some of the other people we met again, made it a very enjoyable visit.