I first went to Crufts as a child when it was still held at Earl?s Court. My father worked for the BBC and we got free tickets. I remember sitting around the breed rings vaguely bored and wondering if I?d see myself on TV (I didn?t). I did, however, love interacting with all the different dog breeds. About 15 years ago as a trainee dog trainer I went back to Crufts a few times and with a different perspective was looking at interactive toys for dogs and new pieces of equipment which might be useful in the training environment. I was involved in Competitive Obedience at the time so also spent some time watching that ring. (Again vaguely bored!) With the KC being affected by the controversy over breeding over the last few years I have avoided going however this year I decided it was time to go back and this time I got the chance to take my dog with me.
In the last 12 months, I have started running, not very fast, nor very far but running with my collie Ranger just seemed to be a natural progression to that. I got myself a running lead and waist band and we started practising. Once Ranger learnt that I would prefer him to run ahead of me than herd my ankles or knees we started to progress. I did my first CaniX event in January this year on an extremely cold morning in Swindon, along with probably 100 other competitors.
Both Ranger and I loved the experience. The atmosphere was fantastic and the dogs clearly loved it and couldn?t wait to get off the start line. The opportunity came to take part in the event at Crufts. I briefly stopped to consider if I?d just make a fool of myself then decided that didn?t matter, took more time to consider if Ranger would cope with the environment and decided we could leave if he couldn?t cope and booked myself in.
On the day we spent the morning walking round the stalls and rings, chatting to people and picking up freebies. Ranger is a two year old rescue collie and whilst I adopted him at 9 weeks old, it was clear to me at that age, that he?d had a lack of environmental socialisation and he initially spooked at being in the house and any unfamiliar noise. As a testament to the work I?ve put into habituation I am proud to say he coped brilliantly with the chaotic Crufts atmosphere and enjoyed meeting lots of people and dogs.
I spent an interesting hour chatting to the Director of the KCAI scheme and two other representatives about whether or not they should be banning the use of certain pieces of equipment in members? classes and how I believed it was the role of the Kennel Club to set an example. They welcomed the debate but I doubt I had much of an impact with my argument. Ah well?
It got to the time to prepare for the race. It started from the main arena and after a very noisy delay with all the regular CaniX-ers? dogs very excited about racing, we made it into the arena. Wow what an experience. The atmosphere was completely electric, it was packed, including several of my friends cheering me on. We ran in number order 10 seconds apart and as number 43 I had a while to wait but eventually we were off. This was a 2k sprint leaving the arena, running round the lake and finishing on the ?beach? with a cool down in the lake for the dogs. I managed it in 8.44 minutes, really very respectable but way down the field. People take this sport very seriously and I wasn?t fast in comparison with most competitors. That wasn?t the reason for taking part though. The whole experience was fabulous, right from being able to take Ranger to Crufts with me, meeting up with old friends, enjoying the atmosphere and the hi-light of course of stepping into the main arena and completing the race. Oh and this time I did end up on TV in the CaniX segment on More 4. You could briefly see Ranger and I running on the far side of the lake, Ranger seemed to be drifting up the bank in the wrong direction whilst I was desperately trying to stay on course!!
Crufts to me has a different feel to it now. The breed rings didn?t seem so dominant, more and more alternative canine activities are being featured and it was really nice to see so many of them being featured in the main ring now too thereby widening the appeal to most dog owners. Overall the experience was really positive and I look forward to going back next year either with or without Ranger.
This article was publsied in the July 2012 edition of the APDT magazine DOG TRAINER.