Just realised after a comment left on my last post that I didn’t finish the photo below, I left the other end of the seesaw contact uncoloured and therefore not a true representation of the seesaw. So here is the photo version 2. Is this picture different enough? Maybe I should have another play with this photo and paint some yellow slats onto the dogwalk…it will be interesting if a couple of clubs in WA have a trial of the painted slats solution to see if that works.
The photo below was taken this morning of a friend’s backyard equipment. It is the seesaw and dogwalk side by side taken from the angle of the dog’s eye level as it comes out of a tunnel. Now my friend wisely elected to have her dogwalk and seesaw contact areas painted in different colours (the dogwalk has a blue contact area and the seesaw has a yellow contact area). However I have altered this photo so that it looks like what dogs see in trials where both the dogwalk and the seesaw are painted in identical colours. If you took away all the background info you have (seesaw legs don’t usually protrude to the side on our trialling seesaws, you can see the dark underside of the dogwalk down ramp etc) as these are details that dogs would not see due to the fact that they are (or should be!) focusing on the up plank; and just tried to really picture it at a dog’s view not even going terribly fast; say 2 to 3 meters per second I think you can imagine why some dogs are going up planks thinking they are seesaws when they are dogwalks and vice versa.
It really is tedious sometimes, attempting to elicit a straight answer from debates on email lists. When the issue of the slats being removed came up at the last ANKC rules review I really had no feelings one way or the other. I figured if they were off or on, it really didn’t matter to me. In 12 years of agility I had only heard of one toe injury that could be proved beyond doubt, that it was caused by hitting a slat in an ugly way. Needless to say none of us here in WA really had a lot of information on this, however, there was a strongly voiced minority who had heard that this rule change to remove slats in the USA had gone horribly wrong and that the slats were replaced fairly rapidly. Yet there were those that were strongly voiced to get rid of them. The travesty that is the ANKC voting system is that it does not use the ‘one state one vote’ system which means WA’s vote counts for one whereas a state like Victoria or NSW counts for two. Seems unfair to me but that’s what we’ve got. So the slats/cleats came off completely. A rather pain in the arse job to do but it got done. Anyway to cut a long drawn out debate short it has been noticed (and still noticed over a year on now) that dogs are mistaking the seesaw for the dog walk and vice versa. Personally I don’t have an issue with it. Slats off the dog walk meant Raven sometimes ‘slid’ into the contact position, it didn’t concern me as she quickly figured out how much braking she needed to do. What I did see and still do see is previously rock solid dogs who ran confidently up the dog walk now come to almost a complete halt as they hug the up plank virtually crawling thinking the plank is a seesaw. I also see dogs that had well trained and well proofed seesaws do hair raising fly offs off the end of the seesaw as they think they were on a dog walk. It happens fairly often, often enough for me to notice. I really think that the touch and visual picture of the slats gave some of our fast dogs a clue as to what they were climbing. I cannot find one other major agility organisation that does not have slats/cleats on their dog walks. IFCS, USDAA, AKC, KC, UKA, NZKC, FCI, CPE; they all have slats on their dogwalk. This to me says something.
So I want to train for fast dog walks. Raven has been known to do sub 1.6 second dog walks in trials, but apparently according to some suggestions from the lists I am on, to have a dog moving at that sort of speed across a dog walk is apparently unsafe and irresponsible. That I should slow my dog down. I had hoped Australia had moved on from this kind of regressive thinking but I see that it is still alive and well in some quarters. Literally hundreds of top level competitive dogs from around the world can train the dog walks to be around 1.5 to 1.6 second mark. This is unsafe according to these thinkers, they believe they see dogs coming off because handlers are pushing for speed. Handlers cannot push for that type of speed, handlers learn how to train a dog who has that innate drive to move at that speed naturally. Dogs do come off when handlers do not set the line nicely onto the up plank or when handlers have not trained their dog to independently set their own line when starting the dog walk. It’s quite frustrating to read these types of statements such as “handlers do not need to have 1.4 second dog walks”. Of course we don’t ‘need’ them if we don’t have any inclination to be competitive at all but then why acknowledge first, second or third place? It’s called ‘Let’s settle for just enough to get us round a course and under time’. Agility is so much more than this. Like I’ve said before I have no issues at all with handlers who want to look at it like this, in fact I encourage them because we need them to keep our sport healthy, but by the same token those of that ilk should not presume to tell those of us who wish to aspire to achieve better in our chosen sport that we are being unsafe in doing so. First and foremost these dogs are our family and we take just as much care as anyone else in the sport to ensure their safety. It is a game we play; but we all know when we take up the sport that we will be exposing our dogs to more risks than your average stay at home pet dog. The enjoyment that our dogs and ourselves get out of it obviously makes it all worthwhile.