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Millbrook Agility Dogs
The Boss in Barbados                              Back to the Boss 

(not necessarily in that order!)           
by Kathrin Tasker

After an exciting week judging the Olympia Finals, I did not have long to prepare for my next assignment: A trip to Barbados to further the sport of agility on this Caribbean island. Although I did not know what to expect at all, it proved to be one of the nicest jobs in agility I have ever taken on! We were housed in superb accommodation in a large house on the Platinum coast, which we shared with 4 dogs and their owner. Most properties on this part of the island are open plan, with video and television and computer permanently situated on the veranda and the doors to houses are rarely locked. The properties are usually fenced and have two or more “guard dogs” patrolling the estate. This is the main purpose for most people on the island to keep dogs. Until very recently the concept of dog training has been very alien to the Bajans. The dogs have no close relationship with their owners and their job is to guard the property. They are rarely taken for walks and they often exhibit
Boredom behaviour. At night it feels like being amongst wolves, as all the dogs start howling and barking and communicating with each other across the various gardens, mingled with the very loud chirping of island frogs, this made for an interesting concert!

Most of the breeds are on the larger side in order to scare off intruders and my group of pupils consisted of German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Labradors, Akitas, Bouviers, Rottweilers, Corgies and Crossbreeds (not a Border Collie in sight!)

The enthusiasm of the pupils and dogs made up for the very basic agility equipment. Although the equipment was fairly basic,the islanders had been very inventive:- The cloth tunnel consisted of an oil drum with a piece of cloth attached to it!

What impressed me a lot was the way in which black and white people live and work together in Barbados in total harmony. Being faced with young, big, black athletes and their Rottweilers, German Shepherds etc. was a somewhat daunting prospect! However they were extremely keen to learn and were incredibly nice to their dogs and had a great ability to just have “fun” with their dogs. I was somewhat surprised to see them all take part in an “egg and spoon” race and other fun events with their dogs and put all their heart and effort into doing well. I tried to imagine a similar scenario in England – some of our top fit young senior handlers racing across a field with an egg on a spoon, trailing their dogs behind!

Although the handlers had learnt the equipment after a fashion, they had no idea of how to change direction with their dogs and we had some hilarious nights trying to teach switching in front or behind the dogs with the various methods available in this country. Teaching the “twiddle” certainly cumulated in some entertaining Bajan dances!

Although it was only February, training could only be done in the evenings, as it was too hot during the day. The floodlit venue was great and the clubhouse had a good supply of rum and coke! Did you know that it takes 10-12 tonnes of sugar cane to make just half a bottle of rum?
Naturally during the day we had to do something for our culture and visit amongst other things a rum factory!

In Barbados most things happen early in the morning or in the evening, as it is very hot during the day. Somehow the Bajan press had come to know that a “famous” dog trainer was on the island and at 5a.m. one day, I was doing my bit for agility on “Good Morning Barbados”, trying to explain the fun and benefits of agility for dogs and handlers. Needless to say Pedigree Masterfoods had also found me and wanted me to do a little advertising at the same time!

Besides teaching and appearing on television programs we also had time for lazing on the beach, submarine and sailing trips, and taking part in the Bajan carnival which lasts for a week, with lots and lots of rum consumption and a tremendous atmosphere. We had a really great time and yes – I am going back, for another two glorious weeks next February.


(Or Rum, Sea and Sand Re-visited!)

It was with a heavy heart and great reluctance that we left a wet, windy and snow ridden England and all the nice people in it, early one February morning to spend three weeks in Barbados!

Having been there the previous year to help them with agility, I was curious to see how they had progressed. I was also to judge at their first agility show/come fun day.

The first week we were treated to a holiday at a beach house a few feet from the sea at the famous platinum coast and we had a fabulous time. The rum was “frowing fleely” and the week kicked off with a beach party where we met a lot of the agility members from Barbados.

The last two weeks I had to knuckle down to serious training in the evenings, as it is too hot during the daytime.

It was great to see some new members and amongst them two Border Collies. A long suffering husband of one of the agility members had made 6 beautiful new jumps. The club had planned an agility show for this year in order to raise some funds to buy some more equipment. And enthusiastic they were! They listened to every word and some of them took things too literally!

One lady, who was working a small crossbreed, kept running, bent over and I did not seem to be able to get across to her that she needed to stand up more to run her dog, in order to avoid permanent hunchback syndrome and also to avoid getting lost! In the end I told her to imagine she was wearing a coat hanger across her shoulders. The next day she came and was running very upright and extremely stiff! I told her to relax a little, chill out (have rum!) and run normally. When I saw her back view, she had …..yes, a metal coat hanger tied to her, with the sharp bit pointing dangerously towards her head ! I made her take it off and jokingly said: “You would have been better tying your pony tail to your sweatshirt!” (I shouldn’t have said that!) Yes, the next day she was running even stiffer, - pony tail tied to shirt! That’s how hard they tried!

It is not very often that shows get cancelled in this country due to rain or floods, is it?

You will not believe this! In Barbados, where the sun always shines, the temperature is always in the 30’s or above and where they had planned their first show, great excitement, lots of preparation, massive advertising, fantastic judge……..the forecast for the day was:- “A tropical rainstorm”. They cancelled the show, the forecasters had got it wrong and the brilliant judge got to spend the day on the beach!………

I was often lying on the beach, thinking back on when we started agility in England and when I was treated as a “traitor”, having left obedience for agility and my then obedience instructor said to me: “It is only people who are no good at obedience, who do agility and agility will not last 5 minutes ” – and here I was lying on the beach, trying to work out, how the hell to teach a “blind turn” to Barbadian Dane with his Border Collie Wayne!

I had a great time in Barbados and the enthusiasm of the pupils and the teachers was unbelievable.

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