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Millbrook Agility Dogs
The Boss in Japan                                     
Back to the Boss
by Kathrin Tasker



Checking the agility equipment before the start of classes took on a different meaning one Monday morning at the end of April. It is not part of my usual keep-fit routine to jump up and down in an agility field, clapping my hands (and
this without a dog!) and banging a metal pole hard against
the surrounding fence posts first thing in the morning! -
However it had the desired effect and to my great relief various poisonous snakes vacated their overnight shelters, the tunnels and leisurely slithered off into the surrounding woods. Hosing down the field afterwards, made sure that any remaining reptiles, having missed their first alarm call, were also sent on their way. Although this early morning shower helped dust down the agility field and got rid of the snakes, it proved a huge attraction to numerous frogs. They were showing the dogs a thing or two on the agility equipment. Having caught most of the frogs and deposited them the other side of the fence, I was now ready to start
my first agility class. This was no ordinary Monday morning in England. The sun was shining and I was standing in an agility field on top of a mountain in Japan.

Having previously taught German, French, Dutch, Swiss, Italian agility enthusiasts I did not know what to expect from Japanese handlers and their dogs. The information I had received prior to departure amounted to not much more than:" Japanese do not eat dogs! You will sleep in bed, will eat with fork and you will have interpreter."

The whole set-up was truly amazing. A now retired top Japanese singer had bought a mountain about 3 hours bullet train ride from Tokyo and developed it into an animal rescue come training centre. The facilities available were impressive and our accommodation palatial including a jacuzzi and computerized toilet with instructions on usage only in Japanese. Say no more!

My schedule for the two weeks in Japan included judging, instructors seminars and courses for the general public. Most people do not speak English and my Japanese is not too great but my interpreter was good and my body language
became very expressive by the end of two weeks.

Compared to England agility in Japan is still in the beginning stages with many different breeds represented and to date few Border Collies. I had 30 pupils in groups of ten each day and some of the breeds taking part were:- Dalmatian, Labrador, Golden Retriever, GSD, Standard and Miniature Poodles, Jack Russel, Cairn Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Tibetan Terrier, Bichon Frisee, Shiba-Inu, 4 Border Collies, many medium sized cross-breeds and Corgies. Out of all the breeds I was especially impressed by the speed and enthusiasm of the Corgies. They are very popular agility dogs in Japan. The top Japanese Agility dog in my advanced class was a Border Collie and compared with English agility dogs he would rate as a very good Starter dog. The Japanese are somewhat overwhelmed but also fascinated by the speed of the Border Collie and I am sure by the time of my next visit the ownership of Border Collies will have increased as I have seen in so many other countries. The attitude of the Japanese towards their dogs, training and competing is excellent. They are extremely proud of their dogs and tend to overpraise them. It is very important to them that their dogs behave well and are socially acceptable. A badly beha.ved dog is an embarassment to them as the Japanese
people themselves are very polite and helpful people and in my dealing with them they never showed any negative emotions. Contrary to what I had expected they had a great sense of humour and the riotous laughter in the agility
field on top of the mountain drew spectators up from the valley. Out of the 30 participants there were only 5 men.

Teachers in Japan are treated like royalty and everything
was done for me and other than exorcising snakes and frogs I never had to lift a finger. Up there on the mountain the Japanese were still very much in awe of nature and evil spirits playa great role in everyday life. They hate rain and my judging appointment was nearly cancelled as the forecast was rain and they did not want to inflict such a plight on me. I said I was used to it! When we experienced a minor earthqu.ake one night (they are quite frequent in Japan) it took me a long time the next day to conjure up a happy atmosphere in the agility classes.

How long does it take to judge 115 dogs? In Japan all day! This is not due to an inefficient ring party but to the fact that each competitor enters the agility field ceremoniously on his own, bows profusely to the judge and then proceeds slowly to the start line! There is no queuing! The next competitor does not enter until the previous one has left! There were two manual timekeepers who were trying extremely hard to synchronise their times each time and to my
amazement succeeded more often than not. When judging a gamblers I found out the hard way that Japanese people
adjust only with great difficulty to change! They haq only ever done a Gamble where they send their dogs from behind a white line with the handler not allowed to move.

The schedule of work during the two weeks was punishing and finishing my last lesson at 50'clock I had half an hour. to pack, change and shower before departure. In the last de-briefing session I was therefore praying that not too
many of my pupils had questions to ask and in anticipation I had tried to cover most queries during the agility sessions. No hands went up and I nearly breathed a sigh of relief and headed with one foot to the door, when one elderly Shiba-Inu owner put up his hand and said he had just one question;" When was I corning back? II Because of the language problem and the extreme politeness of the Japanese people it had often been difficult for me to evaluate whether they had really enjoyed the lessons or were merely being polite. This gentleman's question had answered it all. It was; worthwhile trip and a tremendous experience even though never quite got the hang of the computerised toilet!

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