It was three years ago when I last went to judge and teach for the Dogdance Italia group. The sport was in its infancy stages then, so I was looking forward to seeing how the sport was progressing. Also, it was good to meet up with the organisers Paola and Jackie who always guarantee me a good time while I am in their country.
After a flight from Luton I was met at the airport and taken to my Hotel in Milan which was to be my base for the next four days. The location of the competition was just outside Milan at a sports centre. This place was an ideal location for a competition with plenty of room for the ring, competitors and audience. On the first day the organisers always put on the fun classes where the handlers can use toys and treats in the ring when they work their dog. This is an excellent way for handlers to have a go at doing a routine in a competition situation, as they have the security of food if they need to use it.
The beginner’s class kicked off the day and of course some teams were a little nervous about entering the ring. The main problems were the dogs getting distracted by the people on the outside of the ring and handlers using the treats as a lure rather than rewarding the dog for a move that had been completed. Both these problems I noted down as following the two day competition I would be teaching a group for two days.
The next class was a trio class which means two dogs and one handler. I recognised a couple of handlers from last time I was judging and they had come up with some nice innovative moves using their two dogs. Following this there was a couple of dogs in the heelwork to music class. HTM has only recently been introduced to Italy as they have been focusing on freestyle. The two teams did a good job for beginners in this division and both have a good base to work from to improve their routines.
After a short break it was back in the judge’s chair for the open class. Although I was the judge for the day I was not giving scores. The organisers required me to give some comments on what was good and what could be improved in the routines. This is similar to the training shows in the UK where the teams get feedback from others on their performance in the ring.
The open class was mixed but there were some promising teams performing. One lady had two Bernese Mountain Dogs, not the easiest breed to train and motivate but both these super dogs were a joy to watch. The handler who is new to dog sports had super timing and had used the natural moves of the dog, such as high trotting, to her advantage. The focus of both dogs was great and their attitude to the work was fantastic.
The day ended with a nice meal in a local restaurant before I retired to my hotel to prepare for the next day’s official competition. The rules/marking for this event were different in some areas compared to the UK rules. Firstly there are only two sections to mark but each section had a total of one hundred points. There are also other deductions that can be made unlike the UK where the only mark that can be deducted from the whole score is for barking.
The names of the different levels are not the same as the UK but class one was basically the starters class. The system that the Italians use allows handlers to stay in a lower class until they have won a certain amount of moving up points. If a team scores over 139 points out of 200 then they will achieve a moving up point and when they have five points they have to move up into the next class.
The first class was the biggest of the day and although there was a good amount of Border Collies there were also various mixed breeds plus a Rottie and Jack Russell. One handler Liliana Ferrara Bruno had three dogs in the class so stood a good chance of making the top places. Liliana I remembered from last time I was judging in Italy as she is a dancer so her movements are very rhythmical. Her golden coloured mixed breed was the first to set the standard with some nice flowing sequences around the ring. There was some good use of the phrasing of the music but the only aspect that distracted from the picture was the handler holding her hands in such a way to pretend to have food. On the previous day I had commented to this handler that the luring she was doing with the dogs did not help them learn the moves and that the dogs should really be doing a move or sequence then produce the rewards.
It was a Border Collie Dana and her handler which were the next to stand out. There was no mistaking their theme as the handler was dressed as a belly dancer. The white costume showed up the dark Border Collie well and there was a good amount of content from this team. The musical interpretation was good but it could be smoothed out and perhaps a little more confidence from the handler might present a better picture.
A close run thing
One of the last few to work was Liliana and her Border Collie Zorba who were performing to a Greek piece of music. Lilliana was dressed in white and being a dancer she was able to carry off the Greek dance moves well. Sometimes I felt over the weekend that the dance moves from this handler could distract from the dog as sometimes the dog was not as good as her dance movements. Zorba her Border Collie was the one which came close to matching this lady’s dance movements. A nice flowing routine which did have good content but perhaps it excelled more in the choreography and interpretation of the music. For me it was a close run thing between Dana and Zorba as one was good on the technical side while the other was good on the artistic side. As there were four judges it meant that it would be very much dependent on what they thought. In the end Zorba achieved the win with Dana in second place.
The next class was more of an intermediate type class where there was a very clear winner. As I mentioned earlier I was impressed by a lady with her Bernese Mountain Dog on the first day. In the competition she was working her older dog Cora to the Disney track Aladdin. This team looked good but perhaps the dog was a little jaded from the routines the day before as it just lacked that little sparkle that it had the day before during the fun classes. The routine though was flowing and good enough to easily win the class.
So with the competition over early there was time for a little bit of sightseeing around Lake Como and an early evening pizza before getting an early night as I had two days of teaching ahead.
The two day workshop allowed me to focus on many of the problems I had seen at the competition. It was hard work in the heat but the group were very eager to learn and we covered a lot of topics over the two days.
So that was my third trip to Italy and I have to thank the organiser Paola for making it such an enjoyable experience again.