I have touched on this point before but, at last, the Agility Council is seeking to bring uniformity to the way a judge sets about deciding upon his course time. Since the sport started there has been confusion about this, yet I see that the Council is gradually coming round to what I tried to teach from the beginning.
For a long time many British judges preferred to just look at their course and place an arbitrary time on it. Needless to say that system was never going to result in consistency. However, it was okay when there was one ring and just one open (standard) type course. Sometimes the course time was too generous and no one had time faults. On the other hand there were odd times when no-one could beat the clock so all received time faults. Of course there were many occasions when the course time was about right. Briefings were a major part of the sport then for the rules were minimal and many things had to be explained at the obligatory chat before the class began. Course time was always one of those points.
I was never comfortable with this way of coming up with a course time and I suggested and indeed used a measuring wheel to find the actual length of my course. Some of the others laughed at this idea but how else could one be accurate? I measured from the centre of each obstacle in a straight line to the next as I could not see how one could guess the route handlers would choose for their dogs. They varied so much to me it made a mockery of choosing the likely route. It made for consistency of measuring if one measured in a straight line and then computed the course time with a number of yards or metres per second.
At the end of course building I would ask for the hurdles to be in the correct positions with the pole(s) left on the ground so the measuring wheel could traverse over them. For obstacles of greater length in the dog’s direction of travel and those such as tunnels I would measure beside them.
After a while I decided to work out my normal walking pace so I could just pace out a course. Therefore I correctly measured 100 metres and stuck in the ground two thin poles such a bamboo canes then walked at my normal comfortable walking pace. I tried to do this consistently and did so several times then took the average, but I was quite surprised just how close I was to the first attempt with each subsequent one. Then using a calculator determined that mine was .75 of a metre and for those still working in old money .86 of a yard.
Metres per second
I then made up a calculator card that on one side converted my number of paces to metres. That would give me a reading of what my normal pacing of my course would be in metres. For convenience I will suppose it is 150 meters. On the other side was a choice of metres per second and let’s say I chose three metres, at today’s recommendations that might have been a grade three agility course. Therefore my time was 50 seconds. If the answer was a fraction then it would have been rounded up or down to the nearest whole second. In those days there was no suggested number of metres per second issued by the KC but some of us judges of the day would often chat to each other about the subject.
When in 1986 I was tasked with teaching the first ten French judges how to judge, I taught them this method with a measuring wheel and agreed a table of numbers to describe metres per second for different levels of expertise, although it was still not mandatory in this country. The French rules became the FCI rules about a year later so that is the system all FCI signatory countries have adopted and, of course, the major championships under FCI jurisdiction use this system.
If asked to judge a major final where there is a tight time limit on building and walking the course then it will be necessary for a judge to practise setting up, and a method of accurately reproducing that course on the day must be found. In all probability there will be no time for finicky movement of obstacles let alone course measuring and calculating. This of course is where the practise comes in.
I note that the council are considering the two possible methods of measuring the course. The centre of obstacle to obstacle and the dogs’ likely route. No final decision has been made but it seems there is a majority on the Council for the latter method. I would ask them to think again for you cannot allow for highly different routes taken by beginners and the extreme top handlers. Then in the middle range there can be wild variations of route. Centre to centre is the only near accurate method to cover all. The FCI use likely route but only because the French decided that was what they wanted, but they are a nation that often takes a different route than others.
Removing the table
Still on Council business I see that there is discussion again about taking the table out of the regulations on the grounds of health and safety as it is rarely used. Accordingly it is claimed that when it is used dogs are not accustomed to it and make mistakes. I would ask that if one only rarely, or never, practised a hurdle whether that would become a health and safety issue. Come on, it is easy to get rid of obstacles a few do not want to practise. It might be much harder to bring them back. The only reason the table was taken out was because of counting the five seconds accurately. Not health and safety. The original tyre was fine for very many years until other tyres very different from the original were starting to be used for practise. Soon dogs had become unused to the old tyre and, in some cases only, came up against it in the ring. Health and safety was quoted again and out went the original tyre.
Agility Council take your lead from working trials and how they have vehemently resisted the lobby to get rid of the scale jump for years. So far they have always been successful as it is such an integral part of their sport. For agility, so is the table but no one is forced to use it.