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John Gilbert: An Appreciation

A memorial for the great John Gilbert.


Anyone who is involved with agility owes a debt to John Gilbert for his contribution to starting and growing the sport. John was one of the competitors who first demonstrated agility during an exposition at the 1978 Crufts dog show. He helped to create the rules for agility competition that were used up until the time the UK Kennel Club took over the sport with a set of officially sanctioned rules and regulations in 1980.

John was a founding member of the Agility Club in 1983, the first national agility club in the United Kingdom, and became editor of their magazine, Agility Voice, in November 1984. Agility Voice was the first agility magazine and his influence on the magazine is evidenced today by the many people who still read it today.

Along with Peter Lewis, John Gilbert actively traveled throughout Europe to promote agility. They helped competitors to develop judging seminars, handling and training classes, and learning the rules of competition. Because of their work, agility rules and regulations are fairly similar internationally. 

John wrote, with Peter Lewis, the very first agility manual, "Teaching Agility," in 1994. John spent many years as an agility instructor beginning in the early 1980's. He ran a club, Faldo, in Bedfordshire, and in 1993, he joined the Kennel Club. He was an active member of many committees and played an influential role in representing the South East region on the Agility Liaison Committee and serving on the Activities Committee.

His expertise and enthusiasm for the sport led to his assisting Dave Ray in running the Olympia Agility Stakes. His work was invaluable and Dave Ray reminisced that, "It was a sad day for me when he decided he would retire from Olympia."

John exemplified a true volunteering spirit through his life. He was the Chief Agility Steward at Crufts for many years and he went above and beyond in his role, not only managing the ring but also organizing competitors, the ring party and presentations. He was known for being a great diplomat and event manager and his presence led to growing agility from an initial demo event for entertainment to an integral part of the Crufts competition. His influence on events extended to stewarding Discover Dogs which became a Kennel Club flagship event. He also managed the new European Open Agility Squad in 2008 which was the team from the United Kingdom to compete in the event.

John's professionalism was well known and he lived by the mantra that "good judges should dress like they have some authority." He had a reputation for always being the best dressed person at any event. Between his professional behavior, exemplary judging skills and excellent course design, it was no wonder he was a judge at all of the major events in the United Kingdom, two times at Crufts and three times at Olympia. He served as a judge and an agility coach in 22 other countries during his lifetime.

USDAA's Ken Tatsch reminisced about his experiences with John: "I first met John when I attended the Agility Club of Great Britain Judging Clinic around 1990. He was one of the principal instructors, along with Peter Lewis. The two at times seemed inseparable in their quest to grow dog agility. We often visited when I traveled to seminars or to events in the U.K. throughout the 1990's, and Peter and John were regular guests in the United States, judging for us at Fair Hill, Maryland for the Steeplechase and Team championships, and to conduct one week training camps in other years. John was always energetic, inquisitive, generous in sharing his knowledge, and a lot of fun to work with. The dog agility world owes a great deal of gratitude for his contributions in helping the sport to develop and grow."  

In addition to his work with agility, John played a role in helping trainer Mary Ray to create the new sport of Canine Heelwork to Music in 1990.

As a competitor, it is believed that he is the longest standing agility competitor in the world. He qualified the first time in 1979 with his beloved German Shepherd Dog Becky and continued competing until this year with his Bearded Collie Buffy.

It is with great sadness that we announce his passing and we will miss his presence in the sport. But he no doubt played an inestimable role in the formation and advancement of the sport and our gratitude for his efforts cannot be measured.

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