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30 Years of Dog Agility Part 3

The end of Ken's story about his experiences in England celebrating agility's past and describing it's history.

(Click here for part 1 and part 2 of this story.)

In 1977, the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire clubs, by invitation only, began their training for the 1978 Crufts Dog Show competition. Peter Meanwell's club took the lead, building the obstacles to be used at the show and coordinating the effort.  The two teams each built their own obstacles and held practices, and each went to the other to cross-train on the other's obstacles. Being afraid of indoor acoustics and flooring, they even held some sessions indoors in a local arena to acclimate the dogs to the sounds of an indoor environment. Interestingly, they all viewed this not as the start of agility, but as a special exhibition. Their goal was to have the best exhibition possible. A common statement by former team members was that they assumed it would happen a year or two and disappear and they would return to their first love - working trials.  

Despite fate stepping in, most of those on the teams that competed at Crufts in 1978 spent no more than a few years with agility and as it caught on, they dropped out and focused solely on obedience and/or working trials. Some expressed that it quickly became competitive and they found they preferred the more relaxed atmosphere of obedience and working trials. I found them each pleased to be invited to be recognized, and most of them were quite humble and simply proud to have been part of history.

The Crufts 1978 exhibition attracted attention and was repeated in future years. The sport gained popularity rapidly and other clubs wanted to get involved, doing exhibitions at various venues around the country.  Some felt that Chum Dog Food (today known as Pedigree) was a major contributor to the sport's rapid growth and longevity because they sponsored high-profile exhibitions and events following the first Crufts show, including the Olympia International Horse Show where the sport received BBC coverage. Pedigree helped to orchestrate a series of qualifying events at agricultural fairs and other public venues, providing the necessary impetus for growth. 

The history branches into many directions at that point, including adoption of the sport by the Kennel Club and the spread into Europe, North America, and other continents. A major contributor to the continued growth and spread of dog agility internationally were founders of the Agility Club of Great Britain, headed by Peter Lewis, John Gilbert, and others.  In the 1980s, their contributions in education, communication, and training proved invaluable in helping the sport to remain intact as it expanded. People traveled from around the world to attend their residency seminars at the Royal Veterinary College in Cambridge, on the north side of London. It was through these seminars that USDAA developed its first long-standing relationships with people from around the world. 

Pedigree Chum also contributed to spreading agility in the United States, because an executive and retired breeder services manager from the U.K. were on loan to their sister company in the U.S. (known as Kal Kan then) when USDAA first performed a competition under British standards in Houston Texas at a Kal Kan sponsored kennel club in 1987. This led to sponsorship of USDAA and the creation of the Grand Prix of Dog Agility tournament series sponsored by Kal Kan in 1988, and history was soon to repeat itself in America. 

So who invented agility? After weighing the various recounts of history, it would appear that posted accounts are fair and accurate. Peter Meanwell deserves principal credit as being the lead architect, mover, and shaker. It is clear that he had the leadership and following to accomplish the goals. That is not to deny that others had their input, and certainly members of the two first teams from Lincolnshire and Yorkshire - Stuart Gillam, Kevin Foster, Gerald Fox, Don Horsfall, Fred Welham, Trevor Jones, Jane Aldred, Brenda Lambert, Liz Hancock, Peter Meanwell, and their "manager" Albert Davies - deserve some credit. Had it not been for their devotion and commitment to excellence, it could have been a one-shot exhibition in 1978.  But through their performances, they aroused others and motivated them to continue.  Those within the Lincolnshire team and possibly the Yorkshire team who conducted previous working trials, exhibitions, and specialty drills at police and agricultural fairs may well deserve some credit. Just who played a role in what is what urban legends are made of, and the unheralded innovators of dog agility will forever become folklore.

2007 Awards Presentation at Lincolnshire 30-Year Celebration event. John Haynes, Chairman, Lincolnshire GSD and All Breeds Training Society with USDAA President Kenneth Tatsch.

Below, the original 1978 Cruft Dog Show competition teams from Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.




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