a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Slaving Away For Fun And Profit

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Slaving Away For Fun And Profit

SUMMARY: Working at agility trials.
The Saturday of my first-ever agility trial dawned with pouring rain. The trail was under cover, but the cover had no walls, and we slogged through boot-eating mud to get anywhere. I was cold, wet, exhausted, miserable, and my classmate (Rachel Sanders), who was in charge of workers, had the nerve to assign me to work setting jump poles.

I was deeply resentful. I didn't want to be away from my dog. I was tired, wet, and muddy. I hadn't volunteered. And yet, despite all my internal whining, my internals also knew that *someone* had to set poles and most likely everyone else was tired, wet, and muddy and didn't want to be away from their dogs. So--for one, single, solitary class, I sat in a chair inside the ring and set poles.

And discovered that it was no big deal at all. Plus, I got to just sit, with no other obligations, and rest, and relax, and dry out, and watch other dogs and people run, which would've been hard to do if I hadn't been in that chair. And that put an end to my resistance to working at a trial.

In recent years, I have settled into being a score table czar. That means being responsible for the score table from set-up to tear-down, ensuring that all the paperwork is correct for every class, training and monitoring workers, resolving issues with scribe sheets or scribes, figuring out why we're short one dog's score in a 100-dog class, checking and double-checking addition and multiplication and placements and super-Qs, answering people's questions, posting scores in a timely manner--and it doesn't matter whether we're doing it on computers or on paper.

I like it because I can get up and go away when I need to.

Back when I started agility (how long ago was that? We had to carve our own obstacles out of stone. And run dire wolves. You think YOUR dog plays a tough game of tug?!), people volunteered because the trial didn't happen unless people volunteered, and there were few enough folks that it was obvious that everyone had to take a turn. I think that we've always had free lunches for workers, but that was it.

Nowadays, workers get tickets for raffle entries, and reductions in entry fees for some jobs. Wimps! (Not that I turn down the raffle entries or the entry fee reductions. If they help me to do more agility, well, anything to feed the addiction.)

Still, I'd work at a trial anyway. Because, yah, it still takes people volunteering to make things work. Plus, it gives me something to do when I'm not running my dog. Because otherwise I'd be working anyway, like-- sitting in the bleachers taking notes about people's runs--

or wandering around taking photos of people--

And, really, I have PLENTY of photos that need sorting already, thanks very much. So it's better for my idle hands to be busy doing something constructive.

If I'm not at the score table, it's often hard for the crew chiefs to assign me to anything, because I always seem to have dogs in different groups. Back when I had a 22" and a 26", they often lumped the 26" dogs with the small dogs (because 22" are such a massive object). With one dog now in Championship and one in Performance, they often walk (and run) in successive groups rather than the same group. And, of course, as boost was working through starters and open, those schedules were completely independent of masters, so my schedule was all over the place.

But that doesn't stop me from TRYING to work, to make the trial go faster, to make things run smoothly, to help the judges have a good experience and want to come back, to enable a great day for my fellow entrants. There's always so much to do--find equipment, pick things up, set up or rearrange shade for the ring workers, help build a course even if it's just to make sure all the jumps have enough bars, set bars if even for half a class (when they're yelling for help, they're often delighted to get someone who can do it for half the time--much better than having no one at all).

(Photo borrowed from Team Small Dog--it's pretty chaotic at the score table, too.)

My biggest challenge in setting bars these days is that I don't do it often any more, so I'll be sitting there watching, and a bar goes down, and the judge has to reset it, and I think, "Tsk, what a shame that the judge has to set her own bars; where are the pole setters anyway?" followed by a sudden realization... oops... but at least I'm trying! In fact, I'll even set bars if I find myself hanging outside the ring waiting for my run (and don't have my dog out yet), I'll run into the ring to help set poles, EVEN IF (gasp!) I don't get raffle tickets or any other reward for doing it! Can you IMAGINE?!

Don't think that setting poles is the only day-of job I've done. I've also timed, scribed, run scribe sheets, run leashes, been gate steward. All of them, many times. Sometimes I make mistakes. It happens. We're not professionals. And you learn a lot from doing any of the jobs:

  • Gate steward isn't for everyone--you have to be willing to yell, you have to keep an eye on the dog currently in the ring and be bold enough to tell the next person to get into the ring, and you have to do at least a marginal job of keeping track of the next 3 to 5 dogs. On the plus side--and this was big for me--you get to know more dog and people names--and actually associate them with faces--than from any other way possible.
  • Scribe isn't for everyone, although jumpers and standard are pretty simple and almost anyone can do them easily--watch the judge and write the R, S, or E on the scribe sheet based on the judge's hand signal. Even though you're watching the judge, you still see enough of what the dogs are doing to learn a lot about what makes a refusal or runout or standard course fault. Snooker and Gamblers are a bit more difficult because you have to hear the numbers that the judge calls and not leave any out. But still, mostly, that's not too hard.
  • Timing has become really really simple with electronic timing. Not to say that things can't go wrong or that you won't miss something, but basically it's: make sure the clock starts, make sure the clock stops.
  • Run leashes, reset the chute: Trivial but hard to do for a long time if you've got problem knees or back. Which I do. But i can still do those for a while without ill effect.
And, yes, I've also done almost all the Committee jobs, too. I figure if everyone does a couple of committee jobs ever in their life, we'll have it all covered. I've been:
  • trial chair or cochair (3? 4? 5? times)--Depends on the trial and your available committee, but it can be fairly easy or it can be difficult. Big up sides: You get to pick the classes that you want to offer, and if you've done your job well before the trial, you have to do almost nothing AT the trial.
  • Co-secretary (3? 4? dunno times)--In fact, I rather liked this, but my schedule didn't always fit well with the large number of hours required in the couple of weeks right before a trial.
  • worker scheduler (couple of times)--We've had one or two people take this on and always do it for several years, so I haven't tried it recently. Plus now we usually try to get full-timers to fill the key ring positions (scribe, timer, gate) and take the other people by whiteboard signup.
  • crew chief (several times--not my favorite because I think of it as a "people" job and I'd rather work with inanimate objects)
  • chief course builder (kind of fun, but I feel weird doing it with a bad back because I can't actually lift anything heavier than a jump). You definitely have to know some things about how and where to put equipment--like which part of the table should face the dog's incoming path, and what kind of triples are legal--but you can ask any good chief course builder to teach you that stuff while you're helping to set courses and learn it pretty quickly.
But, mostly, trial chair willing and if I speak up soon enough, you'll find me at the score table. Down side: I get to chat with other people at the score table a little, but not with anyone else at the trial. Definitely limits my social activities. But still, rain or shine, heat or cold, wind or calm, light or dark in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer...doesn't matter what job, but working: there I am.

(Photo credits, I think in order--Rich Deppe, Barbara Snarr, Barbara Jones, Amy Hanridge (with my other camera), Barbara Snarr, Laura Hartwick, unknown (my camera), Jean Danver.)


  1. I love how people over the years have settled into their favorite jobs...great post!

  2. I love the score table, that's my favorite job. But these days with electronic scoring and 1 ring trials there isn't a lot of demand so it's a hard gig to get. Timing is not always so easy for Gamblers and Snooker. Not only is there the manual start but you have to know how to re-set the horns for each height. And I find myself daydreaming and missing bars while jump setting too. SO embarrassing when people start yelling my name to bring me out of my stupor.

  3. Resetting the timer: We have someone knowledgable set up all the times before the class starts and write down exactly what buttons need to be pushed and when. Makes it a lot easier to fill the timer position.

  4. Wow, you certainly have been there and back when it comes to agility volunteering! Working the score table intrigues me and is another job I haven't been involved with. Usually it tends to be the same score table people at the trials I go to, so it's not a position they often need "outside" help with. And yeah I have to admit I'm a wee bit scared of electronic timers! Anyway, fun post, loved all those photos!

  5. We have the same core group you'll see over and over working at the score tables. But there are lots of times when one or both or all of us are busy. If you're really interested, try dropping in sometime when there's only one person there and say you're willing to learn and would like to help. Some people are more willing than others to get new people involved, but can't hurt to ask. Especially if you know any of them.

  6. They're lucky to have you!