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Course Design Safety Concerns

It is refreshing to see more and more handlers speaking out about safety of agility equipment and surfaces. Many improvements have been made in the last couple of years and I see more on the horizon. Safety issues in course design are somewhat more difficult to address than equipment design. Why do courses with safety problems still find their way onto the field? Certain design elements have been associated with increased potential for injury and I feel its is the judge’s responsibility to know what those are and avoid them. But, it is impossible to accurately predict everything that might happen on a given course, so accidents may still occur. What I don’t understand is judges that purposely design courses knowing there are safety issues. A couple of months back there was a discussion somewhere on about poor contact approaches and, as usual, this argument came up:

“It’s the handler’s choice how to send the dog to the obstacle.”

Yes, it is. But every time I hear this I have to wonder what sort of judge it takes to have this attitude and knowingly design a course with bad approaches to contacts. Does such a judge enjoy watching dogs fall off the dogwalk because their handlers made the wrong choice? Plus, many times it is not simply the handler’s choice; many times the course design gives you no options other than not to run (in which case it seems that a refund should be in order?)

Jenny Damm makes several good points in this blog post:
Thoughts About Course Design

She says “Whatever side you turned your dog over the jump before DW it was a really bad approach. Several dogs fell off or crawled up. Ok, you could push the dog out in a bigger, time consuming circle to get it straight on and in that way also put your self in a bad position for the coming sequence after the DW. But, is that really the point of our sport?! To make extra turns and plan to help the dog and avoid injuries around the course?”

Yes, as a handler I can choose how to send my dog to an obstacle (sometimes we do make mistakes…). Usually I DO choose what I deem to be the safest route even though it clearly is not the fastest or the most strategic for the next sequence. But I agree with Jenny, is this the point of our sport?

I thought the goal in dog agility was to have clean runs with the fastest time we can achieve based on our skills, not on how much we risk [of injury] we choose to take?