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Equipment Safety Concerns

I don’t post unless I feel I have something worthwhile to say. Well, I think this is an important topic. I’m writing this blog in response to the excellent podcast posted yesterday by Daisy Peel. You can listen to it at www.daisypeel.com. The topic was equipment safety. Daisy made many excellent points, which I would like to reiterate, and I’d also like to add a few of my own. Whenever safety issues are discussed, the most common arguments against making changes to improve safety are that “its a training issue” (that is, its the dog/handler’s problem) or “it will be too expensive to make these improvements”. My take on it:

1) Most organizations that sanction trials state that safety is a prime concern. I intepret this to mean that equipment will¬†be safe, running surfaces will be safe, course designs will be safe. When I send in my entry fees, I do have a certain level of expectation that every effort has been made to assure safety. Of course, as a handler, I do strive to be sure my dog is safe. However, I should not have to sacrifice performance in order to achieve that safety, nor can I expect to always be the perfect handler. For example, I should not have to shape my dog’s approach to a contact because 1) the course design was extremely poor or 2) the surface of the equipment was slick and dangerous.

2) If I am not familiar with the venue or equipment to be used, I have no problem writing to ask what the club will be using. I will choose not to attend if I don’t like the answer and I let the club know the reason why. It takes a while, but eventually clubs realize that they could afford to make things safer with the entry fees that are lost when competitors choose to go elsewhere. There was resistance to electronic timing, rubberized contacts, 24″ poles etc, but eventually changes were made.

Jumps
The first thing Daisy talked about was safety of the jumps. I most certainly agree that protruding jump cups, no matter what the material, are a potential hazard to the dog as he jumps (of course metal is the absolute worst!). Because course design challenges have continued to evolve, dogs are now being asked to slice jumps at all angles, approach jumps from the backside (resulting in minimal visibility of the actual jump) and are encouraged to wrap jumps very tightly. If so, both ends of the dog are at risk when jump cups stick out (or worse yet, metal extensions protrude above the jump cups). The dog’s eyes, face, shoulders and stifles (rear legs) are the areas of the body most likely to be injured by protruding cups. The changes in course design have increased the potential for injury because we have improved our dogs’ performances on courses requiring our dogs to slice to and wrap. So, is this a “training issue”? Change the performance or change the equipment? To me the answer is obvious.

Daisy brought up many good points about how to decrease the danger of jump cups.¬† Using 5′ bars will help decrease the risk of collision of a dog with an upright. In my opinion, the most important point Daisy made was that using a single cup on each upright, rather than multiple, is one of the best ways to improve safety. Single cups are the least likely to cause injury because nothing protrudes from the upright above the bar. If multiple cups are used, it is better if they are 2 inch spacing rather than 4 inch or 6 inch spacing as some jumps may have. The reason is twofold: the more cups there are, the more visible they are. In addition, the more cups there are, the more likely impact will be distributed over a wider area instead of concentrated on one point. Whether individual cups or cup strips are used, using a color that contrasts with the upright will help to increase visibility.

Visibility is a point Daisy did not talk about. Contrast between the upright and the running surface, as well as between the cups and the upright, improves visibility. Visibility is necessary for the dog to assess the task being asked of him. Although less important from a safety aspect, note that in some venues the jump bars are required to be striped. This of course increases visibility against a background that may be the same color. In my area, often the jump bar used at the top of the 26″ panel is white with no striping (or pale yellow striping). Those white bars should be striped because they are very difficult for the dogs to see when there is a white wall in the background (and indeed the rules require them to be).

As Daisy mentioned, it is not desirable for jumps to have a crosspiece that connects the two uprights (or wings). This makes the uprights nearly non displaceable. As we all know, dogs make mistakes and they hit uprights as well as bars. If we require displaceable bars, it just makes sense to require displaceable uprights. Jump wings should not be constructed so that the dog is confused about what part is the actual jump. Wings should not have predominantly horizontal components that resemble bars or planks, nor should there be large gaps or holes that a dog could fit through. This is often seen with manufactured spread jumps. I’ve seen dogs jump through the metal end piece that connects the two uprights of the spread. This could result in serious injury.
I don’t understand why metal is used for any jump component these days, but I am really befuddled as to why metal would be the material of choice for wall jumps and broad jumps. There are lightweight, durable materials out there that can be used for these obstacles.
Note: It was refreshing to attend the USDAA Cynosports World Games this year and not witness one single tire crash. :)

Tunnels
Many improvements have been made to tunnel holders over the years. Regardless of what type are used, it is important that enough are used to keep the tunnel in position and shape retained. This is particularly important in situations where the approach to another obstacle may be altered. One consideration with tunnels themselves is that occasionally the stitching comes unraveled. If dogs are exiting the tunnel slowly, definitely check inside because I’ve seen threads hanging loose from the top of the inside of a tunnel dangle down so that they hit the dog at eye level, or sometimes below the neck (possibly not breaking as the dog passes through). Loose threads on the bottom can injure toes.

Rubberized Contacts
The reason to rubberize contacts is to improve traction. Granulated rubber has porosity and texture. If you smooth out the surface or paint it, those qualities are lost.
Enough said.

Feel free to voice your opinion about equipment safety. This sport is still evolving and we should always be looking for ways to improve it and make it safer.

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