For years, agility contact obstacles have relied on slats and texture (usually sand-filled paint) to provide the dogs with the necessary traction to perform the obstacles safely. Now, however, thanks mostly to European innovation, we are gradually making a switch to rubberized equipment. This offers two significant improvements: safer equipment for the dogs, and longer-lasting equipment for the humans.
After considerable experimentation on both sides of the pond, most agility clubs have settled on a rubber pellet coating, similar to that found on athletic tracks. Early efforts involved slathering the equipment with binder or contact cement, and then pressing the pellets directly onto the surface. This method is difficult, messy, and most importantly, has not withstood the test of time. Because the pellets are not evenly coated with goop, they tend to shed, resulting in uneven coverage and bare spots.
Fortunately, Darlene Woz, an enthusiastic competitor and former judge, decided to investigate a better way. She learned about the wet-pour method that is used for the athletic tracks, and adapted it for agility equipment through an extensive process of trial-and-error and testing. This method involves mixing the rubber with the binder, then pressing it into shape on a flat surface and letting it cure into a skin. The skin is then affixed to the equipment with contact cement. Because the rubber pellets are evenly coated with binder, there is no shedding and the resulting skin is very consistent.
Darlene then took it one step farther and made her process completely accessible to the average person. First, she wrote “Making Rubber Skins for Agility Equipment“, an amazing booklet that directs the Do-It-Yourselfer through the process with extraordinary detail. And when she makes an improvement or adjustment, she publishes updates. Next, she began packaging the pellets and binder in pre-measured kits for each piece of equipment. This takes away the burden of buying too many pellets or too much binder, which are both only available in bulk. And finally, for those who have more money than time or space, she sells completed skins (slatted or slatless), ready for installation on a properly-prepared piece of equipment.
More details are available at her website, Rubber on the Run, where you can purchase the books, kits and skins. Her products are also sold by Clean Run, who will send free samples on request. The rubber is available in a spectacular array of colors – something for every backyard decor.
Coming up next – my first attempt at making some skins in the garage.