The agility season begins!

It is usually around this time of year that agility competitions really start to kick off again…I like to give my dogs a total break from agility for 3 months over winter… This is a personal decision but for me, I feel they work incredibly hard for the entire summer, competing and training and thus they both mentally and physically deserve some time to just ‘be dogs’. Then, around Easter time each year, the sun starts shining, the clocks change (although that means an hour less in bed!) and we all start coming out of our winter hibernation to compete once more. Juno and Rumer win

So this weekend Emily Crookes (our agility trainer) and I headed off to our first competition of 2017! The dogs worked brilliantly all day, with all of them putting in some lovely bits in each of their runs. However, the ‘puppies’ (still called the puppies despite being nearly 4!) both managed clear rounds and indeed won their classes! Rumer won two Grade 5 runs and Juno won a Grade 3 jumping… Clever girls!

We also couldn’t resist a photo of the Zipper and Lexie doing their best sad faces! Zipper and Lex Funny

Last summer The Kennel Club introduced two rule changes. One was to increase the minimum distance between obstacles to 5m as opposed to 3.6m as it was previously. You can read the research that was conducted on this here (for large dogs) and here (for small and medium dogs). The other was to introduce a Lower Height Option (LHO) meaning that owners could compete their dogs at the Full Height Option or the LHO.

As with anything when you get lots of competitors, these rule changes have been loved by some and hated by others. For me though it is simple – I LOVE THEM! The extended distance lets dogs really open up and the the LHO gives owners the freedom to choose what is best for their dog. For me, with a small, slightly worried ‘large’ dog it makes so much difference. Juno, the small collie, loves jumping at the LHO, she extends beautifully over jumps and is much more motivated to fly around a course. This option also means that owners with beginner dogs, short legged dogs, little dogs, slightly older dogs etc. can compete with their dogs.

Whilst some will argue that others use the LHO as an advantage to go faster and win the class (indeed the higher the hurdle the slower dogs jump – Read more on that here), I think we should be more simplistic with our thoughts. I mean really, does it matter that much?! Our dogs are doing agility, its meant to be a fun hobby!* So, if a rule change means that for some owners and dogs its the difference between competing and having a great time or not, then surely that’s a good thing? No one cries merry hell when a dog wins a small class compared to a big one (it can be the difference between competing against either 20 dogs or 250 dogs) but yet this LHO has really caused arguments. Its bizarre how incredibly emotive this subject is – sometimes I feel we aren’t seeing the wood for the trees….

* I put this in here as I think as agility competitors we really need to think about this… Is agility a sport? Or is agility a hobby? Now, I love running and do it a lot (actually I lie, I run so I can eat cake) but I am aware of my own limitations. I’m never going to be an elite marathon runner, but that doesn’t mean I can’t run a marathon. So with our dogs, should we be testing them more to select the elite from the masses or are we doing things perfectly… We never change jump height, yet this would be a great test of ability and indeed dogs are excellent jumpers (way better than horses!) and we never now ask dogs to do a bounce stride. Yet bounce strides are an excellent test of ability – Can the dog extend and collect their strides as needed? The only way we test our dogs is by course design. Then you could argue its more down to handler ability than the dogs ability. It is amazing how popular agility has become – and trust me, it is totally addictive and an awesome way to spend summer weekends but I do find myself wondering where it is heading… Dogs are getting faster and tighter as training gets better and better, but this is leading to a greater numbers of dogs being in Grade 7 with really, nowhere to go after that….

Crufts

Peggy in seaLast week some of the team from NTU Canine Centre spent the day at Crufts. If you’ve never been before you really must check it out – everything you have ever imagined for your dog is there! Be that diamond encrusted scissors, miniature leather sofas or brilliant dog toys/beds/ collars and so on. It isn’t just about shopping though… There are so many experts from the different canine fields that you can’t help but learn lots too. The KC do so much work to promote responsible dog ownership and to really make a difference to dogs. Indeed, this is what our Partnership with The KC is all about… How we can help make a difference to dogs and owners everywhere and promote kind, fair and ethical training.

Emily and Lex CruftsThis year was extra special as Emily Crookes (who teaches our agility classes here) was competing with her dog Lexie in the Obedience Ring. Emily came 2nd – seriously impressive when A) they only started competing this winter and B) Emily trains herself – and her team won the inter regional competition!

Ru and JuneAs an agility fan, the icing on the Crufts cake had to be the top level agility. It never fails to inspire me! The partnership between handlers and their dog is amazing – they make it look like poetry in motion (in my mind this is how I look when I am running my two at agility – in reality it was likened recently to a beginner rider buying a £20k horse and hoping for the best on a cross country course!). But what I love most about dog training is the journey. Its not about the winning really – its about the journey that gets you to where you want to be. Our journey with our dog is totally unique and for me it’s what keeps me wanting to learn more. Adapting what we do to help make things clearer for out dogs. One of the handlers in the Champ Final on Sunday evening started off only a few years ago in Grade One (indeed that is where we all start) but when you think of the journey he has gone on (in really what is such a short space of time) with his dogs it’s incredible.
Jimmy first birthdayWe don’t always have to be at the very top in our field, but we can always be the best we can be for our dogs. I think that is all our dogs would ever ask of us. When I think back to advise I was given when we got our first family dog, a delightfully naughty rescue, I realise just how much I have learnt over the years. Indeed, it was the advise of a stranger (and it wasn’t good advise) that made me want to find something different – a better way of training. I joined my first training club shortly after that and I never looked back!

This is why I feel so passionately about ensuring that everyone has the option to attend ethical, humane and indeed fun dog training classes. Sadly, a recent TV show, aired just before the Crufts final, used outdated, unethical techniques that only scare dogs. The worrying part is how much impact TV programmes can have on the dog owning public.

Me and ZipperI know I  harp on about it a lot but this is why humane education is so very important. We need to lead by example – its not about shaming those who do things differently but instead about encouraging everyone to use kind, fair and ethical dog training.  You and your dog will have so much fun on the journey and the results make every single moment worth it.

What began as a short blog about Crufts has turned into a longer more thoughtful one… So ask yourself, what is your reason for having a dog? All four