As the new year has begun and the season of agility is upon us, I’ve finally decided to sit down and actually add to the blog section of this website. My aim is to track the training of myself and of the dogs in the build up to Crufts, and then beyond into the competition period, hopefully dropping some nuggets of agility wisdom along the way so you actually have a reason to come back – free training advice is free training advice after all, so take it where you can.
This week, I’ve decided to do somewhat of a warm-up piece, before the real countdown to Crufts is on, and I’ll start by introducing the dogs.
Currently in rotation I have Lexia, Meg and Kona. As most of you will know, Lexi is my own border collie, who was my sixteenth birthday/christmas present, competing at grade 7 (now intermediate) and heading towards the Large Teams and British Open on the first day of Crufts 2020. Meg and Kona are my collies on loan from Leslie Woods; Meg being the baby of the group, not quite at competition age, and Kona working at grade 7 medium.
Meg is on rest this week after her spay, but Lexi and Kona have Kelluki this weekend, so I’m sure they’ll be thrown straight back in at the deep-end after their winter break.
Let’s set the scene a little bit. Currently, I’m in my final year at the University of Southampton, completing my history degree, with the dreaded dissertation now looming, ominously in the near distance. While these coming months may be harder than the average, I am not unfamiliar with balancing education and agility, the past six years having been all go from GCSEs, through to A-Levels, and then finally university. This has given me a very niche window of opportunity in which to train, amounting to about one hour per dog on a Tuesday afternoon, when I commute to Pachesham in order to teach. I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever about this schedule, but with Crufts coming, this amounts to about 8 weeks of one hour slots in which to get Lexia up to standard – but that’s a problem for next week. Like I said, this is an introduction.
There are many kinds of dog in agility and, at some point or another, if you’re like me and my family who always have at least one competition level dog between us, you may get an opportunity to experience all the joyous and not so joyous traits they have to offer. I have had the pleasure of experiencing incredibly talented dogs, who won me multiple junior titles when I was younger, as well as dogs that have left me abandoned in the middle of the ring to go and do whatever it is they think is more interesting, and some dogs that fall into the middle; well behaved when they wish, but just devious enough to keep you on your toes.
The three girls who I work with at the moment are no different.
Meg: While I have now taught many people in the new, refined ways of agility, Meg is the first dog that I’ve been able to try them out on myself. I’d say the progression in language and technique that you can now see in agility has only been applied on a larger scale very recently, the past three years or so, meaning they just about missed Lexi’s foundation. Meg is a merle and as anyone with one will know, merle = attitude. While she is very willing to learn, she is also not afraid to make her own opinion on my handling known, and if there is a more desirable piece of equipment that she could be doing (namely contacts) then she will be off doing them. For those of you who follow us on Instagram, you may have seen a clip of Meg having a merry old time with her toy at the top of the A-Frame (not an uncommon occurrence.) She is well aware of where the biggest rewards come from and will do her damndest to get there, even if it’s not the set course…especially when it’s not the set course. Despite her wonderfully decisive nature, Meg is a pleasure to train and is showing a great deal of potential and I feel incredibly blessed to get to work with her.
Lexia: Lexi is the dog that I always dreamed of owning. When I was a child, I didn’t have imaginary friends, I had a pack of dozens of imaginary dogs who were all agility champions in my mind. Gabby and Trouble treated me fairly well from age four to fifteen, but Lexi is a whole other level of amazing. That is not to say she is not without her difficulties. Those who know her and know her well, will soon come to see that she is incredibly stubborn and set in her ways, reluctant to change and can tell when you’re trying to teach her something that she doesn’t want to know. I have been training and re-training her contacts for literal years now, in hopes that they will someday be as good as the rest of her abilities, but she is a wiley one, determined to make life hard for me at every turn. Fortunately, I too am very stubborn (as I’m sure my parents will tell you) and the dog has met her match. All joking aside, she is a dream to work with, even if I occasionally want to tear my hair out, but such is life in the world of agility – she has taken me further than any other dog and the opportunity to compete in the main ring in an event like the British Open, is one I could never have dreamed of.
Kona: While Meg helps me improve my foundation level skills and Lexi rases me up to new highs of success, Kona is there to keep me honest. Normally worked by Hollie who is now away at university, the reigns of the mad merle have been handed over to me for maintenance. Some of you may have experience with dogs that make, what we call, ‘executive management decisions,’ which can often lead to some spectacular eliminations, and Kona is very much possessed of the belief that she is the boss in the partnership, knowing better than both the handler and the judge what the real course is. If there is a jump that she could be jumping, you as the handler must be very persuasive to keep her on course and even more so when there is a tunnel involved. She works you hard but when she gets it right, she really gets it right. Kona is a truly incredible dog and has brought great success to Hollie, and my few competitions with her have been incredible and rewarding experiences. I hope to make her more receptive to new ideas and the correct ways round a course, or else just wrangle her as best I can.
This week is just about getting the older girls ready to compete on Saturday and Sunday, refreshing a few of the basics alongside some of the more difficult skills I’d expect of a grade 6/7 course. Mostly it’ll be about having fun; this will be Lexi’s first intermediate competition, and her last week training at 50 before I have to get her back up to 60 for Crufts, and it’ll be my second time running Kona in competition, so who knows what will happen there. Next week it’ll be back to more intensive training, where I’ll keep you up to date on the new skills I’m attempting with each dog, getting ready to take on the rest of the year.