Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A guest blog from ....

Hayley Telling (Agility Team GB member) shares her experience at this years FCI Agility World Championships in Liberec.

The 2017 FCI world championships in Czech Republic was my first experience at a world championships, however I was lucky that part of my preparation was competing at the European Open in Italy, July 2017. Qualifying for the final there allowed me to experience the excitement and pressure of competing at one of these events as well as seeing the technical skills and speed required in the international courses. 

My preparation for the FCI didn’t go completely as planned, with both myself getting awful flu and Teal getting a fracture in his carnassial tooth and needing it extracting in early September. However our prep leading up to this with the other members of the medium team had been focusing on specific skills set by the judges we were likely to see at FCI and so during our time off in September we were able to focus a lot on mental preparation, visualisation and proprioceptive skills which all proved invaluable.

The excitement building up to the event was like nothing I have experienced before, the training both away from the venue and at the venue went really well and I was able to feel very settled coming into the competition. 

One difference from a normal show which I found really exciting and enjoyable was how much analysis goes into each course before you even get to walk it! The team did a group warm up together which I found really enjoyable but also raised the excitement level to the point where I actually thought for the first time I might be sick before a run! Luckily I managed to get back into the zone before my run and that focus took all nerves away by the time I walked to the start line. My preparation meant that I felt that I had run in that event already in the past and I feel that our confidence running and performance reflected that. 

The event allowed me to see what my times are against the best in the world and therefore in reflection of this the improvements we need to make. I was happy with the skills we have and therefore our main focus will be on handler and dog fitness and ground speed- getting stronger and faster! This will be achieved with basic strength building and sprint work following a fitness plan given to us by Maria and Ruth in the coaching team. As I know that this is something that can definitely be improved on, I know that it will help us to improve in this area. 

My other observation was that all of the best dogs and handlers run every run to win, despite the risks taken they pushed every single part of the course. Although this will certainly lower my clear round rate, especially to start, the long term effect will be a quicker ground speed and the ability to attack any course we come up against. In Europe they are not rewarded for clear rounds, and therefore they run with this level of craziness at each event... I will be embracing this craziness in all of our future events so prepare to see us loud and crazier than ever!!!

You can watch one of Hayleys runs here

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Pass the Lemsip please....

After another amazing Agility World Championships (AWC) watching top dogs from around the world compete for the status of FCI Agility World Champion, the performance analysis starts.

I'm sure some teams hit their performance targets (Germany, Czech Republic) and some no doubt exceeded their expectations. Poland won their first ever medal a Gold, and Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania won their 3rd medals*.

From my reckoning eight more countries joined the championships this year.**

Some of the stats on the 22nd FCI Agility World Championships*:

  • 514 dogs & handlers entered;
  • 43 countries competing;
  • 40 different breeds;
  • 202 small dogs;
  • 151 medium dogs and,
  • 164 large dogs.

In 2016 Great Britain had won 17 medals at the AWC ranking us joint 12th in the medal table with Austria and Czech Republic.

  1. Switzerland hold the top spot with 41 medals, 
  2. France with 37 medals and
  3. Finland 35.
By our calculations Agility Team GB now rank 14th after this years competition**.

Social media is buzzing with diagnosis of why teams did/didn't do as well as expected. Team members have been messaging each other with remedies that would sort out their annual dose of the 'common agility cold'. And team leaders, coaches and assistants are standing back looking for a wider cure for this annoying illness.

Indeed myself and the Coaching Team, 'The Management' as some people refer to (a term I don't particularly like) are delving into our data, the analysis and theories about why we caught another cold again this year; after all, we've been having regular flu jabs since December 2016...

Some of the common symptoms being discussed are:

  • Course design is so different to what we compete on week in week out;
  • The FCI ring size creates a different style of course;
  • Flat, even, perfect surfaces lets dogs run faster;
  • We're not used to flowing courses;
  • Our jump heights are different;
  • The distance between jumps is different;
  • The equipment is different;
  • The selection process is different.
Then there are the alternative symptoms:
  • The breeding of our agility dogs is different;
  • Dogs and handlers are hand picked for this event;
  • Its the wrong time of the year for us;
  • We should train more and compete less;
  • We were unlucky.

We can go on taking cough medicine for these symptoms each year. We need to find a sustainable long lasting remedy. And I believe we need a change of direction and our approach rather than a different bottle of cough medicine each year.

I'll explore some thoughts in my next blog.

* Source - FCI
** Source - Agility Team GB records

Friday, 29 September 2017

This is what it's all about...

In a few days time we’ll be heading off to Liberec in the Czech Republic for the 2017 FCI Agility World Championships.  For many agility enthusiasts this is the highlight of the year…the Olympics of the dog agility world.

Representing your country at these championships is without doubt the highlight and pinnacle of many agility handlers career. Its difficult to explain the atmosphere and excitement created by thousands of people watching one ring of the worlds best agility dogs and their handlers. 

Thankfully modern technology allows any one who can’t be there to follow through social media KC FB group,  Team GB Supporters, Team GB Twitter feed and the event will also be live streamed.

The other thing that’s hard to explain is the amount of work these handlers have put in over the months and years leading up to the championships.  

The many hundreds of hours of practice and training they put in make our sport look easy. However achieving this level of expertise takes dedication, commitment and a sustained focus on the objective. 

Once again we have a strong team consisting of experienced dogs and handlers and some for whom this will be their first time at a Championship like this. 

Their journey to the team is a long one and one that is supported all the way. Each year we learn more about improving our preparations, we push the performance boundaries a bit more and we embrace new ideas and technologies. That’s part of the journey everyone involved with Agility Team GB is on.

So I’m sure all Agility Team GB supporters will join the Coaching Team and I to wish Team GB 2017 all the very best in these fantastic championships.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Reflecting on the EO 2017

By now many agility handlers from across the globe will have read about the European Open (EO) recently held in Salice Terme, Italy. These Championships are one of the three top competitions held by the FCI (the main international body governing dog sports). The other two championships being the Agility World Championships (AWC), to be held in the Czech Republic in October and the European Open for Juniors (EOJ) recently held in Luxembourg. 

The EO has had a chequered history as its grown into the event it is today. Way back there were stories of the competition running under flood lights late into the night, poor standard of equipment, lots of mud and all sorts of  challenges for the organisers. The event we attended in Italy was totally different and without doubt the best organised EO I’ve attended.

Agility Team GB are invited to the EO as we are not full members of the FCI, which gives us the opportunity to compete alongside 40+ countries from a far away as Russia, China, USA, Brazil and most European countries. This is a great privilege and allows us to compete against the best dogs & handlers in the World.  Our team selection process is rigorous and identifies the top handlers in the UK who are interested in international competition. 

I’m sure every year when I blog about the EO I say ‘the standard seen this year was the best yet’…and guess what, it’s the same this year.  Even hardened, experienced EO competitors commented on the incredible standard seen this year. So what do I mean by the ‘incredible standard’…

For a start dogs and handlers are getting faster, no surprises there. A few years ago dogs in the medium and large category were hitting 5.5 metres per second (MPS), a crude, but fairly accurate way of measuring dog speed on an agility course.  This year dogs were hitting 6 MPS+, a huge increase.

Handling has got even more technical, accurate and precise. The German team were at most, if not all prize givings. They appear to have applied their engineering excellence to dog agility. Technically brilliant in their handling style, pin-point accuracy in handler positioning, precision timing and obviously consistent dog training.  However, Germany wasn’t the only team to demonstrate these skills. Other teams have also visibly improved by large margins since 2016.

Enough about our competition, what about Agility Team GB?

Team GB Red EO2017 Team Relay Final Silver Medalist.
Picture by Simon Peachey 
We took probably the strongest EO team to date. Traditionally our large team and medium height category have been our strongest areas.  

This year the large team red, (we had three large teams red, white & blue) won the silver medal in the team event. This was the first time we’ve won a medal in the team relay final. 

We also had four handlers qualify for the individual final. Again, this was a great result given the strength of the competition and this year there were no automatic win-on spots.

Agility Team GB did very well considering how different agility is in Europe to the UK and how that difference is getting even bigger. A subject for my next blog...

Agility Team GB EO2017 - Picture by Simon Peachey 

Monday, 10 July 2017

A month of international competition

In the next couple of days we leave for the first of this years international agility championships, the European Open for Juniors (EOJ) in Luxembourg. 

This year 500 dogs and their young handlers from 24 countries will be attending these championships that continue to grow in both size and the level of competition. 

Agility Team GB are sending a team of 24 dogs this year at all three height categories and in the two age groups, children and juniors. This YKC Team were selected in February and have been training and preparing hard since then getting ready for these Championships.

You can keep up to date via the KC FB group: https://www.facebook.com/Kclovesdogs/); 
Agility Team GB Tweeter feed @agilityteamgb; and for the first time the event is being live streamed (https://www.working-dog.com

After the EOJ its off to Italy for the Adult European Open (EO). An exciting month of top agility competition ahead.

I’d like to thank all our sponsors for their fantastic support again this year. You’ve enabled these juniors to compete with other top handlers from around the world, gain valuable life skills and experience from an international championships and start their pathway to future top level agility competition.

Right... I'm off to finish packing.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Developing the future

Today I have announced this years Agility Team GB Development squad through the KC website. 

As many of my regular readers will know I believe that developing young dogs and inexperienced handlers for the future is an important role the team plays.

Thanks to the ongoing support we get from our fantastic sponsors, I’m pleased to announce that this year I’ve been able to invite 18 handlers from the Performance Weekend on to this years development squad. These handlers are from each height group plus I’m inviting five previous FCI medal winners (also from the Performance Weekend) with their young dogs. 

Due to our current grading system it can take a long time and many wins for a dog to win up to G7; the level required to compete at FCI competitions. This can result in dogs already being at or past their peak performance level with little opportunity to experience FCI style courses and generally not exposed to international competitions. My own personal view is that the intensity and frequency of competitions required to get a dog to G7 at less than the age of three, is not ideal for the long term welfare of the dog or to maintain accurate and consistent levels of performance. 

So, the sooner we can get these young dogs onto the development squad and focused on the possibility of a long term career of international agility rather than racing through the grades or travelling all over the country collecting squad points the better.

Of course a place on the Development Squad doesn’t automatically guarantee a future team place, these dogs and handlers have to prove their worth along with the rest of the squad who earn their place by achieving at Premier KC shows. They will have the support of the Coaching Team and a golden opportunity to show us what they can achieve.

On behalf of the Coaching Team I'd like to wish them all the best on this years Development Squad.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The word is out....

Yesterday we announced this years international teams who will represent Agility Team GB at the European Open in Italy and the FCI World Championships in Czech Republic; an exciting day on the agility calendar for many.

I'm sure each year I say:

"There has been some tough decisions to make this year the standard has been very high". 

Of course it is going to be tough. We have the best dogs and handlers in the country all trying out for a limited number of places. 

Was the decision making process any different this year?

Yes, I think it was, for the following reasons:

  • The squad consisted of enough dogs & handlers at each height to select the teams from; I really didn't want to be in a position where I had to call-up dogs from outside the squad to make up the teams.
  • The standard at each height continues to improve. 
    • Large - Apart from one or two outliers, performance was of a very similar quality across this height group; I would have loved to take them all!
    • Medium - Again apart from one or two who stood out from the outset, most of the dogs at this height had the potential to make the final teams.
    • Small - This year I saw a clear increase in the number of dogs either at the level I was looking for, or with the potential to get there.

      I believe this reflects the increased training these handlers put in to compete at the top.
  • The majority of the handlers on this years squad appeared to train harder in all the areas we focus on. The expected end result is better understood, meaning handlers are well prepared for the Performance Weekend, where we hope to see them at their best.
  • And, I saw an increase in dogs & handlers on the squad with future potential. At some point these partnerships need to be given the chance to realise that potential. 
So while there were the usual difficult decisions, they were nice decisions to make. 

In the next few weeks I'll be announcing the dogs & handlers we spotted at the Performance Weekend who I'll be inviting to join the 2018 squad as development opportunities; there were some great future potential seen from these young dogs too.

Now the hard work and fun begins preparing the teams for their competitions... and the Coaching Team and start planning for next years squad.

The ongoing support and work our sponsors do for the team is fabulous. They are reason we can hold great competitions like this years Performance Weekend, why we have such a strong Coaching Team and why we can take a bigger team to the EO's this year as examples.

On behalf of the Coaching Team and this years squad, I'd like to thank our sponsors for all their ongoing interest and assistance they provide Agility Team GB.