Saturday, 24 November 2018

Commitment and dedication to win

Announcing the Agility Team GB squad is exciting news for some handlers and understandably disappointment for others.

Being called up for the national squad is a huge achievement. It takes a lot of commitment and dedication to win points at top level competitions in the UK and to maintain a high level of performance; plus the competition increases each year.

50 dogs and handlers have been invited onto this years squad. This is a large squad, although a similar number to the last few years. Approximately 10% will drop-out due to many reasons along the way which is natural and others on the Development Programme maybe there for the longer term.

The handlers on this years squad experience a combination of training, education and practice over the winter aimed at preparing them for the Performance Weekend in April (5 - 7).

Anyone who didn’t get called up this year but are interested in international competition, then my advice is to book into the PW; you never know, you maybe spotted for development for the 2020 squad. which will be a historic year in the agility diary as the UK host our first European Open.

Monday, 12 November 2018

A blog on goal setting.

This weeks blog is a bit of a cheat. It’s a blog I recently wrote for

I like the idea and functionality of this App and was happy to support it with a blog on goal setting.

I hope you enjoy.

Mark Laker's blog on goal setting

Thursday, 1 November 2018

A different sport?

The planning day has become an important event in the Team GB calendar. We reflect on this years performance and discuss plans for the coming year...and beyond.

Looking back at our performance has become more interesting with the increasing array of data available. Behind the highlights the emerging picture and trends often tell a different story than the one we see in the headlines.

One consistent comment I heard this year was: 'This is a completely different sport to the one we play at home'. We all compete with dogs, we share the same scoring system, a part from that everything else is a variation on a theme. 

Different equipment specs; different surfaces; different rules; different ring size; I could go on. How we better prepare ourselves for these differences in the future was one topic dominating the Planning Day conversations.

Improving our performance is at the heart of everything we do in the Coaching Team. We are constantly looking to shave fractions of a second off each run. We're looking for ways to increase our clear round rate and gain the competitive edge; It's an ongoing focused endeavour. 

Having data to support this focus helps...albeit if it's shining a spot light on information that's hard to acknowledge.

With all the enthusiasm and change in our sport, one necessity remains today as it did when the sport started at Crufts in 1978. You still need to go clear to stand any chance of winning a trophy.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Dave and Fames Journey to AWC 2018

My final guest blogger from this years FCI Agility World Championships is Dave Munnings. This was Dave's third year on the team with Fame and proved to be the year when it all came together for him...

The Agility World Championships in Sweden this year was one of the most exciting , well organised and fun events I have ever been to.  The best partnerships from all over the world, all competing against each other to win one of those sought after medals for themselves and to make their countries proud.

We started preparations for international events early in the year but I’m just going to write about what we did post European Opens in July as that’s when we really focussed on AWC preparation. After EO’s Fame took a week off to recover and relax whist I fine tuned our training plan for the next 8 weeks. Sounds like a long time but that goes very fast especially with a lot of big UK competition in between.  I had a fitness plan for me working with Chris Kerton, I started back earlier in the summer and it has definitely made a difference, lots of squats and burpees and other horrible things was definitely helping to increase my fitness which I knew I would need this year looking at previous courses from the judges.  Chris was careful not to push too much in case of injuries before the event, so we just went for more maintenance of what I had already done and a few extras now and again, I love what we do and will 100% be keeping this up now.  Agility has become faster, courses bigger, course design harder and at these big international events fitness definitely helps….or having trained some INCREDIBLE independent dog skills which we definitely saw demonstrated beautifully this year!

Fames plan was similar in the fact that I felt she was already seriously fit after her EO prep and I wanted to maintain that as much as possible without burning her out.  We had KCI and DIN to attend, obviously I wanted to qualify for Olympia but apart from that 1 class I had made the decision all year to stop her in the ring for any poles down the same as I would at training just to keep the consistency up, and after making that decision she decided not to have 1 single pole down! So we ended up just doing our important runs, champ, Olympia and the rest of the time we just did the odd run to train contacts or try some harder weave exits in a competition environment. 

After that It was all about training, fitness and keeping Fame as healthy as possible.  We had an amazing book this year from the coaching team that contained probably 100’s of previous courses from the judges, so I went through that with a fine toothcomb and had tons of sticky notes all over it with common patterns to train, courses I wanted to set up and areas I wanted to set up and time to see which was the fastest route on that particular course.  So the next few weeks were taken up mostly by moving a LOT of equipment around haha. Skills were tested, sequences were timed and whole courses were set up, ones that I knew we would struggle more with.

We met up with the rest of the large team a few times to train on astro turf and once on grass, setting up 2 courses each time to try and get round and I also did some courses with just me, Sian and Dan as I knew we would push and help each other when we needed it.  Our fitness also included regular water treadmill and hydrotherapy sessions, conditioning work as well as regular massages with Alison Pearce to keep Fame as fit and in the nest condition possible.

So when it came time to leave for AWC the week before I really felt this year we were as prepared as we ever had been for an event.  All this prep for just a max of maybe 70s in the ring! Haha it seems crazy when you look at it like that but luckily this year all that hard work and preparation paid off.  We got to Sweden after a 2 day drive and settled into the hotel, went for a lot of delicious food with the team, checked the venue out, did some unnoficial training with the rest of the large team at a venue an hour away from the hotel, then we have official training at the venue on the Wednesday and everything was going very well ready for the competiton to start on the Thursday with Opening ceremony and Team Jumping.  I was just watching and supporting the first 2 days, I have never seen such amazing displays of agility, each year the standard goes up and up.  The GB teams did a great job, some unlucky poles and mistakes this year but we looked like they deserved to be out there. 

So it came to Individual days, Fame was perfect in both of her runs, she couldn’t have given me anymore than she did, the 2 dogs that got the Gold and Silver were just slightly faster than her so I have come home feeling as happy as I possibly could knowing that we both gave it our all and there isn’t one bit I feel I could have improved on.  Fame made my dreams of another medal at the AWC come true, shes an amazing little dog and I feel so proud to have her J  The jumping course was FAST as well as some technical areas but it was one of the most fun courses I have ever run, and for Fame to get 4thplace just 0.5s off the leader made me happier than I can describe, what a cool girl she was around that course.  The agility had a lot of “nemesis” poles for us with a lot of backside slices, I truly believed she would have at least 1 down, but I went out there and didn’t worry about it and handled her as if nothing would come down and they didn’t, such an amazing feeling when you finish a run at the WC and you have gone clear and everyone is cheering, there really is nothing like it anywhere else.

The support this year was amazing, from the people that flew out to watch us in the GB stands to the amazing coaching team that make our lives so simple when we are at the events we don’t have to worry about a thing.  I was very chilled about it all this year stepping onto the line which I think helped massively and a huge part of that was because of the amazing support we have when we are over there.  At the end of the day our dogs are not with us long enough as it is, I want to enjoy every moment I have with them and just being at the event was a huge achievement and when you think like that its much easier not to get over stressed about the actual results, trust the dog, trust your training and try as hard as you can and what will happen will happen I think we sang something like that before course walking Becky! Hahaha).  We are all excited for each other and are so desperate to each member of GB to do well, even if that’s just to achieve personal goals, its horrible and upsetting having to deal with the disappointment of people sometimes but when it goes right it makes all that worth it, to see how happy some people were for me and Famous made me pretty emotional, thanks to everyone who believed in us and was there to support us afterwards, it means so much. 

Monday, 15 October 2018

My experience at the FCI Agility World Championships - unlike any other competition.

My second guest blogger this week is Abi Doxford who ran her dog Wiggy in the Medium team competition. This was Abi's first time at the FCI World Championships...

This year I had the honour of representing Great Britain as at the FCI world championships in Kristianstad, Sweden.

Experienced handlers often talk about the FCI worlds being ‘special’ and unlike any other competition around, and having attended, I now understand why. 

Why are the worlds so special? It’s like the excitement of running at Crufts or Olympia, mixed with a really large arena, a fast astroturf surface, world class course design and the best dog and handler combinations in the world, then you have something truly special. 

Personally, I found both my dog and I really picked up on the atmosphere. It’s really hard to hold your nerve when the clock is ticking down for you to start. To get round the courses this year, you needed to not only be fast but able to execute skills at speed. Some countries, particularly the Germans and Russians, put on a masterclass at this. Watching such incredible partnerships was totally inspiring. 

I think in the minutes proceeding our medium team run I went through every emotion possible. Unfortunately Ellie and the Coaching Team decide to pull Archie just before the team ran, so there were tears for Ellie, then the realisation and excitement that I would be running first. 

Two dogs  before I ran I was stung by a wasp so had to pull the sting from my finger whilst preparing to run. All this happened in a matter of minutes which made me even more determined to give everything to get round the course. Unfortunately we had a couple of unusual errors probably caused by the atmosphere, but oh boy was it fun.

The Team GB Coaching team do an incredible job of making sure you’re prepared for the event, from course analysis to dog and handler fitness. At the event, they are experts at making sure you’re at the right place at the right time and ready to run. Our team Captain Hayley helped our team to prepare mentally for what to expect. A really big thank you has to go to GB coaching team for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen. 

After competing in the medium team, I then got to watch the individual runs, watching Dave winning a bronze medal was incredible, I think the whole of team GB ran every jump with him. 

Would I do it again?, absolutely, if given the opportunity, and I would encourage anyone else to do so too.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

My first experience at the FCI World Championships.. by guest blogger Rachel

I want to share the experiences of this years FCI Agility World Championships from some of the handlers and coaching team. So over the next few days I'll be posting blogs that give you their perspectives from this exciting world championships.

My first guest blogger is Rachal Ward who ran her young dog Nimbus in the small team competition....

My journey to the FCI World Championship felt to me like one small step for mankind (all those experienced handlers) and one super massive leap for myself and little Nimbus.
After trying out with my 11” pocket rocket in 2017 and being selected for the Development Programme, I aspired to be picked to represent our country. What else could I be hoping for as the outcome of the process?  But as the team selection started, I started to wonder, what I had got myself into?  Having only been actually doing agility for 5 years I had aspirations, but maybe it was all too early on in my agility “career”. 
So, I decided to try as hard as possible and just enjoy the experience and take as much out of it as I could, I did learn some very valuable lessons.  One of which was to stop giving 110% because it all goes wrong.  Learning to “rein it in” was my take away.
Once we had completed the squad days I didn’t feel disappointed but I left with the feeling that I wasn’t going to be picked to represent Team GB at the World’s or the EO’s, so, imagine my surprise & delight when Mark asked if I would join him at both events!
I couldn’t breathe, I wanted to scream and cry all at the same time!

For me, the biggest challenge (and most worrying part) was finding the funding to take us to both of the competitions.  This was the part unfortunately I spent the most time focussing on.
After returning from the EO’s I was blown away with how we handled the long drive, the killer heat and the nerves.  All these factors I didn’t consider when I had aspirations to join Agility Team GB.
So, more determined than ever, I embarked on a mission to get Nimbus used to astro, as we had never run on this surface before.
Before we knew it I was off to Sweden.  The travel is glossed over when you think about competing for your country.  It is long, tiring and stressful.  But so, so worth it!  But, you must not be under prepared for every aspect.  Plan, plan, plan every detail.  If you plan to share the journey with someone, plan the itinerary of the whole trip, agree on how you are getting back & forth from the venue etc. as well as the actual route from the UK so that you can focus on the task in hand.

Stepping out on the carpet suddenly became worrying at the last minute when Nimbus decided that it was all too much and just laid on the floor and submitted.  I had wondered that she might find the whole thing too much. No one can describe how you feel, how electric the atmosphere is until you have to do it, even spectating in the arena is not enough. The emotion that you feel when you step out in the arena cannot be replicated until you do it.  What to do with my nervous Nimby? 

10 seconds and the dog before me will leave the ring and my routine will have gone to pot because my dog has gone on strike.  I did the only thing I know that makes Nimbus focus on something else, which was to shout “CATS!!!”.  I must have looked and sounded bonkers!  Right before I put her down I am meowing!  Then we were off, running so fast...

Those 36 seconds flew by and I tried so hard to keep Nimbus on track and …. we did a CLEAR!  Oh my word, it felt & still feels like the most important and meaningful clear I have ever done. That, and being part of an amazing team of small handlers and the wider team (everyone was so supportive) was amazing!  

Newbie no more, I had run for my country at the FCI World Championships!!  Unfortunately our 2nd run had a hiccup and we got the dreaded elimination.

Returning from the Worlds (literally as we drove back) I was planning the route to Finland for the 2019 World's and Holland for the EO’s.  It was unlike any adrenalin rush I have had before. Like a drug, I want to experience it again and we will try our best to prove we still deserve a place on the team.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The most exciting agility

This years FCI Agility World Championships included some of the most exciting agility I've ever seen.

The courses were phenomenally fast and technical. The surface was superb and provided excellent grip and wonderful cushioning, which added to the dogs speed. This resulted in four days of exhilarating agility. 

Dave Munnings and Fame winning the bronze medal in the individual class was the icing on the cake. 

I don’t think any of us expected the courses to be so fast. That said, Agility Team GB attacked each run confidently and looked well prepared for the challenge. Many team members said ‘running out there was the most amazing agility experience ever’. 

Our team photographer Simon Peachey took dozens (probably 100's) of great photos at the event which you can find here and of course there are lots of interesting posts on social media from the team, other competitors and spectators.

It’s now time for reflection, de-briefing, feedback and planning for next year; we’ve already reserved accommodation in Turku, Finland 2019. It’s also time to start our analysis and I’m going to give you a flavour of that in future blogs over the next few weeks which will include some guest bloggers.