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:; 
Agility Team GB Tweeter feed @agilityteamgb; and for the first time the event is being live streamed (

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.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Spotting the future

Gina reminded me that it would a good time to blog about how handlers can be part of Agility Team GB in 2018, yes I appreciate its only four months into 2017 and I'm already thinking about 2018.

There are going to be three possible routes into the 2018 squad.

Winning squad points at premier KC shows will gain handlers squad points. A ticket win; winning an Olympia qualifier or winning Crufts singles all attract squad points. The top 40 (approx) handlers with the most points at the end of the season get invited on to the squad. You can find out more about how to claim points for your wins here 

Once again this year I'll be looking out for young handlers who may be too old for juniors next year, to join the adult squad in 2018. Bringing handlers through the junior team is a route I want to develop more in the future.

And the third route into the squad is to be 'spotted' by a coaching team member, including myself. I hope this will be a way of identifying dogs without squad points who are showing potential for the future. 

We'll be starting our spotting on the Sunday classes at this years Performance Weekend and through the season with the aim of inviting them on to the 2018 squad this winter.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Four days of green carpet

I reckon there'll be some tired agility dogs and handlers this morning after four fantastic days of Crufts 2017.

I was there with my dog Devo as part of the Scunthorpe team on Thursday, I watched the live stream Friday and was back at the NEC with my Team Manager hat on Sunday. 

For me Crufts brings all the previous years competitions to a big finale. It's also a chance to meet up with friends from the dog world, it's the start of the new agility season and I get to see the best agility in the UK.

My team run didn't go to plan this year for many reasons which I've been reflecting on; that'll be another seminar story in the future... However, I love being part of a team and all the lead up to the event. It's a unique competition with different skill sets and dynamics and very rewarding however it goes.

There were numerous great moments for me over the four days, especially the agility finals. I'm fortunate to work with a lot of the handlers on Agility Team GB, so I know how much they put in behind the scenes that cumulates in what we see on the green carpet. 

Talking of the green carpet, after Crufts 2016 Steve Croxford (KC Vice Chairman) gave me a 'wee' project to come up with suggestions for an alternative surface for the main arena. We both recalled the surface used at the 2012 FCI World Championships in Czech Republic being excellent for agility, so I set about seeing if this would work at Crufts. I'm pleased to say the new surface met the approval of all the disciplines who use it, especially the agility handlers. 

I often get asked how does Agility Team GB benefit the wider agility community. This is a great example of something seen and experienced at international level filtering down to our domestic competition for the benefit of our sport. BTW - Steve's given me another 'wee' project this this space.

As Agility Team GB Team Manager, Crufts is an opportunity for me to watch handlers deal with the excitement, the competition pressure and their preparations to perform when it really matters. The experienced handlers, and those who train their brains as well as their dogs, perform extremely well in these conditions; in fact they thrive on it. For the less experienced I hope they reflect on the many aspects of their performance and come back even stronger in the future.

A top international rugby player said to me once.

"When I step on to the field, 95% of my performance comes down to the mental game"  

Congratulations to everyone who qualified and ran at Crufts. Congratulations also to the judges who designed testing, fast courses which were exciting and entertaining to watch. 

Thank you to everyone who works tirelessly before and during Crufts too. I know how much goes on behind the scenes. Everyone has a lot of fun, that's why they volunteer year after year, however these are long, full-on days, you are very much appreciated by everyone there. 

The journey to Crufts 2018 begins....

Monday, 6 March 2017

A new season dawns

Last weekend Karen and I delivered the last of this winters inner agility seminars on sports psychology; they were good. We had great engagement from the group, some interesting conversations and I'm sure everyone came away with more knowledge of the subject; including me. I get a lot of benefit out of these sessions too. Especially working with people at different levels of agility.

It's amazing how many hours people spend training their dogs, working on their fitness, their dogs health & welfare (which is good to see), however they do little training on their mental skills. And yet everyone agrees this is the skill you need most when under pressure. People attending our seminar should be better equipped.

As we prepare for this years season I'm encouraged by many of the handlers coming into the sport and their professional approach.