Monday, 19 March 2018

The search is over...

The search to find my new Team Assistant is over. I'm pleased to announce that we (The KC and myself) have appointed Rebecca (Becky) Sargent into the position. 

I've worked with Becky in the past and obviously know her as an agility competitor. Becky brings a wealth of experience from the equestrian world and her own unique character and ideas to Agility Team GB. 

I'm looking forward to working with Becky as we support this years teams and develop future squads and teams; particularly with the exciting prospect of the UK hosting the EO2020. 

I'll let Becky introduce herself...

What an honour! As I start the 2018 season in a new position of Agility Team GB Assistant I cannot help but think myself as incredibly lucky!

I have always had an interest in sports. From a young age I participated in national and low level international athletics, before moving into the equine sector where I spent more than 20 years competing and being a trainer both national and international. I feel honoured to have grown up in this industry competing with and against family dynasties (Whittaker family) in show jumping and with the king and queen (Carl and Charlotte) of the dressage arena. 

The performance pathways demonstrated the investment and development of the equine world. There were two stages to the system then with a world class start squad and a world class potential squad. The idea being that you move from the start to the potential. 

The world class performance pathway was something put in place and monitored by the BEF (British Equestrian Federation) and as such provides equine and human athletes in the Equine industry with a wealth of knowledge and experience to hopefully produce medals in the future. It has changed significantly since I left that industry and now operates a coaches and centres pathway as well to help capture the grass roots talent available here in the UK.

I am looking forward to bringing my ideas and experience into the world of Dog Agility. From my experience in agility and going abroad with a fabulous team, I am excited to progress this further and help to develop the squad so that we can become unrivalled with the rest of the world.

Most importantly to me is an inclusive, informative and forward thinking team to help drive everyone towards the common goal of achieving medal successes throughout International Championships.

I am really excited and looking forward to working with the rest of the Coaching Team, handlers and dogs to make 2018 and amazing one.

Thanks Becky.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Striving to improve

This week I'm pleased to say that a previous guest blogger Laura has written another blog after the second squad day. I hope you enjoy reading about Laura's experience. 

Squad Day 2……

After Squad Day 1 and the blog post I wrote, I’ve decided to write a second blog post following up from Squad Day 2.  These are some of my first blog posts and I’ve found they’re great for reflection.  After Squad Day 1 I had a little more insight into how the format of these days, meaning I didn’t feel quite so nervous as I did for the first time around.

So as per Squad Day 1, I was up at 04:30 and on the road by 05:00. 
I Arrived around 07:30 in time to help set up and to let Jade stretch her legs before the day’s activities commenced.  The day was packed with items for both canine companions and their handlers.  The morning was aimed at us handlers, with the afternoon being all about the dogs and our partnerships together.

First off, a small introduction regarding the day and then we all split into our pre-arranged groups.  My first stop was vet check and physio.  Now what I didn’t mention in my first blog post, was that during Squad Day 1 the vet/physio felt something unusual on Jade near her back end, which led me to take Jade straight to SMART clinic. We worked closely with SMART for Jade’s conditioning and fitness since her accident at KCI last year, Tace Allen (our regular physio), and our registered vets to find out what this was.  It was a false alarm (talk about relief from me!) and we had the all clear from everyone to continue with our training programme so persisted with our aim to be fitter by Squad Day 2. 

Because of all this, I was a little apprehensive about the vet/physio check, even though my regular physios were happy with Jade.  I needn’t have been.  They were pleased with her progress & fitness, giving us the all clear (another huge sigh of relief).  While others were having their dog’s vet / physio checks, we were tasked with a rather large (approx. 35 questions) questionnaire.  These were not your “normal” agility questions – they ranged from knowledge of countries, dates & judges of the different world championships, to proprioception and canine anatomy and FCI rules & even harness types.  A great exercise for team building while we all worked together (I mean on our own Gina J) to answer these questions. Oh, and well done Lucie, who I believe won. 

After the checks came handler fitness eeekk!! Anyone that knows me, know I try to stay fit, not only for agility but also because I really like food.  I managed to shave a few tenths of a second from my previous scores, which I am pretty happy about! This was helped by the encouraging tones of Lee Gibson and Dave Munnings shouting for me to run faster – great team spirit.  So I am pleased… all that hill running over Cleeve Common with the dogs is paying off (although I’d be lying if I told you I enjoyed it).

After handler fitness was an update from Mark, which similarly to last squad day was very interesting and informative. This was just before lunch so after this I spent 45 mins taking Jade for a little wander to stretch her legs and let her go to the toilet etc., ready for her afternoon of fun.

The afternoon consisted of a practice session (if we wanted to), so I took the opportunity to put Jade through an FCI type tyre as this is something that she had not seen before.  She handled this beautifully, so I was very pleased.  I didn’t feel I wanted to practice anything else so I cooled her down after this and waited for course walking.  

Jirina Mackova set 2 great courses, one agility and one jumping.  

These had technicality but in a way that the dogs were able to open up with some obstacle discrimination added in for good measure J.  These courses were set to run to enable the management team pick the top number of placed dogs to go through to the final for a ‘win on the spot’ place for the EO’s.

We all had an allocated time to walk the course then it was time – smalls first, then mediums and finally the larges.  Jade ran beautifully for me, I on the other hand was quite nervous.  She put in a great round, however I lost connection with her and so lost around 3 seconds – she thought I was sending her to the weaves for a second time when in fact I wanted her to turn left… oops.  Bless her though, even though she really thought I asked her for the weaves I managed to pull her off them and correct her line for the dog walk.  So a clear in the agility but lost a lot of time.  I needed to put in a good performance in the jumping to be in with a chance of a spot in the final.  

The jumping followed the same format & order of dogs running, enabling me to ensure she was cooled down from the agility and warmed up again appropriately for the jumping.  Again I couldn’t fault Jade, she, as always works so hard.  I miss handled one jump which caused her to have a pole down (very unlike her, but completely my fault), so 5 faults.  Oh well, we tried our best.  Looking at her time if we hadn’t have had the pole we would’ve made the final, so I took comfort in that.  Having said that, at the end of the day, I was not disappointed – this is our first year going through this process and am pleased with how it is all panning out.  Everyone is very supportive and I am really enjoying and honoured to be a part of it. 

So, next stop is Performance Weekend in April.  We will take the lessons learnt from Squad Day 1 and 2, and as ever strive to improve and see what PW brings.

Thanks for reading.

Laura Hope

Feb 2018

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Professional dog trainers?

I carried out an Agility1st assessment last weekend, the first one I've done for a while and I was impressed.

This assessment was on two trainers for a club who have signed up all their trainers to the programme. Its a good idea, all club members get the same standard of training and it maintains consistency as the handlers and dogs learn the sport. 

What also struck me was each of the trainers brought their own unique style and character to the group and yet they delivered the session to the same high standard learnt from the Agility1st programme.

Dog training clubs provide a service to the general mass of dog owners wanting a well behaved pet. As people learn about the different areas of dog training e.g. agility, obedience, heel work etc. they tend to specialise and often move away from their main club to local trainers or more specialised groups. I understand this, I've done the same in the past, however I still believe its important to support these clubs.

Agility1st set out to support and develop agility trainers in a way that helps them learn about good instruction methods, deliver structured, organised, training programmes in a professional way based upon proven methods. What I saw last weekend reassured me that our original aims were being met.

As a Preferred Education Provider to the Kennel Club (KC), Agility1st work closely with the KC in areas of agility training education. As agility continues to grow in numbers and popularity I believe this partnership will grow too. I'm sure the time will come when dog trainers will need to be registered as are many other trainers, coaches and education bodies in other sports. 

The subject of unscrupulous coaches has been in the news again recently. This has highlighted the need for people who provide training and education to be accredited or approved by the organising body. 

At the moment anyone can hire a local hall or a grass field and offer dog training services.  Isn't that a bit concerning...

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Our house...

I’ve run some great seminars this winter. They’re always interesting enjoyable days and the group dynamics and settings make a huge difference to the day. I also enjoy catching up with people later in the season for an update on their plans. So what about my 2018 plans...

Well I’ve finally finished them. There’s something in there for Moog (my young agility dog), some personal objectives for the year and of course plenty for Agility Team GB too. I’ve also been trying to develop a few new habits since the New Year. Some of these are quite straightforward like eat more fruit, less chocolate, drink more water, waste less time on social media and some are more challenging. I should be able put what I know about forming habits in to practice easily...but that’s the other hard thing about habits, they’re hard to break too!

Meanwhile other news from our house:
  • Karens young pup Chic is gorgeous and very amusing. She’s fitted in well with our other dogs and growing up to be a great dog.
  • The Japanese Chins...aka one-eye and two eyes or three-eyes as a collective, have settled in well. Eve (one-eye) is very adventurous she enjoys being outside following us around what ever we’re doing. And Lula (also known as Lula-Lula Masenbulla) likes showing us how she can jump over low jumps, hop on steps and show-off around agility equipment.
  • Devo is enjoying training with Karen while I focus on Moog. At 9 years he’s very fit and still loves his agility and made first champ final a few weeks ago...with Karen.
  • Torro Laker is still a bit special. He’s become very tolerant of puppies and little wee dogs in his old age (12 now). For a dog that had little patience with puppies when he was younger, he has been brilliant with our newcomers.
  • Mr Rhyme has been on a focused fitness programme over the winter. Karen and his physio’s have worked hard on his reoccurring injury and he is looking good... it shows how important it is to have good Health Care Professionals (HCPs) for agility dogs. 
  • And then there is Pikachu.... a great character. She has decided now Karen is running Devo and has Chic to train, that she actually likes agility. She has made good friends with two-eyes Lula and even shares a bed with her... although its probably a ploy to get more food.
Writing this makes me realise how different, special and individual each of our dogs are, and what a huge commitment it takes to look after their individual needs.