I can’t say I every planned to compete in agility, I stumbled across it thanks to Charlie (my rather wayward whippet x terrier). Charlie had very little recall, an obsession for bird chasing and had missed out on early socialization so wasn’t particularly good around other dogs or people. We had gone to a local training club to get some help sorting out his catalogue of issues and happened to start teaching Charlie agility and flyball while we at the club. Charlie excelled at anything that involved speed and he proved to be an amazing flyball dog (once we’d sorted out his love of chasing the other team’s dogs!). Sadly Charlie went nearly completely deaf at about 7 years old, but that never slowed him down or seemed to hamper him in any way. Charlie’s agility career could be described as peaks and troughs J Although Charlie was fast and absolutely loved agility; his version of the course didn’t always match what the judge had set up. He still managed to reach Championship level as very occasionally if Charlie's version of the course matched what the judge had set up and he went clear he would usually win the class. I still chuckle about the time that Charlie did one of his rather enthusiastic runs at agility, which involved a lot of bonus jumps and the judge very kindly said that "he'll be really good when he matures a little", I didn't have the heart to tell her that at nearly 11 years old maturity was something that had clearly passed Charlie by.
Ernie was my next agility dog. He couldn’t have been a starker contrast to Charlie; he was easy to train and actually followed what I said!!!! In fact he was the dog that won us out of Grade 1. I still remember that day; it was at Otley show in July 2008. Although Ernie was consistent and accurate he didn’t have the speed of some of the Border Collies. I remember we had gone clear in the graded agility class and were hoping we might have got a place. I listened to the presentation and once they got to 5th place I started to walk back to my van and get ready to set off home as I’d assumed our run would have only got us a lower placing. As was typical of Ernie he’d proved me wrong and had won the class, not only had he won the agility but he’d won the jumping class as well. Ernie reached grade 6 before I made the decision to retire him from full height competition. Ernie has also competed successfully at flyball and obedience (having won to A).
And then along came Gertie. Gertie is a Bearded Collie x so she was supposed to large for agility and hairy! Clearly something went wrong as she stayed medium and never grew much fluff! She’s an amazing little dog who so desperately wants to please. She has at times been my hardest dog to train as she just can’t cope if she doesn’t get things right, but she has taught me so much at the same time. Thanks to Silvia Trkman’s training, I have taught Gertie that it’s ok to not get things right all the time and her world doesn’t have to fall apart. Tricks have helped build up Gertie’s confidence and have made agility training so much easier. Gertie has also competed successfully at flyball and obedience.
Winnie was my next agility dog although she was never going to do agility she was simply going to be a sofa surfer like all good lurchers should be. I’d been looking for a “special” lurcher since losing my previous scruffy lurcher, Dudley (as life is just not complete without at least one lurcher in it). I’d seen Winnie’s photo on a rescue site and she certainly had that x factor. The timing wasn’t really right to get another dog but as a very good friend of mine was in hospital fighting for her life after a bleed on the brain, I decided that life was too short to put things off as you just never knew what was round the corner. So Winnie arrived in my life, and has certainly lived up to being a very special lurcher. She’s helped me achieve one of dreams and that was to compete on the green carpet at Crufts, and has also competed at Olympia. Winnie has also competed successfully at flyball and obedience.
Hopefully my three younger dogs Rufus, Nancy and Hector will all follow in my previous agility dogs footsteps but as long as we're having fun together that's all that really matters.
I began agility in 1989, with my two little crossbreeds. I’d taken them to obedience classes in Hull and someone mentioned agility, which I'd never heard of but it sounded fun. Six months later I was at my first show with one of my dogs and she went under every single jump, I lost my way round every course, was absolutely terrified, yet I came back for more! The next time I took my other dog too who I didn't think would like agility as she was quite timid, but how wrong I was as she won out of Elementary, Starters and Novice almost straight away (Grade 1, 2 and 3) and into Intermediate (Grade 4). I competed with them both until they were 11 years old.
Back then it was a case of running round a course with your dog on your left, almost in the heel position; equipment was often home-made, rings were strange shapes with even a large tree in a ring at one show. There was no internet and the only way to get a schedule was from a previous show or send a SAE to the show secretary.
There were hardly any winter shows in the north of England and I would travel up to 3 hours for a day show in my 30 year old Hillman Imp which had no heating and used to stall when I slowed down so I had to keep bump starting it. I used to take my 7 year old daughter, Jenny, with me, and we would be wrapped up in quilts driving along in the middle of winter, whilst she read the directions and learnt how to read a map. Camping at shows was almost unheard of, or was often several miles away at a local campsite, but eventually shows got bigger, lasted a weekend and provided camping. Hardly anyone had a caravan, nearly everyone was in a tent and nobody had ‘fencing’ around the gardens.
My third dog was a working sheep dog called Eddie who was a white ball of fluff and I adored him. By this time we’d moved 25 miles out of Hull to the coast, and I ended up training him by myself on home-made equipment. It was a beautiful setting on the banks of the River Humber near Spurn Point in a field full of horses which used to wander amongst the jumps when I was training and break my weave poles (broom handles hammered into the ground!). Apart from teaching sendaways, recalls and directions over jumps, my training mainly consisted of practising sequences that I couldn't do at shows, and asking other handlers how they taught things and then deciding what worked for me. The agility folk were so willing to help and I still have friends today that I made back then. Eddie was fantastic to run; he didn’t have a wait, worked in front of me and got to Senior level (grade 6) with 3 wins towards Advanced before he retired.
During this time and the next few years my training and competing became erratic as I suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and couldn’t function properly most of the time. We eventually moved back near Hull, to a house without a garden for a short while, yet I still managed to train my next couple of agility dogs on the local playing field, again with bits of homemade equipment. Living in house without a garden meant I had to find ways of tiring the dogs out – apart from long walks - and I learnt how to clicker train tricks, which I still do today, in fact I teach my dogs more tricks then ever.
The last decade has seen such a change in agility and I’ve read and watched as much as I can, especially from Europe and the wonderful Silvia Trkman. I’ve trained at clubs, and been on training days, some which have been wonderful and I’ve come away feeling inspired, and others not so good and I’ve learnt nothing except how not to train my dogs. I feel there's as much to learn now in agility as there was 25 years ago and I love training and walking my dogs as much as ever. I feel very lucky as I have a lovely long-suffering husband! who’s not the slightest bit interested in agility yet drives me to nearly all my shows and builds me dog-friendly camper vans, 3 beautiful collies ranging from Connie, a one year old, with all the world before her, Glen who hasn’t got a bad bone in his body and competes at Grade 5 and Whisky who very enthusiastically competes at Grade 7, although you wouldn’t think so some of the time!! We either get it very right or very wrong but either way it doesn’t matter as we always have fun and when we do get it right it’s just wonderful and I love him to bits! And finally I have a full set of proper agility equipment, a place to train with my like-minded friend, Julie, and we have started our new adventure. Teaching. As I write this, we have already finished teaching our first 4 weeks of agility, and classes are full for the next 4 weeks with people already rebooking and wanting to compete! I cannot wait!