And you know what they say about all work and no play.... Here's my dogs just having fun.
One year on from our last visit to South Durham and what a lot has changed - both good and bad. The previous year I had nervously stepped into the ring with Nancy for the first time; a year on with a bit more experience under her belt she collected a 2nd and 3rd place in grade 3. Connie is now old enough to compete too and also managed to gain a 2nd place. Both Nancy and Connie narrowly missed out on winning by hundredths of a second but we're more than happy with that as both the young girls still have so much more to learn and work on for now and they both need to build up their confidence so the nice flowing courses that they "should" get in grade 3 are perfect for them.
Sadly Winnie was missing her partner in crime Whisky since his retirement, although he did come and queue with her just for old times sake. Winnie is my comfy pair of slippers when it comes to agility, we just seem to get each other and she makes me so proud. We managed 2 out of 3 clears including a 4th place, and I'm sure we'd have managed 3 out of 3 clears if Winnie's handler hadn't had a brain fart at obstacle number 17 and directed her over the wrong jump! Gertie was back on form after some time off with an injury and managed a 1st and 4th, it's great to have her back competing especially as she's nearly 9 years old now and I always worry that any injury might be an injury that she doesn't get over so I'm especially enjoying every mad, noisy run we have together.
Glen and Rufus are probably our most difficult dogs to run, not that they both aren't talented or good at agility, but they both seem to be the most unpredictable - each of them have been known to like throwing you a curve ball every so often, still at least they keep us on our toes and if we do manage to get them round a course clear it always feels well deserved if we end up gaining a placing with them. Sadly neither of them managed any clear rounds but they did work fantastic and Rufus even managed a 7th place with 5 faults.
I managed to leave the fitness app on my phone switched on all day while at the show and reached a new high as far as my daily step count was concerned, 22338 steps 16.02 km walked, no wonder I feel shattered when I get home from a show. So apologies to everyone in our classes on Sunday if we seemed a little weary.
We're really trying to make sure that you and your dog have a really solid set of foundation skills as far as agility is concerned, so excuse the fact that we keep nagging at all of you to get your commands right - that commands are clear and are said in a nice voice; to make sure your contacts are solid; that you don't use your dogs name all the way round the course but only when you need their attention and most importantly that you build that relationship with your dog - your agility partner, so when you step on that start line of a course your dog is working with you. You won't go clear on every single course but if your dog is working with you and having fun, then at least you haven't got to worry about whether your dog will stay with you in the ring or will they go chasing the dog in the next ring; will they sniff the floor looking for rabbit poo or will they go and investigate that nice smelling catering van just on the edge of the field. Your foundation skills are so important, there will always other skills and techniques to learn but if your foundations are solid they're what you will fall back on time and time again, the nuts and bolts of your agility. Some of our previous agility dogs had gaps in their foundation skills and we are really trying to make sure that you all don't have to battle with those gaps in your foundation skills too.
So, in a blink, our summer evening classes have ended and its back to our Sunday training again until spring.
We are still amazed at what we've created and achieved. It's been so hard work (you can tell by the lack of blogs and website updating!) but so rewarding, and of course, we couldn't have achieved what we have without our wonderful students, who are fast becoming our friends.
And as we haven't been able to squeeze everyone in on a Sunday (as well as attempting to train our own dogs first), I'm now taking another class plus 1-2-1's during the week and its finally dawned on me that this is it! I now teach agility dogs for a living. How fantastic is that!
As well as the ups though, there has been a down for me, which is having to retire Whisky early. He's only 7 and has degenerative disc disease in his lower spine, and as I want him to live a long and happy life, I want to keep him as fit as possible but not with the stresses and strains that agility would bring. So, as much as I grieve for our partnership and what we've achieved together - being able to stand on the start line of any course knowing that he and I could tackle anything that it had to offer - there was nothing quite as good as the feeling I got when I could finally let him off his lead after spending all summer on it, and see him run free with his happy, smiley, mad face, and letting him bound up and down the hills in Wales (although with a bit of a limp now) on our recent holiday. Besides, he and I have lots to do together - as well as our lovely long walks and all the tricks and clicker training we do, we are going to enter the brave new world of obedience! And believe me, with Whisky it is brave as he almost knocks me over with his enthusiasm just trying to get into the heel position!
But on to the happy faces. We have people training with us now, who already compete and they've been reporting back how well their dogs are doing in competitions since they started training with us, which is wonderful. The first time we were all at the same show, all we could see was their smiles and we could feel how happy this group of people are. They were beaming, and so happy with what their dogs are achieving. We felt so proud of them and couldn't stop grinning all day too. And we know they will achieve much more with their dogs.
And speaking of proud. The class I take on a Tuesday are nearlly all the students who have been with us the longest and are almost ready to compete. (In fact Caroline already has competed with Rex and has won an anysize class!) So, as usual, I didn't set anything easy up and they all had to work their way around a course getting shouted at by me (not really!) to encourage them to give the correct commands, play with their dogs, do the contacts properly etc. Both Julie and I want our students and their dogs to be the best they can, and we know the more thorough they learn the foundations now, the easier and more fun agility will be in the long run.
So, after this class worked their way round small sections of the course, it was time to put it together and Caroline went first and she stood there on the start line and I could see her rehearsing all the commands and actions she would need to get her and Rex round the course, just like you would at a show. I could see how determined Caroline was to get it right and she did! She gave Rex all his lefts and rights, wing wraps etc and he listened and was fast but under control and I was stood there thinking 'wow, they are really looking like a team now, like proper agility handlers :-)'
And it wasn't just Caroline - all that group - Karen, Maureen, Elaine and Jason did exactly the same. They stood on the startline, rehearsed how they were going to run, what commands they were going to give, and they all handled the whole course properly. They also dealt perfectly with any bits that didn't quite go to plan (we don't like to be negative and say 'wrong') and either quickly tried again if appropriate or just carried on running with their dogs - there just isn't anything to be gained by stopping our dogs flow and enthusiasm by repeating something when it was maybe our fault anyway for not being clear enough - much better to try again another time.
I could see and feel a change in this group - among the laughing and joking, which there is a lot of! - there is a quiet determination to get things right and its paying off - they all looked like really good agility handlers, and were working their dogs. The dogs are changing too - because their handlers are more confident, the dogs are more confident and are working with their handlers, not against, and you can see partnerships developing. We are so looking forward to seeing them compete.
So then I started thinking about the rest of our students, especially the ones that have been with us a long time from when their dogs were puppies, and there is also a subtle change there too. There is always loads of laughing and joking and making fun of ourselves (how can you not when you run around a field with daft squeaky voices getting dogs to chase and play with you and end up splattered with mud or covered in liver cake!), yet there is a determination coming through there as well. Sequences are getting longer and including more bits of equipment, there is less 'zoomies' from the puppies and again - you can see the students really beginning to understand how they need to handle and they try their very best to get it right. Even the talk is different eg going to watch at shows, getting dogs measured and - very very excitingly - entering shows!!!!!!