It seemed only yesterday that our club was beginning our winter training and already it is spring and we are back competing again. We were also going to spend the winter updating our website and taking photos of our dogs but we seemed to have blinked and the winter has gone.
We were very organised with our training - we didn't go to many shows over the winter which meant handlers could concentrate on learning new techniques and mastering old techniques properly.
Right from the first day when somebody new joins us, Julie and I are very exact with how we want them to handle and initially it must seem so slow to them as we don't even use jumps - just jump wings without poles, and tunnels and getting the dogs happy and running and chasing, and the handler learning which arm to point with and when to run. The more handlers and dogs we've trained, the more we know this is the quickest way to move forward.
And for those that have been with us for a while we pushed on even harder and 'round the backs of jumps', 'blind turns' and European turns have become the norm. I can actually see their smiling faces and hear them saying 'I can't believe I did that!!' week after week.
And because we teach them every handling technique we can think of from day one, these moves become natural to them and their dogs, when even only a couple of years ago these moves where hard for us!!
It all seemed to fall in place the other week when I set a small course up and told the class to walk the course by themselves - up to this point I'd always walked it with them discussing what to do. This group only started last summer and I was listening to them as they walked the course (trying to keep my mouth shut!) and I could hear them say - oh this is one of those European turns here (a Ketschker turn), and they were right and they handled it perfectly. I just couldn't stop smiling knowing that this group of people and their dogs, were now becoming agility handlers and agility dogs.
And because we love watching our students handle so well we realise we sometimes forget the 'boring bits' so we've made a big effort this winter to concentrate on weaves and contacts. They aren't really boring, I actually love weaves - its just that they are so time consuming and exacting to teach. Week after week, Julie and I seem to have spent longer hammering those pegs in for the weaves then actually teaching them, moving the weave poles closer inch by inch, but we know its paid off as bit by bit, more dogs are beginning to weave properly, which will enable them to compete in proper Kennel Club classes rather then just fun classes.
Which takes me onto the first shows of the year at Easter and the amount of 1st places our small club has had has been unbelievable. Several handlers have had 2, 3 and 4 1st places and I think one students had 5!!! And this was with a dog that had totally shut down before she came to us a year ago, and to hear this handler say - oh she won all her classes - was amazing!
And as these handlers have gradually become friends, we know they are just like Julie and I - that its not about winning at all - that's just the icing on the cake - its about all the fun that goes into every day living with your dogs and making that relationship even more special by training, getting themselves and their dogs fitter and being inventive in finding places and equipment to train their dogs on when they aren't at the club and just having fun. Many a living room and back garden is now an agility obstacle course!!
And the excitement is getting contagious - handlers' families are now getting involved as they realise what a lovely atmosphere the agility shows are, especially the beautiful countryside the shows are often set in, and caravans have being bought as whole families come along! In fact a few people have said to us we have changed their lives, which is such an honour. And these handlers are also encouraging other club members to enter their first show and I just can't wait to see them competing.
But what of Julie and I?! Well, our training has come on in leaps and bounds, mainly as we have been taking on-line classes by our long-time agility inspiration, Silvia Trkman. This is the best training we have ever done - the feedback we get from Silvia is very detailed and individually tailored, and our understanding of what and why we are doing things has become so clear. Our young dogs have come on much quicker, with seemingly so little training as in every next training session, it is a tiny bit harder, never repeating things we can already do.
Plus the on-line classes gives you access to all the other students and their videos world-wide who are taking the same course, enabling us to learn even more.
So, we've had a good winter in lots of ways, but I've also had a sad winter seeing the gradual deterioration and death of my beautiful collie Whisky, who it seemed such a short time ago was a puppy in his first ever puppy agility class along with Julie's dog Winnie (who is still beautifully fit and going strong and is as competitive as ever). He started going lame a couple of years ago and even after numerous tests nothing was ever really diagnosed except some sort of neurological spinal degeneration and he went from a big framed very handsome lad, to a dog riddled with arthritis with no muscle left at all who could hardly walk. He was only 8.
To me he was everything and I feel I'll never have another dog like him. He had so much drive and talent, always happy and always wanting to work or just being with me, sat by my side. He will always be remembered though as he is on our logo, along with Julie's Winnie, as it was our achievements with these two dogs - winning up the grades and competing in grade 7 and Championship classes together - that started off our whole adventure of teaching and forming our club. We used to have such fun walking the harder courses together, laughing as we planned our runs, knowing that Winnie would probably be foot perfect and Whisky probably wouldn't be (he was usually too busy squealing his way round the course and didn't always listen!) but it really didn't matter as we so enjoyed that too-brief time together which went in the blink of an eye, and I just wish I could do it all again.
So even though things will never quite be the same again, more memories are now being made and I feel very privileged to have met the people and the dogs we teach and the lives we are involved in.