Dog sports…Agility handlers…? How did you get on with last months questions on motivation?

Dog sports…Agility handlers…? How did you get on with last months questions on motivation?

By Mark Laker

These are two questions I ask my new coaching students – it gets them thinking… and not just ‘what a daft question’!

Motivation is a complex subject, it fuels our interest to do things, it generates our intrigue to learn and develop skills. The motivation cycle is fascinating too. Motivation builds and plateaus to a point where the topic (in our case dog sports) becomes a habit. Then the habit becomes a way of life and before you know it, we have multiple dogs, a caravan or a motorhome, a dog vehicle, all our holidays are at competitions and we’re on the dog sport hamster wheel. Now ask the question ‘why do you do dog sports?’….and the answer you’ll get is: 

‘Because I do, I’ve always done it’. 

That’s the answer I often got – until I probed more (asking five why’s) until I uncovered the real reasons. 

The Five Why’s

Asking five why’s takes the emotion out of the subject and gets to the deep rooted reasons often forgotten over time. Of course there are no right or wrong answers with this exercise, what’s important, particularly at times like now when external pressures have stopped the hamster wheel, is that we remember why we got involved in the first place. 

From my experience these reasons include: 
               * I’ve always been around dogs
               * I’ve always been involved with competitive sports;
               * I like the social side of the sport;
               * I enjoy teaching my dogs new skills;
               * All of the above !

It’s important to understand what form of motivation drives each one of these root causes. When you know that, you can channel that motivation in other directions if you need too. 

For example, if you enjoy teaching dogs new skills but you can’t do your sport at the moment, you may get that ‘motivation’ feel from virtually teaching new skills to help people. If you’ve always been involved with competitive sports but you can’t do your sport at the moment, then is there another sport you can find out about, do you have a transferable skill you can offer to another sport or person.

We often get so caught up on the hamster wheel that until something like COVID, a recession, or a change in personal circumstances comes along, we don’t stop and look at other options.

Maybe it’s time to ask what motivates us and how can we use them to keep going in these unprecedented times and expand our interests.

I hope you are keeping well.

Best regards,

Mark.

Mark Laker

Happy New Lockdown

By Mark Laker

Hello 2021, goodbye 2020 (some say good riddance too). We’ve heard that a lot since New Years Day haven’t we? 

2020 was an unprecedented year for everyone. For many, it was a challenging year losing loved ones, being furloughed, losing jobs, home schooling, uncertainty about the future and no dog sport competitions or trials. 

For others it was a quiet year. A year with time to reflect on priorities, an opportunity to explore new ventures, time to develop skills or revisit past interests – a year to reset and take stock.

What lies ahead for dog sports in 2021? 

We don’t know when competitions and trials will restart, we don’t know what format they will take, we don’t know who will want to continue under a different format and possibly tight restrictions. There are a lot of unknowns and it’s too early to begin answering these questions (IMO). 

2021 continues the unprecedented theme

‘I can’t get any motivation to train with all this going on’ – I’m sure you’ve heard that recently too…or thought it yourself. It’s understandable and I sympathise. There’s a lot going on that’s simply, out of our control. 

Motivation is one of the subjects at the core of sports psychology. I’ll elaborate more next month, but for now, have a think about the two questions below which may help you determine what motivation means in your world of dog sports, and how it may help you look forward to 2021 through a different lens.

What motivates you to participate in dog sports? 

For example: the social side of the sport; competing against others; training your dog new skills,; ‘my instructor motivated me’; ‘I’m motivated by watching other performers’; etc. 

Are you motivated by: winning; not losing; by just taking part; by the environment (training in a group with your dog or at a competition/trial).

There are no right or wrong answers, it’s very individual and starts us thinking more deeply about why love our sports and what we can control irrespective of what’s going on around us.

Stay safe and well.

Mark Laker

A merry Christmas wish from Mark Laker

A merry Christmas wish from Mark Laker

By Mark and Karen Laker

Firstly, we would like to wish everyone a merry Christmas, it will be a different one in many ways. We hope whatever your circumstance that you find a way to still celebrate with your loved ones.

Loads of thanks to those people who are working in any of the essential services

For us, this includes the people at CSJ keeping our dog’s food supply going. Ceri and her team have always been hard working and we hope that any of the challenges thrown at the working practices at CSJ haven’t been that step too far. Please take care and hope the Christmas break is a good opportunity to relax.

Having dogs to walk has always been one of our favourite activities

Now it has become a way of seeing people too. We know more people now in our tiny hamlet than before these lockdowns. The family visits have been on hold though and other than a small Christmas bubble, we will keep using the great mediums of Skype, Zoom, WhatApp or even old-fashioned telephone calls to keep our parents safe this Christmas time. They will never replace a hug, but it is surprising how comfortable everyone is now at expressing themselves via different media.

2020 certainly has pushed us out of our comfort zones and created new ones

For me agility was going to be taking a back seat anyway this year and without competitions for my customers to focus on, I decided to look into some new dog hobbies. Dog Sports UK is similar to working trials and have created a system to help new people move forward in their dog training. It is still show related for progress though, so I looked at another new dog activity – Dog Parkour UK.

Wow where did that come from – it is so much fun, non-competitive and very well organised


If like me you’ve enjoyed watching Parkour in films like ‘6 Underground’ you’d be right to be a bit hesitant about teaching stunts to your dogs. However, safety is at the forefront of the rules and in some respects the earlier levels may seem a bit tame in comparison.

There are various levels and at each you learn foundation skills before doing the challenges, earning titles and progressing.

It offers titles in different environments too, so you can do it in your own home, on a walk or even in the town. It is still a case of don’t try this at home until you’ve learned the basics and really taken on board the safety considerations.

I could tell you more and have just done a two-week online instructor course – I recommend you check out their Facebook page Dog Parkour UK.

If you already enjoy doing activities with your dog’s, you’ll find out about the skills you need to earn titles without an instructor; something to aim for in 2021 until life gets back to more normal. If you prefer personal instruction, then they have a list of instructors or pm me if you want to ask me about my experience.

A Covid safe environment for training

Meanwhile like other dog trainers, I’ve spent a good deal of time reading rules and regulations to be able to provide a Covid safe environment to restart my lessons. There is no measure of how important social interaction is between people, and dog training also embodies the joy of physical activity with your best friends of the four-legged variety in the great outdoors.

Best wishes for a happy Christmas and here’s hoping 2021 brings more settled times.

Best regards,

Mark Laker

‘Oh no here we go again’ or Oh yes, here we go again’!

‘Oh no here we go again’ or Oh yes, here we go again’!

By Mark Laker

‘Oh no here we go again’ I read recently about lockdown 2. It was followed up by various views about the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s attempt to bring it under control and the response from different people. 

Photo from Mark Laker’s blog

‘Here we go again’ – an opportunity to try again, build on the past? Or, ‘Oh no, not that again’, more bad things. It reminds me of that well known quote by unknown – who by the way has written some great quotes:

‘Whether a glass is half full or half empty depends on the attitude of the person looking at it.’

So where’s this blog going? We can look upon lockdown 2 as a miserable, boring and negative time that’s making me feel like my glass is definitely half empty and I could selfishly ignore all the experts advice and think of my short-term social life. Or, I could see this as an opportunity to try something new, benefit from the precious time given back to do something for the long-term and possibly save lives and help society get back on its feet.

I’m going to be using this time to increase my  writing, something I really enjoy and something I’ll have time for now my other commitments and energy-sapping activities through the summer have levelled off (a bit).  

I plan to make the most of the increased evening and weekend time available by writing my blog more regularly, setting myself a lockdown challenge (more of that later) and topping up my coaching skills.

Another lockdown 2 comment I recently heard was, ‘it’s not what you could do, it’s what you should do’. Particularly important as the country tries to control this devastating pandemic. 

Stay safe everyone and continue looking for positive opportunities

Best regards, 

Mark.

Mark Laker

Follow Mark Laker’s blog on: https://inneragility.co.uk/blog/

Missing the agility fix?

Missing the agility fix?

By Mark Laker

October 2020

It is surprising with all the turmoil this year has brought to realise it is October already.

By this time of the year we previously would have had a full season of agility shows, including the Junior and Adult European Open competitions; our social media feeds are currently full of pictures from previous year’s world championships too.

All the hard work both from organisers and competitors wasted due to a virus; it still seems so unreal and just unbelievable.

Doing things differently

We had planned to do some different things this year anyway, but agility would still have featured especially for Chic as she is just Grade 2 and has a long way to go.

I mentioned doing a Summer and now Winter league in small groups which is working well for my customers – developing the youngsters and keeping the more experienced going.

It’s interesting to see that there have been some Covid friendly KC shows with classes capped at 50. As they are not local to us, I’m not sure how it all works, but it is good to see that show organisers are committed to keeping agility competitions going.

Competition is good for motivation

For many just doing agility is fun enough, but that element of competition and knowing you and your dog are achieving, is good for motivation.

For those unable to get to these shows and missing the agility social fix, it’s just a case of knuckling down and finding a way through until something like a normal service can be resumed.

We have had a varied month of looking at new dog activities, walking up mountains and canoeing/kayaking.

Losing Torro

We also sadly lost Torro as despite our positive words, he was not able to get better and we had that awful decision to make. Sometimes being positive isn’t enough and life can’t always be perfect. For whatever reason it was decided that dogs wouldn’t live as long as humans, it is something that every dog owner has to face up to. It never gets easier but the heartbreak of losing them is a small price to pay for the life we share with them.

Matters of life and death

Matters of life and death

By Karen Laker,

The intention for this month’s blog was to write about how the competitive nature of people can influence their attitude to risk. Many agility competitors believe they are not competitive by nature, the truth is that humans are intrinsically competitive which is why we as a species are always striving for better. What that better means overall is a wide debate that will go on and on – but not in this blog.

So back to competition and agility

It is good to see that agility groups and clubs up and down the country are now running training within Covid-19 guidelines, however the usual KC competitions are not scheduled for any time soon. For some (myself included) this completely changes the dynamics of training.

To help people maintain some kind of focus I’ve run a Summer league which was appreciated. Due to that success I am also running a winter league which has drawn a few more clients out of their self-imposed isolation. We will take a look at that further next month.

More pressing matters arose for us today

Our old dog Torro had a vestibular last night. Most dog owners who have had old dogs will have encountered this at one time or another. Years ago it was talked about as being similar to us having a stroke and the effects are the same. The outcome is also varied with some dogs making a great recovery. Fingers crossed that is the case for Torro. He has a strong heart and determined mind.

The difference Covid-19 made to what is already a distressing experience was emotionally draining. The thought of not being able to go into the vets with our dog or be with him in worst case scenario was indescribable. On top of that, it was at the on-call vets instead of our own familiar vet. However, the vet nurses and vets were amazing. Although we had to let them take him in, we were completely reassured by their behaviour and compassion that he was in the best care.

Luckily, he is home with us and we’ll be giving him extra care for the next 24 hours or so.

I’m sure there are so many stories like this and worse all over the world with people not being with their loved ones in their greatest need. It is an awful virus to take that away from us.

Hats off to those in the caring professions who have to deal with this daily

Thank you all for your dedication and mostly thank you for stepping up and adapting your processes whilst maintaining all your caring skills. Once again evidence that human nature will strive to do the best.

What can you and your dog achieve?

By Karen Laker

Like many other agility competitors our dogs have been brought up to love training and competing.

As lockdown eases, we are carefully able to resume weekly training and training days etc. Some COVID friendly competitions have even been run and I’ve done a Summer League with my own customers just to keep up training with an end purpose.

Personally, I have used this down time to also take a look at other dog sports for new challenges.

All the different activities I have researched have one thing in common – awards and/or titles. This is the focus we use to motivate us and give us something to aim for.

So, what about a COVID K9 programme incorporating all the skills our dogs have had to develop recently?

Basic Dog

Aim – to enjoy daily moments of living with your canine.

Evidence:

  • Pictures of dog sleeping,
  • Dog posing for yet another photo
  • Dog being taken for yet another walk with each member of the house as they go outside for a break/ daily exercise.

Lockdown Dog

Aim – to show how adaptable your dog is.

Evidence:

  • Dog settled for several hours in order to watch another box set/classic film.
  • No barking when someone comes to the door as nobody ever comes in,
  • Dog playing with hose whilst you are finding something in the garden shed (which tbh you didn’t even know existed),
  • Dog not bothered by furniture being moved around/decorating etc.

Lockdown Agility Dog

Aim – to show how obsessive we can be.

Evidence:

  • Dog enjoying ‘going back to basics’ on all training as they have time and they will now be able to get it perfect with handler sat down and using verbal commands only.
  • Dogs completing a 20-obstacle course in the garden avoiding the shed (which is now filled with garden agility equipment and actual gardening stuff), the new wildlife pond and bee attracting flower bed and still nailing that weave entry.

Outside the House Dog

Aim – to display any old dogs can learn new tricks.

Evidence:

  • Dog can at last walk on a loose lead (after all no rings to pull to, no exciting training to get to and no room for off lead zoomies), lead is obviously only 2m maximum.
  • Without instruction the dog automatically sits by your side when they see someone new, a new dog, someone on a bike or someone on a horse.

*New Outside the House Dog July 2020 – dog does not freak out when it sees you with a face mask on.

Easing of Lockdown Dog

Aim – no idea frankly as rules get a bit hazy.

Evidence:

  • Dog does not bark once whilst, yet another driver takes a photo of you receiving home improvement/ gardening/ bike accessories deliveries or dog barks continuously for the whole 10 minutes.
  • Dog wags tail furiously from a suitable social distance and does not leap all over their trainer that they had always leapt on since puppy class.
  • Dog can recall off other dogs, bikes and horses most of which have gone back to pre-lockdown activities never to be seen again.

Specialist categories

Good Pub Dog – evidenced by dog relaxing in pub.

Character Pub Dog – evidenced by dog winning over all staff and being given any leftovers.

Think about what great skill/character trait your dog has displayed this year that they should be honoured with.

Whatever your dog would win an award for, there is no doubt that their unfailing companionship is priceless in these times.

However you adapt to this new Covid-19 world, enjoy the summer and your dogs

However you adapt to this new Covid-19 world, enjoy the summer and your dogs

By Mark Laker

As lockdown gradually eases in most parts of the UK, people are adapting to the new ways of living and working with Covid-19. I’ve recently changed roles in my daily work life and having a vertual interview, meeting my new colleagues and team all online virtually, has been an interesting experience. Going into an office is an unlikely prospect for me until sometime in 2021.

Talking about new roles, my successor as Agility Team GB Manager, Greg Derrett is now in place. I’ve been in touch with Greg a few times and offered my support as he gets up to speed in the role… although I don’t think it’ll take him too long. Greg has a wealth of experience and a lot of passion for our sport – I’m sure he’ll do a great job.

It’s strange times for many sports

Some activities are still very much stopped, others are easing their way back and the more innovative ones are finding new ways to play. I’ve spoken to people who are taking stock of their interests… dare I say life, and considering their future direction in this new Covid-19 world. Many people have already adapted to a different way to life over the last four months and are enjoying spending more time with their families, appreciating the natural world more, taking more exercise and making different use of their time. 

As someone interested in psychology, the ability of humans to adapt and change according to our environment both fascinates and worries me. I’m shocked how people can be so destructive to one another and our world, but also amazed by how creative and resourceful we can be too.

One things for sure, those of us reading this article will always gravitate and find solace in our dogs.

Enjoy the summer and your dogs.

Mark.

Strange Times

Strange Times

By Mark Laker

Life is strange at the moment isn’t it? We live in a peaceful world (mostly) with people who love to spend time with their dogs. For us particularly, that involves training our dogs to be great at agility. With no shows to attend for the foreseeable future, we’ve taken the opportunity to establish and enjoy more relaxing routines and weekends.

Our dogs have been brought up to utilise their energy and enjoy regular training. They’re fed high-quality food to enhance their performance and maintain tip-top fitness. With no shows or training classes to attend, like many agility competitors we’ve scaled down the agility training.

In our household we currently have four border collies and a terrier-cross and they love learning and being active. They’re on a training programme of: learning how to just chill-out and relax around the house and garden; learning how to loose-lead walk and practicing social distancing around the extra people, bikes and horses we meet on our usual walks.

The Border Collies and Pikachu’s all love working, and although running round an agility course is the most fun in our house, anything that involves figuring out what we want them to do is fun too.

We’ve started using other activities to channel their mental and physical energy. These include:

  • Waiting in their beds patiently while their dinner is being prepared.
  • Waiting at doors & gateways until they get called individually.
  • Waiting for their turn to fetch their toy (Torro (old boy) doesn’t get this and gets 3 x as much exercise whilst we are doing this with the others). And Pikachu was a bit snooty of joining in, but now has her own toy which nobody else can have.
  • Doing sit, down, stand or a left / right turn before or on the way to their toy.
  • Loose-lead walking – in the past the main time they were on a lead was on the way to the agility ring and no one was interested in doing that calmly. J
  • Walking and balancing on logs.

They play most of these games all together, which challenges them further and its intriguing how they learn as a pack members and as individuals.

As we come out of lock down and small training classes are restart, it’s noticeable how some partnerships have definitely got tighter with this extra time we’ve been spending at home with our dogs. We’re going to keep up some of the fun training we’ve been doing as we all enjoy it.

We hope you and your dogs are keeping safe and well.

Mark & Karen.

“Stay safe and make the most of this opportunity to grow” Mark Laker

“Stay safe and make the most of this opportunity to grow” Mark Laker

thumbnail_Control the Controllables

May Agility blog

By Mark Laker

We’re still in lockdown, the world is still coming to terms with covid-19, and life still goes on as people adjust to the situation.

Coping strategies

Over the last month or so I’ve been asked to share coping strategies that might help people while they’re working remotely, feeling isolated and are concerned about what our new normal might look like. I thought I’d share a few with the CSJ readers.

My sports psychology research and learning has led me down some interesting paths over the years. One common thread I hear from many experts is ‘turn obstacles into opportunities’. And even though this phrase was around long before the coronavirus, it still applies.

For me this means, I could mope around at home longing to get out, socialise, travel and be free to wander. Or I could accept that the situation is the right one for everyone and turn this into an opportunity to get stuck into projects and activities that I never normally get a chance to do. There are lots of new opportunities out there at the moment, we just have to look for them.

Control the controllables

‘Control the controllables’ is another well-used tip. There is little point worrying and wasting precious energy on things we cannot control e.g. when is lockdown going to be eased, when are canine competitions going to restart. We can be mindful of these things, but we cannot control them. We’re better off putting energy into things we can control. Like:

  • What can I do to maintain my physical and mental health and fitness;?
  • How can I offer support to family, the community and friends?
  • Controlling how much/little news and social media I absorb

Focusing on contrallables helps to build resilience, confidence and self-esteem, which are good traits to have in these times.

Don’t let the external affect the internal

My third ‘top tip’ this month is ‘don’t let the external affect the internal’. Start by writing down your key values and beliefs (if you haven’t already). Revisit them and think about how they influence your life and your decisions. Don’t let external influences distract you away from these values and try not to let external pressures sway you. Maintain a growth mind set and live to your values.

Stay safe and make the most of this opportunity to grow.