I’m sure like Karen and I you’re shocked by the scenes unfolding in Ukraine. It’s hard to believe this is happening in a European country.
As Agility Team Manager, coaches and competitors from other countries became good friends. There was a bond between us and support for each other shared through our love of agility.
I remember sharing a team room with Ukraine – amongst others, at the World Championships in Sweden. The language barrier didn’t stop us from smiling, shaking hands and acknowledging success.
People come together through sport. Sharing a common interest in competition and personal achievement together. Playing sport with animals i.e dog sports and horses, brings an extra dimension. Even stronger bonds form through our shared love for the animals and our sport.
It saddens me to think about how this conflict will affect ex-fellow competitors.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Ukraine. Kind regards,
Last month I wrote about why reading is important to me and how I set a goal that developed my reading habit.
I haven’t always been an avid reader
It was my interest in sports psychology that increased my reading. For some people reading is relaxation, for others it’s therapeutic, and for others, reading is seen as a time-consuming activity that’s hard to fit into busy lives. For me, reading is educational. I enjoy learning, exploring and researching. We need a good reason to read, and a willingness to commit the time.
We’re lucky to have access to books through ebooks, Audiobooks, online resources and of course good old print. I use all types…but still prefer paper.
There are some fantastic apps for people who are short of time to read
My favourite is Blinkist (other similar apps are available). This app enables you to read a book in 15 minutes…well you get an extremely good overview of the book, the highlights, learning points etc. in short ‘blinks’. I aim to read a Blinkist book a day. Because it’s an app, you can easily save them for future reference.
So rather than setting yourself a huge goal of reading a lot of books in a year, aim to read for 15 minutes a day.
We had a dream to sea kayak into caves on holiday in Orkney this year.
I also wanted to catch up with my relatives in Orkney and Banffshire so a road trip was planned to include sea kayaking into The Gloup.
During our holiday we covered 1435 miles, 2 countries, 4 ferries, 3 river walks, 8 beaches, a forest and stayed in 7 different places… phew.
Previously our dogs have been trained into enjoying our hobby of agility and had all done quite well at that. Going on a ‘normal holiday’ identified new skill sets to be addressed.
Staying overnight in our dog vehicle or different Airbnb’s wasn’t anything new to them – we were just out of practice because of various lockdowns.
They hadn’t been brought up on loose lead walking, essential in strange places and rural areas where there may be livestock and around beaches which had cliffs and nesting seagulls. Prior to the holiday and during the various lockdowns we all became masters at walking on lead. When off lead for all the above reasons they also needed a 100% recall.
The only dodgy moment was when we were walking on a shoreline path and I was chatting to my cousins. I noticed somebody on the beach about 10 foot below us saying something about lovely dogs. I. looked along and saw all four of them balanced on a cliff edge close to a seagull nest complete with cute baby seagull. Luckily no angry parent seabird though.
I walked as calmly as I could along the path to where it branched off to the rear of this cliff and managed to call them quietly back the way they came with no harm done – not even to the seagull chick which obviously wasn’t on their list of something to eat!
The dogs were stars and the work put into their behaviour worked out.
As we all know the weather can’t be trained, and the Saturday we were due to go kayaking was very windy – too windy for sea kayaking. That dream had gone, however, we had a lot of fun practicing and building up our skills ready for this adventure, they will come in handy for future expeditions.
We’re going to The Orkney Islands and Scotland for our holiday this year for hiking, sightseeing and to catch up with Karen’s family. We’ve also booked a day’s sea kayaking exploring caves and wrecks around Orkney’s coast on what is labelled a ‘novice trip’.
Just before Covid we had joined our local canoe club
I did a lot of slalom canoeing in my youth and am still comfortable in a kayak. Karen on the other hand had a lot of enthusiasm and needed to work on her technique – in fact that is the problem, she only seems to be strong in one arm – going in a straight line alluded her for a while. Then she decided to apply her sports psychology skills, which look like this:
• Think of the dream – paddling in sea caves • Consider what is needed to achieve that dream • Break it down into a long term goal – written in current tense with emotions and senses: ‘The rugged beauty of the cliffs covered in nesting birds is mingled with their cries, the smell of the sea and the taste of salt water as we confidently paddle along the coastline.’
Then turn that dream into Short Term Goals written using SCCAMP criteria:
• Specific – By the middle of July I will be able to do a day’s sea kayaking in Orkney. • Challenging – The trip I’ve booked is for novice paddlers – am I at novice level yet? • Controllable – I can book sessions and the trip…not to be confused with controlling a sea kayak! • Achievable – We are now regularly paddling for a couple of an hours at a time • Measurable – The more I practise the stronger I will be so I will measure how many hours practice we get in. • Personal – I spent many a happy holiday in Orkney on my uncle’s farm and would love to experience some of the islands from the sea.
Now I consider the skills required to reachthose goals
One of the skills I need is to know how to deal with a capsize situation, which we practised last week. I felt my body strength needed to pull myself back into the kayak in water was lacking and so I find myself on a similar fitness regime to agility. Weight loss, planking and running for aerobic strength as well as time on water.
The rest of the holiday we plan to be sightseeing and walking the dogs.
CSJ products are going to be well used:
• Kibble – easy to feed – dry or wet if they need more fluid • Billy No Mates keeping the fleas and ticks at bay • Skinny Spray for protection before they go running in moorlands • Skinny Cream in case of any irritations • Skinny Dip Shampoo – Chic will surely find something to roll in and I must remember to order, • DemBones – ideal if they get ‘deli belly’
I hope you have fun planning for your own holiday whether you use it to push yourself to achieve something or are just relaxing.
The light at the end of the lockdown tunnel is gradually getting brighter. As lockdown measures ease around the country next week there are signs of a different and yet recognisable normality emerging.
Agility competitions and other dog activities are gradually returning around the country, albeit under new rules and conditions. I notice that governing bodies of other recreational sports and hobbies are giving guidance on how to resume under new measures allowing friends, families and other competitors to meet up and enjoy their activities again. Many sports are already trialling ways to resume competitions without masks and social distancing – an advantage of being part of a recognised sport body.
It’s a welcome return and I believe people are just pleased to get out and do what humans have done throughout our evolution – socialise.
Despite April’s unseasonal weather, frost and not a lot of rain… someone will need to rewrite the April Showers rhyme. Our dogs have continued with their daily exercise, agility fitness (for those who will be competing) and learning other activities. Lockdown hasn’t seemed to affect them, although I’m sure they’ll welcome a change of scenery to run in when we start venturing out further.
Let’s hope the country stays on this road to recovery and we can all enjoy whatever activities we find pleasurable again.
Mark Laker was the Kennel Club’s Agility Team GB Manager from 2013 – 2020 where he used his experience in sports psychology and business skills to enable high performance to deliver medals at the European Open for Juniors, The European Open and FCI Agility World Championships.
Mark has built a reputation for effectively transferring these techniques and skills to dog agility and coaches handlers to help them to develop their skills.Mark has used his knowledge, enthusiasm and experience to develop Agility1st’s high quality training and coaching programmes. Mark lives Nottinghamshire with his wife Karen their four Border Collies and a Jack Russell X: https://agility1st.co.uk/
‘One step at a time’ a message which will forever remind me of Captain Sir Tom Moore motivating the nation with his incredible fund raising and life story – what an amazing man. Taking one step at a time in my pre-lockdown world wasn’t easy
For the last 10 years I’ve had to be very flexible in my career as a Project Manager. I’d have a few days working from home, then I’d be away on business trips for 3-4 days, then a couple of days spent on-site locally. No day was ever the same. That all changed in March 2020 when we went into the first National Lockdown.
Since then, I’ve definitely been taking life one step at a time
That doesn’t mean I’m not planning ahead (I love planning), but for the first time in many years I’m now time-rich (sounds like consultant talk). I’ve had time to plan ahead, consider what I want/need to do, do it properly i.e. not rushing because I may not have time again, finish it, check it’s finished and then really make sure it’s finished. This may sound like common sense, but it’s surprising how many times we think we’ve completed a task/activity and then discover there were still some loose-ends. I suppose in dog training terms, it’s like proofing what you believe you’ve trained is the desired behaviour you’re getting.
And what about our dogs, how have their lives changed over the last year?
They’ve had even more exercise. Over the last year I’ve challenged myself to walk at least 5K every day. Karen has had time to brush up their existing skills and train new ones and of course they have our company at home all the time. Dogs are incredibly adaptable though, I’m sure they will soon adapt to the next routine as life changes again as lockdown restrictions lift.
I’m not sure what our next routine will be
I’m beginning to dislike the over-used term ‘new-normal’ because, I don’t want normal. It sounds boring, repetitive and non-eventful. I’m hopeful it will not be a new-normal, but life will be interesting, exciting and present different opportunities. I also hope there’ll be more appreciation for how fragile the planet and our lives are, and we’ll start seeing more proactive steps being taken to look after what we already have.
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.
Maybe summer is here now, although I remember an olde English saying ”Ne’er cast a clout till May be out”… in other words don’t get rid of your winter clothes just yet. Anyway, after a glorious Easter, May so far has been a bit of a downer for me in more that just a weather related way.
Last October I picked up a muscle injury in my hip area (I told people I’d broken my bum as that’s what it felt like!) Apparently I’d damaged a deep muscle which wasn’t easy to stretch or repair so I just had to be patient and do the exercises. It meant I couldn’t run or do anything too strenuous for about five months.
Easter came and I’m fixed, exercising again and gradually getting back into training with Moog. Then we had a change of plan and decided Moog needed some proper dog training… I just pretend to be a dog trainer, Karen’s the dog trainer. I’m the people tamer!
Karen’s first run with Moog was at Shrewsbury earlier this month and they did well. I ran Karen’s well trained dog Rhyme and had a 1st place, a 2nd and a 5th which I was pleased about. So there we are, Rhyme and I both fit and running well again – some would say “ye olde magic is still there”.
Then without warning last week I picked up a back injury (ye olde-re occurring back pain). Fortunately it isn’t serious and everything was put back into place by the Physio. However I’ve had to miss another weekend of competition while it recovers.
I’ll be working on my fitness when I get the all clear and plan to enjoy the rest of season competing with Rhyme and supporting Karen with young Moog, Chic and Pikachu.
One of the many good points about dog ownership is even when you’re not feeling 100% dogs still want to be you and will enjoy anything we do with them. Whether it’s out for a walk, a run, agility or other work they are always keen to join in.
Have a great May and remember no casting of clouts yet…
PS – apparently the saying is also related to the Hawthorn being in flower too.
I’m writing this months blog from the garden at 9pm in the evening sat here in shorts and a T-shirt enjoying a warm evening. The weather has been amazing. Too hot for some and perfect for others. Next week we travel to The Netherlands for the European Open for Juniors and the weather seems set to continue there.
Many team members have been acclimatising their dogs to the weather as its set to continue in Austria when we’re there in three weeks time too. While I accept some dogs struggle in the heat, I’ve seen how dogs can acclimatise and if treated sensible take it in their stride.
So its the junior competition first and our YKC team are looking confident. Their last training session went very well and they have had plenty of practice on the type of courses they can expect to be faced with.
One a different but related subject, q few handlers have commented to me recently how inspired they’ve been from watching the World Cup. From my own experience no matter whether you follow football or not, the sporting principle is the same. It’s about drawing on all your strengthens and skills to deliver a world class performance. What professional sports people / athletes do is take this to a higher level and go in too much greater depth of analysis than most of us, this is where we can learn.
So I hope the teams going to the competitions in Europe this month feel extra inspired and show us what great athletes they are as we compete against some of the best in the world.
You can keep up with the European Open for Juniors here and the European Open (adult championships) here.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that I had the first meeting with the 2018 Agility Team GB squad and now we’re four weeks away from the European Open for Juniors and six weeks from the EO for the adults.
Both teams had their first official team training sessions a few weeks ago. We tried something different this year by taking them into the Escape rooms at Nottingham. The idea was to help build teams and get them working together in a different environment.
Judging by the feedback I received it seems to work. They had a lot of fun learning about each others strengths and trying to work out how to escape the rooms through their team work, skill and drawing on each others strengths.
On a serious note learning how to support and interact with each other is crucial at the high pressure events they’ll experience soon. We’ve found in the past that strong relationships and knowing who can provide support when needed is very important.
The agility preparations are going well. The team are using many of the competitions as part of their preparations whilst still going out to perform at their top level. In the next couple of weeks they start tapering down to preserve energy and prevent injuries in the final lead up to the event.
I hope your competition / training season is going well and don’t forget to keep focused on your seasons goals. Its easy to get distracted away from these in the excitement of the competition.
Mark International Agility Team Manager•Agility Team GB