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.

Ne’er cast an agility clout till May be out…

By Mark Laker

hawthorn (2)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.

 

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Inspired by the World Cup, next week we travel to The Netherlands for the European Open for Juniors…

By Mark Laker

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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.
 
Enjoy the weather.
Mark Laker

International Team Manager

 

Where does the time go?

By Mark Laker

 IMG_0428It 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.

TeamGBlogo2015The 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

Mark
International Agility Team Manager  Agility Team GB
mobile: +44 7803 814 638
www.thekennelclub.org.uk/activities/agility/international-agility-teams

 

April is one of the busiest months in the Agility Team GB calendar…

MLBy Mark Laker
International Agility Team Manager, Agility Team GB

With the Performance Weekend at the beginning of the month followed by many hours working though our selections for the 2018 teams and then picking dogs and handlers for this years development programme. Its exciting, rewarding and challenging, but thats the role. There are also many people who ask for feedback on their performance and where they can improve in the future.

This year we’ve selected to take 26 dogs to the European Open in Austria and 17 dogs to the World Championships in Sweden. You can read more about the selections and considerations in our decision making process in my blog For these handlers the hard work now begins. There is a lot of preparation required leading up to these big competitions not only the logistical planning, but also mapping out their training programmes for the months ahead.

These handlers will now be setting out which competitions they’ll attend to assist their preparations, setting out fitness and conditioning programmes for themselves and their dogs, working on their mental skills, as well focusing on the dog training and handling skills required for the courses they’re likely to be faced with. So lots to do.

Following the Performance Weekend we also picked 11 dogs to join this years development programme. This programme is designed to help prepare dogs and handlers for a chance in a future team. It’s been running for a couple of years now and we’ve had very positive feedback from previous people.

For the Coaching Team we’ll be getting to work with all the handlers over the next few weeks to identify where help they need and supporting them as they set out their 2018 plans. Although the hard work starts now, its a really enjoyable part of the job.

I’m hoping for some better agility weather so I can compete with my youngster who is coming on well. I’ve entered three competitions so far this year, two have been rained off.

So how are your New Year habits going?

March blog by Mark Laker

International Agility Team Manager  -Agility Team GB

So how are your New Year habits going?

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Hopefully you’re still maintaining focus on them…It’s difficult though isn’t it. I’m pleased to report that I’m still on track with mine…well the easy ones like drinking more water, eating more fruit and less chocolate (that is a hard one actually). I still have to work at the tougher habits I want to develop, its so easy to find reasons [read excuses] not to do them. It’s too wet, its too cold, I’m tired, I have other important things to do etc… But I’ve been working really hard to ignore these thoughts and just do it. I’m pleased to say its working and the habits are forming.

Later this month we have the second tryout day for the juniors hoping to be selected for the team going to the European Open for Juniors in The Netherlands this year.

And we also have the second squad day for the adults. Both days will require handlers to pull out their best runs on the day to be in with a chance of selection, especially the juniors as this will be their last try-out day. I’ll let you know how they get on next month and hopefully may be able to announce the team too.

The journey to selection for 2018 the GB International Agility Team has started. By Mark Laker

By Mark Laker

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Last weekend young handlers and this years senior squad attended the first two Agility Team GB days at Nottingham Trent University Brackenhurst Campus.

Interest in the European Open Juniors [EOJ] increases each year. Two years ago 70 handlers attended the first try-out day, this year there were 140. And of course the standard increases too. Approx. 50% of the top performing young handlers from day 1 will be invited to go forward to the second day in February. 
 
We’ll then select the team who will represent GB in The Netherlands in 2018
 
For the senior handlers their first squad day was designed to set the scene for the 2018 World Championships in Sweden and the European Open in Austria and help them start their preparations. For the first time this years squad includes handlers from the Development squad and ex-juniors. So we have a diverse group with good depth across all heights.

Mark Laker’s CSJ blog – The FCI Agility World Championships in Liberec

FCIThe FCI Agility World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic lived up to our expectations. The atmosphere amongst the supporters and competitors was fantastic. The standard of the agility courses was very high; they were technically challenging and yet exciting to watch. And of course the standard of competition was incredible. Much like the European Open the handling seen amongst the top teams was precise, fast and well practiced.

Agility at this level gets faster and more exciting each year. The top dogs are now regularly reaching speeds exceeding 6 metres per seconds (MPS). To put this in context when I first started looking at dog speeds we were aiming at 5.6 MPS for the same group of dogs. That’s a 12% increase in speed in four years. Obviously there are many factors that effect the speed including course design, the surface, jump heights etc.. however dogs and handlers continue to achieve faster times.

FCI arenaUnfortunately we didn’t win any medals this year. Which obviously we were disappointed about; I felt we were strong contenders for at least two medal positions. Our results didn’t reflected our performance. Many team members exceeded expectations, some pulled out a few surprises and others showed potential for the future.

Overall as a team I felt we were well prepared and knew what to expect. I think what caught us out was the raw power and speed of many of the dogs and handlers. This didn’t phase us, but it did make us push for every drop of energy and speed we could find.

So what next? Well the Coaching Team re-group later this month to plan our 2018 activities and how we are going to get our dogs quicker. Follow Mark Laker’s blog here: http://marklaker.blogspot.co.uk/

Saving in the Bank of Comfort…

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By Mark Laker
Do you remember the first time you stepped out of your comfort zone with your best friend (canine companion) next to you?

 

I still can, although I often try to forget it. Comfort zones are strange things, some people hate them and some people appreciate how they can help develop us to deal with many life experiences.

 

The other weird thing about comfort zones is unless you keep working on them, they fade away. Something I experienced recently with flying.

 

I’ve never been a great flyer, I don’t hate it, but its not my first choice of transport. I used to fly weekly with my job, but now its a few times a year.

 

I recently flew to Italy for the European Open. I could feel those same feelings building up inside like they were many years ago when I first took regular flights. I realised I haven’t practised being in this comfort zone for a while.

 

AWC 2017 logo
The Agility Team GB handlers, preparing for next months FCI World Championships, will be working hard on their comfort zones over the next few weeks. While they’ll be preparing their physical fitness and their handling skills, their mental skills training will include pushing they comfort zones out even further.

 

Having your dog next to you in these situations can give you confidence and a distraction from the things effecting your mental game. So what ever activity you do with your dog, remember if you’re feeling ‘uncomfortable’ , on the start line (out of your comfort zone), focus on your dog, let your skills take over and your brain run on auto-pilot. Very soon another competition experience will be in the ‘Bank of Comfort’.

 

Next month I’ll be reporting from the FCI World Championships in Czech Republic.

Getting ready for the European Open Junior 2017

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 14.46.49By Mark Laker

 

In the next couple of days we leave for the first of this years international agility championships. the European Open for Juniors (EOJ) in Luxembourg.

 

This year 500 dogs and their young handlers from 24 countries will be attending these championships that continues to grow in both size and the level of competition.

 

Agility Team GB are sending a team of 24 dogs this year at all three height categories and in the two age groups, children and juniors. The Team were selected in February and have been training and preparing hard since then getting ready for these Championships.

 

You can keep up to date via the KC Facebook Group:
Agility Team GB Twitter feed @agilityteamgb
And for the first time the event is being live streamed: https://www.working-dog.com

 

After the EOJ we have a week back and then it’s off to Italy for the Adult European Open (EO). An exciting month of top agility competition.

 

I’d like to thank CSJ for all their support sponsoring the team. You’ve enabled these juniors to compete with other top handlers from around the world, gain valuable life skills and experience from an international championships and start their pathway to future top level agility competition.