Circles of life and agility with Mark and Karen Laker in 2021

Circles of life and agility with Mark and Karen Laker in 2021

By Mark and Karen Laker

We are off on holiday for two weeks from Friday.

Then sadly Mark’s Dad passed away. Having seen how old age had transformed him so he was no longer able to feed himself, sit up etc. it takes away the edge of grief in that you feel his life was not what he had wanted. With our dogs it is our responsibility to make the decision over quality of life and Mark’s Mum felt it strongly that it seemed unfair for him to continue to deteriorate past the point that a decision would have been made.

A funeral is not great at the best of times but Covid rules made it all more confusing and exhausting. Overall though Mark’s Mum felt his Dad would have felt he’d had a good send off with enough family and friends able to attend, a choir singing his favourite hymns while a CD clip of a brass band he’d enjoyed played.

On the way back from the funeral our van started making strange noises.

One of my customers, Adele had mentioned a few months ago that she’d like to do mixi pairs but needed a small dog partner so I volunteered Pikachu. This gave me the motivation to get her back into agility and enter a show.

With the van not being safe to use and being tired from the funeral the show didn’t look a good prospect.

Adele offered me a lift so at 5:45am we fixed a crate in the back of her car and loaded up with Lucy, Oscar, Pikachu and Chic we set off.

This was my first real show back

It was great to see so many friends, the weather held up, the organisation was good and the courses were fun.

The pairs course worked well for Pikachu but not so well for Lucy. But for our first time competing together it wasn’t a bad performance.

Meanwhile I had felt out of sorts about being in grade two with my young BC. Partly because having had successive dogs winning up to champ for many years now it seems unfair on the grade two dogs to have to compete against experienced handlers and partly because I had not paid attention to this rule when it came out which meant staying in it longer than necessary. I had not appreciated that dogs needed an agility win and for her first season I only competed in jumping classes.

I totally understand that the sport is called agility and so potentially if a dog can not do all the equipment it should not progress but over the years I had enjoyed allowing my dogs to get used to the competition environment without the extra pressure that contact criteria inevitably brings. Chic was no exception. She gained confidence in 2019 resulting in two jumping wins and was going to be ready for agility courses in 2020!

Personally I did not feel joy in going to any ‘covid’ shows so here we were in 2021 still in grade two.

People talk about their old, experienced dogs as being their comfy slippers. Chic is that already or maybe the best fitting running shoes you can get. Either way as soon as I left her on the start line and turned to look at her I felt ready to attack the super course that had been set. It didn’t matter what day it was yet alone what grade – we were there to accomplish our best run. Old habits kicked in, the on/off training didn’t seem problematic and we trusted to what we had done rather than worried about what hadn’t and we went clear.

As it’s a while until our next show it means next time we compete she’ll be in grade three. I can take a few shows to find our feet, work out what we need to get better at and have fun perfecting those skills ready for next year.

I’ve recently reread Write it Down Make it Happen and some strange things have happened that I forgot I’d written down e.g. Chic winning into grade three and getting a red van – but that’s a whole other blog.


Thank you

Mark and Karen Laker

www.agility1st.co.uk/

“One step at a time…” says Mark Laker

“One step at a time…” says Mark Laker

By Mark Laker

It’s been a year.

‘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.

One step at a time.
———————-
Best regards,

Mark.

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

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.

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.

The world has changed massively…

ML1

April 2020

By Mark Laker

Wow, the world has changed massively since my last blog. Who would have thought nearly half the world’s population would be in a lockdown situation under the threat of a nasty virus back in February.

I hope all the CSJ readers are keeping safe in these difficult times

It’s a huge challenge to the world. I have been home based for the last six years, so I’m lucky that I’m used to this way of working. We also have space to get out for daily exercise and living in a rural area means social distancing isn’t a problem either. However, I do understand the challenges, the worry and uncertainly other people are experiencing and readily offer my support where I can.

I’m confident we’ll pull through this and move on to a stronger future

In March I announced my retirement as the Team Manager for Agility Team GB. I had always planned to review my position in 2020, and after seven years in the role I decided that the time was right to hand over the reigns.

My time as Team Manager has been immensely rewarding. Of course there were challenging times and some incredible highlights too. In a role like that you grow broad shoulders and learn a lot about people; I’m sure there’s a future book in my journal somewhere.

I thought I’d have a lot of time on my hands now with no agility shows and no team manager responsibilities. However I’m finding myself busy with other projects and interests that have been on hold… a subject for future blogs.

I hope all our readers keep safe in these difficult times. And if anyone wants any hints and tips about working from home I’m more than happy to share.

Mark Laker

Agility Team GB Manager

Follow Mark Laker’s blog: http://marklaker.blogspot.com

 

Agility competition in Hoogerheide, The Netherlands raises money for children’s hospital

Agility competition in Hoogerheide, The Netherlands raises money for children’s hospital

By Adelaine Bastiaansen
Sophia benefiet wedstrijd podium 2
We had a competition last weekend in Hoogerheide, The Netherlands on 6-8th  March.
It was a competition to raise money for the children hospital Sophia in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. They raised 17.710 euros.
We had a several clear runs, but on Saturday Spice and I went 3rd on the agility course.Sophia benefiet wedstrijd podium 1

 

Watch the run on Facebook:

Happy New Year – 2020. Mark Laker talks about the challenges facing dog sports

Happy New Year – 2020. Mark Laker talks about the challenges facing dog sports

MLb

Happy New Year – 2020 has arrived and promises to be another interesting year with big challenges facing us politically, on a world scale, the environment and of course topics closer to our own interests – dog sports.

On the 1st January a new jump height was introduced at Kennel Club licensed agility competitions. The new height is 50 cm and called Intermediate. It aims to address an age old issue of smaller large breeds (if that makes sense) jumping in the highest jump height category (65cm). So in effect, Border Collies (sorry to be breedist, but they’re a good example) could measure into either the intermediate or large height category.

The debates, arguments and reasoning for this additional height have been going on longer than Brexit. I won’t go over all the pros and cons – it’s done and it’ll be interesting to see how the competitions deal with the increased number of classes this year….we could have probably told Teresa May that even a simple thing like changing agility dog jump heights can’t be enacted in less than three years; she didn’t have a chance on a Brexit deal in any less! 

MLaThe new height category doesn’t effect my current agility dogs Rhyme (large) and Pikachu (small) but the three existing heights (small, medium and large) have all been reduced by 5cm too. So they will be jumping slightly lower obstacles in the future. Karen’s young bitch Chic has measured in this new height.

This reduction in jump heights for the small, medium and large categories bring KC competitions in line with the FCI and most other organisations – a good move. Increasingly more countries who compete under FCI rules are introducing a 4th intermediate type height and I wouldn’t be surprised if the governing body introduce this at their showcase European Open and Agility World Championships within the next five years too.

A more pressing matter is to get Rhyme and myself back up to agility fitness ready for Crufts in six weeks (yikes!). We’ve both had a few injury niggles over the last few months, and put on a few extra pounds over Christmas. We now need to knuckle down and get working on our fitness plans.

All the best for 2020.

Mark