First trial of the season at Upton Pyne and wow what a trial, plenty of game and the ground was perfect for spaniels, all thanks to Paul Bowyer the keeper for all his hard work getting it ready for our trials.
Thank you to the judges: Nick Davies and David Gregory
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.
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.
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.