one dog's journey into the world of agility

Getting the Balance Right…….

Well, with one thing and another we didn’t make it to Rugby Christmas Show in the end – we’ll have to save meeting the fancy dressed judges for next year!

We’ve been keeping busy though – I’ve been helping Mum with one of her assignments for her Masters course at the University of Lincoln. The assignment was to teach a novel training task – Mum decided to teach me something useful for agility – how to balance on Paw Pods!

Balance, proprioception and strength training is really important for agility – as we’ve talked about in our Fit For Agility, Fit for Life blog entry. Fit Paws® Paw Pods are small air-filled PVC domes which are used to improve proprioception and can be used as part of balance and strength training. Find them at Camddwr Canine

Mum decided to teach me the paw targeting using bricks initially as they were more stable and easier to target than the Paw Pods – and I couldn’t run off with the bricks! Here is a video of our initial training sessions. I wasn’t sure what to do with my forepaws initially – I could touch the brick with my nose, but “you want me to do what with my paws?” Mum eventually got me waving at her on the table by frustrating me with a food reward so I reached out to her – which quickly progressed to targeting a tile – from there the bricks were easy! I took to the hind-feet training much more readily – probably because of the similarity to the contact training for agility.

Once I had mastered the forepaws and hind-feet training separately it was time to put them together. Here’s the video.

With the behaviour solid on the bricks, Mum introduced the Paw Pods, the forepaw ones first with my hind-feet still on the bricks, then once I had those sussed, Mum introduced the hind ones too. Here’s the video.

Now look what I can do!


Now I can balance on the Paw Pods we can use them for stretching exercises like this (still on the bricks at the time):


We’ve finally started back at agility doing some winter shows. I managed my first win at Grade 6 at Bitz N Bobz Show last weekend – not bad for my first time in the ring since August! I need three more wins to make it to Grade 7 – this is one of our aim for the new season, but more about those next time……. 


We’ve some canicross events coming up shortly – apparently the next one’s a bit hilly – Mum says she’s going to need all my help…….    

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Up and Running……..

Well, we’ve not done much agility recently. My brother injured his shoulder in July which put him out for the rest of the season. He’s back fit again now and preparing for next season. Mum used this as an opportunity to give us both some downtime and a rest from agility. She feels it is important for us to have time off each year, to rest both physically and mentally. Usually this is over the winter, but this year we just moved it forward a little.


I’ve not been a slouch in this time though – nope, Mum and I have been running! Mum treated me to a new harness – one specifically designed for running, thanks to K9 Trailtime at KC International Agility Show. The harness allows me greater freedom to move and pull more effectively.

We’ve taken part in some great events. The first one was the Twilight Race for Life in Dudley – a sponsored run for Cancer Research. 5km in the dark! We were all lit up with glow sticks and fairy lights and the course was lit with little lights along the way. It was an emotional run, remembering good friends we have loved and lost.Image

The next run we did was the Pumpkin Run round Stanwick Lake – another 5km and a lovely route albeit a bit windy! They were very welcoming of cani-cross runners and I even got my own medal at the finish! I should think so…… I’m the one who does all the hard work!


We’ve discovered a lovely regular run in the form of Milton Keynes Parkrun – a really pretty 5km taking in the delights of Willen Lake. It has just been voted on Facebook as the most beautiful Parkrun in the UK – and we can see why. Mum says we might get a better time if I didn’t try to chase the swans on the lake over the last kilometre!


We’ll be back to agility soon, our next show is Rugby Christmas – looking forward to that, Mum says the judges wear fancy dress, she’s not sure what I’m going to make of that………

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Feeling the Heat…..

Wow, that’s another season over! It has flown past! Time to take stock, write goals for next season and plan winter training…..

I have begun to find my feet a little in Grade 6 – it is a big step up from Grade 5, especially when the courses are combined with Grade 7 which a lot of them are. Our first weekend in Grade 6 was at Newton Heath and one of the first runs was a Crufts 6-7 Qualifier! We felt a bit out of our depth with that one! For the first time ever Mum realised that I picked up on her nerves in the ring – she had become a bit jittery and was giving off some very odd vibes that I’d not seen from her before – no wonder I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me! She won’t make that mistake again.

Gaining a 2nd place in the Graded 6&7 jumping at the same show helped settle Mum’s nerves – it seems now she feels like we are more worthy of being in Grade 6 – odd how these humans think – it’s just a number (and harder courses) – so long as it’s a chance to do agility does it matter what the class is called?

Then suddenly the British Summertime seemed to forget itself and gave us weeks of hot weather and sunshine – this was lovely but too hot for this small spaniel. Whereas my brother Henry has never had a problem competing in the heat, Mum found that I really didn’t want to play in the sunshine. Why would you run round and make yourself even hotter? We had some painfully slow runs at Wellingborough Show and Mum was worried I’d lost my enthusiasm. I for one was not impressed with Mum’s method of cooling me down!

2013-07-06 12.23.21

The weather cooled for Empingham and I was back and running. As you can see from this video we didn’t manage any clear rounds from the weekend as many of the tricky courses caught us out – but my confidence is coming and with it more speed.

One of our performance related goals was to achieve 80% weave accuracy in the ring (e.g. getting 8 out of 10 weave entries) and we have achieved this. Apart from the odd really hard angle I have managed pretty much all my weaves – and I’ve managed almost every entry even with the hard ones – it is normally the second weave I miss if the angle is difficult. Mum is really pleased with my weaves and she is sure this is down to teaching me the two by two method – it always seems to amaze her when I get my weave entries as she never quite thinks I will until I’m in them as I seem to just run at them – relax Mum, I’ve got it sorted!

My contacts are not quite so consistent – Mum has a bit of a tendency to release me quickly in the ring to try and help my speed. She has realised that this is not necessarily achieving this as it is confusing me as to what my job is at the bottom of the contact as sometimes we stop and sometimes we don’t. This leads to me sometimes thinking I can leave the contact when I like and not waiting to be released. Definitely homework for the winter, need to teach Mum to be consistent…….

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Checking in………

Gosh, where has the time gone again!! It’s been ages and I haven’t managed to get my paws on a computer!

Well, what can I say……. Last time we were talking about goals – well I achieved one of mine! I’m now Grade 6! We won a combined grade 1-7 jumping class at Warwick Races Bretford Agility Show – my last win in Grade 5!

What a great day out at Warwick Races – horse racing, family fun day and agility all rolled into one; and they gave away really lovely embossed leather leads instead of trophies.Image 

Since then we’ve been on holiday – back to Cornwall, our favourite destination. Running on the beach and in the sea – what more could you want from a holiday!Image

Back to the agility – we’re now really in with the big boys – mostly 6-7 classes for me, which means much harder courses for both me and Mum! Best get training!

One of the things we have discovered recently in training is that the words “wrap” and “back” sounds very similar to me, especially when I’m running in a course – and I will therefore often turn left instead of wrapping tight round the wing towards Mum. It is always good to realise when something isn’t working and have the courage to change it. So Mum has been retraining my wing wraps using the word “check” instead of “wrap” as it doesn’t sound anything like any other word that she uses. It is always important to constantly assess what your dog thinks you mean as well as what you think you mean – they may be two different things!

Here is a video of Mum retraining my “check” cue. She started as before with the “wrap” cue and put in “check” instead – it was much quicker this time as I already understood the behaviour of wrapping round the wing. As you can see, I don’t get it right every time – practice makes perfect! Mum also makes sure to add in some rear-cross training and some driving forward exercises too – to make sure I’m listening and still driving on confidently.

After a bit of a break in our agility show calendar we’re looking forward to getting back to the shows and putting the check training into practice on those Grade 6 courses! 

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Well, it’s been a few weeks since I last blogged, the new agility season has started and we’ve been away in the caravan.

This post I was going to talk about goals, specifically our goals for this season. One of these was to get to Grade 6 – well we’re now two thirds of the way there already!!

Despite the snow, Bretford Easter Eggility Show went ahead albeit indoors. Our classes were all 4-7 graded and we managed to win the Grade 5 part of the agility! The run is in the video below (we actually managed to catch it on film!) So that’s our agility win towards Grade 6.

Lincoln Agility Enthusiasts Show was last weekend and our first camping show of the season. All my classes were graded 5-7 which was a bit of a shock to the system as they were hard!

The first day we gave them a good go, but got E’d in both runs. Mum was pleased though – one of her goals is to use directional cues with me more often in the ring – her default tends to be to keep calling my name instead of telling me where I should be going. During these two runs she managed to get a lot of directional cues in and I tried my best to listen to her.

Never change your mind in the queue…….

On the second day we managed two clear rounds! In the graded 5-7 agility Mum made the big mistake of changing her mind on how to run the course in the queue – which you should never do! They always say, no matter how you see someone else run while you’re queuing, stick to your guns and run it how you walked it – it will only go wrong otherwise. And it did! You can see the run on the video below. She accidently put an extra front cross in the box which put her in the wrong place to turn me left – wasted a bit of time – but still clear – and we came 3rd!

Our other clear was in the graded 5-7 jumping and we won it!! Unfortunately we don’t have video of that run – typical!

Lincoln Trophies

There is another agility run (again graded 5-7) in the video below – we gave this a really good go but the double weaves threw us a bit – we’ve not met those in the ring before (one for the training list).

Here’s the video

So, back to those goals……

There are several types of goals – “outcome related” goals and “performance related” goals. (Thanks to Natasha Wise at the KC Sports Coaching Seminar 2010 for this) Outcome related goals relate to results – placings, winning out, qualifying for things – it is not good to only have outcome related goals as they are dependent on how others perform too, you have to beat others to achieve them. It is important to have performance related goals too as they are related only to your partnership in the ring.

It is said that goals should always be SMART:

Specific (clearly defined), Measurable (as a % success rate), Attainable (ambitious but attainable), Relevant (to what you are trying to achieve) & Time-bound (a goal with no end will be continually moved)

So Mum’s performance goals for us this season (there’s the time-bound bit) are:

  • 80% weave accuracy in the ring (getting the entry and staying in the weaves)
  • 90% contact success (getting the contact and either stopping or quick release depending on what Mum has asked for)
  • 80% success in the use of direction cues in courses – that Mum remembers to use them and I respond to them!

We have our outcome goal too:

  • To win into Grade 6 by the end of the season

This outcome goal seems well within reach now – we’re one win away – oh my goodness scary! Mum doesn’t feel we’re quite ready for Grade 6 yet, we were thinking this goal would hopefully be achieved a bit closer to the other end of the season! Mum would like us to stay in Grade 5 a little longer so we have the chance to run some more Grade 3-5 courses and build our relationship and my confidence some more.

We won another jumping class on the Sunday at Lincoln – luckily it hasn’t taken us to Grade 6 as we had faults (you can only progress on a win which is clear and within the course time). It was a really tricky jumping course and we had ten faults – but we won as everyone else in Grade 5 was eliminated!

Katherine from Mind To Win (you’ll have heard of her from previous blog posts) says you should also have a “Big Scary Audacious Goal” – one which is your big dream that scares you just a little bit. Ours is to one day qualify for Crufts in the Medium ABC competition. We’re taking a baby step towards that this season by entering some of the qualifiers – this will help give us the experience of running the types of courses for this competition. We can dream, and work hard towards that dream…….

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Grade 5 here we come……

Oh my goodness, look what I managed to do at the weekend!

Noah Adams Rosette

I won the Grade 4 section of the Graded 4-7 jumping class at the Adams Agility Show. This was my third jumping win (I also won at Dog Vegas as the end of last season and at Adams Agility show in January too) – so I’m now Grade 5!

The course was pretty tricky (which you would expect for grade 4-7 dogs) and Mum was sure she was going to lose me in the tunnel after jump 7 – but I listened really well and did the S of jumps instead.

Here’s the video (thanks to Lee Taylor for filming us – it’s the first winning run we have on video!)

So now I’m Grade 5 – wow! In some ways it won’t make any difference to me as a lot of classes are grades 3-5 and others 4-7 so I’ll be running in the same classes anyway, but in some ways it will be very different as some classes are split grades 1-4 and 5-7 – so those courses are going to be tricky!

Dogs have 25 days once they have won before they move up to their new grade. So I’m Grade 4 for one more show – Dog Vegas in March, Mum has been busy on the computer since the weekend changing my grade for all the other shows we have entered after that.

The rules changed in January 2013 meaning that to win out of Grade 5 dogs now need three wins – one of which has to be in an agility class (rather than a jumping one). So this is one of our goals for this coming season – getting to Grade 6. More on our goals for this season next time……..


Anything he can do…….

I’ve had a great week – really busy!

I visited the University of Lincoln again for the second part of the dog cognition study – and again I really enjoyed it, lots of food rewards and watching the images on the screen. Apparently I am so attentive to the screen and got on so well that Fiona and Natalia have asked if I could come back to take part in more studies – I’d said I’d love to!

Mum has noticed that taking part in the study seems to have taught me to watch television! I’ve never taken any notice of the television at home before, but the other night Mum was watching it and she noticed I was watching it intently too! Only when people were on the screen, scenery did not catch my attention, but people did – I watched them as they moved across the screen, my eyes following their every move, spaniel ears forward in intense concentration. Can’t understand why it made Mum laugh quite so much……

School VisitOn Monday Mum took me into one of the local primary schools. She was doing a talk on being a vet to the reception class for their topic “People Who Help Us” – and I got to go too.

It was great meeting all of the children, and they were very excited to see me (I definitely stole the show from Mum!). Mum talked about how to look after pets, safety around dogs, what she does as part of her job. At the end, all the children got to come and stoke me (after remembering to ask Mum if they were allowed to) and listen to my heart with the stethoscope. I was a really good boy, sat calmly, loved all the attention and only stole the whiteboard rubber once!

Back to the agility, Mum has been working on our fitness. She and Henry have been doing an exercise using a conveniently placed line of poplar trees – practising turns round them, moving between them and in the end using the whole line! Good fitness training for both Henry and Mum! (…..and helps Mum to practice her directional cues!) Well, anything Henry can do, I can do too. Mum started me gradually – round one tree to start with and throwing the food reward, then building up to two then three and more.

Here’s the video!

It was really good fun, I listened really well and tried my hardest. With a little more practice I’ll be doing the whole line like Henry!

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Testing my brain……

I had a really fun day yesterday – I visited the University of Lincoln to take part in a dog cognition study!

Lincoln Uni

Mum drove me up to the Riseholme campus and we met Natalia and Fiona who are carrying out the study into how we dogs perceive humans. It was great fun – I got to run around a big room to start with and found a squeaky pig toy which I loved. Then Natalia and Fiona fed me lots of sausage! If this is what University is like then maybe I should look into a degree….

I didn’t even notice when Mum disappeared to sit in another room so she didn’t influence my responses during the study. The study involved me looking at images on a screen whilst Fiona and Natalia observed my responses to what I was seeing. Apparently I was quite good at it……

We’re going back in two weeks time for another session – can’t wait! More squeaky pig and sausage!

The University of Lincoln are looking for more dogs to take part in this study. I can highly recommend it, it is great fun!

Snowy NoahWell, tomorrow we were supposed to be going to our first show of the season – Dog Vegas at Grantham, but the weather has rather put pay to that – for some reason Mum isn’t too keen to drive for an hour and a half in the snow – no commitment some people…. Oh well, let’s hope the weather is better for the Adams Agility show next weekend instead…..

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Twelve Days of Christmas…..

Well, Mum attended the Kennel Club Sports Coaching for Agility Handlers & Instructors Seminar and loved it so much, especially Katherine McAleese’s seminar from Mind To Win , that she signed up for her “Twelve Days of Christmas” on-line course.Mind to Win | Dog Agility | Performance Coaching

The Twelve Days of Christmas course lasted for twelve days – each day consisting of an e-mail from Katherine with exercises covering a different aspect of the mental side of agility – from goal setting, though breathing exercises, to facing agility fears. Mum loved it! It has given her a lot to think about and work on for the upcoming 2013 season.

In the meantime, I’ve had a few weeks off from training over Christmas. Mum feels it is really important that we have “downtime” over the winter – time off, not doing any training, just being dogs. This gives our bodies a well deserved rest and our minds a chance to mull over everything we’ve learnt in the previous season.


My brothers and I enjoying a walk in the fields

Training will start again in January – specific fitness, body awareness and core stability as well as the agility itself.

Mum had a new toy for Christmas – something called a GPS sports watch – no idea, you can’t eat it, so sounds like a naff present if you ask me, but she seems very happy with it! The watch records pace, distance covered, speed etc when running. We’ve been out Cani-x training in the woods so Mum can play with it. Apparently this is going to help up with our running training, and help Mum get fitter!

Our first show of the new season is booked – Dog Vegas Agility at Arena UK in Grantham on the second weekend in January. It’s a little earlier than we’d usually start but my brother Henry has qualified for Crufts in the Novice ABC in March so he and Mum need to be ready! I’m going along to Dog Vegas for the experience – I’ve never done agility indoors before, so should be interesting…..

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End of the season….

Well, that’s my first agility season finished – and it ended in success! I went clear in my very last run of the last day of the Dog Vegas Show, Graded 4&5 Jumping – and I managed to win the class! Of course we didn’t get the run on video (we never do manage to catch the good ones!). I won a lovely trophy and rosette and now I’m a third of the way to Grade 5 – only two more jumping or one agility win needed! A nice way to finish the season











The Cani-X season has started again – so Alfie and I have been dragging Mum round more woodlands. We took part in the Salcey Forest Cani-X event and came 4th in our category with our best time so far – 24.27 for 5km! Mum was really pleased with us – personally I liked the bag of treats we got at the end!

With the agility season over thoughts now turn to winter training. This involves giving us some time off over December to rest and relax and then working on our training and fitness so we’re ready and raring for next season which starts in about April.

Mum attended the Kennel Club Sports Coaching Seminar at Stoneleigh yesterday. She learnt a lot and has come back buzzing and full of ideas……. watch this space!

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