Category Archives: Activities with your dog


Become a volunteer with your dog

I started volunteering with Busy in 2014, visiting a care home briefly, then joining my local school,    I felt really passionate about supporting children with my dogs, as I have worked in Special Educational Needs for 20 years and been a school governor for 17 years. 

I transferred to the fantastic charity Canine Concern in 2017. They support volunteers visiting a wide range of establishments, from schools, to care homes, prisons to hospitals. I am currently a volunteer, assessor, and Area Coordinator for Milton Keynes, where we have around 30 active volunteers.

therapy dogs

What are the criteria for the dogs?

I chose Busy to start volunteering out of the four dogs I had at the time, because she was so calm and gentle, even though she was only 18 months old.  She doesn’t jump up, or paw, or snatch treats and I knew she would enjoy the attention.  I have since added Luna, Busy’s big sister.  She is not quite as well-behaved as Busy, as she will raise a paw, but she is more sociable. 

I also occasionally take in my other dogs, Sunny (Busy and Luna’s mum). Aura (Luna’s daughter) and Ounce (Busy’s daughter).  They are all well-trained and very popular, especially Ounce, who is very chatty and a bit of a show-off! The children love their tricks – Busy can read a few words!

therapy dog

What does it involve?

I started off working with children listening to them read, working in small groups, alongside a member of staff.  However, we soon realised that having the dog there gave us such a good opportunity to have a chat in a relaxed, unthreatening situation.  So we use the sessions to draw out the children and discuss and model behaviour.  We work with children with a wide variety of needs, including low self-confidence, difficulties with learning behaviour and emotional difficulties.

I now attend school for four hours a week, across two mornings, with each dog doing an hour at a time, although we occasionally have a Double Dog Day!  We have groups of 6-8 children and some individual sessions.  We see around 30 children each week, with groups changing every term.

therapy dog

The dogs help the children by building confidence and giving a focus for the session.  We chat about the dogs and what they have been up to during the week, which helps the children think about what they have been doing.  We ask questions about what has been difficult and because we have created a ‘safe space’, the children are able to talk about issues.  It is essential for me to have consistent support from a member of staff who knows the children and the issues they may have, as I am not able to know this information.  We often do role play, modelling examples of good and bad behaviour, which the children find hilarious!

Does it benefit other people?

The school as a whole benefit from having the dogs visiting and we are considered a valuable asset to the school.  The impact we have on the learning skills of the children we see, in turn affects the learning environment of the whole class.  The staff also love seeing the dogs and taking some time out of their busy day for a quick stroke.  We occasionally attend assemblies and take part in other activities, such as providing ‘de-stress’ sessions post SATs.  And if I have a litter of puppies, they obviously have to visit as well!

I find the sessions so rewarding and love engaging with the children.  I feel that it is a great opportunity for them to have positive experiences with the dogs, even for those who have dogs at home.  I am keen to teach them about positive management of dogs and about dog welfare. I find it invaluable for the dogs as well and see it as part of their training.

Other ways to help

I have been carrying out assessments for new volunteers over the past few years.  I love meeting these people and helping them start their volunteering journey.  Being an Area Coordinator is an additional challenge, but I really like helping to find new volunteers and matching them to a suitable placement.

Even if you are not able to go into placements with your dog, you may be able to support the charity in other ways.

Canine Concern Comments

I was very proud to be chosen as the Canine Concern ‘Member of the Month‘ in October 2020 (their first one!). This is what they said about me:

“Penny has been a very valuable member with us. Her enthusiasm for the work has rubbed off on the other members in her area she supports. As a charity, we have always encouraged our members to support each other in this work. It can be daunting to go on visits with your dog and not know what to expect, Penny is there to help with any extra support as an assessor and area coordinator.”

Get involved

Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about volunteering in this way, or if you want to find out about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.


Flyball – Excitement for dogs!

If you are looking for something that will really wear out your dog, both mentally and physically, then you might want to try flyball! It’s a fast-paced team sport that was first seen at Crufts in 1990. Amber tells us about her experiences of flyball.

Amber and Eska ready to go

Amber says “I love the fast paced atmosphere in the race, but also the whole team involvement. It’s a really social sport.” She was first introduced to the sport at a dog show, where there was a ‘have a go’ session. Amber has been involved with the sport for over 6 years and currently competes with three of her dogs. Her terrier Zuko is now retired.

What is flyball?

The Kennel club defines the sport as follows:

Two teams of four dogs compete at the same time, each using a parallel ‘racing lane’ down which each dog in turn runs, clearing four hurdles in succession before triggering a pedal on the Flyball box.

Jamie has the ball

A tennis ball is then released which the dog must hold before returning over the hurdles to the start line. The first team to have its fourth dog across the finish line, with any part of the dog’s body, wins the race. Each dog must cross the finish line before the next dog can start, and handlers aim to launch their dog so that it will cross with a returning dog just at the line.

Who’s in charge?

There are two governing bodies, The British Flyball Association (BFA) and the UK Flyball League (UKFL). Amber competes with the BFA.

You will compete in your team, against other teams the same division. The division will be set by your teams seed time, so you will race teams of a similar level. Each team can have up to 6 dogs, but only 4 race at one time in each team. There is no restriction on breeds, apart from at Crufts, where each team must contain a non-collie, otherwise known as ABC – anything but collie!

Hex making a turn

How does it work?

The first dog to race is called the start dog; with a start dog your aim is to have as perfect as a start as possible. Once the judge has signalled that both teams are ready, the lights count down (3 yellow lights and then green) and you want the start dog to be passing through the start line as the light hits green. A perfect start would be 0.00 secs, normally you aim for anything below 0.10 secs.

Zuko eager to get the ball

The dogs have to run over 4 hurdles,  collect a ball by triggering the box and bringing the ball back over the 4 hurdles. The next dog will then pass the first dog to repeat. For the best cross you want the dogs’ noses to be touching (they will pass side to side) at the start/finish line. This is repeated until all four dogs have run.

The jump height is set to the smallest dog that is racing in that team, with the jump height ranging 6″ to 12″.

Eska in the lead!

Winning is everything!

The winner of that leg will be the team who completes a clean run the fastest. You can get a fault if:

  • you have an early start
  • you have an early cross into another dog
  • the ball is dropped before finish line
  • the dog runs out of the jump lane
  • the dog ‘steals’ the ball from the box (so it’s not triggered).
Go Hex go!

There is a box judge and a line judge who can help signal a fault to the overall judge. There is a scribe completing the paperwork and watching the run back. An interference between a dog from one team into another results in the loss of that leg to the team responsible. If it happens twice that dog is removed from the race.

Eyes on the prize

The winner of the race will win 3 legs (so there can be up to 5 legs if it 2:2). There are sanctioned competitions throughout the year, both indoor and outdoor. The ultimate goal is the flyball championships in August, or to run a team at Crufts, in March.

Equipment needed

You need a flyball box, 4 flyball jumps, and then other aids like props to help learn pacing and box turns. Balls of course, lots and lots of tennis balls! Your dog must absolutely LOVE tennis balls and playing fetch.

Jamie making a turn on the box

You normally need a training chute used before dogs learn the flyball box. You usually start with some netting to help the dogs run down the lanes.

Training needed

Flyball is not particularly difficult to train, although it can take time and commitment to train a safe and fast box turn, and for dogs to learn to race with other dogs without being distracted from the main job at hand. Dogs wear carpal pad protectors to prevent injury to their pads.

Pure power

Amber says “We have Sunday flyball training with out club.  But I also do work at home with my dogs on my own flyball chute to keep a good box turn technique. I’ll do drive work sprints  to keep the sprint fitness.” 

How to get started

Get in touch with one of the two governing bodies: The British Flyball Association (BFA) or the UK Flyball League (UKFL). They may be able to help find a club local to you. Your dog will need to be at least a year old and fully mature. You will need a good recall and a strong drive to run after a ball. Your dog will also need to be relaxed around other dogs. As with other dog activities, a good level of basic obedience is essential.

Happy dog, having fun

Thanks to Amber for the fantastic insight into this dog sport. Photo credits: Hannah Rose Baker and Helene Burningham.

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the Dog Doc blog for more help with training issues.

Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

Obedience (Formal)

Obedience training with your dog

If agility is like doing show-jumping with your dog, and canicross is like cross country, then competitive obedience is the dressage discipline. At the top end (as seen at Crufts for example), it is about perfect symmetry of dog and handler, working together to demonstrate just what can be achieved.

Aura just turned a year old, winning pre-beginners at her first show!

The starting point is basic puppy training, which every single dog owner must do. These days most people expect to take a puppy to classes, and this is usually the best way to work through the process of getting started with your dog.

Puppy Foundation Award

Lots of puppy and dog training schools use the Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Training Scheme. The Puppy Foundation award covers the following :

  • responsibility and care
  • cleanliness and identification
  • attentive response to name
  • play with puppy
  • socialisation, including
    • with an unknown dog
    • with an unknown person
    • with noise distraction
  • handling and inspection to maintain health
  • recall
  • sit, down and stand
  • walking in a controlled manner
  • stay (approx 10 seconds)
  • take article from puppy
  • food manners

That’s a pretty comprehensive list!

Pixie giving Helen a dumbbell

Good Citizen Awards

Many people stop there and that’s fine, on the whole, but there are 3 more levels on the Good Citizen Dog Scheme – Bronze, Silver and Gold. The gold award covers more challenging handling such as road walking, walking off lead beside the handler, send the dog to bed, being relaxed when on their own, stopping on command and staying, in a down, for two minutes, with the handler in and out of sight.

It can take a few months (or longer) to get to the Gold Award standard, so people continue to this level if they enjoy going to the classes and feel that their dog enjoys the time the spend there. As with all activities to do with your dog, it is time you spend focusing on them and building your bond with them.

Pixie showing off her heelwork

Formal competitive obedience

This video is a great demonstration of the highest level obedience, with my absolute hero, Mary Ray (on right), with her dog Lyric.

There are six ‘classes’ – levels of competitive obedience – available for entry at Obedience shows. New handlers will start in the basic Introductory, Pre-Beginners and Beginners Classes; as you become more experienced you can qualify for the higher classes from Class A to Class C, the highest (and most difficult).

Each class contains a set of exercises which the judge will ask you and your dog to perform.  More details about the different classes can be found on the Obedience Levels and Classes page, but the levels consist of increasing difficulty in the following:

  • heelwork
  • recall
  • retrieve
  • sendaway
  • stays (sit and down, handler in view and out of sight)
  • scent discrimination
  • distant control

Training requirements

Helen, who owns a red merle Border Collie called Pixie, aged 6, says she has done lots of different activities with her and has always done basic obedience with her dogs. She decided to have a go at competitive obedience 18 months ago, so joined a local club.

The club members are very helpful and supportive, Helen says, helping her aim for her first show, which was due to be held in April 2020. She says you don’t need much space. Everything can be done in your garden, but it can be useful to train in your local park, as this can be more distracting for the dog. There is very little equipment required – a dumbbell, some cones or markers and some cloths for the scentwork.

Helen says “I train at a club once a week but will do bits during each day in some way. This might be working on tricks, retrieve and heelwork. I love it when teaching things and it all comes together it’s a great feeling.” Thanks Helen for your insights.

The best dog breed for obedience? Border Collie, of course! Other breeds do compete, but collies are so driven to work, to please, to focus, they are absolutely fantastic at this activity. If you want to get to the top, get a collie!

Miri demonstrating that collies can work perfectly from a very young age

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the Dog Doc blog for more help with training issues.

Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

Working trials

What are Working Trials?

The easiest way to explain working trials is to say that it is the civilian equivalent of police dog work, but it is purely for competition. It has also been described as the canine equivalent of three-day eventing for horses.


John says he chose this activity in the late 1980s and early 90s because he was competing in obedience and wanted something more challenging for his dogs. He competed for around ten years, qualifying two of his dogs. His first trials dog was Cindy, Wicklow Triangle Cdex Udex Wdx Td open.

Johns team from 1990 l to r Sue, Tigger, Cindy and Bobbie

John has returned to the sport after a break of twenty years. He currently has four dogs, all Border Collies or collie crosses – Max, Skip, Jay and Whisper.

Who runs the sport?

Working trials are run under Kennel Club regulations and the schedule is constructed so that competitors must qualify for entry from one stake to the next, from open to championship trial. There are two classes of working trials and five working trials stakes which must be worked in progression.

the scale

The working trials stakes consist of three sections:

  • obedience, including heelwork, retrieve, stay etc
  • agility, including the ‘scale’, the high jump and the long jump
  • nose work, which is a track to follow and a search square with articles to find.

There is a fourth section relating to police dog work, which is where the dog has to apprehend and contain a suspected criminal.

the stay

There are 7 stakes in working trials:

  • Special beginners (no jumps) for dogs from 6 months old
  • Introductory, for dogs over 18 months
  • CD – companion dog stake
  • UD – utility dog stake
  • WD – working dog stake
  • TD – tracking dog stake
  • PD – patrol dog stake (police dogs only)

What do you have to do?

John says the reason he likes working trials is that you are working in different disciplines: obedience, agility and nose work. You are competing against a set standard and if you meet these requirements you have a qualification and a certificate, even if you finished last out of 20 competitors. (Sounds like my kind of activity!)

long jump

The drawbacks with working trials is the equipment requirement of a 6ft scale (like a wall or fence), a 3ft hurdle jump and a 9ft long jump. There is also the challenge of being able to use a farmer’s land for tracking training.

Smaller dogs are disadvantaged when it comes to the jumping section. However, in the companion and utility dog stakes the scale is lowered to 4ft. The most successful breeds of dog in working trials are the Border Collie, German Shepherd and the gundogs such as Retrievers.

How often do you train?

John says he trains quite frequently throughout the week as he is retired. However he feels that you can succeed in any dog sport if you are committed. “I had my most success when I was doing a full-time job and running 6 dogs.”

Whisper doing the nose work

Thank you very much to John and his dogs for this valuable insight!

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the Dog Doc blog for more help with training issues.

Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

Canicross – running with your dog

Get fit and have fun!

Sam and Pacha

Sam and her 11 year-old collie Pacha, have been doing Canicross for around 4 years. She says the thing she enjoys most about Canicross is the fact you and your dog are both getting exercise out in the fresh air, it’s very sociable and it is not expensive. Most clubs are around £15 a year to join and the organised runs are led by volunteers.

Sam says “We got into Canicross as I booked my wedding and decided I wanted to get fit, so I took up running. Pacha regularly came for a run with me and it worked well as it meant that we were both getting great exercise. I then saw an advert for ‘Ashridge Canicrossers’ and thought it sounded perfect.”

Getting started

Most clubs will lend you equipment to borrow at club runs so you can find a good harness fit and size for both you and your dog before you purchase any. You will need:

  • a running harness for your dog
  • a bungee line to attach you to your dog
  • a belt harness for yourself
  • a good pair of trail running shoes with grip for the mud
  • most people use a running rucksack to carry water and supplies.

Organised runs are twice weekly at Sam’s club, but its completely personal choice how often/little you go. She says she generally tries to get out twice a week, whether that’s club runs or running from home.

Who sets the rules?

The Kennel Club are the governing body and a full list of rules and regulations can be found on their website. As a general rule dogs must be at least 12 months of age to start Canicross and 18 months of age to compete in Canicross races of 5km (3 miles) or more.

Sam and Pacha

There are many competitions for Canicross run all over the country. These mainly take place during Autumn/Winter months (September to April) as the weather is generally just too warm/humid to run the dogs during the summer months.

Can anyone do it?

Sam says “I have seen every sort of dog do Canicross. Obviously some breeds are better/faster than others! But if you’re looking to both have fun and get fit you really can do it with any dog.

The only reason that someone may not enjoy this activity is if you are not into running. However, there are staggered speed groups so you are urged to give it a try. Oh, and if you don’t like getting dirty it might not be for you, as it is very muddy a lot of the time!

It can be muddy!

If your dog doesn’t pull or you’re worried it may not, then you are advised to go near the back of the group. They soon get the idea to run ahead, especially with the excitement of following the other dogs.

The groups are usually between 4-8 people in size so as you can imagine it gets very loud and exiting! Some dogs do take a couple of attempts to really get the hang of hit, but most get it and love it after a couple of goes!

Top tips?

Sam says “It’s good to teach them basic commands e.g go, stop, left, right so you can navigate your dog around the trails safely without tripping you up.

“There’s always going to be be the odd accident, as I learnt just as we set off on a run. Pacha was in full flight, then in a split second decided to stop for the toilet right in front of me. Before I knew it I was face down in a pile of leaves! A quick dust off of the hands and knees and we were on our way again.” 

Thank you very much to Sam and Pacha for this valuable insight!

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the Dog Doc blog for more help with training issues.

Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

What is an Agility Show?

Agility Show – what is it and why would you go?

If you follow me and read my posts then you will know that I am pretty passionate about dog agility.  I have done other things with my dogs, most notably flyball, with Aura.  I have competed in obedience and had a go at heelwork to music.  So what is the attraction of an Agility Show?

agility show

For me, it is about having fun with your dog, pure and simple.  It is about spending focused time with your dog, working together and doing something they enjoy.  This is particularly important if you have more than one dog, as you need to spend some time with them on their own.  You need to pay attention to them as an individual and learn about their personality and what they like.

Training vs competition

Classes at an Agility Club are a great way to have fun with your dog.  They are very sociable too; you get to hang out with other lovely dog people, chatting about your dogs.  You get to run about, keeping yourself and your dog fit.  And you have to think, following instructions and trying to remember the course and how to handle it.

agility show

But if you want to go to the next level, you need to enter a show.  Agility shows are run throughout the year, around the country.  However they are mainly concentrated over the ‘summer’ months, ie April to September.  During this time there will be several shows held over every weekend.

Different heights

I have already explained about the equipment and the different grades and rules in my beginners guide to agility, but I forgot to mention the height differences.  This is important, as it puts the dogs into (currently) three main categories: small, medium and large.  It is complicated by the introduction two years ago of an optional (for show organisers) Lower Height, which can be added to all three of the current heights.  Usually, at the moment, shows offer a Lower Height Option (LHO) in the classes for large dogs, as there have historically been many more large dogs than small and mediums.

agility show

Dogs are measured to confirm their height at official measuring sessions.  A metal hoop is placed over their shoulders and they must be under the hoop to get into the category.  Border Collies have nearly always measured as large dogs, hence the majority of competing dogs are large.

Over the last few years however, there have been several changes to this situation, in addition to the LHO being added.  These include:

  • more medium and small dogs being run, making these classes bigger
  • smaller collies being bred, measuring into medium and even small classes
  • an increasing number of other dog breeds coming into agility
agility show

Very tall dogs might be able to ‘step over’ the jumps, but any jumping, climbing or running puts strain on their joints.  They will also have more difficulty getting through the tunnels and the weaves.  On the other hand, there are plenty of smaller dogs who struggle with even the ‘small’ jumps.

Small dogs are easy

You might think that a small dog would be easier to run in agility.  Dream on!  They are in no way easier, in my opinion.  For a start, as I have explained many times, Border Collies are simply motivated to do it.  Other breeds have different motivations; in the case of terriers, for example, they just want to run off after a scent.  Some dogs are just not that fussed about doing it.  When they are motivated, they are just as fast as a collie.

It might also seem that small dogs find it easier to negotiate the obstacles.  This is also not the case, as I saw yesterday.  I watched around 30 small dogs do a course and none of them went clear!  And then I saw an amazing character fail to touch the bottom of the dog walk!  Bless her, and well done to her handler.  I do not think I would have her patience :p

What happens at a show

Briefly, there are different classes for different grades and heights.  You enter the ones appropriate to you and your dog.  Usually a dog will run in a maximum of four classes per day.  You receive a ‘running order’ a few days before the show.  This tells you which order the classes are being held and in which ring they are happening.  You also find out when you are supposed to run your dog in each class.  This might be at the beginning, middle or end.

For example, you will find out that you are doing a grade 3 agility class in ring 4 and your running order is 64, out of 107 dogs.  The class is the second class in the ring, with the first class having 58 dogs.  This tells you that your class won’t start for at least an hour into the show, and that it will be at least an hour after it starts before you should run.

The complication is that in addition to knowing when you are supposed to run, you also have to know when the class is ‘ready for walking’.  You need to go round the course, without your dog, learning which way to go.  This is a crucial part of the competition.

In an ideal world, we would teach the dog to read numbers, so they could figure it out.  Sadly, they are not able to do that, so we have to tell them what to do.

Why I love an agility show

Agility is fun!  Did I mention that?  The dogs absolutely love it.  They get a real buzz from being around it, even when they are not competing.  It is really stimulating for them and they love to run with you.  They don’t know or care if they have won or lost, they just know that they are doing something really special with you.

agility show
Are you sure you want this jump?

The people are great.  Unlike some sports and activities, where people are all really competitive and can be bitchy, or ‘cliquey’, agility is a real community, where everyone supports everyone else.  If you want to see examples of good sportsmanship, go to an agility show.  We all know how hard it is to work with your dog, so we all celebrate the victories and commiserate with those who have struggled.

As a way to spend a day, or a weekend, it’s pretty cool.  You get to hang out with lovely dog people, and your dogs.  It is time being outside, moving about.  Oh and you get a rosette, if you’re really lucky 🙂

What I’m not so keen on

It’s tiring!  You spend most of the day walking and running about.  Agility is demanding, both mentally and physically.  There is also a lot of hanging about.  Each run takes around 30 seconds.  Four runs = 2 minutes.  And it can be quite expensive.  We don’t camp (in a caravan) at shows, but most people do and this all adds up.

Still, it is a lot better than sitting in the house all weekend watching the telly.  See you there!


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

A Beginner’s Guide to Agility

Dog Doc Question 21: What activities can you do with your dog?  

There are loads of different sports and activities we can now enjoy with our dogs.  Here are some of them:

  • Agility
  • Obedience
  • Cani-X
  • Flyball
  • Gundog
  • Working Trials
  • Scentwork
  • Treiball
  • Rally
  • Hoopers
  • Heelwork to music

Today I am going to talk about my passion: Dog agility


Have fun with your dog!  It is vital to remember this, because agility is hard!  In competition, the objective is to get your dog round a course of 16-20 obstacles in the fastest time.  Easier said than done!

Organisation and rules

Kennel Club and UKA.  Shows are run by these two organisations, which have slightly different rules and ways of running things.  There are also independent shows, which are generally more relaxed and suitable for beginners.

There are 7 Grades in KC agility, with grade 1 being for beginners.  You need at least one win to make progress from grade 1, with things becoming more complex as you progress to grade 7, where your dog can become an agility champion.  An added complication is that once one dog has ‘won out’ of grades 1 & 2, subsequent dogs of the same owner have to start at grade 3.  Which means poor old Luna and Chris both had to start at grade 3 as Luna is my dog and Sunny won into grade 3. Are you confused yet?


There are various obstacles to negotiate.  The jumps are usually put at different heights to correspond to the different heights of dog: small, medium and large.  This has recently been complicated by additional, optional heights being added.  Dogs have to be measured before competing.  We are trying to improve the health and safety of our dogs by improving the rules of agility all the time.  Equipment is being changed and removed as well, to improve safety.

Tunnels provide a bit of light relief for dog and handler.  They are fun to go through for the dog and handlers can usually run at them and shout ‘Tunnel!’ and the dog will go into them.  However, if you change direction before your dog is commited to them, they won’t necessarily go through them, as Aura demonstrates perfectly in this video:

Weaves are the most challenging obstacle for the dog to learn.  This is mainly because (for some reason) they have to start with the first weave on their left shoulder, no matter which angle they are approaching from.  They must then go through all weaves (either 6 or 12) in the right order.  Watch Luna miss the last one in this video:

It takes dogs years to learn to weave correctly and they often go wrong throughout their career.  What’s nice about my run with Aura above, is that she does go through the weaves perfectly AND I manage to run past her ready to get her to nip round the next jump.  I’ve only just learnt to do this.  Usually we tiptoe alongside our dogs while they weave, hoping for the best that they don’t come out.

The two runs above were at a show and we were competing in a JUMPING class.  This only consists of jumps, weaves and tunnels, although the jumps can be made more interesting.  There was a wall in the next ring to this one.  Long jumps can also be used, consisting of slightly raised boards.  There may also be a suspended tyre for the dog to jump through. Sometimes a jump is in two parts, making a spread.  Just like show jumping for horses in fact.

Contact equipment, including Dog Walk, A-frame and Seesaw is added to the mix for the AGILITY class.  These consist of something for the dog to walk over with a painted area at either end that the dog must touch.  This is to stop the dog leaping on or off and hurting themselves.  I’ve already done a post of me teaching Ounce how to get ready for the contacts.  Again, teaching the dog to do these 3 pieces of equipment takes many years and endless hours of patience.

Training Classes

So you teach the dog how to do the equipment and off you go, right?  Well yes in theory.  The challenge is that the judge or trainer sets the course and numbers the obstacles and then you have to persuade your dog to do all the right obstacles in the RIGHT ORDER!  In the beginning, you generally only go up and down, with simple, curved turns and minimal changes of direction.  As you go on it gets progressively harder.  You can see from the videos above that by the middle grades, 4&5, which is what we are doing here, the course is not entirely straightforward.  What we usually have are ‘traps’, where the dog is persuaded that something should be the next obstacle, but we know that it isn’t.  We then have to react in time to turn the dog the right way.

I took videos of six of us doing the same run this morning.  It is really interesting to watch these and compare the different runs:

Busy is an inexperienced dog who is still really ‘wild’.  She is also much, much faster than me, so that adds an extra challenge!  You can see when she emerges from the top tunnel and jumps the next jump that I fail to get her to go in a straight line, because she is turning round to ask me what she needs to do next.  We would have been given faults for ‘refusing’ the jump but might not have been eliminated.

Chris and Luna have a great partnership – Luna loves running with her dad.  Chris was focused on getting her into the tunnel at the bottom having seen me go wrong so over-compensated slightly; she goes into the wrong end – elimination.

Mark and Oscar are very experienced and again a great team.  Mark keeps running with great enthusiasm and purposefully gets Oscar to go into the ‘wrong end’ of the tunnel, ie not the end he sees first.  This is hard to do.

Another example of a dog that is faster than his owner!  Elaine handles Django really well, especially considering he is a cheeky Jack Russell with a mind of his own!  She had planned to cut across the corner at the bottom while he was in the tunnel, but a slight mis-timing meant he wasn’t fooled.  She did it perfectly on the next attempt – a great move.

Real professionals at work here.  Smurf is a grade 7 dog and again an old hand.  They work so well together, with Sarah knowing exactly where to go and what signals to give to get Smurf round in the neatest way possible.  Nice job!

Alex and Abi are the least experienced partnership in our class, but by no means the worst.  It is brilliant to see the patience and enthusiasm that Alex shows with Abi and the joy she has in running with him.

As you can see from these videos, there are different ways to ‘handle’ your dog, some more successful than others.  In competition, only around 10% of the runs are successful…

In conclusion

If you want to have fun with your dog, have a go at agility?  I can’t promise trophies and rosettes, but I can promise laughs and the chance to hang out with lovely people.  Everyone is really friendly and helpful, because we all know how hard it is!

NB: It is not always the fastest dog that wins!  

As you can see, agility can be done by all shapes and sizes of dog – Border Collies make up around 70% of dogs competing, but most dogs can have a go.  It can also be done by all shapes and sizes of handler.  I think it is especially great to see young and old, men and women, competing alongside each other.  Of course most of us are not as fast as our dogs, but that is the challenge!

Go to agilitynet for lots more information.


Ask for help?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.




How to find a good agility club

How do I find an agility club?

What do you do if you want to start doing something with your dog but don’t know where to go?  It’s really challenging.  Often, when people get their first dog, they don’t know many other ‘dog people’.  Just like with any hobby or interest, if you don’t do it, you don’t know anything about it.

You could talk to people you meet when walking your dog.  Ask them if they do any training with their dog and if so, who do they go to?  Usually people are only to happy to promote their trainer, so that is a good place to start.  Often though, good trainers are fully booked up, but they may well know other people who train.

Anyone with collies should know plenty of dog trainers – collies need to be doing something!

What questions should you ask when choosing a place to train for agility?

  • Do you teach fun or competitive agility?  If you have a collie and are young and fit, you will definitely want to go somewhere that trains for competition.  If you are old and unfit and have another breed, consider going to ‘fun agility’ first.  But be warned!  Fun agility can just mean “I don’t really know what I’m doing.”  This might mean that it’s not safe.
  • How experienced are the instructors?  Again, it’s about safety.  The more experienced the trainer, the better, obviously.  There are qualifications for agility training – KC Accreditation, or the British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers (BIPDT), specialising in agility.  If you want to be taught well, try and find someone who has trained and competed to Championship level, or competed at National or International level.

How old do dogs need to be before starting?

  • How old do dogs need to be?  Dogs should be at least a year old before they start jumping.  Foundation work for experienced handlers can begin earlier, but a complete novice should not start with a dog younger than a year.  Equally, dogs should not be too old; any dog over about five is probably too old to start.  They must be fit – agility is not a way to get an obese dog into shape.  Again, this is about putting strain on joints, agility is a sport for the dogs (if not for their owners!)
  • Do you use reward-based training?  I’d be amazed if you found anyone who said no to this question, but some trainers believe in being ‘firm’ with their dogs and expecting a good level of behaviour.  I would hope that the trainer would have the facility to cope with dogs who don’t like other dogs, or dogs who run off, or who bark uncontrollably.  There should be crates for dogs to stay in, the area should be fenced securely and there should be somewhere a dog can be tied up between runs.

Equipment and venue

  • Where is the training held?  A competitive agility arena is 30m x 30m, so that’s roughly the amount of space needed as a minimum.  Most agility is done in a field or an indoor school at an equestrian centre.  Either way, it should have a good surface for running about.  Outdoor training areas can become slippery when wet, so trainers should take account of this.  What cancellation policy do they have?  You shouldn’t have to pay if it is too wet to run safely.  However, be prepared to train in all weathers!  Dogs don’t usually mind the rain.
  • Do you have all the equipment, and is it professionally built?  This is very important.  Items should be reasonably heavy, so they don’t blow over.  Tunnels should be weighted down at either end so they don’t move.  Competitive agility includes the following items:
    • 16-20 items
    • Jumps with four different height settings and wings
    • Tunnels
    • Dog walk, A-frame and seesaw
    • Weaves
    • Optional items include a tyre, a long jump, a wall, other types of jumps

Details of classes

  • How many people in each class?  You want a small group only; 4-6 people is ideal.  Any less than that and you are on the go all the time, which can be a bit full on when you start.  More than that and everyone gets bored.
  • How long are the sessions?  Typically training classes last an hour.  After that, the dog gets tired and can’t concentrate.
  • How much are the classes?  Fees vary enormously, particularly by region.  If it’s too cheap it probably means the trainer is not qualified, or insured.
  • Do you have insurance?  Essential.  It’s a sport – both people and dogs can be injured.

Go and watch a class first

If you like the sound of it all, please go and watch a session first, so you know what to expect.  Dogs get very excited by agility, so your dog may not behave as you expect them to!  You might need some help managing this.  Some dogs are so focused on whether or not it is their turn that they don’t mind other dogs barking right next to them.  Others will react to this aggressively.  So be prepared to give other people space.

Agility is fun!

I cannot stress this enough.  It is fun for your dog and fun for you.  Do not take it seriously, you will be sorely disappointed!  This is a life lesson I took a while to learn.  I am a competitive person who likes to do well, so being so bad at something for so long was demoralising and uncomfortable.  Eventually I realised that it was not about winning or losing, or being better than other people.  It was about me and my dogs, being out there and enjoying ourselves.  It is also great spending time with other ‘dog people’ who are all as lovely as their dogs!

I am now training with Emma Conlisk at Beancroft Agility. I can’t recommend Emma highly enough! She is a great teacher, so positive, thorough and focused. Very professional, with a great setup.

Ask me for Advice?

You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice.  I won’t necessarily know the answer!  But I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?

If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.  Please CONTACT ME if you would like help with a specific topic?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think?

Ounce’s agility training – preparing the contacts

Puppy agility: what can we teach now?

Dogs cannot do agility until they are a year old; we don’t want to damage their joints and it’s better to wait until their bones have finished growing.  However, there is a great deal we can do if we know we want to do agility with them later on.

Wait – teaching a good solid stay and release

This is one of the first things you will need your dog to do.  They need to be able to wait while you get ahead of them.  Many people with slower breeds of dog start with their dog and run around the course with the dog beside them.  It looks so lovely and I am often jealous of this great bonding experience.  Not with a collie!  The faster you run with a collie, the faster they will try and beat you!  They like to be ahead of you.  They have great vision, particularly their peripheral vision, which means they can see you coming!

Therefore, if you want to have any hope of getting your dog round a course, you will need them to wait for you to get a head start.  Fortunately, I have been teaching Ounce to wait since she was a tiny puppy, so her wait is not bad at all.  Of course I need to continue to practice it, but we have the basics solidly in place.

Recall – working off lead and coming back at the end

You can’t do agility on the lead!  So we need to be able to let them off, run around with them and then get them back again. Getting them back at the end of an agility run is a bit different from the ‘formal recall’, but if you have the latter, the former should be straightforward.  Here’s a reminder of Ounce’s formal recall training.

Still not quite sure why I thought it was OK to wear my pyjamas to do this video.

Other moves to teach

Once we have a wait and a recall in the bag, we can start to work on other commands.  These include:

  • round – go around an obstacle and come back to me
  • left and right – yes really!
  • on it – get onto something, ie a piece of contact equipment
  • touch – stand with two feet on the equipment and two feet off

The last two are what I am trying to teach in this video.  I am using this box because it’s nice and sturdy.  I am trying to ‘shape’ her behaviour.  This means I am trying to get Ounce to understand what I want without me having to show her each time.  She is already familiar with the moves and you can see how eager she is to show me!  If you look carefully, you can see that near the start of the video, I reward her for getting ‘on it’ and then ask for a ‘touch’.  She does it immediately, but is so excited that she then jumps at me, so doesn’t get a reward.  I am being critical and I want her to stay in that position until I release her.  So I have to show her and encourage her.

NB: This is the whole of her training for today.  I do not want to spend ages with her in this position because again, I don’t want to put undue strain on her joints.  But as with all training, consistency and practice  are what pays off.  If we spend a few seconds doing this a few times a week after our walks, Ounce will be a long way towards her contacts when we transfer this skill to the field.

Why do we teach contacts in this way?

It seems a bit odd that we want our dog to stop at the end of the contact equipment (dog walk, A-frame and seesaw), with this very specific requirement of ‘two feet on, two feet off’.  We do this to stop dogs jumping off the top, which can cause them serious injury.  All the contact equipment has painted sections at the bottom which must be stepped on before the dog moves on.  If we teach the dog to get down to the bottom and take a treat from ground level, waiting until we release them before moving off, we ensure that they are safe, which is better for their health.  It also stops them being given faults.

There are other ways to teach contacts; a ‘running contact’ is when the dog goes down to the bottom but then carries on without stopping.  If you have a fast dog though, this just means you have to keep running!  It’s a bit of a mystic art anyway, not something I am familiar with!

Why do agility?

The same reason we should do any form of training or sporting activity with our dog – for fun!  Agility is great fun for the dog, they find it really exciting and stimulating.  Generally it should be safe and should build their athleticism, while giving them something to think about.  It can even improve your athleticism, although this is a bit debatable!

There are many different activities you can do with a dog.  It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are spending focused time with your dog, enjoying each other’s company.  If you have several dogs, it becomes even more important that you focus on each individual dog for a set period each week.


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First Agility Steps

When should you start agility training?

This is Ounce’s second agility ‘lesson’.  Five minutes playing, then a break, then five minutes more.  Last time she just learned about tunnels, so now she knows that they are super fun!  Please try not to pay too much attention to my delayed reactions.

Today she also had a go at walking over some poles, a bicycle tyre and a plastic bag, in order to get her to think about placing her feet and coping with obstacles.  She looked like a prancing pony lol.  Ounce also did some ‘shaping’ around a wing.  This involved her looking at the wing and receiving a reward.  Not too taxing.

Why do Agility with your dogs?

Because it is fun!  Dogs absolutely love doing agility, on the whole.  If they are collies they do anyway.  Some dogs are not motivated by it, but it suits collies perfectly.  Running about, doing stuff with you and then you throw the ball – fantastic!

Officially, dogs can compete in agility when they are 18 months old.  Which means by that age they need to know how to do it.  They are generally not meant to start jumping around at around 1 year of age, although no-one has told Ounce that.  She loves to fly on and off the sofa and treats the footstool as a trampette.

Before they are a year old, there is still a great deal they can learn and that is what we have been starting.  Maybe in a few years’ time, she will be as good as her cousin Aura…