Category Archives: Activities with your dog

Flyball

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.

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.

flyball
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!

flyball
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.

flyball
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).
flyball
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.

flyball
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?

Remember..

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?

Remember..

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.

heelwork

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?

Remember..

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.

canicross
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?

Remember..

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

Agility

dog agility

I am going to talk about my passion: Dog agility

Objective

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 grade 1, subsequent dogs of the same owner have to start at grade 2.  Previously, 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?

Equipment

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.  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!

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.

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

Remember..

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.