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Dogtectives

On the trail of a better relationship...

The New Year was fast approaching. It was time for Mary Ann Nester to start setting goals for her Border Collie, Tico. Was she going to aim for the stars and try and qualify for Olympia?  How about going up a few grades?  Or was she going to just try and get a consecutive run of clears?  None of these. She decided that her partnership with Tico would best be served by having some fun. Agility competition and training had simply become too pressurised and stressful for both of them. Their relationship was suffering. They needed something to put the pleasure and joy back into their lives. But what?  Dogtectives!

Dogtectives was presented by Becci Chant from Animanners and Nando Brown from In The Doghouse DTC. Most of us in agility know Becci who competed in the Crufts ABC Final this year and some of us have heard of Nando Brown's viral video 'Say No to Shock Collars.'  Becci had attended a John Rogerson Canine CSI course and was keen to run her own event. When she met Nando at a nosework seminar, they decide to team up and create Dogtectives.

In their words, 'A crime has been committed and we need help to solve it. Call in the dogs!' 

I was intrigued!  This sounded new, different, challenging and fun.

The venue just increased my excitement and anticipation. Kelly House (Lifton, Devon) is a predominantly Tudor and Georgian house with a few Victorian accents. You may have seen it on the television programme Country House Rescue . It has been home to the Kelly family for over 900 years and the perfect setting for a murder. 

Luckily they do bed & breakfast and were giving Dogtectives a special rate, so I treated myself to a room on site. (I heartily recommend the porridge with cream and brandy soaked raisins for breakfast).

When off duty, my dogtectives could smell the daffodils in the garden, collect sticks in woods and roll in fox poo over the fields. The Kelly family could not have been more welcoming.

Murder Mystery
Dogtectives is a three day workshop that teaches the skills you and your dog need to solve puzzles, find clues and discover who dunnit!  You learn nose work, tracking, obedience and trick training. There are daylight frolics and 'night-time adventures.' I believe my dogs are fairly well trained. They compete successfully in agility and heelwork to music.  But this was all new. 

My dog, Tico, was challenged in ways I never expected or imagined, and it took our relationship to another level. I had to observe and analyse him doing things other than contacts and weave entries. I was amazed that he would respond to the command 'seek!' and be able to indicate a tiny and invisible to me clue left in the long grass. When it comes to his nose, he - not I - knows best. I had to trust him and I have a new appreciation for his sniffing around act! I am sure that Tico learned new things about me, too... but he is keeping those to himself!

Tico and I were member of the Canine Crime Scene Investigators (CCSI). I wanted to get us matching flak jackets and baseball caps like on TV, but there was no time. We were too busy finding, winning or buying clues. And when not doing things with our dogs, we brainstormed. I loved working with my team, figuring out the best strategy for a game or discussing the meaning of a gold bangle. There was applause for individual endeavour as well as loud cheering for team performances.

We all brought different strengths to our team but we shared a weakness for the yummy afternoon cakes. This was an aspect of the Dogtective weekend that shouldn't be overlooked - weight gain and the opportunity to be sociable and make new friends. No one is ever too old for a bit of personal growth!

Success
Yup, we solved the mystery! We found out who murdered who and with what! But I am not telling! 

I could have gone to one of the many agility workshops or training camps that are popping up in every nook and cranny of the country but I believe my money was better spent going to Dogtectives. Doing something different has its advantages. My bond with Tico has been revitalised and my love of dog training invigorated plus I've worked with some fabulous people. Tico and I learned a lot about each other and I think my agility will benefit one hundred percent. We are now in synch and when we are together we are awesome. And it was great all around fun!  How can you beat that? 

While there are no confirmed plans yet for another Dogtective course but Becci and Nando hope to hold one again at some stage, so it is worth keeping an eye on their web site www.animanners.co.uk!

About the author...
Mary Ann Nester came to England from New York in the early 1970s and never went home.  Her most successful agility dogs have been miniature poodles, Brillo Pad and Daz. They were both finalist at Crufts and Olympia for many years and competed as members of Team GB at the FCI World Agility Championships in Portugal 2001, Germany 2002 and France 2003.

Committed to promoting dog sports to anyone with a dog, Mary Ann ran Aslan Dog Training as well as accepting teaching invitations to Portugal and Switzerland.  For many years she posed as the Agility Auntie for Agilitynet and combined her love of dog training with writing. Agility Dog Training, Dancing with Dogs and Smart Tricks to Teach Your Dog were published by InterPet.

Her last job was as the Clinic Administrator for Vets Now Out of Hour Emergency Services. Now retired to Devon, she is getting fat on cream teas!

Photos: Richard Chant

First published on 28 April.