Many people in agility may have heard of some of the top handlers but not know how these people actually became involved in the sport. Theresa Lawrence writes exclusively for the Agilitynet about top handler Don Cooper.
Don Cooper was born in Stoke on Trent in 1951. As a boy, he spent most weekends either walking in the Peak District with his family and dog, or playing sports - a life style that was established early on and continues to this day. He grew up in a household full of animals, several sheds at the back of the house being full of various creatures ranging from an orphaned fox cub to the usual rabbits, hamsters, birds etc. The main family pet though being the dogs, a variety of all breeds that were trained to do tricks and join in childhood games.
Inevitably when he left home his love of dogs was to lead to four crossbreeds and a GSD taking up residence with him. He decided to take the young GSD Sadie to obedience classes as she was very timid and required socialising. Immediately a whole new world of competition opened up, with Sadie doing very well in small local obedience shows.
agility by the side of the road
Don discovered agility, purely by accident, whilst helping a farmer friend transport a lorry load of sheep to another farm. He spotted some agility equipment in a roadside field, stopped the lorry and made enquiries. He was most disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to have a go there and then and was told to return in a few days if he was still interested and join a Starters Class.
Without realising it at the time, Don had just discovered a hobby that was to incorporate all of his hobbies. It combined his love of the outdoors, running and dog training together with competition all rolled into one. It was a hobby that he and his dogs could participate equally in and a discovery that was to transform his life and lead to a lifestyle completely revolving around dogs and agility.
The world's greatest all-round athlete and Don's hero was Daley Thompson so it was inevitable that the new puppy was called Daley (Rudyard Daley.) Daley’s early training went well. He was a natural worker who was rounding up sheep at a few months of age. It had been decided to work on Daley’s obedience training first, to let the sheep side develop naturally when around stock and leave specific agility training until he was older and well established in the other disciplines.
Everything was going to plan. The very young dog was winning several obedience classes when disaster struck. Daley got a shoulder injury which resulted in an 18-month lay- off, complete inactivity and a very frustrated dog and handler. After numerous visits to veterinary specialists, permission was given for full exercise again. Daley was nearly two years of age. His agility training was about to begin.
Both dog and handler loved agility so much that the other disciplines faded into the background. Together they won virtually everything in agility there was to win including three times Agility Dog of the Year and all the major finals with the exception of Olympia. (Don hopes one day to rectify with one of his younger dogs, Becky, Ozzie or Freddie.)
Becky (Rudyard Becky) is following on from her Father (Daley, of course) to be Dons’ number one dog at the moment, having won numerous competitions in her own right. It must be pointed out at this stage that when Becky and her sister were born the owner of the bitch (sorry to have to mention your name, Sandy Bell) was under the impression that they were dog puppies. Thus this is how Don came to be working a bitch.
Ozzie, who was several years ago as a two year old rescue, won his first final, the Agility Needs Novice Final at Derby 2000, with some pretty tough competition, I must say.
He still enters the occasional running race but only if it fits in with his dog commitments which seem to be growing all the time, with invitations to judge and train abroad now leading to new challenges.