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Running wild and free...

Anyone who has been in the sport of Agility for more than a little while will surely have heard of Dawn Weaver. Dawn is living proof that woman can multi-task. She is a national and an international competitor. She runs training workshops, teaches, and has now added the title of author to her already spectacular agility CV. So it was no mean achievement when Soraya Porter managed to lure her away from her many duties, not to mention seven competition dogs, to try and find out the key to her amazing agility successes.

Q. When and how did you first get into agility?  

Must be well over 20 years ago. Like most people I did obedience and played at agility for a while. However, once you've done agility, you realise that your dog enjoys that so much more.

Q. Tell us about your first dog.  

My first dog when I was a child was a black poodle. However, he went blind at a young age and I had certainly never heard of agility back then. Sounds like the dark ages doesn't it?!

However, my first agility dogs were a Rough Collie and, wait for it, yes, you guessed, a Beardie x Border collie! Not much change there then. Don't know how those pesky Papillons crept in though!

Q. Tell us about some of your early training problems.

Like most people, contacts were a big problem, but then it didn't matter quite so much then, as most people had problems!

Also I had problems turning my Beardie Xs but they had done flyball first! I was okay if the course started with a straight line!

Q.  Can you tell us a bit about your current dogs?

  • Minky and Freeway - 6 years old, sisters. Both Grade 7s

  • Promise - younger sister, 4 years old. Grade 7

  • Breezer - younger half-sister, just 2 years old. Grade 6

    All the dogs above are Beardie x Border Collies

  • Chelsea - Min Poodle, 8 years old. Grade 7

  • Puzzle - Crazy Papillon! – Age – 2 3/4! Grade 7

  • Tigger, son of Puzzle - Papillon x Poodle (not mine!). Nearly 2. Grade 5

PuzzleQ.  What is it you particularly like about the breeds of dog that you run?

I have always owned Beardie x Borders because I prefer them to pure Border Collies. I think they can be less intense to live with than Borders and I prefer the coat to pure Beardies! Papillons I love and I would be lost without one to work. They are a bit small though and prone to accidents!

Q.  Are there other breeds that you've considered working?

I like the look of Pyrenean Sheepdogs but  don't know if I could cope with one. Look at Virginia Harry! Only joking!

Q. You run more than one size of dog, was this a conscious decision, or did it come about by chance? 

I do have Large and Small size dogs, but this just came about by chance really. I just get dogs I like, whatever the size.

Q. Are there particular problems with running two sizes of dog at one competition, and do you have any hints or tips that could help other thinking of doing the same?

Obviously, there are problems with lots of different rings to walk. People that have several dogs would be lying if they said that they didn't have timing problems when swapping between dogs sometimes.

My big problem is that I keep trying to run Puzzle like a large dog! This is because he likes his distance away from me so I forget then that I am actually running a Small dog and start handling him like a Large dog and then give commands too early etc.

Q. What got you really hooked on agility, and who were your biggest influences and mentors then?  

The dogs got me hooked on agility because I saw how much they were enjoying it.

I don't think I had any big influences.

Q. Who or what would you say were your biggest influences now? 

Once again, I don't think there are any really. I very rarely have trained with anyone else, only the odd training day. Most of what I know I have learned from observation at my own venue and trying things out to see what worked and what didn't.

Q. When did you realise you were getting quite serious about competitions?  

I have never been serious about competing although I do enjoy it. I just do agility to spend quality time with my dogs. My only role as a handler is to make sure that on every agility round my dog is having the time of his life! I think that is the same as you, Soraya from when I have seen Ernie run!

Q. You teach as well as compete. Would you say your teaching has had an influence on the way you compete? 

Yes, definitely. The more time you spend watching handling, the more you learn, but, in particular, the way the handling affects the dogs direction.

Q. Do you suffer from competition nerves, and if you do, how do you cope with them?  

I only get nervous in major events and only because I don't want to let my dog down!

I never worry about results, only about the dog enjoying himself and that nothing goes wrong for them, for example, falling off a dog-walk or something. Their life is literally in my hands when I compete, particularly with Puzzle, because if I get it wrong he could be badly injured. One day I gave him a dog-walk command instead of a see-saw command and he totally flew it and tore some nails out on landing. I think I am only nervous because of the responsibility of getting it right for them.

At major events I find it harder to remember the courses, so I tend to walk them through on the ground a lot so that I can just concentrate on my handling when I get in the ring.

Q. Do you have a particular routine you follow when you're competing?  

No, I don't do anything in particular. Every one of my dogs needs different preparation for the ring.

Q.  Do you prepare yourself and your dog differently if it's a competition final?  

No, not really.

Q. Would you say you were still learning, and do you have any major issues you are working on at the moment?  

Of course, I am still learning all the time. Nobody can know everything there is to know about handling.

Q. Do you have a top training tip?  

In the ring and in training I never go back to correct ‘mistakes'. They are never my dogs mistakes but always mine, so there is no point in breaking his flow and enthusiasm. He doesn't need to know about my mistakes, he just needs to be rewarded for following my handling.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in the competitive circuit, who would love to eventually get to Crufts, Olympia or any of the major Finals? 

Don't worry about getting to any finals, just see every round you do as a positive result that you can get feedback from. You should learn from every round, whether it is a sequence that you haven't thought to practice with your dog, or some skill you haven't taught your dog yet, or that your command was late in a certain place. I always take each round as it comes and learn from it. If you make it to any big finals then that will be a bonus. 

Q. You have a book due out soon. Tell us a bit about it and what made you decide to go into print?

The book will hopefully be out in the spring. The title is Knowledge Equals Speed, and I wrote it because I wanted something up to date for people to be able to refer to. Most books about agility seem to be have been written some time ago.

This book will cover all the basics for starter handlers but also lots of advanced handling too so that there will be something for everyone. I am also hoping that by getting people to understand their handling more, they will realise that every mistake made on a course is actually their own and never their dogs.

Q. Do you have more books planned for the future?

Maybe one specifically about running contacts.

Q. And finally...What is your favourite thing about Agility and why?  

I think that life in general can be very restrictive with lots of rules and regulations etc.

So, the thing I enjoy most in agility is to be able to get on the start line and that we both run wild and free. It is just my dog and me flying round. So what if we miss a jump out? Who cares? Not I, and certainly I will make sure my dog doesn't find out!    

Dawn thank you so much for answering, literally, twenty questions. Your answers have been really informative and I'm sure we will all look forward to reading your new book in the spring.

Dawns' new book will be published by Amolibros in 2009. It will be available direct from the publisher and on Agility Warehouse.

About the interviewer ...
Soraya Porter
lives in the smallest town in England - Manningtree, sharing her house with three Siamese cats and her dog Ernest (Hartsfern In Earnest) who also can be heard answering to the names of Ernie, Ern, Monster, Beast and Fish Face! Ernie runs at Grade 7, and has had many appearances at Crufts, where he is in great demand to pose for photographs with Japanese tourists!

Currently she trains with Bob Sharpe and at Valley Farm Agility Club, as well as doing some freelance teaching, the odd judging appointment, designing simple agility websites, and hand spinning dog fibre. Given such ingrained insanity, it’s a miracle that Ernie has taken part in as many Finals as he has.

First published 9 December 2008



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