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Homeschooling in an Agility Household


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How agility is helping one family get through lockdown...

Since the Coronavirus lockdown, agility has become an even more important part of many people's daily lives, and Jane Bradley has found it really helpful as a way of breaking up the monotony of home education. She believes that the fact that the children want to keep their dogs happy, fit and ready for whenever shows start again has meant they are dealing with everything in a positive and proactive way. It gives them a focus beyond school work and the four walls of the house and unlike many other hobbies, there is quite a lot you can achieve with a couple of wings in a small garden! Her daughter Elsie wanted to share some of her thoughts about how agility is helping her to get through this difficult time.

Hello - my name is Elsie.

I am nine and I have been doing dog agility since I was four years old when I started going to watch my mum and big brother train their dogs. I always helped at our Club's shows. Sometimes someone would let me borrow a dog to run, but I really wanted a dog of my own to train.

When I was six, I rehomed Daisy from a lady who didn't want her any more. Daisy was 18 months old and we were her third home. She is a Pomeranian crossed with a Chihuahua and she measures Small.

We started agility training straight away. At first, Daisy was really nervous and didn't like being asked to do anything, but she very quickly started to trust me and now we have a really strong bond. She sleeps in my bedroom and I do everything to take care of her. We both absolutely love agility.

We have worked really hard and in our first summer going to competitions she won into Grade 3 and we got enough points to go to Crufts this March which was amazing.

Qualifying for Crufts was very exciting. It made me really want to train hard and always try my best to help my dog. I was the youngest in the Graduate Agility and I felt really proud knowing my club was supporting me. Being at Crufts was so nice!

I had loads of fun and it was a great experience for me and Daisy. It made see how brilliant Daisy is. I got eliminated on my run, but I didn't mind that much because I was just so happy with her. A lot of the bits I thought she wouldnt get, she managed. Normally Daisy is very wary in new environments and she had never ran on carpet before. On the first run of almost all shows she gets the zoomies and goes round in very big circles barking at the judge, so I was pleased that she stayed with me and tried her best.

Watching the video back, I can see where we went wrong and what I need to work on. I really hope I can qualify next time and use the skills I've learned to try to do better.

I am really sad that we can't do any shows at the moment, but I am still training with Daisy at home every day. Just before lockdown my dog agility club kindly lent me some jumps. We have also painted some stones to use as the numbers. Now we always do some quick exercises every day as part of our Home Education.

Our top three agility targets for being in isolation are: -

  1. To be able to send Daisy over a series of jumps. At the moment she always wants to watch what I am doing!

  2. To be able to teach Daisy the cues for left, right and round the back of jumps

  3. To be able to be further away when I send her into the weaves

Something else I am doing whilst we are all at home is teaching Shadow, our big dog, to do agility. She can't go to training or competitions as she gets upset by the other dogs, but she enjoys learning in the garden with me. I have taught her to weave! I also like setting up little exercises for my mum and her dog.

Training my mum is really fun because I get to choose what it is we work on. It's really fun being able to choose what tricky bits to put in and I get to challenge her and help her and Polly out. Mummy needs to work on flick flacks and thinking about what Polly's point of view is going to be on a course.

I am very competitive with Arlo, my brother, but I always want him to do well because he has worked really hard with Winter. Winter had to have a year off agility with an injury and has been really, really difficult to train, so it is nice when he does well. I'm glad our dogs are different heights though, otherwise Id always want to beat him! We have four dogs and for our daily exercise we take them on a walk to the field near our house.

I'm teaching my Daisy to do Heelwork to Music when we go out, but without the music! We have even made up our own routine.

Even though it is strange not being at school, I am glad that I get to spend so much time with Daisy, and I hope the next time we go to training they can see a difference because of our hard work at home.

A last word from Elsie's mum
The only other thing Id like to add is to say that our Club (Cleveland Agility Training) has been amazing and so, so supportive of me and the children, encouraging us to enter shows when we didn't have the confidence and cheering us on. It has been amazing seeing the children commit to caring for their canine friends and learning alongside them. They are always keen to improve and take advice on the chin. The brilliant thing about the agility shows they go to is that the vast majority of people give the children the same respect, help and encouragement they give other adults.

About the authors...
Elsie Bradley is a keen kid and shes always on the go!

She did a draft of this article entirely on her own and then worked with her Mum to think of ideas on how to pad it out.

She is a member of the Young Kennel Club.

Jane Bradley loved dog agility as a child and trained and competed from the age of 13 with her own dog, an unruly yellow Labrador named Poppy. When she returned to agility as an adult with her own children, she was pleased that they were happy to tag along so so she didn't need to worry about childcare! Of course, very quickly they wanted to join in. Her 18 month old Cocker Spaniel, Winter, was appropriated during their very first lesson by her then 6-year-old son who is now Winter's KC registered owner and a Grade 3 handler.

It didn't take long for Elsie, her then four-year-old daughter, to ask to join in. For a while she was happy to borrow a dog to run occasionally, but she soon became desperate for her own special friend. Like a lot of children, Elsie campaigned to be allowed her own dog, writing us notes and drawing pictures of her dream dog for a solid year! Eventually her parents felt the time was right and Daisy came to live with them. She has been the perfect fit for Elsie - their bond is so strong and they truly are best friends.

First published 15th April 2020

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