Never give up...
Sarah Mclean started Agility in late 2010 with her Chihuahua X Kita whose natural enthusiasm got Sarah hooked straightaway. Her other dog tried agility but had to be retired because she suffered from ETOS (Early Take Off Syndrome). Sarah then decided that her next agility dog would be a Working Cocker but, when the time came, she had no luck finding a rescue so, being a terrier person, she instead went off to see a timid little four month old Jack Russell who was in need of a home who was destined to become one of a small handful an Agility Champions.
Off I went to view the pup. He hid and refused to come out and say hello or interact with me. I got a toy out to try to encourage him to play, but he just sat there or ran off. I said 'Sorry this dog does not have the right personality for my next agility dog' and drove home disappointed. It was back to looking for a Working Cocker.
That night I worked a 12 hour shift so had plenty of time to think about that scared little dog. I just couldn't stop thinking about his little face. The next day I drove the three hours back to his foster mum. All my hope of him being my next agility went out the window. He could be a 'pet' I reasoned, and I told myself that I would look for my Cocker later.
I didn't know anything about his background, just his date of birth. he didn't even have a name. When I put him on Mum's patio, she said 'hello' and he looked. We said it again, and he responded so we chose Milo which sounded something like hello.
In the beginning, I had to take it slowly to build up trust. First I introduced the clicker. He had to work for all of his food. Then I taught him hundreds of tricks. Though he was very clever, everything had to be done slowly and carefully as he hated to get anything wrong. After a while, he understood the clicker did not mean 'failure' - quite the contrary - and his confidence started to grow.
Whenever Milo saw toys, he would shut down or wet himself. I was absolutely determined to get him to love toys and build a positive association with them. This took a long time but eventually he was able to nose touch a ball or a tug for a reward. I built on this until he was able to hold them in his mouth and eventually chase and hold on whilst I had the other end. We played toy games before his dinner, and he started at associate toys with food.
Milo being Milo
Each week, I saw little improvements in him, and he started to love working for me. Each day I did a few five minutes sessions with him. By taking it slowly and not letting him fail, I was able to change and motivate him. I listened to him and respected what he could do on the day. I never once dragged him around a course. Whenever I trained my older dog Kita, Milo always got five minutes after her, doing whatever we needed to do.
Once I'd got him keen to work for me, he loved agility training. He was so fast that he was awesome. I knew if I could get that speed at shows, he would be amazing. For a 12 inch tall dog, he was never going to be as fast as the Spaniels or Collie Xs, but if he ran at the same speed in the ring as at training. he would be right up there in the places.
I very soon realised that as soon as anybody or any dog appeared, Milo would shut down. At the time, I was renting a paddock at a local dog kennels and the majority of his training was done there alone in the early mornings before anybody else turned up or walked passed. So I decided the next step would be to hire some other venues. At each new place, Milo would go backwards - not interacting with me, shutting down and not playing - so we had to go back to the very beginning at each new place. Eventually, we had four places where at least Milo was happy to do agility.
Milo has given me PTSD regarding training in new locations. It took another year to get him running in other environments. We must have gone to over 100 different places with his dinner bowl to practise his toy play, but in time he was able to play and train for toys that he loved and which were eventually so useful for NFC runs.
It was about then that Milo decided he liked chasing wildlife more than interacting with me. As soon as I let him off his lead, off he went. He didn't want to know me so I resorted to putting him onto a long line. Off we'd go, twice a day, to our venue, armed with his toy and food bowl. We just concentrated on simple things like focus, toy play, tricks and hand touches. It took a while but being on his long line he realised he could not run off so running off, and decided to work for me again.
Once I had that focus, I started him on basic agility exercises such as cone wraps. He could only do one cone wrap before he became de-motivated, so that's all we did - one cone wrap, jackpot, and then back into the van. I just had to be patient and build on simple exercises until he could do five minutes. I used Kita to make him jealous by training her first, and letting him sit in his crate and watch. I also had them both out at the same time when I was running around with Kita. He started to chase her into tunnels so I rewarded him for that, and eventually I saw a little dog who was starting to love to interact with me, who didn't run off during his sessions and who was keen to eat and play for his rewards.
Teaching Milo the actual equipment wasn't hard. He is very clever. His favourite piece of equipment is his running dog walks.
All this, however, was done on our own as he still wouldn't work with people or dogs present. At my own venue where he was most comfortable, I started to introduce other people - mainly people he knew and other dogs - adding them one by one, first from a distance and then in the field whilst we trained. When he could do this, I started taking him to classes but not doing agility - just sitting at the side doing my toy play, hand touches and tricks to get him used to working in groups, until he was ready to do some equipment.
After attending about 20 venues and group lessons and he was happy working we decided to enter our first NFC run, which just consisted of going into the ring and playing, no equipment, then building up to eventually doing a little equipment until he could do full courses.
Onto our first unaffiliated show, all excited thinking I'd done everything correct and Milo was going to enjoy it. I sat him on the start line, and off we went. Milo clocked the ring party and judge and stopped dead, and then proceeded to run around alarm barking at them all. Then he ran out of the ring. I was gutted. Next time, I asked the ring party to please stay in the ring, while I played tug around them to make it a happy environment for Milo again. Eventually he could weave with the pole picker sat near or do a dog walk with the judge nearby.
When Milo started competing the only things that got him excited were raw egg, or raw liver/heart, so I was often was seen by the ring, showing Milo these before his run. I was lucky enough to have friends who came to shows with me to help in the practice rung. My lovely friend Vikki Lucas once dressed up in a floral dress after I discovered that Milo was scared of dresses. If he ever saw a child on his way to the rings, he would refuse to run, even half an hour later. I had to plan my route well in advance to avoid them. Even now Milo is crated ringside to stop him worrying. He is brought out as the dog before him leaves the start line.
I can manage him now, he is still nervous and unmotivated at times but I know exactly how to bring him back before he runs and that's the key managing the situation and understanding him. What a funny little man!
At home, Milo is ace. He fits in with the pack so well. He plays with all the other dogs in their own ways and is so gentle with Kita, my tiny Chi X.
When he is working now he is good but he can be a bugger on walks, so I keep him on a long line. I lost him once for 10mins when he went after a hare and I won't risk that again. We live in the countryside and a hare or fox can just pop up any time and he would be gone. I've tried everything but his prey drive is too strong so, until he has a chase recall, he's staying on long line.
I'll also say he is the most cuddly, affectionate dog ever, always near me when I'm home. He's my shadow.
isn't 'slow' any more!
His agility skills are out of this world... when he decides work for me.
His achievements to date are impressive:
Milo won his first Championship class at Lune 2017, aged just two years old. He went on to win three more tickets, gaining his third at Weardale 2019 which unfortunately didn't count as it was under the same judge as his second ticket. In true Milo style, he was just making me work extra hard to become a Champion. But it did happen on 2nd November at Bretford Championship Show where he gained his fourth ticket to make him up to Ag.Ch. Milo of Mischief.
she was not getting picked for the team. She also competed in gymnastics but stopped at 14 as she had got too tall!
Sarah was also into horses from a young age. Being shy didn't matter with animals so she carried on, only stopping when she got into Agility with Kita. She now has four dogs. including that long awaited Working Cocker.
She currently lives in Nantwich where she is a full time biomedical scientist at Leighton Hospital.
First published 18th November2019