More than a bit of fluff...
The weekend of the Thames show was one that Ashleigh Butler won't forget in a hurry. Her Medium crossbreed, Pudsey (Ashpen Pudsey Bear) won the Agility graded class (Grade 6), and the Jumping Combined G6-7 class, giving her the last two wins needed to take them into Advanced. She couldn't believe that they had done it, and that they were now going to be able to compete against the best Medium dogs in the country in the Champ classes. Ashleigh wrote this article for the Agility Voice which she has agreed to let Agilitynet reprint.
I started competing in agility when I was five years old with my mum's Papillon, Shamee. When I was seven, my nan said she would buy me a puppy of my own. My mum found an advert in the local paper for Bichon Frise X Border Collie puppies. She thought that this could be a good combination and a suitable puppy for me. We went to see the seven puppies and came away with a little cream bitch which I called Buffy.
Buffy won me out of Starters in her first season competing and is now a Grade 5. In 2005, when Buffy was 3 ½ years old, we decided to breed with her and used Donna Johnson's lovely Chinese Crested Powder Puff, Acer. Buffy is only 12 inches and Acer is even smaller, so we were expecting them all to be Small.
Buffy gave birth to six puppies, and it was amazing to watch these little bundles coming in to the world. They were all lovely but I was especially drawn to the darkest, biggest one. He was an unusual colour. Born black but his undercoat was light, he got lighter and lighter each week. We now know this colour to be grey sable which comes from the Crestie side.
The other five puppies - aka the Ashpen fluffies - all went to fantastic homes where they also get to play at agility. They are all doing really well, too.
Pudsey was mine. My mum said that if I wanted Pudsey to be completely tuned in to me and associate me with being fun, then now was the time to put a lot of work in to forming a strong bond together. We had never used clicker training before, but we decided to use this method as we had seen and heard good things about this positive form of training. Pudsey picked it up really quickly, and I now teach him everything using this method.
We thought Pudsey was going to be a Small dog, but he just grew and grew, and didn't stop until he was 16 inches at the shoulder. The other puppies from his litter all measured Small. It's quite unbelievable when you see him next to his mum and dad, but then that's crossbreeds for you. You never know what you are going to get. He is a real mixture of all three. His head is like a Bischon – round, fluffy and with big brown eyes. His body shape is Crestie – lean, athletic with long longs. And his brain is definitely Border Collie. I think he has the best bits from all three breeds – just perfect!
I taught his contacts with clicker and treats. My mum would put him on the dog walk, a few feet up. When he came and sat at the bottom with his front paws on the grass and his bum on the plank, I would click and treat. He soon learnt that the quicker he got to the bottom and sat, the quicker he got his treat. We then back trained it until he was doing the whole dog walk and sitting at the bottom, and then we swapped with me running him and my mum clicking and treating him at the bottom. We also used the same method on the A frame and the see saw and he has always been confident on all of these.
As his contact training progressed, my mum continued to do the clicker for me. She could see at the precise moment when Pudsey got the position, whereas I could be running on, and this seemed to work really well. We also used this method on the weaves with my mum clicking his entry and exit of the weaves. To keep his speed up on the touch points I still either use treats or a tuggy.
Pudsey completely understands what is required of him, and I can run on in front or to the side and expect him to run to the contact and sit and wait until his release word. When we moved in to Grade 6 and I found that we really had to push it, I have had to start to release him before he gets his sit, so it looks more like a running contact. But if we get 5 faults, I immediately go back to not releasing until he does the sit, and in training I never release him early.
Last year was Pudsey's first full year competing, and he went from a Grade 3 and finished the season as a Grade 6. Knowing that it was going to be so much tougher in Grade 6, we spent the winter working on tighter turns, harder sequences and faster contacts and weaves. I'm not sure how we are going to do in Grade 7 and champ classes. I might have to strap the legs together of those supersonic collies, but I am so excited and really looking forward to it.
Pudsey is a real all-rounder and is willing to try anything I ask of him, and give 100% effort. Not only does he compete in agility, but he also does heelwork to music, show handling, obedience and flyball. He knows lots of tricks and absolutely loves to learn new, harder ones. He is definitely not a couch potato, and to keep him fit I take him on bike rides and jogging, as well as doing a lot of work running up and down hills.
Pudsey may never make it to Agility Champion, but he is a champion of champions in my eyes. My mum says that Pudsey is my 'once in a life time dog.' I do know how lucky I am to have such a super dog, and each time I run him he makes me feel so proud.
Stop press - since writing this Pudsey has done extremely well in Grade 7, and has achieved two reserve CCs at Rugby show and Dogs in Need. He was runner up at both the Burgess Supadog Medium finals and the Discover Dogs Medium competition, and he also won the Agility Voice Junior finals. To finish off the year, Pudsey and I received the trophy for gaining the most points (380) in the Agility Voice Junior Over 12s category for 2009.
Ashleigh has been doing agility and training dogs since she was five years old, and as well as agility. She also enjoys heelwork to music, flyball, show handling and obedience. She has always trained at Wellingborough DTC and says that they are just the best dog training club as they are always so supportive of the juniors, and will always encourage children to participate in all aspects of training dogs.
She goes to Wrenn school, and in her spare time - when she is not doing something with the dogs - she also enjoys drama, dance and singing.
Her mum Penny Butler has a website www.freewebs.com/ashpen so if you are interested in reading about the Ashpen dogs and what they have been up to, then please take a look.
Photos: Penny Butler & the Kennel Club
First published by Aglity Voice (September 2009)