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The red demon dog...

Imagine an AAA (Agility Addicts Anonymous) meeting. Hi, my name is Jody and I'm a dog-a-holic. I am owned by four dogs - three Collies and a  Bichon X.  I've been into Agility since January 2014. I live on the Isle of Man and I'm a proud member of Douglas Dog Club. This is my story.

It all started on a cold, crisp October evening back in 2013, October 22nd to be precise. On that fateful day I went to look at - yes, just an innocent visit - a litter of pups that just popped into the world only hours before. Who was I kidding. I went to view with the intention of fluttering my eyelashes at my other half and bringing one home 10 weeks later. It worked! I now own a red & white Collie called Reeba.

My agility bug began when Reeba was only three months old. Don't panic... she was nowhere near ready or able when the bug bit me!  My friend Charlotte was competing with her dog Foxy and I went along to watch.  Halfway through, she said, 'Hey Jody, why don't you run Foxy?' And the rest is history! We won our class and I was beaming. Little did I know at the time that Foxy was a distance handled dog and, therefore, she would have run for anyone who could point at the right bit of equipment at the right time. Never the less, I was bitten and I was bitten hard!

In order to start agility, I knew I needed basic obedience skills, so I signed us - Reeba and me - up to an Obedience course and got stuck into waits, lefts, rights and various other commands that come with these lessons, Wow! I was so proud of my switched on super cute 12 week old puppy! I tried to get as much groundwork in knowing I had to wait until she became the right age to start agility. I took part in a 10 week starter agility course in June 2014 - fear not, groundwork only - and was accepted into Douglas DTC, my local agility club.

My problems begin
As Reeba turned 10 months, she started to change. Gone was my super cute, 'butter wouldn't melt' red & white collie puppy and, in her place, was a demon, a hairy red demon! What happened? What did I do wrong? Was this the real Reeba? I had to question if Agility agreed with her?

My club was amazing.

  • 'Don't worry,' they said.

  • 'She will settle,' they said.

  • 'This is normal for a hyped up dog,' they said.

  • 'We can sort it,' they said.

Week in, week out, she got faster and naughtier. She was once described by a visiting trainer as a Ferrari with no brakes.

We faced quite a few problems, snapping at dogs, antagonising other dogs, charging at dogs on the sidelines if she gets bored waiting for her turn, constantly barking and lunging - and that's with me at full concentration, trying to stop her. She is worse if I lose concentration for even half a second.

Do you know what the most frustrating thing is? At home she sleeps like a baby in my arms and is so soft and gentle that I'm constantly saying, 'But... she's not like this at home.' She doesn't attack my dogs at home. She's a gem out walking. She just acts like a demon here at Agility! Honestly!

Too late. She was labelled as THAT DOG, Beware, Reeba, the red demon dog!

So now I have a wild, speedy dog as my first ever agility dog. At this point I'm wondering why I didn't pick a small, slower breed, an English Mastiff perhaps? ‘Oh Reeba, why aren't you a Volvo instead of a Ferrari' is among one of my most common thoughts.

I needed to do something
For the 12 months, this red thing made me want to cry and hide away with embarrassment at Agility and other events. I needed to fix this!

A very good doggy friend of mine pointed me in the direction of a qualified canine behaviourist.  I went for a session and quickly established that Reeba is a reactive dog. The behaviourist gave me a few easy training tips to help alleviate her anxiety. I now have a ball-focused Collie. It's her gob stopper. It's my sanity and my saving grace.

I've learnt to understand her that well that now she doesn't have a lead at training. She sits in the corner, close enough for my comfort but far enough away to be an observer to watch all that happens around her. She won't move until told too and her behaviour has improved tenfold.  I clip the lead on and we are back to square one, it's going to take time. She's nearly two now and we have come a long way together as a pair from those early days even if we do have so much further to go.

My next big mission is moving indoors. Handling her and her behaviour in an enclosed arena is my next big challenge. ‘Bring it on' I say! We've got this far together. There is no limit to what we can do as a team.

Agility has given me highs and it has given me lows
I've had days when I could hug her to death and constantly walk around the house saying how proud I am of her. And I've had days when I have refused to speak to her when I get home. I've walked through the front door and said ‘I am not talking to that thing. Tell her to leave me alone!' My other half knows how to handle these responses and is very understanding when I rant 'n rave at him. He doesn't 'get' Agility but is very supportive anyway.

What I'm trying to say is, when it gets tough, don't give up. There can be light at the end of the tunnel. The right club the support and encouragement is invaluable. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure I would have stuck it out without them.

So here we are - Reeba and I - 12 months later putting in our entries for our first event, the Hare 'n Hounds Halloween event.  As we have to travel off our small Island by boat and pitch up in some cottages for a four night stay, I think this is going to be a big adventure for both of us.

I expect plenty of tears and lots of laughs!

Wish me luck!

Happy ending...
Since this article was written, my crazy red dog got eliminated from 15 classes. Sometimes I just had to stop her and walk out, thanking the judge. But then, in a G1-7 graded Doc Docherty course, she slowed down, I got some control and, would you believe,  we went and won the class at our Grade 1.

I couldn't have been more proud of her and her abilities! The hard work, the hours, the anger, the joy have all paid off. I think she's now officially an agility dog!

About the author...
Jody Molesworth
is a 32 year old, full-time working mother of one.  She is a banker by day, having started her banking career eight years ago.

Agility is her hobby which, she says, is slowly taking over her life! 

First published 02/11/15