Building an agility career from the start...
Queuing with your rookie dog at a show for the first time could be one of the most exciting - and nervous - days of your agility life. Your expectations of a clear round are high. You've been training for many months and finally feel that your dog is ready for the ring. However, could competition prove too much of a challenge for you and your dog? And could it affect your future in agility? Thank you to CSJ for allowing us to reprint this article, written by Iris Richards, from their web site.
Personally I like the UKA system. It is pro-active and designed to help you and your dog to have a good start to your agility career in the ring. Look at it like a new job. Would you like to be given the opportunity to start with a few basic learning techniques before being thrown into more complex situations? Most would agree to this and take on a new role, understanding that training opportunities would be given, and would be a definite benefit.
UKA, therefore, gives you the opportunity to start in the Nursery or Casual classes, and whilst in these classes you and your dog can benefit from the time to practice specific criteria within a course environment.
Your initial bond with your dog and relationship thereafter are key to your future handling skills. Building a steady solid foundation to your future agility career is a must, but the building blocks can be so easily crumbled during your time in the ring.
This is where the UKA system is so beneficial. Not only are there specifically tailored Nursery, Steeplechase and Casual classes for new dog and handler combinations, but there is also every chance to enter a class and choose to run a dog NFC (Not For Competition).
The advantages of training in the ring
So, by having the NFC opportunity to take a toy into the ring and using it as a reward each time the dog perfects a cue, or completes an obstacle correctly, this enables you to perform your positive reward in the correct manner. Their first exposure to the competition ring will be a brilliant one.
You should both be able to imbed the 'brilliant' round you have just achieved into your memories, and take away from the time spent in the ring, pointers on how your training regime is progressing.
Having taught your dog many skills away from the excitement of the ring, the next progressive step is to enter into the ring environment, which is the perfect place to test these out. Training rounds are increasingly popular throughout the levels, and many handler and dog combinations from Nursery to Champion classes, use these occasions on a regular basis as they are offered at all of the shows UKA hold.
We all often watch competing dogs from the sidelines and feel that encouragement is needed during a round. There are a few lucky ones who at their first ever show, with their first ever dog will achieve that 'brilliant' much sought after clear round. But what has that partnership gained from their first time in the ring? They will be pleased to return home with a rosette or maybe even a trophy for their endeavour, but is this enough? How difficult is it to repeat that success time over, week in week out at regular shows? Taking the time to reward the correct behaviour we expect from our dogs, in the correct place is crucial and so beneficial to continued improvement.
Our own personal eagerness for success can sometimes cloud exactly what we are trying to achieve. Once a bond with your dog has been secured in the training environment and it now understands what is expected, you have gained valuable knowledge about your own dogs' ability. It is then crucial to replicate that bond in a competition environment. After a time, statements of 'my dog does it brilliantly at training, could now be 'my dog understands what I need of it, and regularly does it brilliantly, at training, and consistently in the ring.'
Practice in the ring will enhance your skills, and nurturing these skills will eventually produce the perfect combination of dog and handler. Your confidence will grow, and by using the opportunity given at the UKA Shows over a period of time, your dogs' confidence will improve, too.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing
Iris then had a rest period from agility to start a family. Her son Brandon was taken to his first agility show at the age of 11 weeks at Supa Dogs in Kent, and has now gone on to compete as a Junior handler in his own right.
Ellie was the next dog Iris would handle and she was a rescue. Competing with her for a number of years, Iris gained Grade 6 level at KC, and UKA Champ level, too. Ellie is now handled by her son and is semi-retired. Jai was born in 1995 and Iris helped to look after her from two weeks of age. She is a typical farm collie and although still Grade 3 KC, she is also UKA Champ, and this year made the Masters Final. Commonly seen on the circuit with the strangest hair style, Iris enjoys competing with Jai, but often feels she lets confidence in her own ability slide under pressure.
Iris is involved in assisting UKA part-time, working from home. She was involved actively in running the World Agility Championships held in 2010 at Bristol. In 2011, she assisted in organising the inaugural World Agility Open which was organised by Greg Derrett and Monica Percival in Bristol, and in 2012 went to Belgium as part of the organising committee for this event. Thoroughly enjoying coordinating these events, she also assists with the UKA Grand Finals held in December.
Away from the agility circuit, Iris loves living in Cornwall, spending time with her family and five dogs, living on a beautiful farm. She previously worked as a Personal Assistant in an Insurance Brokers until the birth of her son in 2003. Now she works part–time at a local Pet supplies and greetings card shop and makes the most delicious jam and chutney from produce she picks from her farmland.