In all honesty, it’s been the best year so far for James and Willow as a pair, our entire dog pack and the whole family.
Agility brings you into a community of people that love dogs almost as much as you do. It opens up a fantastic social life and gives you the most amazing memories to cherish every year.
Whatever level you’re at, whether you’re at the beginning of your journey or you’re a veteran in the field – you’ll always be surrounded by encouragement and praise from friends, acquaintances and strangers.
This year, James and Willow worked so hard, and their efforts have thoroughly paid off:
– Championship ticket
– Two qualifications for Crufts 2020
– European Open in the Netherlands
– World Championships in Finland
– And a ‘so close’ for the Olympia 2019 final (but you can’t have everything!)
James reviews and analyses every run of every competition throughout the season. Sometimes things happen that you just can’t prepare for and sometimes you come away thinking, Damn, I should have known that would happen! But that’s agility, and as soon as you get complacent or a little too comfortable, your dog will throw you a curve ball and bring you right back down to earth.
Looking back, is there anything we might have done differently? Yes of course, but on whole, it was a very successful year and lessons learnt this year will help us to improve our performance next year.
When the season comes to an end, it’s always a relief that every weekend isn’t spent travelling around the UK and that every spare moment in the weekday evenings isn’t spent outside, come rain or shine. However, it’s also a little sad to think that all those friends you see on a weekly basis, drawn from all over the country from Devon to Aberdeen, you may not see until the season restarts next year.
Dog Agility is way more than just a sport; for us, it’s a way of a life.
So, although the 2019 agility season has largely come to an end, there are still KC and unaffiliated shows running throughout the winter. However, we choose to give our dogs a full month off agility and a few months out of competition to rest, recover and just lead normal (ish) dog lives.
I say ‘normal’, but we still train, albeit in a completely different format. During the spring and summer, we run courses, sequence jumps and work on competition skills that are making a trendy appearance by judges in the ring – each year a new and exciting move or skill trickles into the UK courses, often influenced from abroad. But during the winter, we work on our dogs’ fitness levels (although we allow them to gain a little weight) and their cardio capabilities, muscle mass and flexibility are our main focus. Instead of agility training 2-3 times a week and running full courses at the weekend, we work daily on our winter plan that consists of sessions such as water treadmill, core stability on wobble cushions or cavaletti/body awareness. All these aspects, although seemingly unrelated, are vital to the following year’s competition season.
We also like to work on fun elements, such as trick training with the dogs. Not only is this fun for both human and dog, but it builds that concentration and understanding of how each other learns. I still stand by teaching Floyd, our red collie, to fetch the TV remote – one of our most useful tricks!
So, no more jumps and contacts for a few weeks, however agility will still be at the forefront of our minds …
As Willow is in the Team GB squad for 2020, she and James have a selection process to go through and a few keys dates to work towards:
November 2019 – 1st Squad Day
This is where all the squad members and the management team meet up (both old and newly selected squad members) to review the year that’s coming to a close, to set expectations and to plan for the following year. On the first day there is little focus on the team members’ dogs, more so on the handlers – fitness tests are carried out, talks from senior management and the kennel club are given and the following year’s sponsors are introduced.
February 2020 – 2nd Squad Day
The second squad day is all focused around the squad dogs: vet checks are carried out, third measures are taken and courses are run. The management take all elements into consideration here, so the pressure is on to have fast, consistent clear rounds, but also to have a happy and healthy dog.
March 2020 – Performance Weekend
The biggest date in any aspiring Team GB handler’s diary. All the squad dogs are required to run at this event, but also, any great 6/7 dog in the UK can enter (certain classes) to compete against the squad dogs, and in essence try to showcase why they should be considered for next year’s squad.
There is a class within Performance Weekend, solely for squad dogs – that if you win, you are guaranteed a place on that year’s European Open!
Then, from these three Squad/Performance days, the management team make their decisions as to who will be selected from the GB Team European Open & World Championship teams, both team and individual runs.
This year, James was selected for both the European Open (team and individual runs) and the World Championship (team run). So, in 2020, his goal is all four – team and individual runs at both – so no pressure!
The next few months will be less intense, with no more 4am alarms at the weekend or late-night dog walk sessions. However, we will not lose sight of the end goal. There will be no real rest until the April 2020 team is announced.
Wish us luck, and if you’re an aspiring Team GB agility handler – make sure you come along to Performance Weekend! James is always happy to share his experiences and give some advice, so do find him on social media if you have any questions!
James & Lizzie and Willow
Stand Out Agility