I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this year has been a weird one. I’ve done agility for almost my entire life and the prospect of having a season off is never something that I have considered. But here we are and as a practical kind of person I am focusing on making the best of it.
Normally my entire season is focused around national competitions: qualifying for Crufts for the next year and making the national team, to compete somewhere abroad. Something that I realised quite early on this spring is that just because those things aren’t available to me right now doesn’t mean that they never will. This break, however involuntary, could prove to be a good time to invest in ourselves. Now is the time to make the improvements needed to excel in the future.
This led me to assessing my long-term agility goals are, and then deciding on the skills that I will need to achieve these.
I currently have two competing dogs, both at very different stages in their training. The older of the two is Smartie my 8.5 year old jack russel terrier. He is the most incredible dog and often I feel like he is reading my mind on the agility course.
We have already achieved so much together in our agility career, international gold and bronze medals and qualifying for Crufts for the last six consecutive years (and placing many times along the way) to name just some. On the other hand there is my young Parson Russell terrier named Sprint. He is three years old, but I only adopted him at just under a year. We didn’t start competing together until he was two. He did well in the six months that we have run together including progressing up to grade 5 and qualifying for the novice event at Crufts. He is still very ‘green’ and our partnership doesn’t yet feel quite as natural.
I truly believe that dogs only have so many jumps in them for their career.
Due to their different situations, my focus for their training during the break has also been very different between them. For Smartie we have done no actual agility training since March now. I truly believe that dogs only have so many jumps in them for their career, so I want to keep him as healthy as possible and save those jumps for when we can return to competing. He has all of the skills required for international courses and I am sure that we will pick up again where we left off.
We are instead focusing on spending time together, long walks, trick training and indoor fitness activities. However, Sprint still has some skills to learn and we made time for training what we can in our small garden – without forgetting the long walks and trick training. Hopefully this will pay off in the ring at some point.
There is a whole array of agility related skills that can be trained in a small space at home.
For instance, I do not have enough room to use my full dog walk so I got creative and put half of it up. We can practice our turns and discrimination skills off of the dog walk contact. We can also work on our one jump skills such as tight turns, independent backsides, threadles and more.
Agility dogs should be made fit for agility, not by doing agility.
So much of fitness work can be done indoors! We have used our time to practice with caveletti poles, wobble cushions, peanut balls and paw pods. Sprint now has balance that would rival any top gymnast! Of course, never forgetting those long countryside walks. I am so lucky to live where I do with access to miles of fields to walk through, rivers to swim in and hills to climb. Not only does this improve my dogs’ fitness, but it allows us to bond as we walk.
Long countryside walks have always been my favourite dog related activity, and spending so much time with them really proves that you should love the dog first and the sport second.
A particular challenge that I have currently is that where I live, we come across wildlife on every single one of our walks. My young Parson Russell has the strongest prey drive that I have ever come across in a dog (and I’ve owned terriers my whole life!). Therefore a lot of our lockdown walks have been spent with him on a long line, reminding him that I am much more exciting than the deer running across the field that he would prefer to chase. Still a work in progress but he is getting better.
Here is some inspiration for spending your time during this off season:
- Agility in a small space- drilling those individual skills which will prove useful in the future on a full course.
- Indoor fitness activities- flat work (such as positional changes, like sit-down-stand), slow walking over cavelleti poles (good for improving the dogs’ leg awareness) and paw pod and balance cushion exercises (good for improving balance, core strength and individual leg awareness).
- Trick training- tricks are good for bonding, mental exercise and balance/ body awareness.
- Enrichment activities- feeding from a kong/ licky mat rather than a bowl.
- Scent work- again good for mental exercise and stimulation when you can’t get outside to walk.
- Outdoor exercise- varying walking location as much as possible to include different terrains, hills and swimming.
ILOMME courses to help you start on some these tips:
Home workout for strength , to help you work on your dog’s fitness skills. Importantly and interestingly, also many of the exercises in the ILOMME method of training a Running Dog Walk are easy to do in a small space at home!
I hope that you’re all staying safe and that you’re also making the most of this time with your dogs.
All the best, Abby