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Jumping for Joy

I know this is an old-fashioned saying but it is still true in so many cases. Humans have suppressed this into many formal ritualised customs from the old War dances to mating displays. In nearly all mammals, such actions are just forms of energy release that they do just for fun. Such energetic exercise makes us feel good and excites us because our bodies produce endorphins the body’s pleasure drugs.

If you watch horses, sheep, hares, rabbits, dogs, cats, etc, they all like to charge and jump about in times of happiness or to create happiness for themselves or in others. Many of the activities are to do with mating rituals but again it is to generate from the male a feeling of pleasure into the female. It also allows the male to show off its prowess as an excellent mate.

I am certain I am not alone in having a dog that occasionally charges around as if it is possessed for seemingly no reason at all. Take Winston into long grass and he chases about weaving and turning until he eventually has to lie down to regain his breath.

For whatever the reason or intension such excitement in any jumping activity creates a feeling of happiness. For those of you who have tried some form of agility with their dogs you will have noticed the enjoyment your dogs receive from such activity. Most dogs will even bark showing they are enjoying what they are doing.

It is not necessary for you to have to take up formal agility training to allow your dogs an outlet for enjoyment. Kathy Eason was one of our club trainers and had a working border collie called Bobby. Kathy would demonstrate at the training club Bobby weaving through her legs as she walked up and down the hall. He would jump over her back or jump through a hole created with her arms. It was only later that she then went onto agility competitions because it was obvious Bobby loved to it.

As I said, the other week someone must have designed Agility competitions just for our dogs but where do we start.

For the first part, you need a dog. Unfortunately, the much larger dogs are at a disadvantage because they have a lot of bulk to move round an agility course. My dog Lumpy was fortunately a light framed German shepherd so he had excellent agility skills but even he was at the disadvantage to one breed that seemed to excel in competition; the Border collie. This dog seemed designed for such competitions because they are so keen to work and they are so agile.

I am certain there are many other breeds that can give Collies a run for their money and particular the smaller dogs that can charge round the course almost as if they were flying.

Watching the dogs navigate the course as fast as they can then they must be enjoying what they are doing and yet there is no actual competition between them and other dogs as it is simply against the clock. Many dogs once they have completed the course they jump the last hurdle and then jump into the arms of their owner with obvious pleasure by both.

My initiation into Agility Competitions was when we received a donation of a complete set of competition and training agility equipment. We were very lucky to be able to set all of it out in a field next to my house so anyone could come along and train. I know Lumpy enjoyed using the equipment because for no reason he would just charge round the course on his own.

For me I was so involved with Working Trials that agility was just an opportunity to reward Lumpy with lots of fun for both of us. It did not matter to me whether we won or lost so I never had any competition or training stress. Without this stress, I found it very easy to teach Lumpy and this made agility training so rewarding.

Many years ago and to see how good Collies were we decided to try a test to see if I could teach Lumpy on a course specifically designed for him over a two-week period. The idea was to see if we could give Lumpy an edge over my friends Collie.

At the end of the two weeks, John brought his Boarder Collie to compete with Lumpy. Though we recorded, Lump’s best times Johns Collie still beat him on the first attempt and got faster with each successive attempt.

A few months ago I was watching the dogs at the Fun Day at Benitachell where there was again a Boarder Collie showing off its winning skills but I did notice that a Spanish Water dog was able to match it. Both are working dogs and both are very agile. My hope is to teach Trufa to compete in Fly Ball in the future and hope she will enjoy with me the fun such competitions generate.

I mention the importance of not showing our dogs our stress because our dogs can read us like a book and they then think there is something wrong. This does not help our training as it is creating barriers for our dogs instead of offering rewards for their successes.

What is it we are trying to accomplish in the way both the handler and their dog work together in a top competition?

When Lumpy and I went to compete, handlers are able to walk the course so we know in what order our dogs have to navigate all the obstacles. I do not actually run the course with my dog. I can never keep up with my dog so training a dog to keep to the handlers pace is a major handicap. It is important to teach the dog to go forward in front of you so they run at their optimum speed.

Once my dog sets off I follow up to about the mid point of the course. Dogs have better all-round vision than humans have so they can still see what I am doing and yet still look forward. I had trained Lumpy to turn right or left by voice and arm commands as well as by taking a few steps in the direction I wanted him to go. I also added commands like Over, Through, Away, Back, Left, Right, Steady, Up, Down, Slow, Stay so I am acting like a remote Joy Stick. This meant that my small body movements direct greater actions by my dog in much the same way we can control a remote controlled aeroplane.

By the time, Lumpy was reaching the end I would have walked backwards and be near the last jump. As soon as Lumpy cleared this, he just charged at me and jumped into my arms to lick my face. No cups rosettes or certificates were ever needed for Lumpy he just enjoyed the run.

Now that is what I call fun.

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