Sunday, 10 December 2017

And we're off again...

The journey to selection for 2018 the GB International Agility Team has started. Last weekend young handlers and this years senior squad attended the first two Agility Team GB days at Nottingham Trent University Brackenhurst Campus.

YKC EOJ Try-out Day 1.
Interest in the European Open Juniors [EOJ] increases each year. Two years ago 70 handlers attended the first try-out day, this year there were 140. And of course the standard increases too. Approx. 50% of the top performing young handlers from day 1 will be invited to go forward to the second day in February.  

We'll then select the team who will represent GB in The Netherlands in 2018.

For the senior handlers their first squad day was designed to set the scene for the 2018 World Championships in Sweden and the European Open in Austria and help them start their preparations. For the first time this years squad includes handlers from the Development squad and ex-juniors. So we have a diverse group with good depth across all heights.

We received useful feedback from this years teams helping to shape our plans for 2018. Preparations are designed around the specific championships, our objectives and longer term plans. Squad Day 1 is an important day to share information with the handlers.

Marc & Mr Big
Sadly we were missing Marc Wingate-Wynn [Team Assistant] at squad day. Marc has decided to set down due to his work and personal commitments. 

Marc has been a huge help and support for me and the Coaching Team. His professionalism and experience will be missed.

I'm sure the Coaching Team, our sponsors and the handlers who've worked with Marc appreciate all his support as Team Assistant.

EO 2017 Coaching Team

To find out more about Agility Team GB visit The Kennel Clubs Team pages 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Agility Team GB 2018 Squad Selection

Here we go again, Agility Team GB 2018 the journey to The Netherlands, Austria and Sweden starts next month.

The teams annual activities  start with the selection for the senior squad i.e. anyone but juniors. This year we had two new categories of handlers included in our selections.

  • Juniors who had represented Team GB at the EOJ but are now too old for juniors, ‘aged-out’ and, 
  • Handlers on the Development Squad. These are the handlers ‘spotted’ in 2017 as potential future team members.

This year we also introduced an automatic squad qualification threshold of 70 points. So there are a number of handlers who automatically gain a squad place through this route.

Then we have this years team members who are given a squad place because they represented their country this year. There were two reasons this change was introduced two years ago. 

  1. If a dog & handler partnership are good enough to represent their country in July / October, then they should be good enough to be considered for the squad in November and,
  2. I want to encourage team members to focus on the championships they’ve been selected for, not chasing around the UK for squad points for the following year.

Our other squad selection considerations include:  if we have enough pedigree dogs in the squad at each height (only pedigree dogs can enter the World Championships); previous experience at high pressure events; personal circumstances and many other factors.

Our objectives for the squad selection is to:

A).  Have a pool of dedicated, committed elite dogs & handlers to select from for the teams going to the EOs (Austria) and the FCI World Championships (Sweden) and,
B). Develop future partnerships who we believe will win medals at international competitions.

So after the excitement of being selected the work starts. The first squad day is in December where handlers will learn about what they need to do to be selected for the 2018 teams.  

You can find out who is the 2018 squad tomorrow (13/11/2017) at the KC International Agility web page.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The wind of change

Something I hear a lot following international competitions is:

'why should we have to change the way we do the sport for a handful of people who compete internationally'. 

That's a valid observation, however its missing the fact that agility is changing. 

Dog training techniques improve, equipment improves; dogs are trained to be more skilful; handlers are embracing skills from other sports e.g. to improve their running technique, improve their spacial awareness, to be more concise and accurate with their handling etc. 

Like all sports once you start getting professionals involved, training becomes more targeted, technical and specific and the overall standard should improve.

Many of the people practicing and training-out these skills are members of the international teams who handlers from the agility community pay to train with. So the 'why do I have to change...' argument is lost as people are paying to learn the very skills, ideas and techniques seen overseas.

The trainers who compete overseas are also advocating and training us on courses that flow nicely for the dog & handler. Courses which have fast, exciting lines for the partnership to tackle. They are both enjoyable to run and entertaining to watch. I haven't heard anyone say they don't enjoy running or watching the international style of courses. 

So for those people who resist change, well... we don't have to change, but we are changing by the very fact we're adopting new ideas and we're spending our hard-earned cash learning about a different style of agility.

 'In life, stuff changes'. Dog agility is no different. 

We need to embrace the changes and get involved with taking the sport forward in a way that works for everyone.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A guest blog from ....

Hayley Telling (Agility Team GB member) shares her experience at this years FCI Agility World Championships in Liberec.

The 2017 FCI world championships in Czech Republic was my first experience at a world championships, however I was lucky that part of my preparation was competing at the European Open in Italy, July 2017. Qualifying for the final there allowed me to experience the excitement and pressure of competing at one of these events as well as seeing the technical skills and speed required in the international courses. 

My preparation for the FCI didn’t go completely as planned, with both myself getting awful flu and Teal getting a fracture in his carnassial tooth and needing it extracting in early September. However our prep leading up to this with the other members of the medium team had been focusing on specific skills set by the judges we were likely to see at FCI and so during our time off in September we were able to focus a lot on mental preparation, visualisation and proprioceptive skills which all proved invaluable.

The excitement building up to the event was like nothing I have experienced before, the training both away from the venue and at the venue went really well and I was able to feel very settled coming into the competition. 

One difference from a normal show which I found really exciting and enjoyable was how much analysis goes into each course before you even get to walk it! The team did a group warm up together which I found really enjoyable but also raised the excitement level to the point where I actually thought for the first time I might be sick before a run! Luckily I managed to get back into the zone before my run and that focus took all nerves away by the time I walked to the start line. My preparation meant that I felt that I had run in that event already in the past and I feel that our confidence running and performance reflected that. 

The event allowed me to see what my times are against the best in the world and therefore in reflection of this the improvements we need to make. I was happy with the skills we have and therefore our main focus will be on handler and dog fitness and ground speed- getting stronger and faster! This will be achieved with basic strength building and sprint work following a fitness plan given to us by Maria and Ruth in the coaching team. As I know that this is something that can definitely be improved on, I know that it will help us to improve in this area. 

My other observation was that all of the best dogs and handlers run every run to win, despite the risks taken they pushed every single part of the course. Although this will certainly lower my clear round rate, especially to start, the long term effect will be a quicker ground speed and the ability to attack any course we come up against. In Europe they are not rewarded for clear rounds, and therefore they run with this level of craziness at each event... I will be embracing this craziness in all of our future events so prepare to see us loud and crazier than ever!!!

You can watch one of Hayleys runs here

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Pass the Lemsip please....

After another amazing Agility World Championships (AWC) watching top dogs from around the world compete for the status of FCI Agility World Champion, the performance analysis starts.

I'm sure some teams hit their performance targets (Germany, Czech Republic) and some no doubt exceeded their expectations. Poland won their first ever medal a Gold, and Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania won their 3rd medals*.

From my reckoning eight more countries joined the championships this year.**

Some of the stats on the 22nd FCI Agility World Championships*:

  • 514 dogs & handlers entered;
  • 43 countries competing;
  • 40 different breeds;
  • 202 small dogs;
  • 151 medium dogs and,
  • 164 large dogs.

In 2016 Great Britain had won 17 medals at the AWC ranking us joint 12th in the medal table with Austria and Czech Republic.

  1. Switzerland hold the top spot with 41 medals, 
  2. France with 37 medals and
  3. Finland 35.
By our calculations Agility Team GB now rank 14th after this years competition**.

Social media is buzzing with diagnosis of why teams did/didn't do as well as expected. Team members have been messaging each other with remedies that would sort out their annual dose of the 'common agility cold'. And team leaders, coaches and assistants are standing back looking for a wider cure for this annoying illness.

Indeed myself and the Coaching Team, 'The Management' as some people refer to (a term I don't particularly like) are delving into our data, the analysis and theories about why we caught another cold again this year; after all, we've been having regular flu jabs since December 2016...

Some of the common symptoms being discussed are:

  • Course design is so different to what we compete on week in week out;
  • The FCI ring size creates a different style of course;
  • Flat, even, perfect surfaces lets dogs run faster;
  • We're not used to flowing courses;
  • Our jump heights are different;
  • The distance between jumps is different;
  • The equipment is different;
  • The selection process is different.
Then there are the alternative symptoms:
  • The breeding of our agility dogs is different;
  • Dogs and handlers are hand picked for this event;
  • Its the wrong time of the year for us;
  • We should train more and compete less;
  • We were unlucky.

We can go on taking cough medicine for these symptoms each year. We need to find a sustainable long lasting remedy. And I believe we need a change of direction and our approach rather than a different bottle of cough medicine each year.

I'll explore some thoughts in my next blog.

* Source - FCI
** Source - Agility Team GB records

Friday, 29 September 2017

This is what it's all about...

In a few days time we’ll be heading off to Liberec in the Czech Republic for the 2017 FCI Agility World Championships.  For many agility enthusiasts this is the highlight of the year…the Olympics of the dog agility world.

Representing your country at these championships is without doubt the highlight and pinnacle of many agility handlers career. Its difficult to explain the atmosphere and excitement created by thousands of people watching one ring of the worlds best agility dogs and their handlers. 

Thankfully modern technology allows any one who can’t be there to follow through social media KC FB group,  Team GB Supporters, Team GB Twitter feed and the event will also be live streamed.

The other thing that’s hard to explain is the amount of work these handlers have put in over the months and years leading up to the championships.  

The many hundreds of hours of practice and training they put in make our sport look easy. However achieving this level of expertise takes dedication, commitment and a sustained focus on the objective. 

Once again we have a strong team consisting of experienced dogs and handlers and some for whom this will be their first time at a Championship like this. 

Their journey to the team is a long one and one that is supported all the way. Each year we learn more about improving our preparations, we push the performance boundaries a bit more and we embrace new ideas and technologies. That’s part of the journey everyone involved with Agility Team GB is on.

So I’m sure all Agility Team GB supporters will join the Coaching Team and I to wish Team GB 2017 all the very best in these fantastic championships.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Reflecting on the EO 2017

By now many agility handlers from across the globe will have read about the European Open (EO) recently held in Salice Terme, Italy. These Championships are one of the three top competitions held by the FCI (the main international body governing dog sports). The other two championships being the Agility World Championships (AWC), to be held in the Czech Republic in October and the European Open for Juniors (EOJ) recently held in Luxembourg. 

The EO has had a chequered history as its grown into the event it is today. Way back there were stories of the competition running under flood lights late into the night, poor standard of equipment, lots of mud and all sorts of  challenges for the organisers. The event we attended in Italy was totally different and without doubt the best organised EO I’ve attended.

Agility Team GB are invited to the EO as we are not full members of the FCI, which gives us the opportunity to compete alongside 40+ countries from a far away as Russia, China, USA, Brazil and most European countries. This is a great privilege and allows us to compete against the best dogs & handlers in the World.  Our team selection process is rigorous and identifies the top handlers in the UK who are interested in international competition. 

I’m sure every year when I blog about the EO I say ‘the standard seen this year was the best yet’…and guess what, it’s the same this year.  Even hardened, experienced EO competitors commented on the incredible standard seen this year. So what do I mean by the ‘incredible standard’…

For a start dogs and handlers are getting faster, no surprises there. A few years ago dogs in the medium and large category were hitting 5.5 metres per second (MPS), a crude, but fairly accurate way of measuring dog speed on an agility course.  This year dogs were hitting 6 MPS+, a huge increase.

Handling has got even more technical, accurate and precise. The German team were at most, if not all prize givings. They appear to have applied their engineering excellence to dog agility. Technically brilliant in their handling style, pin-point accuracy in handler positioning, precision timing and obviously consistent dog training.  However, Germany wasn’t the only team to demonstrate these skills. Other teams have also visibly improved by large margins since 2016.

Enough about our competition, what about Agility Team GB?

Team GB Red EO2017 Team Relay Final Silver Medalist.
Picture by Simon Peachey 
We took probably the strongest EO team to date. Traditionally our large team and medium height category have been our strongest areas.  

This year the large team red, (we had three large teams red, white & blue) won the silver medal in the team event. This was the first time we’ve won a medal in the team relay final. 

We also had four handlers qualify for the individual final. Again, this was a great result given the strength of the competition and this year there were no automatic win-on spots.

Agility Team GB did very well considering how different agility is in Europe to the UK and how that difference is getting even bigger. A subject for my next blog...

Agility Team GB EO2017 - Picture by Simon Peachey