Dog Agility and so much more...

Dog Agility and so much more...

by Linda Stensrud, Jacobsen elektro (JEL), Norway

What is Agility?
Agility is a dog sport in which the dog must complete a course containing several obstacles (15-22) in the correct order and within a given time.

Each course is different and designed by the judge according to the given rules. The dog handler guides the dog around the course using body language and voice, in the fastest way possible, but is not allowed to touch the obstacles or the dog. Before each class you have 8 minutes to learn the course and figure out how to handle it the best and fastest way.  So, agility is a team work between the dog and the handler!
I think we should begin with the boring facts first, so that you understand a bit more. Agility is the name of the sport and it is for all kinds of dogs, but we compete in 3 different classes that depends on the size of the dog, and 3 diverse levels of difficulties, where class 3 is the most advanced one. When you start in agility, you start in level 1 and in most countries one team needs 3 fault free runs in each class to go to the next level.

There are 11 different obstacles that the dog must learn. Aside from jumping there are many ways to teach a dog the different obstacles. Now, what do you suppose these obstacles are? We split them in 3 categories:

  • Jumps: Single hurdles, spread hurdle, wall/viaduct, tire and long jump
  • Contacts: Dog walk, see-saw and A-frame
  • Others: Flat tunnel, tube tunnel and weave poles

As said, agility is the name of the sport and we compete in jumping and agility. The difference is in contacts. In jumping there are no contacts and if you ask many, this makes it a bit easier to handle.
But what about me, and why do I love this sport so much? I’m not sure actually - it must relate to the methods we use, the way I have to think, analyze, and how I have to interact with my dog. What can I do to make my dog the best team mate possible? 

I grew up with dogs and have always loved animals. I started riding horses at about the age of seven I believe, and at the same time we got our first family dog, a welsh corgi. You know one of the funny looking short legged, long bodied dogs like the queen of England has. Well, there was not much nobility to our dog, and he was definitely the boss of me.
I did not find him a lot of fun since he always did a lot of mischiefs with me. He died very young and shortly after him came Bonnie the German Shepard. I don’t remember much about her- I suppose the horses, handball and band music took a lot of my time then. She also died very young unfortunately, but she was very kind and good natured.
After that we were without a dog for about 2 years and me and my mum were just going to have a quick look at what would become our next dog Cito. But you see, it is not possible to just look at a puppy. Of course, he came home with us…  Cito was also a short legged funny looking dog, a Vestgotaspets. This breed looks like a mix of a dachshund and a Norwegian grey elkhound.

Cito is the reason that I started with agility. My parents went to this dog school for dressage lessons and they had this hilarious course there with these funny obstacles and sometimes I could play around there. It was sooooo much fun to make him run through tunnels, go slalom, run over the a-frame etc., and he loved it. I never went to any courses, but it was so much fun that I always persuaded my older friend who had a car and a dog, to go there and have fun as often as we could. So, this was the start of my agility career and I decided that when I get my own dog I would continue doing this.
It took some years before I got my own dog, I first went through a phase with riding Arabian horses. It seems that a lot of women who get into agility have also gone through a horse riding phase. Could be a coincident, or just a girl thing.
I got my first own dog in 2004, a Jack Russell terrier called Kyrre. He taught me a lot and specially a lot about how not to do things. Terriers are tough dogs and they love to work, and Kyrre was not an exception.

While teaching the dogs, the obstacles take a long time and the methods have changed a lot since I started. Before we allured the dogs more, now we try to make them think, and yes that is possible. You know scientists say that the smartest dog, the border collie, has a vocabulary equivalent to a 3-4-year-old child. That’s quite amazing if you ask me!
With my first dog Kyrre, I went to a dog school and they thought me how to allure the dog. Thinking by themselves was not something I was thought at that time.  However, just in a few years, things have changed a lot in agility in Norway. Well it was not all a success, but I managed to get to level 2 in agility and to class 3 in jump.
Kyrre loved to "fly" off the A- frame and we never managed to get the 3 fault free runs in agility.  By that time this sport really got to me, so I had to get another dog, to my boyfriend’s big frustration.

This time I wanted an even faster dog, still small, and smart, so I ended up with a Parson Russell terrier, Ellie. I have a fondness for these terriers with moustaches and "shaggy" looking. Ellie was the love of my life, and I know it is just crazy dog-people saying things like this, but when you don’t have kids it’s just like that. You just have to accept it…
After 6 years of training with Kyrre I had learned a lot and was ready to learn new methods, so I entered an online class with one of my favorite handlers Silvia Trkmann from Slovenia. She is a world-famous dog trainer and handler.
So how on earth do you learn agility online. Well, everything is possible online these days. You just need a good camera and you need to know how to edit the video. Silvia is famous for her tricks, and her running contacts and have won the world championships several times. She is a huge role model for how she treats her dogs and how she takes care of them. Silvia taught me tricks about how to make my dogs stronger, and how to keep them healthy.

Dogs carry about 70% of their weight on their front legs and they barely know that they have back legs. Most injuries that dogs get are in their back legs, so for a sport dog it is important to be fit and have body awareness.
Well, this was I think my success to be a much better agility handler and dog trainer, and I was so lucky to be able to represent Norway in the European Open with Ellie. It is an amazing feeling to be able to represent your country in something that means a lot to you. Unfortunately, Ellie had a heart disease and she had to be put to sleep 1.5 years ago, 7 years old. For me, this was a devastating moment.

Just after this I got my new dog - a Mudi, named Alba. I imported her from Hungary. I could not take on a new terrier at this moment, so I changed the breed. My second big idol Martina Klimesova from the Czech Republic has a Mudi, Kikki. Kikki was fit as a youngster and at the age of 10 she had 7 medals in the world championship. The last was the gold in 2018. Martina is a huge idol of mine on how she handles the dogs, works with them and how she loves and takes care of them. 
What did I learn from the 2 other dogs? I learned so much from my 2 other dogs that I changed all my handling and the way of teaching the dogs agility.
This time I have had much more focus on the concept of thinking. I have gone to several online courses with Martina and I love them. My dog has to learn how to use her brain. What I have learned is that the things that dogs teach themselves, stick so much better to their brain. Think about all the naughty things the dogs do sometimes, it is impossible to teach them a different behavior or maybe not impossible, but at least very challenging.

Think about if the doorbell rings and your dog runs to the door barking. I am sure you did not teach them that, and it is so difficult to make them not bark when it rings…
I wanted to become better, as I have said, and I wanted my dog to stay fit and have a long life. I love my dog and I want the best for her. She has to learn a lot of "stupid" tricks to stay fit and learn to have body awareness and coordination. Most importantly, she must use her brain to figure out how to manage the tricks and the obstacles.

Of course, I am helping her to "think" correctly, it is almost like making someone think that something was their idea, when it was actually your own. It would be very difficult to explain how you train for a specific obstacle with words, and there are so many ways. You really must adapt the methods based on the dog.
Something can work for one dog but not for another. Therefore, being a dog instructor is very rewarding and forces you to think a lot and out of the box when a problem occurs. What is best for the dog and the handler. Not all handlers are equally fit, have the same ambitions, or have like me, a problem with right and left when you must run fast and spin around in the field to show the dog where to run as fast as possible.

Another thing with agility is that it is a sport where you need your club mates or friends. You need somebody to observe you and help you analyze what you do in the course while you are running with your dog and building the course. The equipment is so heavy, that you need more people to build a whole course. Thus, this is also a very social sport.
Dogs and animals are unique, they can read all your moods, but they are always happy when you get home from work or a holiday, they love you unconditionally. It is my job to make sure my dog has the best life she can have.
The correct mix of brain exercise and body exercise is so important for them, and that is important for my health as well. If I have a stressful day at work I might go for a walk in the forest instead of doing agility training, or if it is my day of agility training in the club I must put my stress away. This really helps me unwind and allows me to disconnect from a bad day in the office.

Agility gives a person more body awareness and coordination, because you have to think fast and use your brain to memorize the course. It is all about brain and body exercise…
Many think that dog-people are crazy, and they are probably right. I would just say that the only difference between a dog and a child are the two extra legs.  

Biography:

Linda Stensrud I am 43 years of age and I am from Norway. I have a bachelor in electric technology. I finished school in 2003 at the age of 28, because of traveling and working with Arabian horses in Spain, USA and Germany. Today I work at Jacobsen elektro (JEL) in Norway with control systems. JEL got a contract for the TSO in Norway to build a pilot digital substation that we finished in autumn 2017. I find my work very interesting and very educational.

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