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A new life in the country...

Daniel Millwood readily admits that he is not an expert in agility training. This is just a story about him, his first dog Magic, and how agility has changed his life.

For years now I have been going to Agility Shows with my girlfriend Sarah, as the driver and camera man! At first I thought she was mad wanting to stand in a field every weekend trying to gain control of her Spaniel Jasper! As time went by she added to her collection with two mad merle collies, firstly Thai and then Cruze, both of which she has trained really well and are currently Grade 4.

So I thought I would give it a go...

The first thing I said was that as good as collies are, I would like something a bit quieter - well, less crazy! We were put in touch with a lovely rescue centre based near Exeter called ARC Animal Rescue Centre. They had just received some collie x Labrador puppies that were looking for new homes! And that's where we met Magic.

From Day 1 she was lovely, although somewhat naughty. Something about the look of her was not quite right though. We were told that the puppies were collie x labs which seemed feasible when Magic was small but, as she developed, we had a suspicion that she was actually a collie x kelpie! Not the nice calm dog that I had been hoping for as a first agility dog!

Let the training begin!
After the usual commands - sit, down, stay etc. - we learnt the agility basics Left, Right and wait! Before we started to train properly, I wanted to discover what toys Magic really enjoyed so that I could use them to motivate her. At first she would tend to choose the toys that our other dogs had in their mouths, but eventually she has become more focused on me. Although food was a high value reward for Magic, she likes nothing more than a good game of tuggy!

She really likes the fetch part of throwing a ball, but sometimes she prefers running around the field with the ball instead of coming back. In training, I throw a tennis ball to the end of a run of jumps. As it rolls and bounces around, it makes it more exciting and hopefully quicker!

at the end of a straight sets of jumps to encourage her speed for go ons. For tugging, I use a long fleece tug preferably with a handle. Otherwise she does tend to bite my hand! This is a great form of reward for all dogs as it is interactive and, therefore, you are associated directly with the reward.

We started using equipment in April when Magic turned one year old. We have done some Foundation and Young Dogs workshops at Devon Dogs. The rest we have been doing at home where we are lucky enough to have a field and equipment.

As Magic is not the biggest dog - she has only just measured into Large by an inch - I knew that we would have to work on her being able to turn well to make up some time. Magic has always picked up body language easily which is a good quality to have. Well, it will be when I have figured out where I am supposed to be!

To start with Magic learnt how to turn through jump wings. Again the tuggy toy was invaluable here as it meant she had to come in to me for the reward, thereby developing a neat wrap around the wings.

I introduced jumping lanes to teach extension and a pinwheel/star of four jumps, at varying distances, to teach collection and turning. Of course whilst doing all of this we have introduced the tricky bit... the poles! Fortunately she has not struggled at a lower height. At 16 months old we are now starting to introduce her to full height but only on a straight line of jumps at this stage.

Unfortunately there is more to agility than jumping.
I have always been mesmerised by a good dog flying through the weaves and have often dreaded trying to teach Magic to do them. I know that at the moment there is a popular new system out for teaching weaves, but as I don't go to classes that often and have channel weaves in the field, I decided to use those!

To begin I had them about 2ft apart. Sarah would restrain Magic at one end and I would dangle her favourite tuggy toy at the other and encourage her  with a good game at the end to let her know this is what I wanted. Magic soon became quicker. She would enter at different angles to gain her reward. I would sometimes throw the toy ahead to her as well, with me being behind, to the side, out wide or ahead as eventually I want independent weaves, therefore now is the time to start introducing my varied positions to see if I can still get the required behaviour.

Slowly the channels have become closer and closer. At the moment they are about 2in. apart, and she is flying through them from all different angles. She also seems to be developing a ‘one foot' action.

I'm afraid to say that at the moment contacts are not our strong point! Magic has a nice final position on the A-Frame and will now run along a full height dogwalk. We had some fear issues to begin with. Again I used toys to overcome this as I feel these cause more excitement than food rewards and, therefore, a faster pace which is surely what we want in a competition.

Magic will be starting her 'agility career' next season, but hope to do a few UKA show later in the year if she is ready. Again I will be using this time to train her in a competition atmosphere as I really believe in the importance of rewarding my dog at every stage. I am also a strong believer in that the reward should be interactive with the handler whenever possible which is why I'm such a fan of tugging type toys.

'Reward, Reward, Reward' could often be heard in the foundation classes I attended at Devon Dogs, and I have definitely taken on this ethos in my training. Hopefully I will also be able to master Lauren's handling system at some point because, although dogs do enjoy agility, lots of their behaviour is based on a good relationship with you and them listening and understanding what you want from them.

I have learnt lots from having a rescue dog and would encourage everyone to think about getting a rescue. I said at the beginning that agility had changed my life. I used to live in Surrey and worked for a company re-lining chimneys in London. Through our love of animals and the countryside, we have moved to Cornwall and I have started a company called South West Agility Goods (SWAG) that produces high quality dog accessories such as waterproof beds, rugs,  embroidered collar and leads at affordable prices. I am particularly proud of our new design Handy Lead which is specifically design for queuing at agility.

Life is quite different now, and we really are enjoying it... especially when the sun is out and the dogs are doing well!

About the author...
Daniel Millwood has been involved in agility for five years now, and has had Magic his first dog since June 2008. Magic is a collie x kelpie who came from the ARC rescue centre in Exeter when she was 10 weeks old.

Daniel runs a Dog accessories business called South West Agility Goods. www.southwestagilitygoods.co.uk