Many people in agility may have heard of some of the top handlers but not know how these people actually became involved in the sport. Theresa Lawrence writes exclusively for the Agilitynet about top handler Don Cooper.

Don Cooper was born in Stoke on Trent in 1951. As a boy, he spent most weekends either walking in the Peak District with his family and dog, or playing sports - a life style that was established early on and continues to this day. He grew up in a household full of animals, several sheds at the back of the house being full of various creatures ranging from an orphaned fox cub to the usual rabbits, hamsters, birds etc. The main family pet though being the dogs, a variety of all breeds that were trained to do tricks and join in childhood games.

Inevitably when he left home his love of dogs was to lead to four crossbreeds and a GSD taking up residence with him. He decided to take the young GSD Sadie to obedience classes as she was very timid and required socialising. Immediately a whole new world of competition opened up, with Sadie doing very well in small local obedience shows.

Discovering agility by the side of the road
It was during the early 1980’s and Don’s main hobbies were dog obedience and athletics. He loved training especially the running, and so the dogs were often taken on long cross-country training runs. Occasionally the more athletic crossbreed Kitty accompanied him when competing in fell races. Kitty was actually awarded a certificate and given an official placing and time after a ten mile fell race in Derbyshire.

Don discovered agility, purely by accident, whilst helping a farmer friend transport a lorry load of sheep to another farm. He spotted some agility equipment in a roadside field, stopped the lorry and made enquiries. He was most disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to have a go there and then and was told to return in a few days if he was still interested and join a Starters Class.

Without realising it at the time, Don had just discovered a hobby that was to incorporate all of his hobbies. It combined his love of the outdoors, running and dog training together with competition all rolled into one. It was a hobby that he and his dogs could participate equally in and a discovery that was to transform his life and lead to a lifestyle completely revolving around dogs and agility.

Training Daley
Don decided that he needed another dog which he could train from a puppy. He chose a Border Collie because his farmer friend was into sheepdog trialling. It was his intention to train a dog to compete at sheepdog trials, obedience and agility with her help. Many hours were spent discussing training methods, the various techniques of the different disciplines that would be complementary or contradictory to each other.

The world's greatest all-round athlete and Don's hero was Daley Thompson so it was inevitable that the new puppy was called Daley (Rudyard Daley.) Daley’s early training went well. He was a natural worker who was rounding up sheep at a few months of age. It had been decided to work on Daley’s obedience training first, to let the sheep side develop naturally when around stock and leave specific agility training until he was older and well established in the other disciplines.

Everything was going to plan. The very young dog was winning several obedience classes when disaster struck. Daley got a shoulder injury which resulted in an 18-month lay- off, complete inactivity and a very frustrated dog and handler. After numerous visits to veterinary specialists, permission was given for full exercise again. Daley was nearly two years of age. His agility training was about to begin.

Both dog and handler loved agility so much that the other disciplines faded into the background. Together they won virtually everything in agility there was to win including three times Agility Dog of the Year and all the major finals with the exception of Olympia. (Don hopes one day to rectify with one of his younger dogs, Becky, Ozzie or Freddie.)

Becky (Rudyard Becky) is following on from her Father (Daley, of course) to be Dons’ number one dog at the moment, having won numerous competitions in her own right. It must be pointed out at this stage that when Becky and her sister were born the owner of the bitch (sorry to have to mention your name, Sandy Bell) was under the impression that they were dog puppies. Thus this is how Don came to be working a bitch.

Ozzie, who was several years ago as a two year old rescue, won his first final, the Agility Needs Novice Final at Derby 2000, with some pretty tough competition, I must say.

Actively involved
Don spends all of his time now on dog-related activities, if not competing, judging or taking training sessions. He is usually running with his pack of dogs over the Welsh hills where he now lives with Dawn. Don can always be recognised in either his summer attire – T-shirt and shorts, or his winter attire – T-shirt and track bottoms, with his tall slim physique, and clean shaven appearance (although the latter not always having been the case).

He still enters the occasional running race but only if it fits in with his dog commitments which seem to be growing all the time, with invitations to judge and train abroad now leading to new challenges.

Winners: Don & Daley

Don & Daley 'Barbour Pairs'1992 (left)
and Texas Chunks Agility Final 1991 (above)

Photos: Agility Voice

Some of Don’s achievements
with his dogs to date

Don with Daley

  • Barbour Clockwatcher Final 1991

  • Tex Chunks Agility Final 1991

  • Agility Dog of the Year 1992

  • Royal Canin Masters Agility Final 1992

  • Agility Dog of the Year 1994

  • Advanced Power and Speed 1994

  • Has competed at Olympia with Daley at Olympia from 1990 to 1996 inclusive

Don with Becky

  • Novice Grand National 1995

  • Advanced Power and Speed 1996

  • Technical Agility Dog of the Year 1996

  • Technical Agility Dog of the Year 1997

  • Pedigree Chum Team Final 1999 (Shrewsbury)

  • Technical Agility Dog of the Year 1999

  • Technical Agility Final

  • Technical Agility Final

  • Has competed with Becky at Olympia in 1997 to 1999 inclusive

Don with Ozzie

  • Winner Agility Needs Novice Agility 1999


From Mary Pearce...
Thanks for sharing with us lesser mortals the interesting career paths of top handlers such as Don Cooper who we tend to put on a pedestal and therefore are shy of approaching to engage in exchange of doggy exploits. Thank you, Don and others for participating

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