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We're all going slightly hoopy...

Thereís a hot new dog-sport hitting our shores, you might have come across Hoopers already and seen just how much fun it is for both dogs and handlers. Recently Sarah Hamblin from Canine Hoopers UK shared some insight into how the sport of Canine Hoopers was formed in the UK and why it is becoming one of the fastest growing dog sports today.

First and foremost Canine Hoopers is a fun, low impact, free flowing sport. There are plenty of sports available to train and compete in but many of them are high impact as our 4 pawed companions (and often us as handlers!) are asked to complete feats of incredible athleticism. Hoopers is different in the sense that the equipment itself is low impact, but also the courses invoke natural, free flowing lines for the dogs, meaning they are able to run smoothly throughout.

Secondly, itís breed inclusive - even the big guys love Hoopers! 80cm tunnels are the standard, hoops are tall and roomy and thereís no weaves Ė this means that we regularly see both tiny and giant breeds joining in the fun, with St. Bernards, Great Danes and Newfoundlands running the same courses as those not predisposed to jumping such as Daschunds and Bulldogs. We even have some fit and healthy tri-paws ready to compete!

Competitions are being hosted up and down the country and, with seven different class types and four separate progression routes, there is something for everyone! Hoopers, Barrellers, Tunnellers, Touch & Go, Pairs, Teams and Specials make up the schedule with only one Touch & Go class, which includes a low level contact, allowable per day. Specials classes see the creative side of judging come to light with games and fun challenges for both dogs and handlers! Progression is points based, irrelevant of wins and placings and extra points can be earned for completing handling challenges along the way.

In competition, dogs are grouped according to their level and their height. The dogs are measured using the length of their ulna rather than at the withers. The length of the ulna of an adult dog will generally remain the same, whether it is awake or asleep, stood up, sat down or flat out, fluffy or sporting a new haircut, the length of the leg remains constant.

At present, awards are split for large and small dogs with separate awards for veterans as well but we anticipate that the size categories will increase as we see more and more dogs competing throughout the UK.

There are also five levels to progress through and dogs progress via the accumulation of qualifying points, not class wins. This means that any dog which runs clear gains the same standard progression points, regardless of class placings. Remember the emphasis is on free flowing, not break neck speed! This means that a lolloping Leonburger can progress at the same rate as a whizzy Whippet and that success is borne of good training and handling and not purely natural athletic ability  - something those of us 'big boned' handlers can more than appreciate!

In addition, progression is specific to a class type, meaning handlers can always make decisions based on their individual dog. Courses at Starters level are straightforward with few questions and encourage the dog to follow the line of the course and keep moving forwards. For the handler, however, there are handling challenges such as Challenge Lines which you must stay behind to earn extra points, Bonus Boxes in which the handler sets parts of the course from within to gain extra points and further up the levels Distance Handling Boxes, designed to test the mettle of partnerships negotiating trickier courses from a specific spot on the course.

The key thing to remember is that distance handling is purely optional, so if you would rather clock up your daily steps and run with your dog then great! Equally, if you donít want to or find it difficult to run, then Hoopers lends itself so well to distance handling and even rewards it with bonus points, making it a great option not just for dogs, but for handlers with mobility issues, too. Handlers are most welcome to use wheelchairs, walking aids or even place a seat on the course before they start. You donít have to declare whether you are going for the extra points or not before you run. Just go for it and do what you need to do when youíre in the ring!

The sport itself has derived from a discipline offered by NADAC and also in Europe, however, we have developed a noticeably different format in the UK with the main emphasis being on smooth, flowing courses, with no tight turns, wing wraps, serpentines, steep contacts, weaves, gates or anything which puts undue stress onto the dog. Simply put Ė ďif it donít flow, it donít go!Ē As an instructor I have lost count of the amount of times someone tells me how they are so proud to see their now retired agility/flyball/htm dog able to enjoy a whole new lease of life with a sport that is designed to keep them comfortable. I find myself welling up with them as they tell me the details and I know first hand how much confidence hoopers can give to a dog who struggles with independence.

But itís not all about competing, with a structured awards system, the Good Hoopers Awards offer the chance for official recognition of your hoopers based training. With levels of Bronze, Silver and Gold, plus a foundation level based purely on flatwork for puppies, the GHAís are presented with a certificate of achievement and a stunning dinner plate of a rosette with tails over a foot long! Good Hooper Awards are offered by all Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructors, a list of whom are available from the CHUK website.

Itís a common misconception that Hoopers is a watered down version of agility, whilst they are similar in the fact that a handler and dog need to work as a team to negotiate the course, the training for each can be quite different  and the different range of skills which are developed complement each other well. 

Canine Hoolpers UK
From a training perspective, Canine Hoopers UK training is purely positive, reward based and uses choice games and free shaping to work the dogs mind as well as the body.

The results speak for themselves! We are continually being contacted by people who have started Hoopers with their dog and can't believe the difference it has made - 'velcro dogs' are becoming unstuck, those lacking focus are becoming driven and, what pleases us the most, those who couldn't or didn't previously partake in any other activity suddenly have a whole new passion and lease of life - both dogs and handlers! Hoopers is so straightforward at the base level that anyone can have a go and try it for themselves and there are  Accredited CHUK Instructors nationwide.

Our Accredited Instructor program is based on the principles of modern dog training and aims to promote and encourage a sport suitable for almost all handlers and dogs. The methods we endorse are tried and proven to give the best experience to both little Fido who has never participated in any sort of training or sport before as well as to Flash Lightning, the seasoned athlete whose owner is conscious that his body needs something low impact but his brain needs as much stimulation as ever.

So whether youíve a young dog and are looking for an applied way of teaching some deep rooted foundation, or an older dog looking for a gentler outlet, if youíre less mobile yourself and are looking for a sport which lends itself to distance handling or youíre as fit as a flea and simply want to build an amazing partnership with your dog and have loads of fun doing so, why not come and try Hoopers. Let Canine Hoopers UK introduce you to this amazing sport!

Want to join in the buzz? Then get involved! There are Accredited Canine Hoopers UK Instructors nationwide. You can find out more about training, shows and even how to become an instructor via our website, where you will also find our rules and regs. You can also join us on Facebook by searching Canine Hoopers UK.  As with any canine sport, we recommend using good old fashioned common sense. Be sure your dog is fit, healthy and capable and seek veterinary advice if you are unsure whether Hoopers is right for your dog.

Author credit...
Sarah Hamblin is a trainer and judge with Canine Hoopers UK. When not training and assessing Accredited Instructors Courses. She hosts workshops throughout the UK.

Sarah competes in CHUK competitions as well as Agility with her distinctive Xoloitzcuintle (Mexican Hairless).

Having grown up on gundogs and working terriers, she fully appreciates the importance of dogs being kept fit and active both physically and mentally.

First published 24 October 2018


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