Pottery pets and agility

Michelle Johnston has been a sculptress for well over 20 years. Dogs are her other love. As agility is her passion, it's was a  natural progression to combine her hobby with her work. Her favourite sculptures are those of dogs doing agility. This year she has qualified for Crufts 2008 and will be representing her adopted country France in the International event.

There is nothing nicer for me than to watch a dog thoroughly enjoying it's agility course and then capturing that enthusiasm in porcelain in a way to appreciate it forever. At home -  I live in France - I have two jobs. I have my studio where I sculpt and my agility field where I train others. I am either sculpting or training.

When I was six years old and saw my first border collie, I vowed to have them when I grew up. And I did. I have had border collies for many years and have always loved to train and compete. I also keep a variety of other breeds, and almost all of my dogs are rescued which means I don't always get the choice of breed but rather the circumstances of the dog in need makes the decision to adopt!

In the 90’s I left Jersey (Channel Islands) and with three dogs and three cats, moved to the south of France where I stayed for over ten years. While I was there I ran a dog training club and taught obedience, agility and clicker training. I also began competing in agility. Several years ago I moved north so now I live nearer to Jersey and England which allows me to cross the channel more often.

I enjoy travelling to competitions and leave France regularly to do agility workshops. The shows in England are bigger than French ones agility has only been here 20 years - but one show is like another: people and their dogs enjoying agility.

Last year I went to Peterborough to the Kennel Club International Agility Festival. I entered two dogs who both worked fabulously, but my blue merle collie Acer (Maeglin Axell) had that bit extra that qualified us for Crufts. He is the only dog I didn’t get 'second hand.'’  He is a Welsh dog who was bred in Belgium. I originally contacted the Kennel Club in England to find a good breeder who was ISDS registered and they gave me my breeders name who lives in Belgium. By luck, there was a litter on it's way and I was allowed the pick. A 12 hour trip in the car is not ideal with a small puppy, but he was what I wanted. I really wanted a merle, but more importantly I wanted a strong healthy dog who would be able to enjoy a long active life. I really got what I paid for!

Acer is a great dog; He is six years old and in his prime. He's a real ‘people’ dog and being very play oriented, he loves to join in with everything. He has a real 'me first' attitude and tramples all the other dogs to get everywhere first. Of all the dogs I’ve had, Acer is the one who most loves to win. As soon as he is at a start line, he is focused to the job in hand. I'm hoping he will carry that with him when we reach Crufts. We have a very close bond and I feel very much in tune with him. When we are on an agility course together I sometimes suspect he has mind reading abilities!

We will represent France and will compete on the Thursday, the first day. This has two sides: We won’t have time to get the feel of the place before we go in the ring, but on the other hand, we won’t have too much time to get stressed either!

Becoming an agility trainer was something I didn't intentionally start but something that evolved on it's own. I feel I have a special bond with all of my dogs and agility is a way of sharing our time one to one and having fun. That attitude I'm sure has helped in my agility success. Years ago, people would ask how I trained and who's methods I used. I have never used other methods but my own which I say are based on logic!


Some of my work will be on display at Mary Ray's stand - I've done a sculpture of her dog for her - but I'll mainly be enjoying the show with one of my dogs, doing what we love.


First published 25 February 2008


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