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Start as you mean to go on

It seems only a few months ago that Peter van Dongen got his latest puppy, a JRT X called Sky. Time flies and that was two years ago. Sky is now  old enough to compete. How would this new partnership compare to that with Basil? Pete promised us a story about Sky's debut so here it is.

Sky came from a farm, where the Jack Russell bitch had been mated again with the same father as before. I had seen one of the puppies from the previous litter, Spud - who is now doing very nicely on the agility circuit with Nicola Williams - and had fallen in love with this puppy, so I just had to have a puppy from this mating as well.

When we heard about the mating we immediately contacted the breeder and asked her to keep one of the puppies for us. After the birth, we visited the puppies several times and made our choice. We also decided to call her 'Sky', with her official name 'Sky is the limit'.

Sky came home at six and a half weeks of age, and we started training straightaway. Well, the very basics anyway.
  • Come

  • Sit

  • Wait

  • Down

  • That sort of stuff

After that we did a lot of groundwork - mostly basic obedience stuff - after we had first done the obligatory puppy classes. We did a lot of running, playing, tricks and everything with agility in mind. We did left and right twists, send-aways, fast turns and a lot of play at all times. Rewards were in the shape of a toy, a bit of play, and sometimes small titbits as well.

Over the next few months, we did some very basic agility stuff in the back garden. Just jumps at 12 inches high, the odd tunnel and we also started channel weaves, in my mind the easiest way to teach a dog to weave. She seemed to pick up things very quickly, which can be a good thing, as well as a bad thing!

Only last October, when Sky was 18 months old, did we start proper agility training at an agility club. Luckily, a club with a very good, experienced instructor, Linda Croxford, is close by and Sky made rapid progress. This, I think, was due to the thorough obedience training, coupled with the fact that she was, by this time, both physically and mentally a lot more mature than some of the young dogs in agility starter classes.

In no time at all, it was time for our first show.
We went to Downland in April, which is always cold, sandy, noisy, but cosy as well. We were very nervous. No, I mean I was very nervous, even though it shouldnít really matter how things went.

I think Sky was a bit overwhelmed with the occasion and did some strange things. For instance, she didnít want to go into the collapsible tunnel at all, even though at the club this has never been a problem. She also went under a number of jumps, probably because I was pushing her too hard and she wanted to keep up with me.

Looking back at the video we took, it was obvious that it was all my fault. I hadnít helped my little dog enough to cope with the pressure of the first show. I had pushed her too hard. Never mind, at least she hadnít gone out of the ring, she had listened to me, she hadnít pooped in the ring, she was enthusiastic and things could only get better.

Go north young man
The very next week we went to the North Norfolk Show on Easter Monday. There were three runs that day and I would have been very happy with just one clear round after the experience at Downland! First was the Helter Skelter, a fast flowing start with a twist, a snake, a full set of weaves and a box at the end. To my amazement she went clear! No problem at the collapsible tunnel, and she never even thought about going under jumps at all I think. I was probably happier than the eventual winner! There is nothing quite like the very first clear round with a young dog.

Next up was the agility, a nice flowing run without any obvious tricky stuff. The collapsible tunnel was nothing to be afraid about again, the weaves were good, the turns were good, and the contacts were nice as we have trained running contacts. Another clear! I could hardly believe it!

Finally, in the afternoon, there was the jumping round. I lost her for a second and thought she had got stuck in the collapsible tunnel, when in fact she had already entered the weaves. Luckily, she didnít come out, but nicely finished them and went round without any mistakes again! Third clear of the day! We went home with three clear round rosettes, and I was nearly as much proud of these as I have ever been of anything Iíve won with Basil.

It had been such a change from the weekend before and proved to me that if I took the time to guide her around properly, without pushing her too much, that she could do it all. Speed will come back again in time, when she has built up a bit more confidence and experience. If she even does anywhere near as good as Basil has done before her, Iíll be a very happy man.

About the author...
Peter van Dongen qualified as a vet at the Utrecht Veterinary school, The Netherlands, in March 1990. He worked in a mixed practice in Louth, Lincolnshire, UK, for 3 years, before moving to Borough Green, Kent, UK. At the same time he limited himself to small animals only. Since December 1996 he has run his own branch practice in Allington, Maidstone, UK.

In May 1995 Peter started agility after years of just thinking about it! with his Jack Russell Cross 'Basil' (a bitch!), then five years old. Since then they have qualified for many finals, including 'Crufts' and 'Olympia'. Basil won the coveted Crufts 2001 title in the individual mini agility.

Peter passed the British Agility Club Instructors' exam in October 1999 and has since done the British Agility Club Judging Workshop.

Peter regularly writes for various agility magazines and web sites and has been the official British Team Vet for the Agility World Championships for the last three years.

Peter and his wife Carry still live in Borough Green with their two dogs and two cats. His little Jack Russell Cross, Sky, has just started to compete in agility and will hopefully follow in Basilís footsteps!


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