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Running someone else's dog...

What happens when you have a really good agility dog but are unable to run it for one reason or another - a broken leg, bad back or long term health problems, for instance. Do you forget agility and go back to Obedience or do you give up altogether and become a complete couch potato. Or do you look for someone else to run your dog for you. That's what Thelwyn Bateman did. She asked someone from her club to run her dog and the rest is history. This is the story of the 'borrowed' dog who ran for Britain!

Hi. I'm Cleevewood Henna of Wynbeck - Becky to my friends. I am owned by Roy and Thelwyn Bateman and handled by Alan Disbery. That makes me a 'borrowed dog' and I proud of it. Over the last year I've overheard a lot of whispered comments about running a borrowed dog. Well, I thought you would like to hear what really happened. This is my side of the story.

It all started a little over 12 months ago when it looked as if I would never be able to play in this game you humans call 'Agility.' My mum Thelwyn -  bless her -  wasn't able to run with me any longer. Pity because a long time ago she used to be a top-class international athlete. She ran for Great Britain in the World Cross Country Championships and also on the track in the European Championships. (These are other games the humans play.) But she has grown older and had to have her hips replaced so now she can't run like she used to. Am I glad I've had my hips checked!

Of course, I would have preferred my Mum to run me - what dog wouldn't, but she couldn't so she did the next best thing... she found someone who could. Unfortunately, the first person she found left the club. So I was left without a handler again. It made me sad because I enjoyed meeting other dogs and their human friends. To quote you humans, I thought philosophically 'that's life' and that was that. At least, I still had my other human game called Obedience which my Mum was actually quite good at it.

To cut a long story short, one day another human came to my home. He was tall and dark with a bit of fur on his chin. I had seen this human before playing the Agility game at club, and I thought that he was quite good. He stayed a while and talked very seriously to my Mum and Dad. All the while, I was thinking, hmmm... this could be interesting. To my delight, my Mum agreed to let me play with him.

It was strange at first
This new human in my life would come to my house and just talk with my Mum and Dad. He would sit with me and tickle my ears and stroke me. I could stand any amount of that. Show me a bitch who would like being petted! He was very patient. There wasn't any rush, he said. And that's when I fell in love with him.

Now what was I saying? A week went by and then one day my Mum and Dad took me down to the field where my doggy club trains. I thought 'Great. Here we go!' We spent the next month, getting used to each other moving in and around the obstacles. My sister and son came with us. It was such fun. Because it was only 'us,' I was able to concentrate on what this new human wanted me to do.

He still came to my home as often as he could. I was later to learn that this was called 'bonding' and was very important in our new relationship.

I was soon to learn that he had a completely different way of doing this game. What a laugh! This new two-legged friend 'suggested' that while I was with him doing this game HE would be in charge. Actually, that was okay with me. Between you and me, I fancied him something rotten. Shhhh... you didn't hear me say that. It wasn't all a bed of roses. My mum gave this new human permission to tell me off if I was naughty when we were playing this game. Even so I was prepared to give him a chance, but apparently it wasn't going to be as easy as that.

Have dog, will travelUnwritten agreement
But first the humans wanted to set some 'ground rules' so there would be no misunderstandings.

'Come on, come on, I thought, 'Let's get on with it. Dogs just wanna have fun. You know what humans are like. Talk talk talk...yawn.'

There was the matter of who would pay the entry fees. Would you believe that humans 'pay' to play this game. I'd do it for free! Happily money is not an issue. My Mum and Dad, bless 'um, say that as I was their dog that they will be responsible for all the expenses. Both my Mum and Dad always wanted to travel and what better excuse than to watch me me me. They follow Alan and me everywhere.

My dad Roy is always playing with his video toy. Personally, I would prefer a ball, but they didn't ask me. Dad claimed that he has never 'seen' me run except through the window in this box. When we get home from a show, he plugs this thingy into a box in the corner of the room and they all sit round it watching jump over the obstacles. They say it was a whole lot better than some of the rubbish on the box these days.

My family gets to keep all my prizes, if you can call those rosette things and trophies prizes. I prefer something tasty to eat , but you can't put a dog biscuit on the mantle. Overall, I must say that everybody gets on well and seems very happy with the arrangement. I certainly am!

Nothing has ever been written down - that's not the British way. It's all a matter of trust and communication. I am lucky that my humans (all three of them) have the same ambitions and ideas about their relationship.

HIS way
As the weeks went by, my main problem was to try and understand Alan's ways of playing this game. (That was this human's name.) He had his own special way of playing this game.

When I had done agility with other humans before, I got into the habit of running faster than my handler, and occasionally I/they lost my/our way. Alan said HE wanted to be in control. His way was to run with me at all times. Was this going to turn into a race between the pair of us? What I didn't know at this stage of our relationship was that Alan liked his dogs to pick up on his body movements and quick hand signals.

I am a clever dog and I worked hard. Though we fell out a few times, Alan was very patient with me. Most importantly, he was very consistent which made it easier for me. This is where I think that my Obedience training came in handy. I was still doing it with Mum, and I was learning to listen, concentrate and watch. Now between you and me, not all of my canine friends can do this. Anyhow, I wasn't going to let this opportunity slip by. I was having too much fun!

We would be running round all those obstacles and, all of a sudden, Alan would turn his back on me and expect me to understand what the hell he wanted me to do next. I mean, what do you humans think we are - mind readers? It was a long time before I was able to get my head around all this and read his body signals, but I was determined to please my humans.

Moving up
Time seemed to fly by. We had a few good runs at shows and some mishaps but, overall I was beginning to run a lot faster and was enjoying this new way of doing the game. During the winter months there weren't so many shows, so we couldn't really get a good guide as to any improvement or not. When Alan first came into my life, I was what you humans call a 'Novice' dog, I had been close to winning with my previous handler, but never quite fast enough. But I had a canine feeling that it wouldn't be long.

We had our first Novice win in November but apparently I had to get another win before I could move up a level. It wasn't going to happen over night; there are so many good dogs out there.

Sure enough it happened at an Easter Show. I was now a Senior. I know everybody was pleased. I got an extra Bonio that night.

I remember this competition up North which you humans call a 'Qualifier.' I missed one obstacle out all together - just never saw it coming, but it got me thinking. Who was to blame ? Was it me or could it have been (Heaven forbid!) Alan? I was determined that it wasn't going to happen again. If I wanted to keep playing, I had to concentrate better next time or there would be no next time! From now on I realised I would have to run flat out and still keep one eye on Alan's signals. Wow!

I hope these humans appreciate what we dogs go through for them. They only have to read numbers placed by the side of the obstacles. We have to do all the work!  - Perhaps they should teach us to read numbers?

Qualifying for the Worlds
The next few weeks were going to change my life. Alan and Mum started talking about something called the Agility World Championships in some faraway place that sounded like 'Dog Bone.'

Too soon the day of the trials came and what a day that was! I have never seen Alan so nervous. How we did it I don't know, but we did it. Alan was over the moon! And guess what. I got another extra Bonio that night. Woof woof.

With the trials behind us, there was still a lot of work to be done if we wanted do ourselves justice at the championships. We used to travel to the middle of nowhere to play with a very nice human called Iain. He helped us a lot. We trained on this artificial grass that the humans call 'carpet.'

At first I didn't like it much. Neither did my friends Diesel and Kyte. We had our feet sprayed with something to stop us from slipping. After a while, we all become skilled at running on this slippery surface. I learned to trust Alan to guide me round the obstacles accurately and calmly.

All the time, I was gaining more and more confidence in our partnership, and we won some Senior events. I really tried hard to do as well as I could for Alan and, of course, my Mum and Dad who had helped me so much.

Running for Britain
What a trip that would turn out to be! Apparently I needed a doggy passport to go outside the UK officially - another strange human idea. I had to travel with Alan and the team on a coach, but I didn't mind because I knew that my mum and dad would be travelling out later to see me.

The big day finally arrived and with it the Individual event. My mum and dad had been to see me and wished me the best of British luck. Alan had been drawn early in the running order. There was  so much noise when we walked out into the arena together and so many humans watching that I thought S***. Alan,  bless him, whispered a few calming words in my ear - he was always doing that - and then we walked quietly out to the start. There was more noise from all those people who had come to see me. This was it.

Off we went. The course was a little tricky, but nothing I couldn't cope with. Well, the rest is history now, but I will never forget the roar of the crowd as we crossed the finish. My Alan was pointing at the scoreboard. We had gone into the lead. Me and Alan were leading the world. I didn't mind what happened now and although another dog - some Belgian from Finland - overtook us, it couldn't take away the fact that we were second best in the world!

Alan had proved that, with the right training, a 'borrowed' dog could also be the best. Psst... don't tell these humans, but I had a lot to do with it. I didn't know at the time but we had another chance to run in this big arena. Because we had done so well the first time, we had to wait until everybody else had run. Well you all know what happened so I won't go into that. I still feel a bit sad about it, but that's  life.

Back to the subject of borrowed dogs, I hope you have enjoyed my little story. I know that if it wasn't for Alan and my Mum and Dad that I wouldn't have a story to tell nor would I have been able to enjoy all this fun. My life would be so boring. Without them, I would finished up like the friends I meet down the fields during the week. All they do all the time is slowly trot around with their owners. I don't know who looks more bored. They just don't know what they're missing!


About the author...
Becky (Cleevewood Henna of Wynbeck) was born on 4 December 1997 in Yatton, Somerset, the result of a union between Roseanne of Cleevewood and Laetare Master Class (Tdex).

She won out of Novice at Tunbridge Wells in May 2002 and was first in Senior Agility and Senior Jumping at Donyatt in August 2002. In the same month, she won the Senior Jumping class at The Agility Club show.

Becky is best know for her second place in Individual Jumping class at the Agility World Championships 2002 in Dortmund. She and her 'borrowed' handler Alan Disbery have also qualified for the Crufts Agility Final in 2003.

She is also proficient at Obedience and was first in Novice Obedience at Potters Bar in July.

Becky lives in Warwickshire with her human Mum and Dad, Thelwyn and Roy Bateman, her sister and son. She trains at Rugby DTC.

Photo credit: Roy Bateman, Clean Run Magazine, German WC web site

Carrie and dogsFrom Pam Ellwood...
I don't run a borrowed dog, but my daughter does. In fact, she'll run anyone's, given half a chance. A training session might see her running anything from a Weimaraner to a Corgi. She has also promised to run a collie for one of our members who has just had a hip replacement operation.

Our instructor had a dog that had somehow fallen through the net in her typical multi-dog agility household. First her husband had run Penny for a little while, but then became ill. Later, their young son, who officially owns her, ran her for a little while but she had a terrible habit of running out of the ring, especially after food, and he became disheartened.

Our instructor had enough dogs of her own to run so Penny was retired for a time. She had potential but was never going to be a superstar and wasn't that keen on agility anyway. Then about 18 months ago she mentioned to me that she was thinking of asking if anyone in the club wanted to run Penny and I jumped at the chance on my daughter Carrie's behalf. My motives weren't entirely unselfish - I hoped it would stop her pestering for a dog of her own for a while.

RossPenny was seven at the time and I don't think she had ever been placed, except in Juniors, and Carrie was ten. Carrie worked very hard with Penny, even though she could only train her once a week, and has been competing regularly with her, winning out of Elementary and coming 22nd in the Starters table for the North in Agility Eye for the last year.

Not only that, she also came joint ninth with another 'borrowed' dog - my Ross, whom she now seems to have on permanent loan, since she handles him much better than I do.

Carrie is now 12 and Penny is nine and still going strong, even though she suffers from EPI, and looks to have another couple of years competition in her, fingers crossed.

Thanks must go to our instructor for giving Carrie this opportunity and for trusting us with her dog. What Carrie really wants, though, is a dog of her own to train from scratch. She would really like a mini and we're going to have to work very hard on her Dad to get him to agree.

We seem to be developing a tradition of borrowed dogs in our club. Another instructor runs a Staffie for a member who has a bad back and another member runs a collie/retriever cross for her owner, who is the same age as the queen, as she puts it. (02/02/03)


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