Training for a major competition


Jo Tristram was delighted when she and her Bearded Collie mix Bitz qualified for Crufts 2012 as part of the Billingshurst Agility Team. It was great to qualify for a major final but the hard work in order to be 'ready' for the event was just beginning. Here she explains what she means by 'ready'. Thank you to Ceri at CSJ for permission to reprint this article on Agilitynet.

For me 'ready' means several things. Firstly it means my dog and I are physically fit and well. I run several times a week with my dogs. I am lucky enough to live in the Dorset countryside where my dogs and I can run for miles without seeing much tarmac.

I also supplement this with swimming my dogs at the local canine hydrotherapy pool, really helping with fitness levels without impact on the body that the running and specific agility training can have. Bitz is a timid dog but the hydro therapists have been great, working with me to make her feel confident in the pool environment. She swims for 30mins once a week which she now adores!

Being close to completing an ICAT Canine Remedial Massage Diploma, I also massage her regularly to relieve any muscle tension she has built up through exercise. Being a nervous dog, it also helps her to relax.

Be prepared
To me. being ready means being mentally as well as physically prepared. Many little pieces add up to the whole that is ‘the partnership’ you see in the ring. Bitz is already an experienced agility dog, having competed in many finals including Olympia, UKA Grand Finals and the European Open, so I begin by running courses similar to those that the judges of our class (Lynne Shore & Ton Van de Lar) have designed in the past. This is to identify any sequences that their courses may show up for us that I didn’t feel confident with, so that I can break them down, work on and improve them.

This year, whilst I was at this stage of our prep, I attended two UKA shows. I took advantage of the opportunity to qualify for the CSJ Grand Prix final and, as importantly, to run NFC (not for competition), rewarding all our key skills in the competition environment - start line waits, contact behaviour and handling manoeuvres. I chose those two particular shows as they were indoors, hoping to recreate a little piece of the atmosphere you may get indoors at the NEC.

As Crufts week drew nearer, I went back to gently working simple jump drills, rewarding and revising front and rear crosses, serps and pull throughs as I always do before important events. These are the  basic skills that make up every run in agility no matter how difficult.

As it would be the first time Bitz had ever have competed on the special 'green carpet,' I joined some other handlers at a sports centre where we took a few jumps, a tunnel and the weaves onto an Astro turf pitch to help our dogs get some idea of what the footing would feel like. We worked through both speed and control sequences, particularly with the weaves where foot placement is so important. I was pleased with Bitz. She adjusted quickly to the new surface, realising the difference in grip.

The week of Crufts I did very little jumping focusing on contact behaviour. I did plenty of 'circle work,' which underpins the handling system I use. After having had toenails accidently torn out days before finals with my last dog, I was a little paranoid about injury before the 'Big Day' and so I exercised Bitz separately from the rest of my dogs and didn't take her on the long runs.

When the day arrived, we were ready!
We were physically fit and prepared for the agility job in hand.

The day began with the us benched with the rest of our team, semi-final course plan in hand. We were last team to run in the Semi and I moved straight into 'our' competition routine - walking circles, hand targets and tricks. Keeping moving, staying focused and thinking as a team is very important with Bitz who, being a nervous dog, can be overwhelmed by the other dogs, crowds and the event. I ran first for our team and I continued our routine up to the line.

Bitz ran a lovely clear, unfazed by the carpet and occasion. The rest of the team had a few faults, but we still made it through to the Final where Bitz ran another calm clear.  Unfortunately our team captain had an unlucky brick out of the wall, dropping us into 2nd place. We were Reserve Team Champs! 

I was pleased with our performance. The preparation had paid off with two great clear rounds and Bitz thoroughly enjoyed herself. The coming weeks would be a little break before our preparations began for the World Agility Open Championships (WAO) in Belgium in May, a different challenge requiring a slightly different lead up. But that's another story.

About the author...
Jo Tristram is a dog trainer, seminar presenter and international agility competitor based in Dorset. She has been in agility for about eight year and
 has been in most UK finals. She has also represented her country on several occasions.

Jo trains using reward-based system which focuses on simple consistency, thus helping both the dog and handler to understand and master techniques. Because she owns a variety of breeds including a Bull Terrier, Bearded Collie X and a Border Colie and trains many other breeds as well, she has learned to adapt her core training to help any breed or handler partnership to develop and enjoy agility.

For more information visit

First published on 26 August 2012


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