agility dogs with specialist lifetime cover
Dedicated to the
smallest Star in the Skye...
are known for their tiny size and huge personalities. They can be feisty and
sassy - and sometimes aggressive - and they can also be incredibly stubborn. One thing they are definitely not known
for their sporting abilities or trainability. Naomi Hosker admits they are not
the easiest breed to run, but she wouldn't have it any other way...
Toy breeds are just the same as any other dog
breed, just smaller. They are intelligent, athletic and very much trainable in
any field. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am passionate about toy breeds,
especially Chihuahuas. I chose to have a chihuahua to prove if they’re treated
like bigger dogs they are amazing and aren’t the classic snappy handbag dog
everyone thinks they are.
I got into
dog training and subsequently agility with my first dog, a Chihuahua X called
Skye (The Star in the Skye AW/G) who sadly passed away September 2019. I never
intended to compete in agility but did a “puppy taster session” when Skye was
around six months old at a local training facility and she took to it straight
away and loved it. From then on we were hooked and went on to compete when she
reached 18 months old.
Skye was a real ‘poster girl' for the
She was only one of a handful
of tiny dogs I knew that made it to Grade 7. She taught me a great deal as we
worked our way up the grades unexpectedly fast - especially for a 2.4kg dog. We
enjoyed every minute together. She always gave 110% even though the jumps were
almost double her height and the see saw took ages to tip! I know many people
grew to love her bizarre jump action and enjoyed watching her run. Skye was
never Champ material, but we had a blast running clears on the tricky G6/7
courses and that's all that mattered to me.
When I started agility, I was quite a shy person.
I had no idea what response I would get from fellow competitors to my tiny dogs.
Without Skye and the agility community's support, I would never have had the
confidence I now have. I remember well our first measure where the measurers
laughed at her and signed her book, just glancing at her from a distance and not
making her go anywhere near the measure. That didn't give me much
confidence for our Grade 1 debut.
I currently have two tiny dogs - a young and
very small Chihuahua called Eevee and a G2 Miniature Pinscher named Raine who is
very athletic and intelligent - a born agility dog. She will often get a
concept in about half the time it takes a Chihuahua to learn the same thing.
Take housetraining for example. Raine was housetrained by 10 weeks. I aim to
housetrain the Chihuahuas by 4-6 months which I know some people may find
believe that Chihuahuas are just big dogs in small bodies. The basic concepts of
training Chihuahuas are pretty much the same for them as any other dogs.
They may require more time and patience than most other breeds, but this doesn't
make them any less rewarding which is probably why I love them. It's the
training journey that's the enjoyable part for me. If the end result is amazing,
it's a bonus.
For a young Chihuahuas, there are all the same
worries about stressing their joints, bones and muscles during development at
young ages by overdoing walking or training, just as you would with the larger
breeds. In Toy breeds, the growth plates still do not close any quicker despite
most reaching adult size and weight by 6-8 months which is why I start all my
small dogs at about six months on a joint supplement.
Training is a hobby and is fun for me so it
should be for the dogs too, which is often something I feel can be easily
overlooked. In my opinion, the more they enjoy training the better the end
results. If a dog doesn't enjoy working with me, then there isn't any point in
continuing with that exercise.
For puppies, I love to do trick training and
shaping, so I do loads when they are between 8-16 weeks old. I try to do one
five minute session a day of something to help bonding with the puppy and
develop that 'training mentality' which doesn't always come naturally in toy
aren't naturals for doing agility nor learning complex behaviours, so working
together is my main focus. It is far more important than learning specific /more
complex behaviours which will come with time and effort if you want to achieve
them and have the tools / training to help you do so.
they should be treated and trained the same as any Collie or Labrador. You may
just need a few tricks up your sleeve to get them on side and working with you
against their natural stubbornness.
As rule, I
try to play to the strengths of their breed - and not their weaknesses - so as
to set them up for success. For example, neither of my dogs is particularly good
at a 'down' as it' s a challenging behaviour for them physically, so we only do
a small amount as puppies. I would never use a ‘down stay' at agility as they
are physically more comfortable in a 'sit stay.'
of the downsides to training very small dogs is spending most of your time on
your hands and knees, especially when they are puppies. You also need to bend
down when rewarding the dog from your hand which is probably something most
Medium /Large breed handlers wouldn't think about. Even on a normal dog walk,
having them off lead is great, but the bending down to reattach the leads is
always a chore.
Competing with tiny
People always ask me if I worry about
squashing or treading on my dogs. The answer is no! I can be a clumsy person
about home so the puppies learn quite quickly to keep out of my way. I can
honestly say that if a dog has been trodden on once, it’s not happened again.
Training and clear commands - either verbal or body language - when running a
course mean it's not a concern for me.
time I walk an agility course, I test the see saw to ascertain it's tipping
point. The variation can be amazing!
can play a role and I did find if very wet under foot Skye struggled much more
with the jumps than dry ground. Luckily she was never a fair weather Chihuahua
and have very fond memories of a very wet Adams Easter in 2018 where she ran
amazingly well bringing back five trophies and many rosettes.
sand arenas are the best and most consistent ground to run on for us. Often
there can be irregularities on grassy surfaces that other handlers might not
notice for their larger dogs that would affect my dogs.
Canine Guild massage every 4-6 weeks throughout her competing life to keep her
in tip top form which is something I will do for Eevee if she makes the grade.
In my professional opinion, I believe that every competing dog, regardless of
breed, would benefit from it at some time in their agility career.
I watch my dogs' weight carefully to keep them lean and muscular. As a vet, I
see too many overweight dogs. Whether leading an active lifestyle or not, it's
especially important that tiny dogs do not stress their joints or heart by
carrying excessive weight.
times ahead post COVID-19
My little Eevee is now a year old and has some mighty big paws to fill after
Skye. Being a tiny 1.75kg, I have no idea whether she will excel at agility or
even be able to jump 30cm. We are currently training on 10-15cm jumps, learning
running contacts and weaves, running mini courses and, most importantly, we are
she does, whether it be it agility or heelwork to music or anything else she
turns her paws to, we will have a blast out there and show the world what
Chihuahuas can do.
I love the
breed. Their little characters and their attitude is awesome! Eevee and Raine
will be flying the flag of 'Team Flying Hamster' in Skye's memory for hopefully
many years to come.
Naomi Hosker qualified as a
vet in 2012 having dreamt of it since childhood.
She got her first dog
Skye in December 2014, having ridden and competed horses in dressage and show
jumping before that. In early 2016 she started agility and has never looked
She lives and works
close to St. Albans in Hertfordshire with her other half James, the two dogs - Raine and Eevee, a tortoise called Henry and 20 Guinea pigs!
25th October 2020