Put your best foot forward...
Back in the mid 80s when Shaun Hunt started agility, everything was done with the dog on the left, contacts were completed properly if you managed to stop your dog in time and weaves were the responsibility of the handler! Fast forward to the present, and itís a world apart from those early days. How things have changed! Shaun has put together an original training programme to enhance handler footwork for Agility success.
Our training techniques are better. Handling systems help guide our dogs round courses at faster and faster speeds and dog fitness is at the front of our minds. The list goes on and on. In short, Agility has evolved to the highest level itís ever been.
Over the last couple of years the training of my clients has also evolved. After 10 years of training full time, Iím no longer just teaching handling manoeuvres and training dogs to understand, but Iíve now moved into thinking about what makes the handling better. From this Iíve developed a programme which targets the specific movements handlers require to get round a course, focusing on speed, changes of directions and whole body co-ordination.
One of the problems I have found is not so much the execution of say a front cross but how the footwork and co-ordination makes the front cross efficient. Looking at a broader picture, letís think about driving a car. We donít think about which foot goes where when changing gear or braking, where the gearstick is or using the indicators. The reason for this is muscle memory.
When we are training our dogs, it's difficult to do repetitions on handling manoeuvres and create muscle memory, mainly because we have a lot more to think about i.e. the dog, the course and our timing. So what I have done is strip away the different layers and designed a programme of drills, based on the specific movements we execute, removing all other distractions (mainly the dog!) so that the handler can develop this important muscle memory. The aim is so we can then run without having to consciously think which foot goes where.
The actual programme is designed to suit everybody - young or old, fit or less fit! You can progress at your own pace as itís not about how fast or manoeuvrable you are against the next person itís about how you can improve yourself. Itís not a cardio workout and itís low impact. You only do movements that you already do when you train your own dogs.
I recently ran a taster session at one of my venues. The programme ran really well and received a lot of positive feedback. Iím plan on running another session in the near future followed by rolling out an online course. If my thoughts have intrigued you watch this space.
He currently runs Phix who is an Agility Champion and recently took over Spice who runs at Grade 7 and is deaf.
Shaun works as a full time trainer at venues in Cheltenham and travels the country running training days for clubs.
First published 30 April 2018
Photo of Shaun and Phix compliments of Yulia Titovits