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It's not rocket science...

By now most of the agility community will have heard of a comparatively new sport called Hoopers. Recently Hooperholics UK founder and lead instructor Angela Lucas took a look back her early efforts, and she really had a laugh. Compared to how she now approaches training and handles her dog, she thought that she looked like a banshee! Her words, not ours. And that was only four years ago!

Hooperholics was a term I coined when I got hooked on Hoopers. Right from the start, I just loved it especially as it could genuinely be done by each and every dog. I also liked that there was no need to go running round adjusting the equipment. One set suited all.

It was after I started holding Hooperholics workshops and public demos that I realised just how much fun - real fun - the dogs and handlers were having by going back to simple flowing courses and doing away with a lot of complicated moves. It seemed to relax nervous competitors and de-stress the dog.

Short & long term benefits
Many people starting Hoopers see immediate benefits. After a first lesson, for instance, the dog's body language may have changed to relaxed happiness. Everything they do is totally achievable - maybe different and new - so the success rate is high and the owner is encouraged.

Agility folk are often told to be energetic - move, run and act excited- so when they change tack and begin to look more towards 'blending' their commands and signals with the dog's actions, they improve their own training skills. Hooper training is not about telling your dog, but assisting it when needed. There is far more of the attitude work with your dog, not tell it, and this approach makes Hoopers what it is.

Hoopers, because of the distance aspect, and teaching the independence, benefits dogs who can be so easily aroused by excited handlers trying to keep up! 

Hoopers on a low key scale is core exercise, fitness therapy. Some with older dogs have said it has been beneficial with subtle bend or curving using a large barrel  Teaching foundation Hoopers sets young dogs up for balance, co-ordination, gauging stride learning to run naturally.

In over four years of showing people Hoopers, and countless numbers of dogs, I can honestly say I have seen them all leave with a smile. Hoopers has a magical effect. It just makes you smile.

Viva le Belly Button!
Back in 2019, I invited Mandy van Laar, a Hooper Champion from the Netherlands, to the UK. She spent a weekend teaching us how they do Hoopers in Europe.

First she explained how it was not always necessary to rely on your body and/or constantly shouted vocal signals. We learnt that if you used more of your body to focus on your dog as it went around the course, you could better time essential cues and reduce the arm signalling. We called it the 'Belly Button Method.'

There is no need to over complicate things for the dog just because it is working at a distance. Indeed, the simpler the better. It makes it more fun for the dog which should be your prime objective.

I don't see training Hoopers as 'my dog can do this simple exercise, let's make it harder for them.' It should be 'this is fun for my dog, let's challenge my skill as a handler and get same result standing on my head.'

People at the few competitions my fellow instructors and I managed to attend in 2020 were gob smacked by our apparent lack of arm signals, and machine gun verbals, and standing in one position for the whole course. This is what HUK has taught from the very beginning - and it works.

Tips for those starting out

  1. Invest time and energy in bonding with your dog.

  2. Build on the basic essentials such as come, stay and off lead response, and don't skip steps, even with a well-trained dog.

  3. Learn to use the belly button method and guide your dog, not tell it.

  4. You don't need to have expensive equipment. I trained my dogs for hoopers with just four hoops I made myself and some waste paper buckets.

  5. Don't look to create complex courses.

  6. If you can do an exercise standing up, try it sitting or lying down. Then close your eyes and do it again.

  7. Distance handling means different things to dog owners with different breeds. For some, it will be out of arm's reach while for others, it will mean 10 metres.

  8. Most importantly, enjoy Hooper training as a social time with your dog. Have fun with it.

Tips for those already a part of the Hooper world

  1. Be open to adapting your training methods. Look around at what different people are doing to develop Hoopers. It's a new activity to the UK and no one person has all the answers.

  2. Don't worry about setting up long and winding courses all the time. Even with an experienced, well trained dog, you can work through the simpler exercises and build up at the dog's pace of learning.

  3. Trust your dog.

  4. Always look at what you are doing from the dog's point of view.

  5. Trust yourself. Can you set up a circle of hoops, close your eyes and be confident that your dog will do it?

  6. Teach yourself to stay in a central strategic place.

  7. Even if you are not planning on going to competitions, look for challenges.

  8. Hoopers is basically a game of paths. Think what you need to say to your dog dog to guide them through.

  9. If you set up a really long course, dogs can tire after two or three runs.

  10. If you are setting up anything for students, always keep in mind what your goal is.

Instruction on tap
For help and advice, you can join in on the HUK FB page Hooperholics Hooperlevels Training Group. For a small monthly fee, you can see posts, videos and diagrams to help with your Hooper training. We are also going to be offering certificates and awards through the FB group.

There is also a website which includes a free show calendar to showing any Hooper show for the year ahead. Details of accredited instructors will be added to the website.

For more information about Hooperholics UK, contact Angela Lucas by email

About the Author
Angela Lucas has been an enthusiastic dog owner, trainer and instructor for over 30 years. She started with a rescue dog, moving on to a GSD and a Miniature Poodle before owning Border Collies.

She successfully went on to compete in Agility, Working Trials, Obedience, Rally and now adds Hoopers.

She was instrumental in starting the Hooper activity in the UK and the founder and Lead Instructor for Hooperholics UK, a Hooper society dedicated to spread the enjoyment of hoopers. 

As part of her agility interest, Angela helped to promote and raise awareness of the international event PAWC which is an international competition for disabled agility handlers. After competing as part of the British team representatives for several years, she won her group in 2016 and her dog Bizzy was awarded PAWC Champion.


First published 17th May 2021




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