Choosing a dog for competition
Which dog should you get for Agility? It's a very big question which may have a big impact on your life. Top handler Nicola Garrett explains her philosophy on picking out a new dog.
One must always remember that Agility should be viewed as an enjoyable hobby, whether you compete at an Elementary level or are a handler competing at the very top of the sport. With this in mind, you need to find a dog that you are compatible with for both working and living together. For example, if you are a loud bubbly person, a sensitive shy dog may not suit your temperament. Also if you're quite a sensitive person, then an exuberant dominant dog may well prove to be a handful.
A dog of any breed benefits when it is physically and mentally sound. That means that it's preferable to buy from a breeder who tests their dogs for any hereditary defects that arise in that particular breed. For example, collies should be tested for CEA and PRA, both are eye problems, and hip dysplaysia which could mean the end of an active lifestyle if they suffer from it.
When I wish to obtain a dog with Agility in mind, I always look for a dog with a happy, sociable temperament - one that is also enthusiastic when asked to work. This is important trait when you're training your dog and enjoying it as a companion.
I also look for a dog that can handle being reprimanded without going to pieces and wants to continue working with me. In any dogs life, it will get told off. When I'm training, I want a happy, confident dog that can handle the tough times when it's not all going right. I want them to work 100% for me most of the time. If I have a dog that understands that a mistake has been made and then attempts to it correct the next time, it becomes much easier. This is because the dog is always working it's best, putting in 100% and working to get it right.
This kind of dog will usually cope well with the stress and change we put on our Agility dogs. It will handle different atmospheres, working conditions, noises and different venues. So when you qualify for that final, it won't be phased by working at a different venue, maybe with different floor surface, unusual noises, people dressed up and different animals around.
The opinions that I have given are my own and therefore it may not be correct for everybody. These dogs and I get along with one another's personality's.
I do not believe that unless you have a dog as the above it will not do well, each dog has different strengths and weakness. It's the strong points that must be exploited to get that particular dog working and achieving the best it can. Not all dogs are meant to reach the top in Agility, I do know dogs that don't fit my description that work at the very top, I just work well with that type of dog. In the end you must enjoy what you and your dog can achieve together.
About the author...
Nicola Garrett has been competing in Agility for twelve years and has trained seven dogs to this date. She started with Holly a collie cross and Misty, a Rough Collie, who qualified for the KCJO Agility in her first year of competition and eventually starred on Blue Peter for getting joint Third in this event.
Nicky won three Junior finals and six second places in Novice/Open Agility classes. She should have been made senior but was just unlucky. Misty continued to qualify for Crufts for the next four years until Gadget, her Border Collie took over. Gadget made advanced and qualified for nearly all of the major finals and being placed in most of them. She also competed in flyball and was a member of the winning team one year. Both Misty and Gadget live the luxurious retired life now.
Neeko was her next Border Collie. She also became an Advanced dog and was in the winning flyball team at Crufts. She was to be the mother of some very amazing puppies. She only had one litter and in that litter came three Advanced dogs, one Senior dog and a Starter dog. Her most famous is Jo Rhodes' Moravia Red October and her own Hocus Pocus.
Nicky says that Hocus Pocus (also known as Mac) is the most amazing dog she have ever worked. He is the softest and sweetest dog you could wish to own and most of the time - nothing is perfect all of the time - he is a dream to work. He is fast, responsive, keen and helpful. He has competed at Olympia twice, Crufts three times and has won three major finals. He works at advanced level and next year he is to become a member of the flyball team.
Nicky's three year old blue merle Border Collie, Fox, is a strange one. She has to be motivated the way round the course. She doesn't like getting things wrong and when she does she sometimes gives up completely. Saying that she has managed to qualify for three finals/semis and now runs in Senior.
Spectre is her young hopeful, only twenty-one months old. He has only had three shows and has been placed at all three. Spectre is also related to Mac and Neeko, one of the reasons she purchased him. He has the same loveable temperament as Neeko and Mac, and he is keen and very helpful on the course although he has been made a little wild at times by her mad merle.
Nicola lives in Birmingham so she is well situated to attend the majority of the major shows. She also lives within a mile of Sutton Park, a massive heathland and forest area where you can walk your dogs for hours without having to put them on a lead. She has worked in a solicitors office as a Data Administration Assistant for four years but is presently trying to find a role more rewarding, preferably with dogs.
Photos: A selection of Olympia Finalists 1992 from Agility Voice (December 1992).
For what it's worth, here's what I
personally look for in a pup.
When I look at the pups, I look first for the individual that catches my eye with structure that looks 'right.' I like a pup that is responsive to sound and movement. I prefer the pup which leaves the litter to focus on > people, and is first to investigate new things. I find that if I throw a toy, the pup that picks it up and immediately turns back toward me will probably have retrieving instinct and a willingness to work.
I do a standard 'puppy temperament test' and personally prefer pups that test dominant/independent. (I pay for this preference. These dogs are always testing your control.)
Finally, and on this point I NEVER compromise, I want a
certain look in the eyes of intelligent curiosity and warmth. It's hard to describe, but it
always makes an instant connection with me, and I know that's the one I'll take home.