Mission was born to do agility and it shows. He has been in the Top 10 for the past five years, finally earning the #1 spot in 2018. More than just an agility star, Mission has also earned top-dog accolades in obedience and rally. We finally caught up with Mission’s breeder and owner Brenda, who gives us some insight into keeping her dog in fit and competitive.
Agility season will be starting soon. How do you keep Mission fit during the off season?
I have always given my dogs the winter off to just be dogs – free running in the fields and cuddling on the couch. While I was sidelined with knee-replacement surgery, I did some preliminary training with Mission so I could enlist him as a service dog. We would play the hot-and-cold game and I would tell him to go right or left (or just point) to retrieve items for me. I was using commands and signals we already used on the agility field for a different purpose. It just reinforces how we communicate.
I also signed up for Avidog’s Fit to be Tied fitness program. Mission is going to be 10 this year and I wanted to do everything I could to keep him in great shape. I send videos to Dr. Gayle Watkins, who spoke at the CKC Annual Meeting last year, and she designs an exercise program tailored specifically for Mission. I have also been incorporating stationary exercises to maintain his flexibility.
You’ve mentioned that the teeter was the most difficult for your dog to master. What was the problem and how did you fix it?
The teeter is a complicated piece of equipment. It has so many elements that need to be broken down and taught bit by bit. First the dog has to run on it straight, balance himself and then hang on while it falls on the other side, hitting the contact zones at both ends. Getting a dog to to run to the end of the teeter is a challenge. Fortunately I have my own equipment, which allowed us to work on the teeter at home.
Most competitors probably don’t have agility equipment in their backyards. What training can you practise at home between trials?
There are a lot of elements to a good performance that don’t require equipment. You can work on proofing your dog. Practising stays, go-outs and sending your dog left or right. Doing other sports is a great way to reinforce commands. I do water tests with Mission. He has to stay on the boat and wait for my command while I throw the bumpers into the water.
What is a common mistake that owners make when teaching their dog a new obstacle?
Doing too much too soon. You have to break each obstacle into smaller pieces and then build on the little successes. Mission always seems to get it right away, but I know that he still needs to fully understand and think about how to put all the elements together. Weave poles were one the hardest. He always races into them too fast and can end up skipping a pole. Depending on the course, the entry to the weave poles can make it difficult to enter with the first pole passing the dog’s left shoulder, so we spend time practising the entry to the weave poles. It’s really about developing a rhythm and building muscle memory.
Dogs can’t compete in agility trials until they are 18 months old. At what age do you start introducing your dogs to agility?
I was Mission’s breeder, so I started introducing interesting obstacles as soon as possible. I like to let puppies be puppies, but they absorb so much at a young age it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. As soon as they are up and moving around I like to introduce tunnels, small bridges and balance boards. The puppies like to sleep in the tunnels. The Fisher Price Gym and Castle are also great for encouraging puppies to climb over or go under objects, helping them gain confidence. Of course, basic obedience training can and should be started early.
Mission has been successful in a lot of different activities. How has this worked for you?
Since we do so many sports, I have actually had to write down a list of commands for each one so I can keep them all straight. I find that there is a lot of crossover, which reinforces consistency. We are currently embarking on a new event – scent detection. I have been trying to finish Mission’s Obedience Trial Champion title, and he is still not consistent with the scent articles. I am hoping that the scent detection training will help him focus and hone his scenting ability.
No matter what event we are doing, there are always new challenges, so we are always training… and having fun!
CKC’s Top Dogs program celebrates the best competitors in Canadian dog sport. Tallying points earned throughout the calendar year at each CKC sanctioned event, the Top Dogs winners represent the most dedicated and successful dog-handler teams in each discipline. It is with great pride that CKC releases the official Top Dogs Results each year. Congratulations to our Top Dogs winners and to all competitors as you challenge and inspire each other to the Top. Thank you to our sponsors for their generous support of the Top Dogs program.