K9 Trail Time Interview with an expert – Laura Hope, Agility Team GB Member

With the European Open Agility Championships being held next weekend (27th – 29th July 2018) we thought we would interview one of Team GB who also happens to be the K9 Trail Time agility trainer too!

Tell our followers a little bit about what you do, how you got into it, how long you have been doing it and your experience / or qualifications?

My name is Laura Hope and I am a qualified paediatric nurse which I’ve practiced for about 13 years. I had my daughter in 2015 and last year decided to take a break from the shift work to be with my daughter. I have been doing Competitive Agility for around 10 years and started my own training business – Clever Little Dog Agility Training up on Cleeve hill in Cheltenham last August. I started Agility with my American Bulldog who qualified us two years in a row to compete at Discover Dogs. I now have x3 beautiful collies. Jade Grade 7 and on Team GB, Rambo Grade 5 and Bonders who is learning the game 🙂. I love the game, it’s so much fun learning and developing with my dogs. Always things to learn and every dog teaches you something new. Great fun.

Laura and her dog, Regalaway Serendipity (Jade)

What does a day in the life of you consist of?

A day in the life of me consists of being woken up by my daughter any time from 0530 🙈🙈. Feed the dogs breakfast around 0630 and get ready for the day. Take grace to nursery and go up to Cleeve. Where I work / spend time with my dogs before I pick grace up at 1300. I do a 4 mile round trip run over Cleeve with the dogs most days – exhausting 😂 and then either do a bit of training or just chill out with them. It’s lovely just spending time with them in the countryside. I train my clients and then go and get my daughter. The afternoon consists of childish things 😂🙈 and then we walk the dogs in the evening. Often I then return to the field to teach some more and then I return home around 2100, to repeat it all again the next day. When I write it down I’m able to reflect on how lucky I am.

Laura not only competes herself but now trains others to compete in agility too

Share with us your proudest moment so far

My proudest moment so far, apart from raising my beautiful daughter has to be making Team GB with Jade and being picked for the Team to go to Vienna. Still can’t quite believe it.

What are your top 3 tips connected with what you do for our followers and their active dogs?

1) have fun with your dogs

2) be consistent and

3) have some more fun

What are your plans for the future?

My plans for the future are to just continue, keep trying to build my business, keep having fun with my dogs and keep striving to be better for my dogs.

Laura is a force free, positive trainer who strives to be the best for her dogs

How can our followers get in touch with you?

You can get in touch with me via phone – 07961 796905

Or contact me via FB – Clever Little Dog Agility Training

We’d like to wish Laura the best of luck with all her competing and go Team GB!

The full team competing next weekend can be found here:

https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/activities/agility/international-agility-teams/european-open-agility-championships/

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K9 Trail Time Interview with an expert – Claire Martin, Dog Behaviourist

Here at K9 Trail Time we believe in so much more than just going out for a run or being active with your dog. We like to look at the whole picture when it comes to our dogs and what we do. We retail active dog products but think our customers would like a broader picture of active dog health and well-being, so we’ve come up with our ‘Interview with an expert’ series where we will be asking different experts, that we feel are relevant to having an active and happy dog, questions which will give you an insight into how they help active dogs to keep fit both mentally and physically.

Our first expert is Claire Martin who is (amongst other things) a qualified dog behaviourist.

Claire is our expert because she knows how the ‘active dog’ mind works

Tell our followers a little bit about what you do, how you got into it, how long you have been doing it and your experience / or qualifications?

I have been training dogs ever since I adopted my first “own” dog – a rescue greyhound called Poppy. As a teacher, at that time, I was well versed in educational methods and good dog training is positive and kind as good education should be.

I got into studying behaviour and training dogs when I took on a foster dog that had significant behavioural problems, I needed to understand why she was afraid and how that had happened to her and so I took the brave move and made a career change that I had always wanted to and studied with COAPE to become a CAPBT Behaviourist and Trainer. I also became a full member of the IMDT and a FFTT (force free trick trainer). I now realise how the past experiences that the foster dog had been through had affected her and that it had literally changed the way her brain worked. Sadly there is a lot of poor information about how dogs should be trained, much promulgated by unscientific celebrity dog trainers that have access to peoples homes through the media.

Claire believes in force free training, as do we at K9 Trail Time

Over the last 5 years that I have been working as a behaviourist and trainer, things have already started to change and positive, reward based methods are pushing the out of date and inaccurate pack theory and dominance methods of the past. I started canicrossing 10 years ago and scooter racing 4 years ago. I, with a group of friends, set up Canicross Midlands and our team now run a 14 race series as well as other stand alone races and events and we have 5 regional groups that bring in and support new people entering into the sport. I also run my own Chrysalis Canicross Series which is a very unique “league” format.

 

What does a day in the life of you consist of?

Each day varies significantly, one thing is constant though – I always spend time training and enjoying the company of my dogs. They travel with me almost everywhere I go. Some days I might have 6 agility classes, other days trick training classes, life skills classes and then there are the 1-2-1 behavioural consultations to help people with dogs who struggle to cope with some aspect of life. Often I work late into the evenings, often teaching classes at 9pm! The advantage is that I have mornings free and that’s when I do admin and train my dogs. Weekends are either taken up with my own competing – winter for canicross and scooter, summer for agility but I also run weekend workshops at my training venue too. Its certainly not a 9-5 job! My van is my mobile office, mobile home and a mobile kennel! My dogs sleep in bed with me and often share my meals – truly my family in every way. Some of my dogs are the right temperament to stooge for fearful dogs and that skill is very special indeed. Currently I have 8 dogs who share my life.

Claire works on building a bond with dog and owner, through understanding of behaviour

Share with us your proudest moment so far

I have a client with a very scared dog. He’s a powerful breed and he is afraid of people. He is a rescue dog and he could be very dangerous if he wasn’t so well cared for and supported. The day I became one of his safe people was a very powerful one – it took time, love and trust for him to learn I wasn’t a threat and now he will greet me with his paws on my shoulders and a happy wag. He’s well on the way through his journey to lifetime happiness – he is a lucky lad – few owners would be so dedicated to him and his owner cries with me often, happy tears – as he makes progress. Saving dogs that have had tough starts is incredibly rewarding because often by the time I get to meet them they are already a family member and dearly loved – even if they are hard to like at times.

What are your top 3 tips connected with what you do for our followers and their active dogs?

1 – Remember that your sport dog has absolutely no idea if they have won or lost, come first or last, its our job to make them believe that they have won – they don’t value ribbons, bits of tin and glass, they know how you feel about them – they understand love and pride in their achievement – so make sure your dog always feels like they are a winner.

Although it can be fun to win things, your dog has no idea what ‘winning’ means, they should win every time

2 – Never punish a dog for your failings, indeed – never punish a dog. They didn’t do that thing that infuriated you because they were mad at you, they don’t know that you had a bad day at work, they just know how you feel and they think that if you are angry that you are angry at them. We have them each in our lives for maybe a decade, sometimes more – make every day with us happy and special. Let their happiness to greet us at the end of a tiring day put to rest any other frustrations and who cares if a cushion exploded!

3 – Play with your dog – play tug, teach them tricks, teach them games other than the sport you want to compete in. If you want to canicross seriously then take them to scent work classes for fun. Teach them formal obedience and who cares if your breed doesn’t “do” obedience – if you want to and its fun for you both then who cares? If you have multiple dogs spend at least 1 hour a week with each dog on their own doing something special that the two of you enjoy.

Claire with one of her own dogs (she has 8!)

What are your plans for the future?

Chrysalis K9 is growing fast. I’m not alone now with Vay Coltrose working alongside me. We want an indoor training venue for classes over the winter and we want to spread the word of positive training in harness sports far and wide – which we are already doing through our Canicross Midlands Summer Camp. For me personally, I am hoping to get my own dog Axis confident in competition on the scooter as he is certainly physically capable and I hope that Sirius and I will achieve our goals in agility. I’ll keep on rescuing dogs though currently single figures of dogs is my limit!

 

Claire can be contacted through her business Chrysalis K9

How can our followers get in touch with you?

PM messages via facebook on my work page are probably the easiest way to contact me https://www.facebook.com/ChrysalisK9/ . I try to keep work stuff on my work page and my personal page for personal stuff – but of course there is overlap. I have email as well – Claire@chrysalis-k9.co.uk

Thanks so much to Claire for answering our questions, we hope you’ve found her answers of interest – Happy trails!

The Puppy Diary – Continuing to train (6-9 months)

So now that your puppy has grown up a bit and looks a little bit less like a puppy and more like a proper dog, it can be tempting to up the game in terms of training at this point. It is at this age that I feel people get a bit too excited about getting their dog trained up and it’s really important to remember your dog is still a puppy no matter how grown up they now look.

Your dog might look grown up but is still a puppy on the inside (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

This is where the debate kicks in. In many sled dog kennels the youngsters will begin going out in harness in teams (and this is the crucial thing) from about 6 months to learn the ropes. Whilst that might be all well and good for a big kennel where larger teams of dogs are run together and the pull is distributed between the team, it is not the same as one dog pulling your weight on it’s own. It is also worth pointing out that many of these dogs are not expected to have long running careers and although many do, there is a big difference between a racing kennel dogs’ experience and your pet dog.

It has been proven that a dogs’ growth plates do not fully close until they are a lot older and in the case of some of the bigger dog breeds, 2 years is normal for full skeletal maturity and full maturity isn’t reached until the dog is about 3 years old. With this in mind, wouldn’t you rather wait a few months and ensure you will not be harming your dog? I’m not a fan of putting a specific date on when you should start doing proper harness training, as every dog is an individual and should be assessed on their own development, not against other breeds or even other individual dogs of the same breed.

Dogs can take up to 3 years to reach full maturity, so why not let them stay puppies for as long as possible? (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

For example you might get one GSP (German Shorthaired Pointer) who when fully grown can weigh in excess of 35 kgs and will have to have developed the bone and muscle structure to support that weight before doing any pulling in harness. Then another GSP who barely weighs in at 20 kgs and will be physically fully grown a lot quicker than the bigger, heavier dog. Even this doesn’t take into account the dogs’ own ‘head space’ and this is something I feel is equally as important as their physical development.

To explain this further, some dogs (like some people!) mature a lot slower mentally than others and need more time to process information to be able to follow commands confidently. If you’ve got a pup who is easily distracted or nervous in new surroundings, it is worth building the dogs confidence in both you, and new situations, before you expect them to work for you, particularly in a racing environment. Unfortunately there are some dogs who don’t get the time they need to learn about working in harness and when put in a race situation can become very nervous or even aggressive if they are not confident, so it is really, really, important you go at your dogs’ individual pace when considering increasing the training you’re doing with your dog.

Every dog is an individual when it comes to development both physically and mentally (Photo courtesy of Becky Harding)

My own pup at the time of writing is 7 months old and we’ve been doing a lot of training but it might not be the type of training you would necessarily expect when talking about training a dog for harness sports. We go to new places almost daily and don’t stick to the same walking routes, so that he encounters new things all the time. I use the voice commands consistently on all our walks and I am really keen to get a good ‘wait’ command instilled in his brain (because he’s already way bigger and stronger than I had anticipated!) so we stop regularly to reinforce this. In addition to this, I had started to allow him to free run while I incorporated a jog into some of our walks. Recently his prey drive has kicked in however, so this has limited how much free running he can do.

Yogi has done a little bit of free running now

In terms of being in a harness, he has had a walking harness from day 1 and now he is starting to pull into the harness (as he sees the others doing) I have not discouraged this. I have tried some of the longer harnesses on him at home just to see what he thinks of having something longer down his back, as I believe he will need a longer harness eventually. At the moment he doesn’t like having something over his back, so we’ll need to do some more work on that to make sure he’s happy with straps and something pulling over the length of him.

Yogi has not been discouraged from pulling into the harness on walks

We’ve also been to a few races and when I’ve had a chance I’ve had him out and about meeting as many dogs as we can, getting him used to being around lots of people, dogs, and of course the noise associated with the start of a race! I don’t think the importance of getting them used to this can be overstated, as the last thing you want is your dog to feel stressed when running in harness around other dogs and so if they are already comfortable and happy around lots of dogs, this can only be a good thing. I also make sure he’s not allowed to play with every dog we see, as this can be a problem too. You don’t want your dog to be pestering others when out running, so ensuring you can still get your dog to focus on you is very important.

Yogi has been enjoying watching from the sidelines at events

Other than increasing the time and distances of our walks and incorporating the odd jog, we haven’t done much else different in terms of exercise, Yogi has been growing a fair bit and he’s going to be quite tall, so I want to limit how much he does to ensure he doesn’t suffer later on in life. Above all he’s just enjoying still being a puppy and I think it’s crucial to allow your dog the time to be a puppy as long as they need and not push them into something too soon which could put them off further down the line.

So for now, I’m happy he’s learning what he needs to and he’s loving his life as sidekick and van traveller. Training in harness will only increase when I’m certain he’s developed enough both physically and mentally and I’ll post another blog update when we start with the really fun stuff!

Voice Commands – Who, What, Why, When & How?

Voice commands are a big part of training in the dog sports and it’s important you get them right for you to get the best from your dog, so we thought we would do a quick blog on the Who, What, Why, When & How of voice commands in canicross, bikejor and dog scootering.

Who? – This one is fairly obvious, you are giving the command to your dog and your dog is the one listening and hopefully understanding and responding accordingly. It is worth mentioning that because these commands are for you and your ‘team’, you can use whatever specific words you want, which leads us on to…

What? – The words you choose for your commands can be anything you like, as long as you’ve trained it and your dog understands, no-one else has to. Many people simply use right, left, go on and other short words, some use noises and more obscure terms to indicate directions to their dogs but pick what you can be consistent with and stick to it.

Good voice commands are essential, particularly when you are on a bike or scooter – Photo courtesy of Take 2 Event Photos

Why? – Again relatively obvious but you might be surprised at how many people feel they don’t really need strong voice commands trained, especially when canicrossing, as you can generally reach out and pull your dog away from any situation. However it’s really important that your dog is listening to you and not just hauling you along enjoying doing their own thing with you as a passenger. It helps tire a dog out faster if they are concentrating on what directions you are giving them and it also builds a much stronger bond of trust if you can call to your dog and they want to do what you’re asking of them. As soon as you involve wheels into the equation, with a bike, scooter or rig, then this becomes crucial and we would never recommend trying any of the wheeled dog sports without having a good degree of control over your dogs’ actions through your voice commands first.

When? – Perhaps the most important of the questions on this list. Our answer to this would be to give voice commands ONLY when you need to. All too often you see people repeating over and over again a verbal direction to their dog, the most frequent of these being ‘go, go, go’ or similar. Your dog will switch off if you are continually issuing the same command, your voice will become like ‘white noise’ in the background of what you are doing and you may lose your dogs’ concentration on you as a result. It is much better to keep quiet while your dog is moving forward and save yourself for when you need to turn or stop or do something other than just run forward in a straight line.

You don’t need to be shouting voice commands at your dog during the whole run, if they’re moving forward in the direction you want then you just need to smile and enjoy! – Photo courtesy of Basil Thornton Photography

How? – Again a really important one because the tone and volume you use for your dog can have a huge affect on how motivated your dog is to work for you. If you are shouting at your dog and not using encouragement, then it follows that your dog may not feel so happy about following your directions. If you watch some of the best dog sports people with their dogs, they are generally always minimalist with voice commands, they never raise their voices unless there is danger (dogs have much better hearing than we do!) and they use a tone of voice which is calm, controlled and encouraging for the dogs.

 

Dog sports are always team work, so make sure you’re not too hard on your ‘team’, using encouragement rather than criticism is always more motivational! – Photo courtesy of Houdscape

Always make your training fun for your dog and remember voice commands can be taught from a very young age out on walks, so take the time to get your dog really responsive to your voice and we’re sure you’ll see the benefits when you’re out and about with them. Happy trails!

Building a bond

This little blog is my story about building a bond with your dog through the dogs sports of canicross, bikejor and dog scootering and why these activities help with the process. When I started running with my first dog I didn’t actually set out with any aim other than to wear her out because she is a collie/husky cross (whoever let that happen didn’t think about the consequences!) Tegan was suffering with separation anxiety having been found as a stray somewhere in Wales and then taken to a pound, she was then transferred to a kennels and after a few months found herself in my home. I imagine for her, being left alone while I went to work caused her a huge amount of stress, as I was the first constant in her life after months of upheaval and change.

Tegan has relied on me for security since she first arrived

Tegan has relied on me for security since she first arrived

With the decision made that running with Tegan in the morning would hopefully tire her out enough to get her to sleep at least some of the time I was out, I set about my new routine. I noticed very quickly that not only did her separation anxiety improve slightly but also her behaviour in general and she began to respond to me in a much better way, treating me with a bit more respect than she had prior to this. When I got Judo as a 4 month old puppy nearly a year after Tegan, the runs were put on hold while he grew up enough to join us and I could tell Tegan missed the fun of being able to go that bit further and faster.

Finally when Judo came of age we took up canicross properly and began training for our first race, it was through this training that I really began to get a ‘feel’ for what my dogs enjoyed. I watched them constantly when running, looking for any signs of being tired, injury or what made them increase in speed. As a result of this, my first race wasn’t a shock, I knew how my dogs were likely to respond to other dogs around them and knew the triggers to look for with Tegan, who can be dog reactive on the lead. Canicross was teaching me to read my dogs better in all situations not just when we were running.

Running my dogs created a stronger bond and improved behaviour - Photo courtesy of Chillpics

Running with my dogs created a stronger bond and improved behaviour – Photo courtesy of Chillpics

By the time my third dog Donnie came into our lives I had already taken up scootering as an alternative way to keep the dogs fit while I recovered from an ankle injury. I felt I didn’t have such a connection with the dogs when scootering as you’re that bit further away and I didn’t feel so involved because I wasn’t doing quite as much work as I had to when canicrossing. With hindsight I can see this wasn’t quite true.

Scootering made me realise how 'switched on' my dogs were with me when we raced - Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

Scootering made me realise how ‘switched on’ my dogs were with me when we raced – Photo courtesy of Fay Frost Photography

What I discovered was that you need to have a bond already in place to be able to communicate effectively with your dog at distance, so in actual fact to be able to scooter or bikejor your dog properly, the bond needs to be stronger than with canicross. This really hit home for me when I began to bikejor with Donnie as we could really pick up speed and turn very quickly on a single voice command. I realised he was anticipating my lines through tricky sections of courses and it was almost like he was reading my mind in some circumstances. That type of connection doesn’t happen if your dog is not switched on to you.

This development was organic, I didn’t seek it out, I didn’t force it, it just happened through time and training. I’m not saying my dogs never do anything unexpected or that we never make any mistakes, but I do find that through taking part in the dog sports, I feel more in tune with all of my dogs and can usually spot a potential problem before it becomes one.

You need to be brave, stupid or have faith in your dogs and their training to attach multiple dogs to a bike! Photo courtesy of David Hawtin

You need to be brave, stupid or have faith in your dogs and their training to attach multiple dogs to a bike! Photo courtesy of David Hawtin

A recent example of this was the diagnosis of Addisons Disease in Donnie. Thankfully I was very aware he wasn’t ‘himself’ even though to anyone else he would have looked like a normal dog and that prompted me to keep asking for tests and keep insisting something wasn’t right. Unfortunately with Addisons because it is so difficult to diagnose it often takes the dog reaching a critical condition before the vets will test for it and in some cases it is missed.

To conclude my blog, which is a glimpse into my own experience of building a bond through dog sports, I’d recommend any dog owner who wants to gain a better understanding of their dog to give canicross or bikejor a go. The shared experience of running or biking as a team will no doubt result in strengthening your bond and I found had many positive effects on my rescue dogs’ behaviour too. If you’d like more information on how to get started please visit my website: http://www.k9trailtime.com and if you have any specific questions e-mail me: emilyt@k9trailtime.com

I certainly feel the bond I've developed with my dogs is directly related to the amount of time I've spent training with them in the dog sports.

I certainly feel the bond I’ve developed with my dogs is directly related to the amount of time I’ve spent training with them in the dog sports.