A short entry this week given that it's been too hot to work Lexi, and either way my schedule has been packed with 121s and groups, so we haven't made it up to the field yet.
Meg came back from her short holiday on Monday and was as incredible as always. This coming weekend she is entered into our 4-7 show and I'm really looking forward to see what she does. Her last practice competition was way before lock down when she had only just started on Intermediate and didn't have a full set of ring ready skills, so it was more about practicing in the environment than actually chasing clear rounds and places. Obviously, she is being put up against a much harder field than she would normally face, but logistically, I wouldn't have been able to run her in the 1-3 show, so this is a good compromise and I know that she has the skills to run a higher level course.
I'm going in with zero expectations which I think is important with any beginner dog. Naturally, I am a very competitive person, my boyfriend can attest to the fact, and he likely wouldn't recommend playing board games with me, but this can be potentially problematic with a baby dog or even an experienced competitive partnership going into a high pressure situation. With Lexia, I know that I have a very good dog who has the potential to do well in major competitions, but if I go in with that all guns blazing, must go clear and win attitude, it tends to take away from my connection with her. I have found it far easier to enjoy myself and actually obtain good results, by relaxing into it slightly and focusing more on my connection with the dog than running the course for myself.
I try and impart this small nugget of wisdom onto my beginner groups who are just starting out with competition, that they'll get more out of a show if they set small obtainable goals per each individual round, rather than getting sucked into the overly competitive mindset where it can be quite easy to lose focus, sometimes leading to more eliminations and faults.
This is what I'm going for with Meg on Sunday. Rather than telling myself that I really, desperately want a clear round, which is perfectly doable with the dog depending on the course, but also a lot of pressure on her in what is only her second foray into this kind of setting. Instead I'm trying to pick what I'd like to take away from the experience as a whole: a clean set of weaves in at least one of the classes considering twelve poles are still relatively new to her and completely untested in this setting, keeping the majority of the poles up, particularly the last one which she has a tendency to drop, and confidence on her contacts.
I also want to see how she copes in a queue, even though it will only be four other dogs. In training she gets quite vocal and stroppy when she doesn't immediately get to have a turn, so I want to try and establish some kind of routine between the two of us to build up our working partnership and keep her engaged with me before her round. This is a really important pre-competition ritual for me, and I have obviously built up a good strong system with Lexi that I now have to try and recreate with Meg.
No matter what happens, I think it's going to be a really good couple of days of competition, and I wish everyone the best of luck, particularly some of our first timers and my group students.
Hopefully the follow up videos will come on Sunday evening, so until then, good luck and hopefully see some of you soon!
This week the Three Dog Blog is down to only one dog since Meg has been away on holiday, and I haven’t had a lot of spare time to find a fill in, so this will be a shorter entry all about Lexi.
Before we begin, some reminiscing. This weekend would have been the Agility Club show, one of my favourite competitions in the season, and a place that marked a real turning point for me and Lex last year. We were at a bit of a standstill and really struggling to get our act together and then at Agility Club she won two classes, had the fastest time in a couple of others, got her first clear round in a Champ class, qualified in 1st place for the Crufts team, and came 7th in the jumping round of the International Tour Heat. I was always a little bit concerned about going into Grade 7 and champ classes but being unable to win, or meet the high standard of the other competitors, so that when she gained these places and wins at one of the largest, most popular shows in the agility calendar, it gave me a real boost in confidence that I think carried through to our later success at a very washed out KCI.
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I am sad to be missing Agility Club for the first time in years, possibly since birth in my case, but I look forward to next summer when we can all get back to it and hopefully replicate some of that success from 2019.
Back in 2020 and we are still doing a mixture of home dog gym sessions and short sequencing, with focused agility skills at the field. Lexi often gets stuck in, what I describe as, ‘predictive dog mode,’ meaning that once she has an idea in her head, it can be quite hard to persuade her that there’s possibly another way to go about things. This has made things like contacts quite difficult, since once she had decided that she could creep and leap, encouraging her to drive down to the bottom was nearly impossible, and having a fast two on two off was basically out of the question. This is my third attempt at building her a proper running dogwalk and we are finally making steps in the right direction. In previous attempts she would always revert back to her old ways once the dogwalk was back at full height and couldn’t get past her own head. Now she is driving down and through the contact, with 50% of her hits having really good split legs. My next step is to try and bring the mat back in, to encourage some lower, more accurate hits, but potentially she may go back to jumping over it instead, in which case I’ll carry on as I am.
At home, we are still going through a variety of split leg games and rear end control exercises, in an effort to keep building confidence and core control. Occasionally, when she’s doing a full dogwalk, her new speed confuses her and she loses awareness of her legs and then over corrects the stride on the down plank to compensate, but this costs us the good rhythm and natural pacing that she needs. I’m hopeful that as she gains more understanding of each limb, she’ll be able to engage them more and maintain better balance as well as speed.
In terms of sequencing, I am trying to build up a clear distinction between verbal commands and hand signals. When I started introducing the threadle wrap, alongside the slice, she couldn’t differentiate between the two. In general, she slices better than she wraps anyway, so building her understanding of my position and the new word was essential, and she is now able to go between the two quite effectively. Elsewhere, I am just continuing to build drive into certain obstacles, getting her to work away from me and then give chase, while not deciding to make up her own course along the way. Lexi remains a dream to work with and her new found listening skills are only making our sessions better and better.
Next week, Meggy will be back and working towards her second practice competition on the 2nd of August, so that will be my primary focus. Fingers crossed that all will go to plan.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week.
As promised, this week’s Three Dog Blog is going to be a look back at my agility career and how I feel the sport has developed and changed, with the effect that this has had on me as a handler. With this in mind and considering the footage I have available, today's stand-in third dog will be Bess.
Bess (Darleyfalls Pick Me) was one of the original Darleyfalls litter, with her and her siblings really setting the tone for that particular line. She was first and foremost my dad’s dog, but I was lucky enough to be able to run her through my time in juniors, mostly in the Over 12 category. Bess was always one of those dogs that people stopped to watch, you could clearly see how much she loved her work, her speed and her drive meant that when she was on top form, she could be hard to beat. Running her was always a pleasure, though she worked me hard when she wanted to, and our successes were always great. Bess was the dog that brought me closest to winning the Crufts Agility Dog of the Year Final, though we never quite claimed the title.
I have great admiration for the current group of junior handlers, who take the sport so seriously and really dedicate themselves to handling the dogs to the best of their ability, reflected in the fact that the junior team GB squad is now in place and working on developing their careers. When I was a junior, which granted wasn’t all that long ago, mostly we were running our parents’ dogs for a bit of fun, thinking that we were all super cool and more invested in winning than the actual process of training hard and earning each prize. I look back at some of the clips of me running Bess and for one, my handling is appalling, and my lack of regard for Dad’s advice is evident in his back seat handling, from behind the camera.
In terms of handling, a large part of this stems from the fact that agility wasn’t nearly as refined as it is now. When I was heading towards eighteen, the end of my junior career, we were only just starting to properly use ketchkers in courses, when now this is something we teach at a foundation level. The courses themselves look completely different, just the overall spacing and the level of difficulty, makes even a couple of years ago look incredibly dated by the 2020 standard. Still, I was very much a happy go lucky kind of handler, in it to win it but not much else.
I look back at my time running Bess and in retrospect, this was the beginning of my taking agility more seriously, starting off with begging Mum for a collie of my own when I was fifteen. Before this, while I had had some success with Breeze, Gabby, and Trouble (when he was in the mood) most of the training had been done for me, and I struggled with the concept of losing. With Bess, I started to work harder away from competition, wanting to prove to myself and others that she didn’t only win because my Dad had put all the effort in, but because I could handle her well, and outperform the competition, so that when we won junior titles at OJAC, I knew that it was at least partially down to my own merit.
Moving into the Lexia stage of agility, I still cannot claim full credit. I was doing my GCSEs and A-Levels when she was young, so a fair amount of her foundations were instilled by Mum, but I still was doing more than I’d done before, creating a really strong working bond. Even then, it took us a long time to make any real progress. Her aversion to contacts meant that I avoided agility classes like the plague, focusing more on her jumping, where she started to improve, getting her first win at Dogs In Need. Still my handling looks atrocious, nothing like how I run today. Knowing that I couldn’t avoid agility rounds forever, I was pushed to try harder to get her up the grades. Knowing that I had a dog, very much like Bess, with natural talent and a genuine love for the work made training all the easier so that, while it took maybe a year or more to get out of Grade 3, at her first Grade 4 show she won every class and went straight into Grade 5.
By the time I was heading to university, I had begun to teach more and I think this was the driving point behind what reignited my passion for the sport and my personal motivation to work harder. Lexi was winning more, the technique was getting better and agility was moving forwards towards the current climate we see today. I knew I could truly go far with the dog when she won her Grade 5 agility at the Kennel Club International Festival. In a show of that prestige, where classes can have up to 200 dogs, to beat them all, there was no reason that we should be held back any more. After another season, having got to Grade 7, it became a matter of ensuring that that wasn’t the end of her career, and really push to see if she could compete against the top brass. While she obviously doesn’t win all of the time, there are achievements that I’m more proud of, such as her placing 7th in one of the International Tour Heats and her performance at Crufts.
When we finally get to Meg in 2020, the field of agility is completely changed and she has the benefit not only of this refinement, but years of prior experience and understanding how to get the best out of Border Collies. She has not yet broached the world of real KC competition due to current circumstances, but a few practice attempts at course running reveal that she will be better prepared then any of the previous dogs I have run. Getting to train her in new styles and applying the same trends to my training with Lexi is proving how far we have come, with such improvement visible in both of the girls. With Meg, I am continuing to push for speed and accuracy, the poles now back at Intermediate, so she can get used to picking her feet up and keeping them up. I really look forward to the day when I can debut her in the ring, there’s no telling if a dog will be an instant success, because obviously the environment is so different, but I have high hopes that she has a very bright future ahead of her.
Do go and watch the video for this one, I think my students will be particularly shocked to see what my handling was like five years ago and really appreciate how far we have all come.
Next week, we will be back to our regularly scheduled programming, looking again at the training within agility and at home.
Thanks for reading and see you soon!
First things first, this week's Three Dog Blog will be featuring Trouble as our stand in third dog to give you some insight into how the end of an agility career does not mean that brain training and learning new skills has to stop. Secondly, some exciting news this week, with Lexi receiving an invitation to the Team GB pre-selection qualifier in February 2021. For those of you who are unsure about what this actually means, our place in the British Open Final at Crufts earlier this year, has gained me an automatic spot to compete in this qualifier, where the agility Team GB management observe the partnerships in action and may select new dogs for the development squad. This is a huge achievement and everything I have ever wanted for Lexia, but I am waiting to see how I feel about actually competing in an event where she will have to jump at Large rather than Intermediate. In either case, I have filled out the form so the option is available, and even if we go no further than this event, it would be an incredible experience nonetheless to run her on what I’m sure will be fast, flowing and challenging international level courses.
At present, Lexi’s training is still being centered on short sequencing and body conditioning, with particular attention to rear end awareness. This is hugely important for any active or competitive dog and I often try and encourage my students to follow it up outside of lessons as a way of ensuring an understanding of control and balance on obstacles like the dogwalk and seesaw, where it is really important that the dogs are fully engaging their whole body. What this has entailed in my training at home is revisiting Lexia’s existing skills, such as the trick of walking backwards, but trying to increase the distance, having her rotate with planted front feet, forcing her to use the back legs to drive the turn, as well as slower exercises through the ladder that encourage her to split her legs. The leg splitting is particularly important as I continue to push her for a faster dogwalk, so that when she’s running it properly, she shouldn’t be putting her back feet together and pushing off the contact in a small jump, but travelling all the way through to the ground. Those of you looking into running contacts with young dogs or older dogs, should definitely investigate and put some time towards gaining a better understanding of how dogs need to use all their legs and the benefits of feet splitting. Additionally, I have followed through with some more surface enrichment, which essentially comes down to her performing a standing stack using items that are less familiar, and thus may be slightly deterring. As a dog who has always been funny about her feet, her progress in this area is what I am most proud of. In terms of agility, this week I have focused on distance handling, which has been a strength for Lexi for many years, though she hasn’t always been so attuned to listening to the commands. Using a couple of challenges that I found from Russia and Sweden, I ensured that she was still driving away from me, whilst maintaining enough verbal contact to successfully guide her through the more difficult aspects of each course. This was huge amounts of fun and I would challenge any of my existing students of grade 5 or above to give them a go.
Meg had a crack at the layering challenge, and both Lesley and I were hugely impressed by how she picked it up. In general, I tend to run closer to Meg, working myself quite hard but still utilising sending and collecting methods so that she does drive away from me, but I had never before tested how much verbal independence she could cope with. While it took a couple of tries to piece the exercise together and a small amount of added assistance in one area, after about five minutes she was able to fully commit herself to the course without my being right on top of her at every obstacle. This is a massive victory for a dog that can be relatively argumentative when lacking assistance from the handler. To see how her comprehension has grown so much in the short time that we have been back working together is wonderful, and it means I can continue to push her forwards into more complicated training. Her weaves this week have also gone up another level. While she still has a small amount of overzealous bouncing towards the last couple of poles, we were able to take her up to twelve and send her through to the end, with minimal assistance from the handler. Her speed continues to increase, which I hope will encourage her to keep her head down and look for the next pole, but I am still searching for options that I can utilise to encourage that behaviour by itself. Still, we may make a real agility dog of her yet.
For those of you who don’t know him, Trouble is my Shetland Sheepdog, who I have had since I was nine. He retired from agility relatively early on due to an issue with his back that I think he picked up on his grand misadventure into the world. Still, at twelve years old, he is very much enjoying his life of relative luxury as a dog of the house. Trick training Trouble can be relatively difficult as he is VERY food oriented and will not hesitate to try and mug you for any treats, making his displeasure known at the withholding of such goods in a particularly unwelcome shrill vocalisation (read: classic sheltie behaviour.) But, after last year when he had a minor stroke that has left him ever so slightly lopsided and unbalanced, despite the pain it causes my eardrums, I like to take some time every now and then to test his coordination and try and regain some of his old balance. This week, I used a small box that he had to get all four feet into, and propped the yoga ball against stationary surfaces for him to balance on. The latter was far more difficult for him, due to the issues with his head tilt, but it is more beneficial for him to work through the wobble, try and get his head straight and engage his core. Despite him being an old dog, these are all skills that I recommend teaching to young dogs, puppies, or those currently competing. You may have seen that Trouble featured in a couple of our lockdown training videos and does remember some of his agility skills which was lovely for me, and I’m sure, entertaining for you, so he is still very much happy, healthy and physically fit despite his multitudes of mishaps and I think I can easily say that this has been due to a life as a working dog.
In next week’s post I will get into more of a discussion about what agility actually means to me, and how I’ve come to adapt with the sport and grow to really love it in the past few years, alongside how this is reflected in the kind of training that I do for myself and for my students.
See you soon!
Hello again; it’s only been what, five maybe six months since I was meant to start this properly, but we’ll call it an acceptable delay given the circumstances. The three dog blog is making a comeback, or I guess a restart from scratch, and will now track the collie’s progress throughout this period of lockdown training. Before we begin, a couple of points to share; firstly, if you follow us on instagram you should find a complementary vlog that will show the physical demonstrations of what I’ve been working on, secondly, sadly the three dog blog is currently down a dog. Kona has an injury on one of her rear legs and is away from agility at present, but we are hopeful that she will recover soon enough and be back in training before the end of the year. In the meantime, I may steal Tengu to occasionally fill in as the third dog.
So, where did we leave off? Obviously, Crufts has long since passed and was a huge success, with Tengu and Lexi both doing us proud. We then managed to sneak in one local competition at the new heights with a jumping win for me before everything went to hell.
While clearly things have been extremely hard for everyone, now that things have started to ease and we are back to 121s and groups, I cannot help but be grateful for this extra time. Like everyone else I had big plans for what I wanted to gain from this season; Champ, Olympia, and Crufts, but the lockdown has presented the opportunity to really go back to basics and develop all of my existing skills, as well as training new techniques to make the dogs into the best versions of their sporting selves, ready for whenever the season starts up again.
Let’s talk about Lexia. Post Crufts, I gave Lex a couple of weeks to rest, just to recover from the intensity of running on the carpet and jumping at 60cm, but then the rest extended far beyond what I ever intended. She had a lovely first six weeks of quarantine, acting as a demonstration dog, filming the short instructional clips for the Facebook group, going on lovely five-mile walks, before returning to her training in May. Currently, I have her jumping medium and will remain at this height for another couple of months. Part of the reasoning behind this is her own health and well being, I didn’t want her jumping full height after so much time away from agility, secondly, it allows me to retrain her foundations more effectively. As a dog, she doesn’t wrap very naturally, so currently I am working on ways to build up her flexibility and understanding of core strength, as well as the actual motion of collecting herself before a jump and landing whilst wrapping. To cover this, we’ve done our three core jumping manoeuvres (rounds, wing wraps, and ketchkers) as well as one jump rear cross wraps, threddle wraps, scooped weave entries at various angles and anything else that requires that same full-body action. Away from agility, I have been working on her overall awareness and conditioning. Lex has always been a bit funny about her feet and various surfaces underneath them, so work has been focused on building up her confidence and rear end awareness. This means a lot of stepping back onto either the FitBone, or the pawpods, building up to having all four feet on a surface in a controlled fashion, ideally in a standing stack. She is improving every day and it’s amazing to see her gaining strength and confidence after years of being somewhat unsure of herself.
Meg is the project that I am enjoying most at the moment. This time has allowed me to approach her training in a new way, namely that I can train her to respond to the kind of handling that I’m used to doing with Lexi and Kona. The plan that I have established with Lesley in her 121s, is that we are essentially working her at a Grade 5 or above level, practicing the harder techniques in her private sessions and maintaining her existing skills in the groups. Meg has been hugely responsive to this method and is starting to show a real understanding of all the various techniques, no matter what the difficulty. On occasion, she still reverts to her mad merley ways and makes a couple of management decisions, but 90% of the time, she is fully engaged and almost foot perfect. Her biggest achievement thus far, is her progression in the weaves. She was really struggling with keeping her head down and looking for the next pole, trying to bounce between them with an excess of enthusiasm. Normally in that particular circumstance, I would try and slow the dog down and take them back to basics, going through the weaves with precision but no speed. Meg, of course, said no to this, and decided to be an opposite dog. By accelerating her into the weaves, her technique is actually far better and she can now sequence six poles at a success rate of probably ⅘ times, and I am hoping to extend this to a full set in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, by the time she can make her KC debut, she will be a fierce competitor.
Remember to head over to our Instagram and Facebook to check out the accompanying vlog. My plan is to update this every Friday, so please come back and check-in. In the meantime, feel free to message me with any questions you may have that I can answer about either agility or training at home. If all goes to plan, we should hopefully have some exciting updates coming to you in the future.
Thank you so much for reading.
As the new year has begun and the season of agility is upon us, I’ve finally decided to sit down and actually add to the blog section of this website. My aim is to track the training of myself and of the dogs in the build up to Crufts, and then beyond into the competition period, hopefully dropping some nuggets of agility wisdom along the way so you actually have a reason to come back - free training advice is free training advice after all, so take it where you can.
This week, I’ve decided to do somewhat of a warm-up piece, before the real countdown to Crufts is on, and I’ll start by introducing the dogs.
Currently in rotation I have Lexia, Meg and Kona. As most of you will know, Lexi is my own border collie, who was my sixteenth birthday/christmas present, competing at grade 7 (now intermediate) and heading towards the Large Teams and British Open on the first day of Crufts 2020. Meg and Kona are my collies on loan from Leslie Woods; Meg being the baby of the group, not quite at competition age, and Kona working at grade 7 medium.
Meg is on rest this week after her spay, but Lexi and Kona have Kelluki this weekend, so I’m sure they’ll be thrown straight back in at the deep-end after their winter break.
Let’s set the scene a little bit. Currently, I’m in my final year at the University of Southampton, completing my history degree, with the dreaded dissertation now looming, ominously in the near distance. While these coming months may be harder than the average, I am not unfamiliar with balancing education and agility, the past six years having been all go from GCSEs, through to A-Levels, and then finally university. This has given me a very niche window of opportunity in which to train, amounting to about one hour per dog on a Tuesday afternoon, when I commute to Pachesham in order to teach. I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever about this schedule, but with Crufts coming, this amounts to about 8 weeks of one hour slots in which to get Lexia up to standard - but that’s a problem for next week. Like I said, this is an introduction.
There are many kinds of dog in agility and, at some point or another, if you’re like me and my family who always have at least one competition level dog between us, you may get an opportunity to experience all the joyous and not so joyous traits they have to offer. I have had the pleasure of experiencing incredibly talented dogs, who won me multiple junior titles when I was younger, as well as dogs that have left me abandoned in the middle of the ring to go and do whatever it is they think is more interesting, and some dogs that fall into the middle; well behaved when they wish, but just devious enough to keep you on your toes.
The three girls who I work with at the moment are no different.
Meg: While I have now taught many people in the new, refined ways of agility, Meg is the first dog that I’ve been able to try them out on myself. I’d say the progression in language and technique that you can now see in agility has only been applied on a larger scale very recently, the past three years or so, meaning they just about missed Lexi’s foundation. Meg is a merle and as anyone with one will know, merle = attitude. While she is very willing to learn, she is also not afraid to make her own opinion on my handling known, and if there is a more desirable piece of equipment that she could be doing (namely contacts) then she will be off doing them. For those of you who follow us on Instagram, you may have seen a clip of Meg having a merry old time with her toy at the top of the A-Frame (not an uncommon occurrence.) She is well aware of where the biggest rewards come from and will do her damndest to get there, even if it’s not the set course…especially when it’s not the set course. Despite her wonderfully decisive nature, Meg is a pleasure to train and is showing a great deal of potential and I feel incredibly blessed to get to work with her.
Lexia: Lexi is the dog that I always dreamed of owning. When I was a child, I didn’t have imaginary friends, I had a pack of dozens of imaginary dogs who were all agility champions in my mind. Gabby and Trouble treated me fairly well from age four to fifteen, but Lexi is a whole other level of amazing. That is not to say she is not without her difficulties. Those who know her and know her well, will soon come to see that she is incredibly stubborn and set in her ways, reluctant to change and can tell when you’re trying to teach her something that she doesn’t want to know. I have been training and re-training her contacts for literal years now, in hopes that they will someday be as good as the rest of her abilities, but she is a wiley one, determined to make life hard for me at every turn. Fortunately, I too am very stubborn (as I’m sure my parents will tell you) and the dog has met her match. All joking aside, she is a dream to work with, even if I occasionally want to tear my hair out, but such is life in the world of agility - she has taken me further than any other dog and the opportunity to compete in the main ring in an event like the British Open, is one I could never have dreamed of.
Kona: While Meg helps me improve my foundation level skills and Lexi rases me up to new highs of success, Kona is there to keep me honest. Normally worked by Hollie who is now away at university, the reigns of the mad merle have been handed over to me for maintenance. Some of you may have experience with dogs that make, what we call, 'executive management decisions,' which can often lead to some spectacular eliminations, and Kona is very much possessed of the belief that she is the boss in the partnership, knowing better than both the handler and the judge what the real course is. If there is a jump that she could be jumping, you as the handler must be very persuasive to keep her on course and even more so when there is a tunnel involved. She works you hard but when she gets it right, she really gets it right. Kona is a truly incredible dog and has brought great success to Hollie, and my few competitions with her have been incredible and rewarding experiences. I hope to make her more receptive to new ideas and the correct ways round a course, or else just wrangle her as best I can.
This week is just about getting the older girls ready to compete on Saturday and Sunday, refreshing a few of the basics alongside some of the more difficult skills I’d expect of a grade 6/7 course. Mostly it’ll be about having fun; this will be Lexi’s first intermediate competition, and her last week training at 50 before I have to get her back up to 60 for Crufts, and it’ll be my second time running Kona in competition, so who knows what will happen there. Next week it’ll be back to more intensive training, where I’ll keep you up to date on the new skills I’m attempting with each dog, getting ready to take on the rest of the year.
When you're dog goes missing, even for a short time, it is terrifying. The what ifs run through your head as you try to stay calm and think of the best course of action. It happens to most of us at sometime and is usually quickly resolved. A friend of mine recently lost her dog for 5 hours and she told me afterwards that all the time the dog was lost she thought of Trouble and it gave her hope. So here is Trouble's story just in case you need it one day.
Wednesday 30th January 2013 1.30pm
Ian phones from Fleet Pond to say he has lost Trouble. Trouble is a tiny Sheltie, he belongs to Sophie who was 14 at the time. Trouble is very smart, I have lost him on a walk before and he has always found his way back to the car so I'm not overly worried but 2 hours later there is still no sign so I drive to Fleet to help search. Ian then thinks that maybe he didn't lose Trouble at lunchtime, maybe he lost him on his morning walk at Farnham Park. Trouble likes to jump in and out of the car until the door is finally shut. Ian walked the 7 dogs when it was still quite dark, maybe Trouble wasn't in the car when he drove away. Ian goes to Farnham to search there and I stay at Fleet, I phone the dog wardens to report him missing and stay til dark, then I go home and break the news to Sophie. I phone Trouble's breeder Heidi and we arrange to meet at first light. We register with Dog Lost and run off posters until the printer dies. Ian puts an appeal on facebook.
Thursday 31st January
Sophie, Heidi and I start at Fleet Pond and Ian goes to Farnham. We put up posters and talk to dog walkers. Everyone promises to keep a look out. At 9am we get our first sighting, the council has had a call to say a Sheltie was seen running down the road near Aldershot (about 5 miles away). We leave Fleet and head to Aldershot. On the way we get a call to say he's been seen at Tescos so we head there.
Tescos is terrifying, it's on a massive roundabout surrounded by busy roads. We spread out and search but the area is so vast it's hard to know where to start. I go into Tescos and buy a local map and it becomes immediately clear that Trouble was lost in Farnham not Fleet as using the map we can track his progress from the sightings. This was later verified by a call telling us that someone had seen him chasing Ian's car up the road from Farnham park. By this time offers of help are coming in and a Facebook page has been set up.
Aldershot is surrounded by vast areas of army land but they are connected by long dual carriageways. All we can do is spread the word and hope for a sighting so we walk, talk to dog owners and put up hundreds of posters. There is another sighting, we go to the location and put up more posters and search until dark but no luck.
Friday 1st February
Today we start the search at Goose Green Park in Aldershot where there has been another sighting. I park my van full of dogs in the middle, encourage them to bark and put food underneath the van. Then we spread out and search. People come to help, so many people. There is a long line of dog vehicles down the road. We walk everywhere, talk to people, put up more posters. The residents are fantastic, taking posters, offering tea. An appeal goes out on Garrison Radio and Trouble is mention on the Military Wives page. Despite all this we have not a single sighting and again as darkness falls we go home without him.
Saturday 2nd February
Today we are running a show at Pachesham. We debate cancelling but decide it's just too complicated and it only takes half a day so Ian and Sophie search and I stay behind and run the show. Ian has put an appeal for help on Facebook and the response is overwhelming. The sheer volume of people helps cover a much wider area, putting up posters and spreading the word. Just before the show starts I get a call to say Trouble was spotted at 1.30 on Friday at Burger King. This is a relief because now we know he's still alive but I bought tea at Burger King on Friday at 12.30. So close. With only 5 dogs left to run in the show I receive another phone call – Trouble has been seen about an hour ago running down the Basingstoke Canal. I phone Ian, finish the show, and then with half the competitors in convoy behind me set off for the canal. En route I get another call about a sighting on the canal. We have so much help at this point that we are able to cover the canal from all directions so we are sure he will soon be found but darkness falls and no sign. The Basingstoke Canal runs quite close to our old house and with the theory that maybe he was heading home we go there hoping to find him on the doorstep, but no sign so we leave posters and go home.
Sunday 3rd February
Ian rallies the troops again and they meet at the Basingstoke Canal Centre. Again the response is overwhelming. People come from over 2 hours away to help look and spread the word and we think that over 700 posters went up on Sunday alone. At about 1pm I get a call to say some canoeists have seen a dead animal in the river. I had been existing in a state of numbness, driven to continue the search by all the people who were still looking and still believed we would find him, the thought that he had stopped for a drink and exhausted fallen into the river and drowned was devastating. I passed the news on to Ian was only minutes away from the scene and waited – it was a fox.
Monday 4th February
Ian has to go back to work. Up until now he has masterminded the whole operation and taking over is a daunting prospect. I have messages from people saying that they are still out searching but without any sightings since Saturday it is hard to know where to look. I start again by calling the vets and the dog wardens. At 10.30 I get a call, a lady says she has seen Trouble at the skateboard park in Ash. I ask when and she says “Just now”. I phone Ian, text the other people in the area and set off for Ash which is about 10 minutes away. We arrive simultaneously, like a scene from a film all these vehicles converge on the carpark throw open their doors and people jump out and rush in different directions calling. I search but find nothing so I return to the car park and a lady says “He's got him” and there is Ian walking towards me holding Trouble. Ian was searching and noticed a tiny movement in the bushes he called “Troub” and a very excited Sheltie rushed out and jumped into his arms and started licking his face.
I took him home (Trouble not Ian) and he rolled around on the carpet for a bit and then fell asleep. When the kids got home from school he could still barely keep his eyes open. You would think you would be so careful after going through all that but you turn your back for a second and they're gone. He got lost again a couple of years ago. Luckily we had walked from home. As I searched I kept telling myself if he could survive 6 days in Aldershot in winter he would be ok, I went home to see if he'd returned and he had, bringing with him a large dead pigeon that was roughly the same size as him. He was so proud and not impressed when his treasure went straight in the bin.
The most important part of this story is all the people who made this miracle possible. It was a massive team effort by not just the agility community but by dog people in general. They put up posters, set up a facebook page, phoned the radio, the dog wardens, the rescue centres, the microchip company, the vets, printed posters, delivered posters to my house, walked and walked, quite often without dogs for fear of scaring him, stopped people in the street, climbed through brambles, helped run our show and covered my classes at work so that we were free to search. Trouble was found because of these people and the posters they put up. The agility community is an amazing machine. We will always be grateful.