I had made a conscious decision that Denby’s HTM career would start slowly. At competitions, plenty of training rounds, building up the time he could work ensuring we always had sufficient music to stay in the ring for a huge play reward. It worked well and I was lucky that I never pushed him too far too soon. At 18 months we then competed and he won straight out of Novice and into Intermediate – this followed with a couple more training rounds and then whoosh he was out of Intermediate and into the Advanced Class in both HTM and Freestyle. Not the slow start I had planned.
I decided that he really needed more and more competition experience so we entered a Crufts Semi Final Qualifier in Anglesey in July 2013 and he qualified gaining a very respectful 2nd place in his first Advanced HTM Class. I was so proud of him. In 10 months he had moved from Novice to gaining a qualifier for the Crufts Semis – and this was the dog I had decided to work slowly with.
Leading up to the semi finals which were held in January, we were also learning obedience – something I hadn’t been involved with since 1996, so Denby was learning lots although I had decided to keep out of the Freestyle Classes until he had matured. He was very excited in basic heelwork and I worried Freestyle could send him OTT.
When January arrived, my intention was to have a happy dog, entering the semi-final to gain confidence in each other and as we were in a class of 18 top dogs in the UK I didn’t expect anything more. Well the judges awarded him 7th place, one place higher than Amber – something I never expected to happen. So there we were – in the top ten in the country and with 2 dogs to work in that class at Crufts.
Sadly a thunderstorm and hailstorm scared Spice my crossbreed, and stopped us from competing at the semi finals to try and win one of the coveted Crufts Freestyle places.
Back into training – now for Crufts. We needed a plan, what to do with my youngster for the following six weeks. Let’s start by listing the priorities – keep him happy, relaxed, motivated, focussed and accurate. Plenty to work on. There are no competitions in the UK that we could enter between the semis and Crufts but we did manage to go to a couple of Training Shows where we “trained” in a competition environment and these stood us in good stead.
We worked on the accuracy through the obedience training, focus also came better through everyday life, motivation from lots of play when deserved. And happy and relaxed state of mind developed as we really got to know each other.
Meanwhile Amber was also being trained with a routine which was now 2 years old – sadly I had to withdraw her from Crufts 2013 the day before the HTM Final due to a tummy upset, so I wanted to put the routine into Crufts 2014. Amber’s training then revolved around lots of play to try and lift her spirits and so she didn’t become bored of the “old” routine. We both knew it well enough not to have to practice much, so this helped.
The running order arrived shortly after the semi final – all the competitors were in reverse order of their placings at the semi final – except my two dogs. Denby was drawn first and Amber sixth – that meant just 4 dogs between them in which time I needed to reward Denby – collect costume and leave the secured collecting ring – get changed, return and get Amber warmed up and myself focussed. Very close timing and after a mail to the organiser, I was swapped into 7th place which gave me 5 minutes longer if all dogs competed and fully completed their routines.
First in the running order was a very hard draw for both me and Denby. I had an inexperienced dog to get ready for 11:15 but also then to allow time for the introduction of the competition and the judges so the actual start would be unknown. I watched the Freestyle the day before – again the start time was scheduled for 11:15 however, activities were running late in the ring and the competition started at 11:40. So I also had to be prepared to wait quite some time before Denby and I were called into the Arena.
Friday morning and we arrived at 7:00 am in order to look around this huge ring. I took Amber in first – steady walk around the perimeter for her to feel the Astro Turf and be aware of the surroundings. This was followed by a quick run around the ring which moved her focus from the surrounding back onto me and then we played. OK, Amber was ready, an experienced dog that had been there many times before – her Crufts debut was at the age of 23 months and she is now 8 years old.
Now it was time for Denby – I took the same approach – a couple of walks around the edge of the ring so he could look at his surroundings. And then he offered to play with me, so I accepted his invitation and we had a good play session together. I did stop the play at times to get some serious attention from him and we did a little heelwork and practiced some statics to keep the focus. Already he was trying very hard to please!
What I did notice was that both dogs became quite hot very quickly so I had to bear this in mind when warming them up before entering the ring at competition time.
I then left me dogs with Lesley Neville who had offered to help me for the day and I went to map out the routines in the Arena. Ambers was no problem as we have been in large arenas before with this routine but Denby’s needed a little re-planning as I realised I travelled much further with each step on this superb surface.
But time was over for our pre-competition warm up. We took the dogs back to the benches and let them rest until competition time.
We had been asked to be in the collecting ring at 11:00am and on my way there I was greeted by one ring steward warning me that the activities were running early. So much for preparing for a 20 minute delay. In the collecting ring – Amber was caged whilst I started to get focussed with young Denby. Then we were called – all ready for the off but then we had to stop as they were now playing a video to introduce the sport. At last we were called again – and this time we made our way into the Arena to cheers and applause – Denby coped well with this grand entrance. We made our way to the start which was a white cross painted on the Astroturf for use by the equipment stewards for Agility/Flyball etc. This was our start position – into start pose, raise right hand to signal the music to start – and then we waited until the commentary stopped and the music started! That extra waiting time threw Denby a little as he seemed to be too settled in the start position so he missed my first “command”. But he is a real trier and he soon settled into his “Denby style of working” and although he missed a few links he coped really well. I helped him as much as I felt necessary with hand signals or verbal praise. He never seemed to notice any of the distractions I had worried about – although he did spot a few of the painted crosses on the Astroturf.
We left the arena to more applause and now I had to get moving. Reward for Denby – lots of tuggy, tuggy away – bottle of water for me – leave dogs with Lesley – find changing room – get costumes swapped – return to Collecting Ring and I was back before Karen Sykes (who was running second) had finished her routine. Well I had practiced but never thought I would have time to spare!
Amber did really well, nicely accurate and nearly all on verbal commands but she became a little vocal on slipping on the Astroturf. But she was happy and attentive so my targets were met. Amber was placed 8th and Denby 9th and I was very pleased with both dogs and our routines.