Wow Wow WOW! What a Crufts that was! Four fabulous days filled with all things dog: Crufts is always a highlight of the year and this year was the best yet!
Now that the titles have been won, rosettes pinned, brushes put away, agility courses dismantled, purses emptied, shopping bags filled, and the dust begins to settle on four fantastic days, those who were there (and those who watched the live stream and TV coverage wishing they were there) get a moment to reflect on the event, enjoy the memories, and for some it really is a case of thinking, did that actually just happen?
absoluteDogs had an absolutely amazing time at Crufts 2020, with our very own Lauren Langman rocking the agility ring with everyone’s favourite pocket-rocket Blink, taking the Small Crufts Singles title on Friday and the Small Crufts Championship title on Sunday. And with little Miss Venture also making a successful debut in the Crufts agility ring, it was indeed an event to remember!
So what goes on behind the scenes to make a Crufts Agility Championship winning team? We caught up with Lauren to bring you her top five secret sauce tips for agility success.
1. Games rule!
Games are the absolute key to Lauren and Blink’s success. You would think the life of a Crufts Agility Champion team would consist of drills, schooling and heavy, high intensity training regimes, but that is not the case for this Crufts conquering team. Games, games and more games form the foundation for Lauren and Blink’s success in the big arena.
From training at home with games such as Figure of Eight, orientation games, Funder, and fast, tight spins, right through to games that will see you transition effortlessly to the start line such as Magic Hand and Middle, games provide you with all the tools you need to achieve agility success. Games take the pressure off your dog and just lets them have fun. Get creative and tailor your dog’s games to suit them and what they need to work on (boundary games for start line stillness, anyone?), rather than endless practice or running countless drills, and you and your dog will soon feel the absolute joy in working together that leads to team success. Always, always, always look to find the fun.
Lauren says: “Games are everything. Right up until the minute I’m on the start line, I’m using them. Games put us in a position where we are absolutely prepared for that moment, our dogs positively lap it up. They don’t have anxiety or worry in the place. That could be anywhere: going into town, the big main Crufts arena, World Championships, Olympia – it works anywhere. Games based training is absolutely the way forward.”
2. Find a way
Being a solution seeking optimist always helps. Lauren didn’t even have a dog when she got started in agility. Lauren first got into agility at the age of six. She didn’t actually have a dog at that point but she didn’t let that stop her. Ever the flexible, resourceful solution seeker, she taught her hamster with mini-obstacles instead!
No dog? No problem! Start from where you are at. Borrow a dog, help out at an agility club, spectate at competitions, just get involved and take it from there. Never let anything stand in the way of your dream!
3. Work on building concepts
Concept training rocks! If you understand the concepts that your dog needs to work on to perform well in the ring and work on those through playing games in your training, you set you and your dog up for success. Can your dog hold a boundary on a start line? Can they cope with the novelty of performing in a huge arena in front of a massive crowd? Are they focussed and confident enough not to be spooked if a camera moves during their round as they run past? You can school your dog on all the obstacles and running a course, but concepts are what will help your dog deal with the novel, unexpected, uncontrollable, and untrainable elements that come up, both in competition and in life.
Lauren says: “For me, it is all about concept training. Concept training: if she understands confidence, if she understands her job, understands duration, understands how to handle tolerance of frustration (like if I am running away from her and she’s got to stay in the weave poles) – all of those things fit into agility. If I play and repeat and rehearse games – and the right games – mix them up and get the games recipe right, everything else just falls into place. It never ceases to surprise me how effective it is – I’m like, “wow, it has paid off again!”
4. Train for the moment, rather than in the moment
Here at absoluteDogs, one of our favourite training sayings is “train for the moment, rather than in the moment”. The idea of training in the moment is something we gravitate towards quite naturally: we spot that a certain situation proves difficult and we attempt to re-create that situation and attempt to handle it differently. But training in the moment does not provide the best and most successful learning experience for your dog. Being told to go out and run through tunnels ten times a day isn’t going to teach your tunnel-fearing dog to be any cooler about running through tunnels! But if you build confidence and tolerance of novelty away from the tunnel, by the time your dog encounters the tunnel, they will go through it happily without a second thought!
People train in the moment all the time. Lauren saw many people do it at Crufts: taking their dogs in and making them go through their moves again and again and again. In the end what you get are dogs that shut down, that don’t want to perform, who are frightened and run out of the ring, who just don’t enjoy the experience. Playing games and working on concepts away from the ring allows you to prepare for the moment and to get the most out of it when it arrives.
Lauren says: “Other than getting measured and competing, we didn’t take Venture into Crufts. I didn’t want her being put into that situation again and again. I don’t think Venture was even aware that she was in an arena until she was out there running. I think she thought she was at home! She ran with pure joy – not one bit of that dog was holding back. Games have allowed Venture to transition into competition really well. They take the pressure off her – she is just having fun. They enable her to take part in agility in a way that is really fun for her. We prepare for the moment and when it comes we are ready.”
5. Relationship is everything
Having a great bond and a solid relationship with your dog is another fundamental part to success in any dog sport. Playing games, building concepts, going for a walk, hiking on the moors, taking your dog swimming, anything that you and your dog enjoy together will help strengthen the bond that forms the basis for success. For Lauren, all of the games we play at absoluteDogs and all of the games through the Training Academy, and her mindset as a Pro-Dog Trainer, have created the deep and rock-solid bond she enjoys with both Blink and Venture, and the joy of those relationships can clearly be seen in the ring.
And when all of the games based training, concept development, and relationship building pays off, Lauren has a final tip for us: “Always take time to celebrate success!” All too often we don’t truly appreciate the achievement of our goals because we don’t take the time to stop and be in that moment. We get swept up in the drive of doing and reaching and attaining without ever taking a second to reflect on what has just happened and what we have achieved. Taking a moment to celebrate, even if it is just with a look between you and your dog or a touch, a fist pump, a hug with your partner, a cheer, is vital to mark and acknowledge your success. So whether you’ve just smashed an agility run, or you are celebrating being sexier than a squirrel on your daily walk, take a moment to party with your dog and celebrate those moments that count.
By rocking your relationship, training through games, having fun, achieving real-life results and celebrating those results, you will change the way people see dog training. You will inspire others to embrace games based dog training and enjoy success with their own dogs. You will be a Gamechanger.
Play games, have fun, succeed!
There you have it, folks, Games and fun are the secret to succeeding on the biggest of stages. Whether you want to reach the highest levels of agility competition, have a dog who stands nicely in the show ring, or whether you just want a dog you can take for a long walk and enjoy a pub lunch with afterwards, games are the key to unlocking any dog-owning dream you have.
Congratulations from all of Team absoluteDogs, Lauren and Blink. You guys rocked it and we couldn’t be more proud. Now go and get your games on and get ready for Crufts 2021! We Gamechangers will be cheering you on every single step of the way. And you Gamechangers? Get playing! We want to see you guys out rocking the power of games too!