Video and photo gallery: Norfolk agility duo get England call-up

Dog agility trainer Jayne Widdess and her border collie Rave have been selected to compete for the England team in an international competition. Picture: Ian Burt Dog agility trainer Jayne Widdess and her border collie Rave have been selected to compete for the England team in an international competition. Picture: Ian Burt

Friday, January 10, 2014
11:50 AM

Ears pricked, eyes fixed, body rigid, like a coiled spring Rave waits for the next command.

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New business opportunity

Mrs Widdess has teamed up with Norfolk businessman Graham Tweed, who owns the land in Saham Toney where she trains, and dog food brand Kronch UK to start up accredited training centres.

The first will be based at Saham Toney and she is in contact with two other trainers who are sponsored by Kronch to set up in other parts of the country.

Dog owners will be able to bring their dogs to agility training sessions, one-to-one lessons and behaviour 
classes.

“Graham has been so generous and is even looking to start manufacturing agility equipment as a collaboration with Kronch and his steel company,” said Mrs Widdess.

“He really wanted to come on board straight away.

“He is going to completely level the field and get some new fencing up and turn this into something really great.”

* To find out more about agility contact Jayne Widdess on 01362 637168.

As soon as he hears it he is off, flying over jumps, weaving round poles and scaling the A-frame, all at lightning speed, before a “wait” brings him back to a grinding halt. And there he crouches, stock still but underneath rippling with renewed expectation.

As Jayne Widdess puts her five-year-old border collie through his paces it becomes clear this is no ordinary dog. With his stunning red coat he may be already eye-catching enough but Rave is proving to be just a little bit more special than most.

After qualifying for a national trial in October the pair learned just after Christmas that they had been selected for the England agility team and will represent their country at the world championships in Italy in May.

And seeing them training at their Saham Toney base it is easy to see how they have reached the very top of their game.

What is agility?

Dog agility involves the dog negotiating anything up to 20 obstacles, on a course designed by the judge, against the 
clock.

The fastest clear round is the winner.

Faults are incurred for all errors as well as exceeding the course time, and there are several ways of getting eliminated, too.

The two main types of class are agility and jumping, but there are many other types of fun class.

The most popular dog for agility is the border collie but any breed can take part as there are different classes for different sized dogs.

It is generally acknowledged that if your dog is descended from a working breed, and is of medium build, then his chances of doing well are greatly increased.

Among the best breeds 
for dog agility training are collies, terriers, shepherds, retrievers, spaniels, poodles, schnauzers, cattle dogs, pinschers, and corgis.

Totally in tune with each other’s movements, Rave has all the desire and fitness of a top athlete while his owner has the skills and knowledge to harness that desire and channel his endless energy into a sport that she readily admits has taken over her life.

“He is probably one of the fastest dogs in the country,” said Mrs Widdess, who lives in North Tuddenham.

“He is definitely the best I have ever had - he has so much power. It takes a lot of hard work to get to this level of competition and it is not as easy as he makes it look. We train here at least four times a week as well as working with him at home.”

It was though an unruly and badly behaved labrador-cross-collie that brought 48-year-old Mrs Widdess into agility about 12 years ago.

“I started it to give the dog some mental stimulation and I saw how his behaviour improved,” she said. “Then I did some behaviour courses as well and from there we started competing. It was so rewarding and I became a bit obsessed.”

Since then she has always had border collies and now has eight of her own at home.

“I find they are the best because they are bred to work,” she said. “Agility supplements their need to herd with something else. A border collie with nothing to do is a nightmare.”

Mrs Widdess started attending training courses and learning systems which she could use to train her own dogs. She is now so well regarded that other owners bring their dogs to her for agility and behaviour training.

“You have to do a lot of foundation work or ground work, teach acceleration and deceleration, different strides and even build up muscle memory so that when they come to the bottom of an A-frame or a see-saw they can transfer their weight from front to back. You would never get to compete at the top level without intensive training.”

The level of competition in the agility world is high, often hundreds of dogs and handlers competing for top five places. There are always different courses to negotiate so the dog has to be completely in tune to the handler in order to take the obstacles in the right order and via the shortest line.

And competitors have to be prepared to travel the length and breadth of the country to competitions.

“We will be in Somerset next week for our first England training session,” said Mrs Widdess. “Luckily my husband Andy is very supportive. We met at agility so he is very understanding. It is a lifestyle.”

She acknowledged that selection for the England team would bring its own pressure. “I was so shocked when I got the email to say we were in the team,” she said. “I am quite nervous as I have never done anything like this before but you need to experience the pressure to get used to it. But there is also a great sense of camaraderie. We are all in this for the same goal.

“But most of all agility creates an amazing partnership with your dog and we love it.”

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