Jess Cuthbertson, our new ambassador and exceptional athlete, is taking the Agility world by storm and we’re thrilled to be along for the ride. She’s made the switch to Poppy’s Picnic raw dog food to power her top performing pups and we couldn’t be more ecstatic to support them all. In this final part of our six part blog series, Jess gives her advice on how to keep your agility dogs in tip-top condition and various ways you can prepare for competitions:
Keeping my dogs in excellent condition is of great importance to me as both an owner and handler. First and foremost, my dogs are all pets and they still participate in normal activities like going for walks or having play dates in their favourite park. Beyond these typical days out, I will also try to increase their exercise levels with Agility activities on training days. For me personally, the normal activities any pet parent would do with their dogs would always be more important for me than any doggy training, because that would mean I’m spending quality time with them and they are still getting enough exercise to keep healthy.
On training days, I like to keep things more casual. If I don’t want to train one day because I’m tired or not feeling up to scratch, I won’t. Simple as that! My belief is that if you are not 100% committed on a given day then you won’t get the results you want out of the training session, which ultimately feeds back into the dogs and their performance.
A common question I am asked is how I prepare mentally and physically before a big competition. The mental bit actually comes naturally to me. I don’t feel under pressure often and I rarely get nervous. I just remind myself that I want to be the best I can be for myself and my dogs and I refuse to let nerves get the better of me. If I have any advice to give for mental preparation I would say this - be conscious of your goals and confident in your abilities. Physically, ample preparation really is the key to success in Agility. For this reason, I observe and make notes of a lot of courses designed by various judges before creating a personalised training plan leading up to big events. Realistically of course, there are so many judges out there that there is no one perfect course to train on. However, what you can learn from creating your own courses and continuously altering them is adaptability.
Good nutritional practices for me and my dogs to keep us healthy and able to perform well has always been the center of my training ethos. My dogs always give me 110% every single day, so the least I can do is feed them the healthiest food that they also enjoy. This is the reason why I switched to Poppy’s Picnic raw dog food - I know that their award-winning recipes are packed full of essential, healthy nutrients to boost their energy levels #POWEREDBYPOPPYSPICNIC. What’s even better is that the dogs love it too!
I was first encouraged to set up my own Agility training school because I felt I had a lot of relevant tips and experiences that could help other people with their training. I love seeing other people’s achievements, whether it be a small step or a massive one, so opening the training school has been extremely rewarding so far just to see the improvement in somebody else’s journey. Skye Paws Training school has been running for about 18 months and is still going strong. At Skye Paws, we focus mainly on positive reinforcement, which is something I am very passionate about. Too many training schools teach negative reinforcement tactics, which encourage owners to get angry with their dogs for doing something incorrectly. This is a game for the dogs and they absolutely do not deserve to be punished for playing a game poorly. At Skye Paws, we say training is all about having fun, whether you run or walk!
The best part about opening Skye Paws has been hearing all the successful partnerships other competitors and their dogs are having. It brings me so much joy to see how they grow in confidence over time - coming from a space of zero confidence to then returning from every show with a huge smile on their face being so excited to tell me all about it. I take absolutely no credit for these outcomes. It is purely the handler’ motivation and determination to improve that drives these results. I am only there to provide a platform to improve and occasionally share my opinion, advice and support.
To wrap up this series up, I would like to offer a few pointers that have always proven useful to me. First, if you are considering Agility - go for it! Whether you can run or not, there are always ways of getting around any setback you may have. Second, keep the dog safe. Ensure your dog is fully warmed up and prepared for each course in order to prevent injuries. Third, ask for advice. There are so many experts out there to lean on for counsel and you can never have too much information. Lastly, and most importantly, have fun and enjoy the experience with your dog! This sport was designed to bring you and your dog closer, so let the experience build and strengthen your relationship and have fun with your best friend.