“Starting Over in Novice”


Good morning!

My best dog ever Trio just brought me a pine cone.  Of course, any of my dogs are “the best dog ever” if they bring me something and look so proud and happy about it!

Pine cones are to be treasured and this particular one smells beautifully of pine trees, but the topic of this particular blog is not pine cones.

Today the subject that springs to mind is training a dog to do agility and hopefully getting the opportunity to run in Starters/Novice.

I have heard some people refer to this momentous occasion as “going through novice”, but I think this makes it sound as if it is not a fun experience at all and simply something to “get through” before the real fun begins.  Looking back at the times I have been fortunate enough to step to the line and take on the first ever courses with my dogs I will never describe it as “going through Novice/Starters”.

Let’s see how many times have I done this?

Twelve USDAA Starters Dogs:

Saxon, GSD

Rufus, English Shepherd

Purdy, English Shepherd



Bracken, English Shepherd

Nel, Border Collie

TC, Border Collie

Bobbin, Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Stroller, Border Collie

Daz, Border Collie

Twiggy, Border Collie

Just Emma, English Shepherd

Watson, English Shepherd


Six AKC Novice Dogs:











That’s 18 trips to that precious Starters/Novice start line.

Hey, Wait! Make that 7!

Trio, the dog who just happens to be sitting in front of me holding a beautiful pine cone in his mouth looking so proud of himself, just “went through AKC Novice” before I even had a chance to realize we were there.  More about that later!

The point I’m hoping to make here is not how many dogs I have “been through USDAA Starters and/or AKC Novice competition with, but just how important it is to truly believe that the dog sitting in front of you, whether he is holding a pine cone or something unmentionable, is truly the best dog in the world.  Agility happens most of all between the obstacles and outside the ring.  Only a small time is spent in the actual competition so remain in the moment, relish the experience and enjoy it for all it’s worth, as it truly is an honor stepping to the line for that first time in Starters/Novice competition.

Okay.  Now I really have to get off the computer as the best dogs ever are being very quiet and patient.  Must reward that before it is too late!


P.S.  When I got my puppy, Trio, I had an interesting conversation with somebody who commented that “Now you have to start all over again!” as if it was something to be dreaded.  I was and have always been thrilled to meet a new puppy or dog, to develop that playful bond and to apply layer upon layer of mutual trust which hopefully will be the beginning of a fun and enjoyable agility experience.

Between the Obstacles

Welcome to my blog!  Excuse the dog hair.  It comes with the territory.

If you follow me on facebook you know I love my dogs and cannot resist taking their photographs, but what do they think and what would they say if they could finally get on the keyboard?

Well, as the saying goes, every dog has his day, but today I’m going to start the ball rolling.


The other morning a new student and her puppy came for a private lesson.  The two clearly have a great relationship blossoming.  The handler is intent upon doing the right thing for her puppy and the puppy is happy to play all the games with her.  With their combined positive attitudes I am confident they will enjoy the obstacles and more importantly, they will enjoy the bits between the obstacles just as much. 

I have each student answer various questions.  Does your dog like toys?  Does your dog like food?  Does your dog like other dogs?  Does your dog like other people?  The answer was a resounding “Yes” to all.

Next came the big question.  What do you like most about your dog?

Most handlers answer “Everything” or “Happy attitude” or “eager to please” or “he’s a fun-loving guy” or “she’s my best friend”.  These answers always make me smile and whether their intention is to go on to compete or not I know they are off to a good start in their agility careers. 

This particular puppy reminded me of a dog I had trained a long time ago.  After they left I wondered how many dogs I have introduced to agility or helped along the way since I started “teaching the occasional lesson” in the 1990s.  Going through the introduction 

sheets I found that number to be around 430 people and 450 dogs.  As I glanced through the sheets I remembered every dog and handler.  Many are my friends today.  Some have returned with several generations of their dogs.  I remembered how excited I was to get to know them and their dogs and to introduce them to this fun sport called dog agility.  

So there it is.  The reason I teach private agility lessons.  I enjoy helping dogs and handlers enjoy the sport, but above all, I enjoy teaching them to love the bits between the obstacles.

Have a great day.  Tell your dogs they are good.  Give out rewards as if somebody else paid for them. 

Talk to you later!

For more on the mental game of Dog Agility, check out “Because Agility is a Mental Game”.

Because Agility is a Mental Game

I am getting my blog up and running very soon! In the meantime, here is something I wrote several years ago (Ok, 26 years ago!) to whet your appetite and get you feeling positive.
Emma jumpHQ

Because Agility Is a Mental Game

Here are some Positive Thoughts for Handlers on the Day of the Competition

By Kathy Lofthouse

February 1991

I enjoy agility competitions because they are a chance to see my friends and a chance to show how good my dog and I have become. I have trained and prepared to do my best and now is the opportunity to put all that training on display. We are going to do well.

When I walk an agility course I look at it as a challenge, which will bring out the best in my dog and I.

Before my dog and I enter the ring I concentrate on the course and how we are going to do the best clean run we have ever done. I focus on the job and so does my dog.

I know we can do a good clean run and I will make every effort to be sure that we do.

My dog and I have our own special way of running an agility course. We are special and we can get good clean runs because I concentrate on every detail. I believe in myself, and my dog. We produce great performances. We are going to do well.

I learn the course and decide how I will handle my dog through each part in order to get a good clean run. I do not hear those who may be obsessing about potential problems on the course. I simply decide where my dog and I ARE going to be going.

When we run the course I concentrate on every little detail, working in rapport with my dog from start to finish.

My dog and I move briskly and smoothly through the course doing the best job we possibly can, working together as a team and paying attention to the contacts along the way.

I enjoy agility and when I run a course I do everything I can to help my dog. I keep in touch with my dog and give him commands clearly and well in advance so he knows where to go next. We work together as a team. That is what makes us so special.

Today we will show everybody how it’s done. Our rounds will be a fluid demonstration of dog and handler working together.

I know we are good and today is the perfect day to prove it.

I believe in myself and I believe in my dog and that belief is so strong that we can do anything today and enjoy ourselves in the process!