By: Kiersten Lloyd
In November of 2008 I had the privilege of attending a seminar with Jo Sermon from England. This long legged, jovial, English accented lady was brave enough to travel to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada in the winter. I had heard different things about Jo and her teaching methods so I approached this seminar ready and willing to go.
Jo started off in what seemed to be a very hard line attitude. She explained that in England you have to win your class in order to move up in the levels and that running clean all the time must be the goal. She set up a course that was tough but not impossible and she pulled out her whistle and told us that at the first fault able mistake she would blast her whistle and we should leave the course and we might or might not get to run again. Now, initially, my thought was someone needs to tell her that that is not how it is done here in Canada and that we run for the fun, more than to win.
As for the challenge of going out and running clean or get off; I dealt with it, but some found it daunting. It is after all how one should approach every competition course and it is an attitude we need to foster. I think that is what Jo was trying to teach us. She was saying that when you run your dog, whether in practice or competition you need to approach each run with the determination to run clean and to the best of your ability. If you can’t do this you will not do your best by your dog or for yourself. I know I have had practices and, yes, sometimes trials when I go out to run and my mind is not fully prepared to focus on my dog and the job at hand. It usually happens that at some point I fail my dog and we mess up. As the first day went on we all got the whistle at one time or other. But we all took it with a smile or a grimace. When my 2 year old Labrador badly broke her startline I was happy to hear the whistle.
Jo assessed and gave advice to each team, this advice was always appropriate for that team specifically. She did not attempt to change our handling approach but she attempted to improve and challenge each of us where we were at. She helped us see handling lines and setting an approach to that line. Timing as always was important. We worked 270s, serpentines and positioning to keep our dogs out of waiting tunnels. Jo’s teaching approach was very easy going and relaxed so there was much laughter. Occasionally some frustration arose as the challenge she had set were not easy but who ever learned anything on an easy course.
The second day we worked a jumpers course. This time the whistle was firmly in Jo’s pocket and did not see the light of day. We broke the course up into sections and worked each section then at the end ran the course in its entirety. Again this course was tough. I had decided to run my older, more experienced dog and see what Jo could show me with her. It was well worth it because she showed me that when my dog is slicing a jump on a very firm lead I can trust that she will follow that lead into a tight turn away from me without me having to manage the turn. It was a small technical detail but it was very helpful, especially to someone who is not blessed with long legs. As the day progressed Jo was patient with each of us, trying to find what the best line was for each dog. And those lines where sometimes quite different. One of the different things that Jo showed the handlers of the really driven younger dogs was a deceleration cue using of the off arm. It was helpful to those whose dogs tended to blast through everything.
What I really enjoyed about Jo and her whole seminar was her obvious love for the dogs. She really appreciated the dogs, regardless of how they ran or what breed they were. When one handler’s dog pulled up lame on the second day I offered my old 11 year old Lab, Kes, to this handler so she would have a dog to run for the rest of the morning.
Kes (a two time AAC National champion) is retired due to arthritis but can still do jumpers runs at low heights and she will run for anyone with food. So when Kes ran her first run, greying and bouncing a little stiffly but smiling a huge smile Jo’s comment was Oh, bless her!! Jo appreciates the dogs for who they are.
It was very interesting to discuss the differences between how we play agility in Canada and how they play in England. Their weave poles are thick wood poles (like a broom handle) stuck in the ground and spaced at 22 inches. There is no flex in these poles. They have a 9 foot minimum distance between their obstacles which is quite different to the 15/18 feet we have here.
After it all was over we in the Great White North had a really good time with Jo and we learned a lot from her. She challenged us and her relaxed teaching method agreed with us despite the whistle on the first day. Thanks Jo for braving the bitter cold of Canada, and please come again sometime soon!
Kiersten Lloyd – Living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada I have had the privilege of competing in Obedience and Agility with my beloved Labrador Retrievers since 1997. These days I mostly teach and compete in Agility. During the rest of my life I am a Dental Hygienist. I share my life with my husband and two 20 yr old sons.
Photography provided by (c) Jo Sermon.