You can teach old (and young) dogs new tricks
Barnard Castle Dog Training Club has been putting pooches through their paces for 40 years. Reporter Stuart Laundy went along to meet some of the current crop of hounds and their handlers.
LOTTIE, a likeable Tibetan terrier, is unlikely to grace the agility ring at Crufts – and that’s just fine with owner Chris Jordan.
With her long shaggy coat, she cuts quite a figure tackling the obstacles at Barnard Castle Dog Training Club’s agility ground, tucked behind the allotments on the upper Demesnes.
Mr Jordan explains that while some owners like to cut their Tibetan’s coat short, he prefers to keep it long.
“We go for the looks,” he jokes.
Mr Jordan and Lottie joined the club about 15 months ago. A collie he previously kept did not take to agility. Lottie is quite the opposite.
“She enjoys it and I enjoy it. We do it for fun. I don’t pretend we are going to be at Crufts,” he says.
“Tibetan terries are very different.
“They are not a common breed and I have to work her very differently to the others.”
Mr Jordan and Lottie also attend the club’s obedience classes, which are held indoors twice a week at Barnard Castle Rugby Club.
“That is a bit more serious,” he says.
By contrast, Rosanna Duarte, from Copley, is putting border collie Ruby through her paces with every intention of entering competitions.
“She is nearly there,” she says. Ms Duarte already has Maisie, a Labrador cross who has reached grade five competition standard of a possible seven.
Billie Thomson, one of the club’s trainers, says including everyone – competitive or otherwise – is fundamental to the group’s ethos.
“We want people to come here and enjoy their dogs. A lot of people come just for the social side,” she says.
“You can be as competitive as you want to be and we are quite happy to help people into competitions.”
Ms Thomson, her colleague Laura Weldon and lead trainer Shaun Rogers are all volunteers which, she says, means the club is affordable, fun and friendly.
The training club runs four obedience classes across a Monday and Wednesday night at the rugby club, along with three Sunday morning agility sessions – broken down into beginners, improvers and competitors’ classes – and there is a good cross over between the two.
“We have people who come to obedience and decide they would like to do agility, while some come for agility that might benefit from obedience,” says Ms Thomson.
In competitive terms, dog agility covers a course made up of at least ten obstacles and not more than 20.
This includes jumps, tunnels, weaves, elevated walking frames and see-saws.
Training handlers on how to instruct their dogs and where to stand during a circuit is just as important as getting the pooches to tackle the obstacles.
As far as Ms Thomson goes, she was always going to go down the competitive route and her collie Elsa has reached grade seven standard.
“I am from a horse racing background, so I was never going to do it for fun. I am a competitive person and when I tried dog agility, I was hooked.”
Barnard Castle Dog Training Club was formed in 1978 by John and Betty Tallentire, who were looking for obedience classes for one of their two dogs at the time.
With the nearest classes in Darlington, and the couple unable to attend on “obedience” night, they were pointed in the direction of agility, which was just taking off at the time.
Mr Tallentire became enthralled by this new activity and using a baby’s cot, old swing frame and mining ducting for tunnels, the couple and some of their friends began getting together in a field at Woodside.
As more people got involved, the club began to take shape.
Mrs Tallentire attended a dog training instructor’s course and the club was officially formed, with classes in the community hall at Stainton Grove, later moving into the town.
Agility competitions began in the mid-1980s, mainly as demonstrations at various fairs, while the first event organised by the club was in 1985.
The club continues to host an annual two-day show. This year’s will be staged on July 14 and 15 at Primrose Hill Farm, Winston.
With Woodside lost to housing, the club needed a new venue. The answer came in the shape of four disused plots at the bottom of the upper Demesnes allotments, in Barnard Castle.
Soil condition was so bad nothing would grow and a lease for the area was agreed with Teesdale District Council. After much work, the abandoned allotments became home to the dog training club and this remains its base today.
For more information go to www.barnardcastledogtrainingclub.co.uk or find the club on Facebook.