I sincerely doubt that Dave Munnings needs any introduction to anyone who knows a thing at all about agility. He has been amongst the very top – if not the actual top – handlers for the past few years. Fresh from winning his 11th Championship Certificate with his amazing dog, Fame (Comebyanaway Reddy for Fame) at Gillingham last weekend, Dave takes time out of his busy schedule to chat to Everything Agility.
I started agility at 12 years old with my little Springer Spaniel Megan (pictured below).
If I was allowed a dog, I had to agree for my mum to take me to obedience classes where they took one look at her craziness and suggested I try agility! Like for so many people, I was pretty well hooked from the first lesson – I just LOVED it. I’d always been involved with show jumping and I loved the idea of making my dogs jump things as well. Megan measured Medium, a new height that hadn’t been established for long, and classes only had only about 20 dogs in them.
My next dog, Lad, was a rescue who took me to Intermediate (today’s Grade 6), by which time the bug had really bitten and along came Tammy, another rescue collie. However, it was Mr Billy Whizz who really started me of on the journey I am on today. He belonged to a friend of mine who asked me to have him while she travelled the world. We got on so well that when my friend returned she agreed that I could keep him (a very generous gesture and one for which I am ever grateful).
With Billy (left, on the podium with Dave) we achieved a Bronze medal at the 2005 Agility World Championships – it was beyond a dream come true. He became my first Agility Champion and together we qualified for every major final in the UK. A dream dog, I was so lucky to get him when I did.
It was when I was studying human osteopathy at Uni that I realised that agility wasn’t just a hobby but was going to be a huge part of my life. I started teaching on the side to earn a bit of money, I got Dobby and together we won a Silver medal at the Agility World Championships. It dawned on me that although I loved the osteopathy and my long-term plan was to become a canine and equine osteopath, I loved agility more. I finished my degree and then continued animal studies but the demand for my agility training grew and grew. Not only that, it was taking me all over the world – to places I would never have dreamed I would visit – all the while doing something I love so much. They do say ‘Do what you love and you will never work another day in your life’. That’s how lucky I am. So now I only treat dogs I know. I simply don’t have time to offer osteopathy as agility training has become my entire life – I couldn’t be happier.
We asked how Dave picked his dogs. Has their success been down to nature, nurture or a mix of both?
Dobby The Dreamboat!
Well, Natasha Wise found Dobby’s litter advertised on Agilitynet. Billy’s father was the sire of the litter, and I also trained and ran a dog called Sunny who was the litter’s maternal aunt so I knew the lines well and loved them. At this stage I really wanted a red dog and there was a red boy in the litter! He was mine. Back then I didn’t really know what I was looking for in a puppy. Like many people I just picked on colour, although I also knew that the parents were from good lines that I liked. As it turned out it was the best decision I ever made. Dobby was a dream dog in every way and still is at nearly 14 years old. Even with the 1000’s of dogs I’ve trained I still believe that I have never met a dog with a brain as good as his. He is the most intelligent and crazy dog I have ever met but not crazy in a stupid way, just desperate to work. I would have hundreds of him if I could (minus the back injury).
I started working him when Billy was still doing well, and I think he is still one of the youngest dogs to ever become an Agility Champion. Dobby won his first ever ticket class and then went to Crufts the following year and won the Championship there to make him up to an Agility Champion (winners of the Champ class at Crufts are awarded 2 CCs). He is brave, kind, intelligent and the most handsome dog I’ve ever seen….can you tell I’m obsessed with him? Haha!
Boss was next in line, not the easiest dog in the world but he’s done amazingly well, all things considered. He’s also the loveliest dog to live with and he adores me which is always nice. He’s coming up to retirement now which makes me sad but he got a 5th place at the EO’s, is an Agility Champion and won a Gold medal in games at the WAO’s.
Teaching so many people gives me a unique opportunity to look at many different shapes and sizes of dogs, especially collies and that’s how I discovered the Comebyanaway line. I saw that those I trained had amazing acceleration and turns. At the time I was looking for a ‘wife’ for Dobby, so I contacted Mandy (Bainbridge, breeder of the Comebyanaway line) and begged her to repeat a mating early and asked if I could have a bitch to breed from. After a lot of begging, she agreed, and that’s how Fame came along.
Fame (pictured right) is another pretty easy dog. Me and Dan really do love this line. They suit us with their funny habits, sensitivity and willingness to please. Why do we like sensitive dogs? Well, we’re both pretty soft on our dogs and we never have to correct them anymore than just saying…. ‘oh no! What have you done?’
We discovered Scarlet at Mandy’s. She had brought her in to breed from and as a sheep dog. Once again, I asked Mandy for a favour… could we mate her with Dobby? Again, she kindly agreed. First we tried artificial insemination with frozen semen but unfortunately it didn’t take, so Mandy let us keep her a little longer and try again with Dan’s Geek who is Fame’s brother. The following season…. a litter of amazing puppies!
By this time Scarlet had been with us nearly a year. We’d fallen in love with her and didn’t want her to leave! By now Mandy (or Granny as she’s known to us!) knows it’s easier to just say ‘yes’ than to put up with my whinging and begging! Seriously, that’s because she knows how much we absolutely adore our dogs and the wonderful lives they live. Scarlet is the sweetest thing and I totally love her. She’s quite the spoilt brat….. to Granny’s disgust she has a diamond collar, 4 coats and sleeps on my bed every night…. apparently not what a true sheep dog should be doing? Haha!! She was a great bitch for Geek, lovely structure, and a great work attitude and just kind of gets on with life, not spooky or nervous and is absolutely adorable.
We will breed again but haven’t yet decided who or what yet, whether to repeat or to breed from one of the puppies. I think what we looked for in the litter was toy play, craziness, wanting to be with us not the other puppies and just that feeling you get when you really like one of them. I think we chose perfect puppies for us even though I would be happy with any of the litter. They are all amazing and each one has the same traits now that they did when they were 6 weeks old which I didn’t realise would be the case. The whole experience has definitely given us more insight into choosing a puppy the next time we breed.
Successes and Challenges
Biggest challenges… Boss and Urban! Haha! Both very difficult dogs to train but have made me a better trainer for it. They both reached G7 and Boss has done very well but they are dogs that test your patience, create new challenges every day, and take 1 step forward then the next day 10 backwards (not just agility but life skills). I love them both very much, but I wouldn’t want those journeys again, so much hard work, frustration and stress, plus they were just not fun to live with and train. They are great now but it wasn’t easy, especially when I can compare them to the other dogs I have owned and whose training has been a joy. Massive difference. I just know now what lines to go for and which ones to avoid in future, they taught me a LOT.
(Note from Ed. Dave’s very honest account of training Boss and Urban just goes to show that collies are not machines. Whilst the vast majority of successful Large dogs are collies – those are the ones we see. We don’t see how many simply didn’t have the skills or the inclination for agility. I think there are a lot more than we realise.)
I suspect another one that might go onto Dave’s ‘tough to train’ list is Boost (pictured right). A rescue dog, not easy to train, and certainly not easy to live with, Boost now has a Championship Ticket and has won numberable other competitions.
That’s a hard one! I think handling-wise Lisa Frick. She’s just an incredibly talented handler who inspired me to update my handling and renewed my love of the sport at the time. I respect anyone else who has done well with multiple dogs, hasn’t rehomed a dog because it’s hard work, keeps up with the times and is open to change, and isn’t hard on their dogs when they train them. There are plenty of people out there who do well but I can’t stand how they are with their dogs, over-training, shouting, physically abusive to them etc. I am disgusted by it and even though they are doing well in agility it means NOTHING when their success is down to those kinds of training techniques.
The State of Competition Today
Everything Agility asks… You recently posted on Facebook about judging standards. Given the vast number of judges we need every year, do you think we will ever reach the high standards that we would all like, for all Grades? How do we improve poor judging?
DM: The issues is like you said: we need too many judges in this country but maybe the bigger Championship shows could be a little more picky about who they invite to judge so at least the top of the sport are getting the better course designs and so on. I think if someone can’t see a dog’s line then it is almost impossible to teach them to, and so they will never set amazing courses because they literally just can’t.
Judging is least of all about marking dogs – anyone can do that. It’s ALL about the course design and, as always, we are being left behind the great agility countries in Europe because we have too many stubborn people who think they are setting amazing courses and are unwilling to even look abroad, take a look at course design there, and maybe, just maybe consider changing in line with that. We can only remedy it with education. I am on a mission at the moment to try to show people how to set a safe course. Social media is a great platform for that, but will the right people listen? I’m not so sure.
If You Ruled the World (of Agility)…
I would insist that 4m tunnels should be straight. I would banish hard corners in any tunnels, bad angles onto dog walks, minimum spacing on a straight line of more than 2 jumps, a pin wheel in a competition (just soooo boring), up contacts, and judges who won’t listen to anyone! I wouldn’t change too much about agility, to be honest… course design and safety, Large height down to 60cm, 4 heights and a lowered dog walk.
The Q-Me Show
Everything Agility asks, ‘Why did you decide to hold your own show?
DM: To show people what a show can be like where every course is nice and safe. I think we achieved that in the 3 years we have been running. Each year the courses get better and better and I’m so proud of what we have done. We’d like to continue with the show but, honestly, we are thinking about it because it’s a lot of work and we’re not a large KC club with lots of members.
What Does the Future Hold?
My goals are the same as they have always been: to love my dogs, to get them to as good a standard as they can be, to make them love anything and everything we do together and enjoy the time with them I have because it’s never long enough. By doing all that then hopefully we will be successful and win, but that’s a by-product of all the rest. Of course I could say win EO’s, win AWC, win Olympia, etc., etc., but if you become too obsessed with winning then I think you are in danger of losing the enjoyment of it all. Sometimes you just need a little luck to win the massive events, and of course my training aims to lead to them. I will try my hardest to prepare for them in every way I can that’s safe for my dogs but if I get overly stressed about doing well then all that achieves is to make me do worse!
My career is going well. I have loads of work, actual training and online training, so I will just keep doing what I’m doing as I can’t fit anymore in anyway! I am planning on buying a property, building a house, and having a whole dog training school so I suppose they are the future plans for me and Dan doing it all together. It’s very exciting but planning permissions are the bane of my life right now!
I will judge more when I can compete less. I love judging but right now, whilst I am physically able, to I want to compete as much as I can because you never know when that might change. I try to do about 3 judging appointments a year if I can, but that doesn’t always work out.
Thanks for chatting with us, Dave, and good luck in the Agility World Championships next month in Sweden.