You meet some very interesting people at Men sheds, but a thirteen year old dog agility trainer with a string of awards was a complete surprise.
Harriet Hunt began working with her dog Daphne when she was six years old. Since then she has travelled all over the England and Wales participating in events with her mum and her aunt, who are clearly very proud of her achievements.
Mum Kerry told me that Harriet now has five dogs and a reputation for skills in training that mean she is a sought after trainer in England and Wales.
“There are 7 grades with sometimes 400 to 500 in a class,” Kerry told me as we gathered at the Men Sheds Xmas dinner, “ Each class involves a range of obstacles…. jumps, tunnels, weaves, and contact equipment. Harriet is two steps away from achieving grade 7.”
Crufts is of course the ultimate event and Harriet has won awards there already. She has been training her dog Grace for 20 months now and has just started competing with her. She is hoping to compete with her at Crufts this coming year 2019.
Harriet runs Dog Agility training from a converted barn at her home in Trecwm. It is fully equipped with everything a dog and it’s owner could want and her classes, which she runs after school at and weekends are well attended.
She works with any age and any size of dog. I ask her if there are any dogs she has found impossible to train. She shakes her head.
“ Dogs are never the problem,” she tells me confidently, “ If there is a problem it is always the human.”
She goes on to tell me that no matter how impossible a dog might seem to begin with, or how disinterested, she is always able to bring them around.
I ask her how she likes to work.
“Some dogs enjoy being in a class with others, some are better one to one. They are all motivated by either treats or toys. Once you know which it is, it is important to get them to focus, so I tend to work for half an hour at a time sometimes using my own dogs to demonstrate.”
While still so young, Harriet has honed her skills for as long as she can remember and has had advice and support from the dog trainer she admires above all others, Ray Alway of Welsh Bell Agility. Her deep connection with dogs and horses is obvious and she really doesn’t seem fazed by problem dogs.
I ask her to tell me about some of the problems people have brought to her classes.
Harriet considers for a moment, “ There is Bazil who is a ten year old rescue dog. He used to chase cars and he would pull his owner so hard on the lead that he made her fall over. He didn’t socialise, but now his owner says he is so excited to come to classes that she jokes that he wants to live here.”
She tells me about others: Tucker who doesn’t like other dogs and Anthony who is full of surprises.
She goes on to tell me about her naughtiest dog, a Patterdale and Welsh Terrier cross who came to her from a farm and who always works at her own pace. She speaks equally fondly of the Border Collie , the Jack Russel and Cocker Spaniel who all need to be stimulated and kept busy.
Kate Ward, Harriets auntie laughs, “ People come to Harriet with a problem dog but as soon as they begin to work with Harriet things start to change . Everyone responds to her, humans dogs and horses.”
So do you have other animals?
“ Horses, cats and chickens. They all have their own personalities. There is Peggy the chicken who watches the telly and bullies the dogs and the cats. She steals their food too.”
It all sounds like a very busy life and animals are obviously huge part of it but Harriet has other talents. She is a skilled artist , winning awards for her needle felt work and other projects. She loves to make things out of recycled material and her auntie showed me some photographs of the dresses she has made , one in the style of Louis 14th made from road maps. It’s very impressive and I urge you to pop along to V.C. Gallery where she exhibits and sells her work.
I ask this very accomplished young woman what advice she would give owners dealing with a difficult dog.
“ There is never a need to hit a dog and the only time I ever shout at a dog is at a show because there is so much going on and so much noise…otherwise…no shouting. Punishments don’t work. Good treats are essential,” she tells me, “ Dogs will generally love cheese or sausages. Get them to work for it though, then reward them. Any problems you can’t deal with, look me up on Facebook. I am always happy to help.”
You can contact Harriet at Valley Dog Training of Trecwn via her Facebook page.