Agility and kids: Meet “Agiliikkari” aka Funna®

June 10, 2019 - Hilma
Originally published in Finnish the 28th of December 2016 on agilityurheilijat.fi. This is the second part in the series, read the first part here.
Written by: Ulla Tuomiedited and translated by: Funna® 

Agilityurheilijat.fi got a hint for an article from Hilma Larkela from Mynämäki, Turku. She wanted to tell the world about something important: about a group of 10-year-old kids, who train in agility at a local dog club, a group of “Agiliikkari”, now known and referred as “Funna®”. 

Agiliikkari was not only agility with a dog but versatile exercise, which emphasizes handling, joy of active life and improving child’s motor skills. These kids grow to be extraordinary handlers in agility fields. 

“In theory, Funna® is suited for everyone regardless of age and skill level” 

We got to interview Hilma and it was a joy to hear how full heartedly she does this! Funna® is an excellent idea! Amongst the text, there’s happy videos of energized and cheerful kids in training. Hilma’s thoughts and wishes are, that clubs, trainers and private operators could get ideas from this, and thus execute Funna® activities on their own. Funna® is not exclusive for Mynämäki or Finland – on the contrary – For more information on how to get Funna® action to your training, please visit www.funna.fi/coachtraining or send us email. 

Inspired by Hilma, Agilityurheilijat.fi published an article series on this important and current topic, which covered the matter about the exercise of children in the point of view of dog agility. You can read the first article in English here. 

Where it all began? 

It all started from Hilma’s daughter Essi, when she was 5-years-old, cheery and temperamental girl. The idea itself was Hilma’s personal, which was based on the needs and interests of her own child. Mother and daughter had done a lot together from the moment Essi learned to walk. Previously, they attended a local gym club and its baby-parent group, led by Hilma herself. Time passed and Essi grew, and Hilma had to come up with something else (where the child didn’t need to be lifted) to do together. 

The mother and daughter had already done a lot together, so they wished to come up with a new hobby they could have. Essi had spent a lot of time with the family dog Hupi, and they for example kicked off her first, unofficial agility competition while she was only 4-years-old. And that’s where it all started, it had all the necessary ingredients for an epic idea! 

Hilma got to it right away and she represented the idea for Annu Lintervo, who is the person in charge of agility training in Mynämäki’s small, but active dog club. Annu picked the idea right up and only in 5 minutes they had the idea of “Funna®” wrapped up. Funna®’s ideology is, that experienced dogs train the inexperienced children into experts! And so, in October 2016, Funna®’s first 4-week period started! 

Funna®’s ideology is, that experienced dogs train the inexperienced children into experts! 

The target group of Funna® is children under 10 years of age. A suitable group size is 6-8 children. In an ideal situation, the child doesn’t need any experience in agility, only the enthusiasm! The dog should know the obstacles and be controlled by the child on the field. 

Funna®’s idea is to teach and develop the child, not the dog. The goal is to provide tools for the kid who’s working with a dog, for active and motivational moving and to develop their motor skills, to prepare them for later group training sessions. 

However, the most important thing in Funna® is encouraging, not negative feedback but positive reinforcement! What works with children is well-timed positive affirmation, which develops child’s healthy self-esteem. 

The skills of working with a group also develops. In addition, the child learns to handle and work with animals. Dog training and handling skills develop through a mutual hobby and activities. 

Funna® in Mynämäki 

There were currently 4 children in training in MynämäkiSenna 9, Essi 5, Samuel 12 and Petteri 8. The group was aimed for the club’s own children. The children in the group were not attending the “actual” agility groups. They trained in this group with children of their own age. Before, Senna had trained in group of adults, but she switched to Funna®. We asked Senna, how the switch from the adults group to Funna® group had felt and what new she had learnt. 

“In Funna® we do more stuff together with others, it’s funnier and it’s more educational. In Funna® you can go through the tunnel too. I’ve learned new things while learning a course. I’ve learned feet-hand coordination and handling the dog better, for example the front cross, blind cross and back cross were already familiar to me, but my technique has improved).” 

Funna® can be run all year round. The lessons at Mynämäki were held once a week, 1,5 hours at a time for 4 weeks, followed by a 4-week break. In the group, the 4-week period had been proven to be good, so the kids can do “homework” with a dog and learn to work and communicate with the dog somewhere else than in an agility hall. In that way, the relationship between the kid and the dog can grow at leisure. 

The group trained in the club’s unheated, artificial turf-floored hall. In summer, they had a fenced stone ash field. Warm spaces would give Funna® more execution options. However, it isn’t a requirement. 

The parents are recommended to get the Funna® kids the junior licence of Suomen Agilityliitto for insurance. The most important thing is that the insurances are effective, even if one has insurances on behalf of the club. 

The success rate with the training is high 

Funna® is ¾ something more than running an agility course with a dog. In Funna® one can do the typical exercises that you see in agility, without a dog, which develops child’s motion control skills such as motor skills, balance and coordination. In addition, the Funna® kids learn together as pairs, one kid taking the role of a handler and the other one being the dog. Like this, every kid sees the course through the dog’s eyes. 

The goal is to get the kids to practice versatilely before doing the track training with a dog. 

In Funna®, one trains motion control skills versatilely: 

 Adults are not allowed 

Funna® has a set structure. Adults are not allowed to the training field, as the child’s ability to work with the family dog might get impossible. The parents warm up and cool down the dogs and are responsible of them while children warm up and cool down with their instructor. 

There’s always only one dog in the hall at a time, and no-one can enter the hall when there is a dog. This is a basic rule that everyone in the club follows. Like this it is possible to prevent conflicts and other tedious situations between dogs. 

Once a month the parents are invited to join the lesson. They can join the pair exercise, where the adult takes the role of a dog and the kid takes the handler’s role. When an adult joins the exercise, kids get constructive feedback from them about the child’s cues, if they are happening at the right time. 

Kids are challenged and encouraged 

With kids, it is important that they get to do the real agility in training. The only difference to adults is that the cues and techniques are brought down to child’s level. There’s no nit-picking on little things. The kids don’t have the same ability to stay and nit-pick about the little things that we adults have. 

“The funniest thing in Funna® is the Lollipop Challenge and when you can go through the tunnel ?” -Senna 9-year-old 

An excellent example, how the handling cues and techniques are brought to the child’s level is in the blind cross which is familiar for all of us: The kids themselves came up with the idea of “windmill hands”. On their own words the windmill hands describe the situation, where the arms are not moving against each other, but their distance remains the same, only the head and shoulders rotate. 

Children are never underestimated and there’s always more than 3 obstacles on the actual course. The idea is to do agility as a multiple obstacle course. Otherwise we can be sure that the children’s interest towards agility quickly depletes. Like we see in the following video, these kids are truly skilled handlers! The track is rehearsed together, the cooperation between kids and dogs is admirable. 

“In Funna®, the best thing is speed and doing agility with Hupi. The most important lesson is turning in different ways. Balance and agility exercises are nice too. You get sweaty in Funna®! If there’s an adult in the hall, they will join the classes. Watching and spectating is forbidden. It is fun!” –Essi 5-year-old 

Adult: Seize the moment, try and trust yourself! 

What can we adults learn from children? The answer is simple: seizing the moment, the desire to try and believing in yourself. Let’s go sit on the end of the tunnel, let’s imagine what the dog sees. This is the basic idea in Funna®. Another important thing is to encourage each other to continue in troubles and challenges! To not stop and give up when handlings don’t go as planned. Don’t lose focus and continue boldly! 

Hilma Larkela 

Hilma Larkela, this joyous, genuine and positive inventor of Funna®, would like to forward this idea. The more we get the kids to move and excited, the better. And as mentioned at the beginning, the idea of Funna® fits for everyone in all ages and skill levels. So it is no wonder that Hilma has been asked to do something like Funna® for adults too. 

Hilma herself started agility at the age 10, when the sport was still quite unknown in Finland. From her own experience, Hilma wants to emphasize the importance of dog partnership as a support for a growing child and adolescent. Hilma, who has a diverse dance background, has completed an agility instructor course, worked in several group leading tasks and is happy to work with children. 

Hilma’s own dogs: 

  • rescue- mix breed Tibetan spaniel Titti-the-tiger1994-2005 
  • shiba ”Hupi” aka FIN, EST, LT MVA, Isomus Boya 2005- (agi2, Known from YLE TV series “Joulukalenteri: Porokuiskaajan arvoitus (2014)” and “Joulukalenteri: Jäätävä seikkailu (2016)” 
  • australian kelpie ”Riemu” aka Nallikallion Auervaara 2006-2015 
  • Australian kelpie ”More” aka Kelmi Flo (instagram @amorekelpieadventures) 2016- 
 
Hilma, Petteri and Essi in the aftermath of training 

How did you know where to turn when you got out of the tunnel? Senna: Because you used the back cross behind me before I dived into the tunnel. 

Petteri’s excellent sample of balancing and coordination skills while doing the bear walking: Stop and raise the crossing arm and leg into the air! 

We at Funna® are grateful that Agilityurheilijat.fi were able to participate in sharing the joy of Funna® to agility people!

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