I always knew I wanted to do something with dogs but I didn't know exactly what that was until I started competing in AKC agility. The first time I saw dog agility was at the age of 9 when my family and I went to Purina Farms in Grey Summit, Missouri and watched an agility demonstration. I loved it so much that when I went home I took my stuffed dogs and made an agility course for them to run. After that, the only time I got to watch agility was when the Incredible Dog Challenge came on TV. Little did I know that five years later, at the age of 14, I would have my own dogs to train.
In January 2009, I got my first puppy, a 13-week-old Bichon Frise named "Buddy." He was very, very smart and playful and after only three weeks, he could already sit, lie down, and stay. After a month with buddy, we found out that he had a problem. HE COULDN'T STOP PLAYING. I had to do something with him so I made a small agility course out of stuff around the house and started teaching him agility while I played with him. Three months after I started training Buddy with homemade obstacles, my mom insisted on getting Buddy and I an "Agility in a Box" kit and a playmate, another Bichon Frise whom we named "Millie." I trained them on one obstacle at a time using positive reinforcement along with lots of treats, toys, and praise. I knew to keep the jumps low so I had them set at four inches and just taught them what "over" meant. Buddy picked everything up so quickly and it seemed that Millie watched Buddy and figured it out that way. The kit I was given had 6 weave poles and no guide wires so I lured Buddy and Millie through the weaves with treats while saying the word "weave," "weave," "weave," as they went through until they had it figured out.
Around nine months I started doing courses with three or four obstacles, jump bars still set at four inches. By one year I raised the jump bars to eight inches and bought a teeter. My brother and father got involved and built a pause box. To help me train them better I started watching YouTube videos of agility training and would use the techniques I saw with my dogs. Through those videos, I learned how to teach each obstacle and do drills such as serpentines and throttles.
Once the dogs were a year and a half, I started looking for a place to take an agility class at and practice so the dogs could get use to the standard size equipment, bigger courses and being around other dogs while still being able to focus. I started looking up places but it seemed that they were all more than an hour away until I found Dog Sports @ Kim's in Caseyville, Illinois. I checked the classes online and figured that we didn't need to go to the Beginner class because the dogs could do all the obstacles, but the next class up they had to be able to do 12 weaves. So before calling Kim Berkley, the owner, and signing up for a class, my mom and I bought enough PVC pipe to make six more weave poles that could attach to the six I already had and four more jumps. Since they already knew how to weave, it didn't take them long to do 12 weave poles. That's when we called Kim and signed up for the Intermediate class.
I wasn't sure how the dogs would react or if they would even run, but they did perfectly. It seemed like they didn't even care about the other dogs around them. Because they hadn't been on an A-frame before, they were a little hesitant about going up it so Kim lowered the A-Frame to let the dogs get use to it and they did. In September 2010,we told Kim Berkley that we were going to watch an agility trial with a different organization because it was so close to our house. However she told us that the dogs were ready to compete and to give it a try. She said that it would be a good practice trial before we entered in AKC for the first time. Our dogs didn't do well they did great!!! They qualified and Q'd on every run but one.
After attending my third 6-week session with Kim Berkley, she announced that she had a new trainer coming in who was going to teach on Wednesdays, the night I trained in agility. The trainer she had coming in was Joan Meyer. We didn't know who she was but when we found out, we were very excited. Our first class with Joan Meyer was tense and it felt like everybody, including me, was trying to impress her but we all kept messing up. After two more weeks, the pressure was lifted when we really got to know Joan. She is very nice, a lot of fun, and really good at coming up with different ways to handle your dog so you can have a better run.
We competed in our first AKC agility trial in February 2011. The Jumpers course went well, both dogs Q'd. But on the Standard course, everything that could go wrong did. Buddy crashed a bar on his first run and after 4 obstacles on his second day, he suddenly noticed the pole setters and started barking at them and the judge. For some reason, Millie kept running past all the obstacles. We have now been competing in AKC for six months and my dogs have gotten many titles, Buddy OA AXJ and Millie OA OAJ.
After three sessions in the Beginning Handling class, Joan called us up and told us that she wanted to challenge me more so she moved me and the dogs up to the Beyond Excellent — Working Outside the Box class and we are still doing that class with her now. I love it! The courses are difficult and definitely more of a challenge.
Recently I found out AKC was sponsoring their first Junior Handler competition at the Invitational in Orlando, Florida. I mentioned it to my mom not even thinking that I would be able to go to it this year. To my surprise my whole family, including Grandma and Grandpa, was as excited about it as I was and started making reservations to go. Both dogs are signed up and we are looking forward to competing in this event.
It only took one trial for my family and I to be hooked on agility. I know exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to be an agility trainer and continue competing in agility for the rest of my life. My current goals are to get both my dogs their MACH before I turn 18, and for me and Buddy to beat Joan Meyer and her dog Neil in just one agility trial.
I know agility is what I am meant to do and I love doing it.