It doesn't matter whether you've been participating in agility 1 month or 20 years, agility is an ongoing process where even the most experienced teams continue to refine their skills as they compete at the highest levels. Every new course and every new teammate introduces new challenges for even the most experienced handlers to master. This month I'm so very excited that my dear friend and student of the past 18 years is sharing her agility journey. Meet Nancy and her amazing team of canines.
Owner/Handler: Nancy Walker
Dog(s): Higgins/Border Collie, Annie/Border Collie, Meatball/Chiweenie , Ace/Papillon and Allspice/Sheetland Sheep dog
Jump Height(s): 26" 22" 8" and 10"
Agility Experience: Masters Level in USDAA
Why did you get started in agility?
I got a Border collie puppy named Higgins 18 years ago and knew I needed something to do with him. Being a pet was not going to cut it, he needed a job. I went to a USDAA trial in Orlando and I still remember I was in awe of the handlers and dogs. I knew right then I wanted to learn agility. Most of my life, I had shown Hunter Jumpers and 5 Gaited American Saddlebreds so this sport really appealed to me.
What were your goals when you started agility?
I had two goals when I started this sport. My first goal was to find something to keep my Border Collie Higgins busy. He loved it and it was so much fun to run Higgins. I was fortunate that he was a very level headed border Collie and if I pointed he did it. He made it easy and fun. So I guess you could say my main goal was to have fun.
This may sound silly but my second goal was not to get lost on course. I was terrified I would get lost and forget where I was going. I soon learned that wouldn't happen and thankfully has never happened. I learned to remember the course by pieces and shapes never by number. Once I walk the course I dissect it into shapes. After 18 years playing this sport, I still do this.
Were you able to realize your orginal goal(s)?
Sadly Higgins had to be retired early for health reasons. Higgins taught me agility and what a wonderful teammate the Border Collie can be in agility and in life. I knew this sport was for me so I adopted a female Border Collie named Annie. Annie was a goal changer. If one dog was going to break me, it would be Annie. She was unique and one of a kind. I smile when I say that because I loved that dog and she made me the trainer I am today. All my dogs have taught me something but Annie taught me so much more. Annie inspired me to write two articles for Clean Run magazine, she taught me patience and to stick with my goals even if the end was not in sight.
Each one of my dogs has been so different so my goals have had to change numerous times throughout our training and trialing. After 18 years doing this sport if there is one thing I know, it is expect the unexpected and except it.
How have your goals changed since starting agility?
I would say my goals have pretty much stayed the same. Have fun! It is only a game after all! The day I stop having fun is when I will stop doing agility. Those people that really know me know I love a good laugh. Life is to short to not enjoy every minute. Sadly our canine partners are not with us long enough if you ask me so I want to remember the laughter and the fun I had with them doing this sport.
What is your greatest accomplishment or proudest moment to date?
There are too many to count and having had numerous teammates, I have numerous moments that stand out. I can say that I credit Higgins for making the game fun and making me want more. He started my journey.
Annie was my greatest challenge. She was an amazing athlete and I was clueless. It took not giving up and lots of patience to make me realize what a great trainer she made me. It took years of work to get her to the Masters level. She was in Novice for 7 years. Once she understood the game she flew thru Advanced and in short time got her MAD. I promised her I would retire her after that. I kept my word. She lived the rest of her life doing what she loved, being the boss.
A moment I will never forget is with Rudy, my current Border Collie who stood with me on the podium at the USDAA Southeastern Regional after taking second in Steeplechase. Rudy and I came a long way and had a challenge that most people would walk away from. But true to form I made it my mission to fix it and thanks to my teacher Annie I new I could do it and did.
What have you learned from agility that surprised you?
I have a lot of patience and know that the wait is worth it. No one should ever tell me I can't do it or give that dog up and get another because I will prove them wrong. It just makes me dig in and find away to fix any issues. Agility and the challenges I dealt with made me a good dog trainer .
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting agility knowing what you know now?
There are several things I would say. First and foremost find someone to train with. I have been going to Mindy for 18 years. She keeps me motivated and has endless knowledge. If I have a training issue she is the one I go to.
Never give up on your dog. Never ever listen to someone who thinks they know whats wrong with your dog just by watching your run. I have been told some crazy things; from I can fix your dog to give that dog up and get another one. No one knows what your journey is except you and your trainer.
Sadly this sport can be very critical and people can say some very hurtful things. I have a new puppy I am bringing out this year and at a trial I had a handler tell me I better keep an eye on her because they can be sickly dogs. I have heard it all and had I not been doing this sport for so long, I may of said a few off color things. Instead I laugh, thank the person for their concern and just walk away. Don't listen that is my best advice.
If there was one more thing to add, I would say Have Fun! Agility is all about you and your teammate. Run clean, run fast and remember your dog thinks you are the most awesome thing on earth no matter what the record book says.