Recently a dear and cherished friend said good-bye to one of her agility partners and it got me thinking about the challenges and difficult decisions we as agility handlers have to make. It is important to cherish every run because we never know when it might be our last run. Agility is a highly rewarding activity that builds a bond that is unique to each dog and handler and with the rewards come the spoils. Life has a funny way of throwing curve balls and knowing when it's time to retire our agility dog is different for each and every team not to mention filled with tons of emotion. As handlers, we must remove emotion and put our dog's best interest at heart which sometimes is not the easiest thing to do. Our next student spotlight highlights one of my dearest friends whom I've trained, trialed and had the privilege to learn from over the years. She has an abundance of wisdom which she has learned from various canine partners over the years. Meet Laurie and her amazing team of dogs.
Owner/Handler: Laurie Dana
Dog(s): Jake, Cookie, Paulie, Bosco, Burn, Triumph, Kya, and Tag
Jump Height: Various
Agility Experience: AKC, USDAA, UKI
Why did you get started in agility?
My first competition dog was a male Rottweiler, named Jake back in the early '90s. I started training him for obedience the day I brought him home as an 8-week old puppy. We competed in AKC obedience and loved it. Jake was one of the most intelligent and driven dogs I've ever owned. We went through novice, open and utility in a short period of time coming home with many blue ribbons and trophies. The first agility trial I attended as a spectator. I knew instantly that agility was what I wanted to do. At that time, I had a smaller female Rottweiler named Cookie who I had adopted from a rescue group when she was 6 months old. She was much smaller than Jake, very athletic with a ton of drive. Cookie was my first agility dog becoming the #1 Rottweiler in agility with AKC and ARC (American Rottweiler Club) in 1994 and 1995. By that time, I was more than hooked and have been showing in agility since then with my first Jack Russell, Pauli, my second Jack Russell, Bosco, then my first border collie, Burn, my second border collie, Triumph, my third Jack Russell rescue, Tag, and now my young border collie Kya.
What were your goals when you started agility?
My goals back in the early '90s were and still are to create a bond with and have fun with my dog. Along the way, all of the titles, ribbons and trophies and many friends I made were, and still are, a bonus.
Were you able to realize your orginal goal(s)?
How have your goals changed since starting agility?
Absolutely. My first border collie, Burn, was very competitive. When I got him around a course clean, we won, a lot. My goal with Burn was to be on the world team. At 4 years old, he had his first seizure and that dream and goal was gone. What became more important to me, was Burn's health and just being able to step to the line with him and have fun. Winning was no longer important.
What is your greatest accomplishment or proudest moment to date?
There are SO many I could not even begin to list them all. But the one that stays with me the most, was Burn winning 26" team snooker at USDAA Nationals in Arizona in 2006.
What have you learned from agility that surprised you?
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting agility knowing what you know now?
First and most foremost, you must have a good relationship with your dog. Your dog needs to know that he/she can trust you. Your dog needs to want to be with you and work with you and know that you will be happy with them no matter what happens during an agility run. It is also important, especially for an agility beginner, to find a good trainer, instructor and/or mentor! A bonus is if that person has had personal life and training experience with different breeds of dogs. Many many hours of my beginning agility training, traveling, and trialing was spent with Mindy Lytle...those were some of the best hours of my life!
I also found it very helpful to get whatever training I did on video tape, particularly if I was training or practicing by myself, as I was able to view the film and see for myself what was going on. A good eye, including your own eye, can be very beneficial.
Agility is a fun and an amazing journey that only you can create. Time goes by too quickly, and before you know it, you take that very last run with your dog but you had no idea it would be the last run. Never leave the ring angry or disappointed, your dog will know it but will never understand it. Life with our dogs is short and very precious so make the best of every moment in or out of the agility ring.