Juniors Can Do It Too!
Putting a UD on any dog is no easy feat, as I found out when training my golden retriever, Treasure, to her UD this past year. My name is Jessica Hanson, and I am 16 years old. I was introduced into the dog showing world at the age of 8 when I showed my mom’s Siberian Husky, Kodi, in junior showmanship at matches. Kodi was 7 years old at that time, so when I was 11 years old, we purchased a new juniors dog for me so that Kodi could enjoy his retirement. That dog was a five year old Siberian Husky Ch. Kivalina’s Fancypants. Fancy brought me into the world of conformation and competitive juniors. Fancy lead me to number one junior handler in Minnesota in 2003, second in 2004, and second in 2005. Fancy also helped me win top junior handler in the Siberian Husky Club of America for four years.
I started doing companion events work when I became involved in the 4-H dog project. There, I started training my mom’s puppy Siberian Husky, Daria, in obedience and agility. Daria made it her job to test me at every turn, making me a patient and persistent trainer. Daria also took advantage of every mistake I made while training her, teaching me to not be sloppy in my training technique. A year later, I started training Fancy in obedience. Fancy proved to be a far more apt student then Daria, and we earned our CD in three straight trials that year. Then I moved on to agility, where she excelled. Despite my complete ignorance of agility training technique, Fancy earned her NA and NAJ, and later her NJP with minimal showing.
Fancy’s success got me hooked on companion events. Since Fancy was eight, my mom decided to give me the best gift of my life, a Golden Retriever, which we named Treasure. I started training Treasure when she was eight weeks old. From the start I had my eyes on competing in Utility with her. She proved to be a very trainable dog, and we earned our CD in three straight trials when she was a year and a half old. During this time I was also showing her in conformation and was training her in agility. When she was two she earned her CDX, NA, and NAJ; then began the long road of preparation for utility. For almost a year I went to training two to three nights a week. The major difference between Utility training and any other obedience training I had done thus far is that in Utility you can’t quit. There were a few times I went a week without doing any utility training, and because of it we fell back a month or more in our training process. Another thing that can be aggravating about utility is that your dog can suddenly forget everything you taught them, and you have to start back from the beginning on that exercise. This happened four or five time to Treasure while I was training her on articles. Everyday for a month she would always bring me back the right article, and just when I thought she understood the exercise, she would go out to the pile of articles and act as if she had never seen them before. The first time she did this, I had no idea how to fix it, and it took about another month before she was finding the right article again. By the time she had pulled this stunt on me for the fifth time, I was able to help her through her brain freeze in less then a week.
Finally, Treasure seemed to understand all the exercises, and it was time to prepare her for a show. For about three weeks before her first show, we went to different places four nights a week to train her in utility. This was the best thing that we did for her, as by the end of the three weeks I saw an extreme increase in confidence with her. Also, during these three weeks, I “proofed” her as many ways as I could think possible. Proofing your dog means purposely doing something that you think will make your dog do the wrong thing. Then, when your dog does the wrong thing, you show them the right way. After three weeks of proofing, I could not make Treasure do anything wrong.
After disqualifying her first weekend out, I decided to put everything else on hold, since she had recently earned her AX and AXJ agility titles, to get her UD. I came to this decision after seeing how much training it takes to keep a dog in “trial condition” for utility. I continued going to class three nights a week, and five nights a week before a trial. Despite my efforts, Treasure went eight shows without qualifying. Then, two months after her first trial, Treasure qualified back to back and won first both days. The next weekend, she disqualified the first day, and finished her UD on the second day, winning first place again.
That moment, as I walked out of the ring to a group of people waiting to congratulate me, was probably one of the most satisfying moments I have ever had while showing my dog. I can say it was well worth all the work that I had to put into. As if that wasn’t enough, I won Best Junior Handler that same day with my new Siberian Husky.
Now that Treasure has earned her utility title, my next goal is a MACH and Can. OTCH (This past summer I put a Can. Championship and CDX on Treasure). I have also started some field work with Treasure, and would like to earn her WC title next summer.
One piece of advice to any junior out there who would like to compete in companion events is you have to really enjoy training your dog. It can’t be about winning, or even competing, because you will spend two years training your dog to compete in the ring for three minutes. As well as enjoying the training aspect, you have to be patient and set realistic goals. When I am not doing my homework, or just relaxing, I am training either Treasure, or my new challenge a Siberian Husky named Jasmine.