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by Jennifer Battista

The first time I saw dogs soaring through an agility course, I was hooked. When I was given Abbi on Christmas Eve six Christmases ago, my aspiration to compete in agility became a reality. The following summer we signed up for a formal agility and obedience classes and when Abbi turned two we entered our first trial. Since then we have earned our NA, NAJ, OA, OAJ, AX, AXJ, MXJ, CD, and CDX titles and have only a few more legs to earn towards our MX title. We have also earned over a dozen blue ribbons and Highest Scoring Jr. Handler three times at the Ruff Riders Agility Club trial. Through my participation in AKC events I learned not only how to teach a dog to heel and weave through weave poles, but also the importance of teamwork, confidence, perseverance, work ethic, and the career I want to pursue.

Until I went to college at Cornell University, I trained Abbi in some way everyday, sometimes on the various pieces of equipment that my father has built. The first summer we had a couple of bar jumps, and we used fence holders for weave poles, but now we are lucky enough to also have a panel jump, real weave poles, a table, a tire jump, a dog walk, and a seesaw. I enjoyed training with various instructors in many different places. This was beneficial as each instructor had different emphases and techniques to offer. It also had exposed us to different kinds of distractions and equipment. Thus, when we were on the starting line I felt prepared and excited to tackle the course.

Along with agility, Abbi and I have participated in obedience. Abbi and I have earned our CD and CDX titles. Obedience and agility skills complement one another and improve teamwork. Obedience skills carryover into agility and improve teamwork and vice versa. Teamwork in both venues is vital to success. It almost develops subconsciously, but is very visible and appreciated after running one of my family or friend's dogs. Abbi and I have learned to understand each other's movements and signals so we are able to maneuver successfully through an agility course or obedience run. This "teamwork" also carries over in to day-to-day life and simply strengthens the bond between us. There is nothing quite like just sitting outside on a sunny day with a dog that seemingly appears to be able to understand what you're thinking, comforting you when you are down, and making the good times that much better.

Competing in American Kennel Club events has also taught me the significance of confidence. For a time Abbi had a discouraging habit of leaving the ring when we were competing in either agility or obedience. Banging noises that result from pounding in a tent stake or quickly closing a door would frighten her and I would get worried that we were not going to be able to finish our endeavor successfully. A chain reaction then proceeded, Abbi feeding off of my nervousness and me off hers. Eventually I learned that above all else, and in spite of any obstacle we encounter I had to remain confident in our abilities. This concept is true I think in many other situations in life. Before I can expect others to believe in me, I have to have confidence in myself. Abbi's leaving the ring also taught me perseverance and determination. In these embarrassing and depressing situations I had to learn that while things do not always happen exactly as I want them to, if I refuse to give up I would eventually achieve my goal. American Kennel Club also helped me to develop a good work ethic. One cannot just walk into a ring no matter what the venue and expect to win without consistent effort in training and preparation. Sometimes certain exercises such as the drop on recall or the weave poles do not come easily and require seemingly endless practice. All the hard work is rewarded, however, when I am flying through an agility course or placing in an obedience trial.

In grade school and high school I thoroughly enjoyed competing in agility and obedience. Participating in American Kennel Club events strengthened the bond between Abbi and me in addition to teaching me valuable lessons in confidence, perseverance, and work ethic. However it was not until I went away to Cornell University until I realized the most important lesson participating in AKC had taught me.

At college I was only able to see Abbi about once a month and could only compete in a few agility and obedience trials a year. Although I was still able to finish CDX and MXJ titles, I missed training and being around dogs all the time at various AKC events. During my first year away I realized that I had to chose a major and career that involved being around dogs and that allowed me to continue participating in AKC events for the rest of my life. I realized that I would be unhappy being a human clinician which would most likely result in me not having a significant amount of time to spend with dogs, Instead I have decided that becoming a veterinarian would be better suited to my interests and lifestyle I would like have. Thus AKC has not only fostered values of teamwork, perseverance, confidence, and work ethic that will continue to help me succeed throughout my life, but has also helped me to realize the career path I would like to pursue.