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A Passion for Agility
By Cristin Nataro

It all started when I walked into WonderDogs wanting to take my puppy to an obedience class. As luck would have it, I came on the night they had agility classes and it was then that I knew I had to try agility. Little did I know it would become a passion, something I could never quit. I currently own and train two Golden Retrievers, 7-year-old Rocky and 3-year-old Hunter. I also train a 5-year-old Border Collie, Amelia. Both Rocky and Amelia are rescues. I have been training my dogs in agility since 2004 and we began competing in 2005. I train the dogs every day in my backyard with weave poles, jumps and a table. In addition I attend classes 2 days a week with AKC agility judge Sally Gichner and private lessons with two-time AKC/USA World Team Member Chris Parker.

I went to my first show in July of 2005 and boy was I nervous. I wasn't sure what Rocky would do in such a different environment. Despite my worrying he did fantastic! After just a few shows I quickly became addicted to the sport, on most weekends I can be found at an agility trial and honestly there's no where else I would rather be. I believe dogs must be trained almost every day, especially when it comes to an event like this. Every day we do different sequences usually harder than you would normally find at a trial, we do every weave pole entry imaginable and it has certainly paid off! I usually have them working for different types of rewards sometimes a ball, sometimes a tug toy or a simple treat. I like for them to be able to work for different things, for example I usually get more drive when the reward is a toy, rather than a treat. All my dogs are trained to know their right from left and target commands for the contact obstacles (two on two off). I believe that how you perform at a show is the result of what you do at home. Although you can have an off day, the more you practice the better you perform no matter the conditions. I try to take my dogs everywhere I can, they have been to the park, to the shore and to town festivals countless times. Both Hunter and Rocky have been invited in clothing and shoe stores one time they even were invited onto a sight seeing train! The more time they spend in new environments they better.

In just the short period of time that I have been training in agility I have learned that patience and positive reinforcement are the keys to being successful. My dogs and I have become so much closer and the bond we share is unbreakable. Currently Rocky and I are working towards our MACH. Hunter and I are working towards our master titles and MACH and Amelia is working towards her open titles. At this point I couldn't imagine life without agility. Agility is my passion and I hope to make it my career one day.

My advice to juniors starting agility is to always be positive and make it the best experience for your dog and you. It's all about having fun!