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What Dog Training Has Taught Me
By Sierra Schmidt
 

When I got my Bichon Frise, Balto, I was only twelve years old. I had little idea what it meant to be a dog owner, and the thought of training a dog to do anything more than sit or down had never occurred to me. Now, as I near my eighteenth birthday, it is hard to imagine a time when running Balto in agility or hanging out and training with my agility friends was not a significant part of my life.

Being able to take part in the AKC Juniors program has had a profound impact on my teenage years. Through participating in the program with Balto and competing in dog agility, I learned to have patience. When I first began training Balto, I would get frustrated when he  lacked the focus to complete even a small sequence or when he made a mistake on an exercise that, to me, seemed simple. I approached group work in science class at school in much the same way, impatiently thinking that each assignment would be so much easier if I could work by myself. After several years of training Balto, my attitude began to change. I learned how to not get frustrated when Balto could not complete an exercise. I learned how to change my actions to help him better succeed. I realized that he was patient with me when I made mistakes, and I began to learn to have that same, cheerful patience, both with Balto in dog agility and with classmates at school. Thus, not only did I learn how to be patient -- I also learned how to be an effective teacher for my dog and how to be a member of a team.

The Juniors program also taught me how to carry myself with confidence. I soon found out that, on the agility course, every move had to be certain and direct. Any time Balto sensed indecision, he would step up and become the leader in the team. Most often, this involved him running off and taking an off-course tunnel. I would try to call him back before he took the tunnel, but my voice came out as a mere suggestion at best, and not as a firm command. Off of the agility course, as well, I was a shy and soft-spoken little girl. My participation in the Juniors program changed that. I learned how to become a leader for my dog, and how to direct him on the course without the slightest sense of uncertainty. At agility trials, I began to form a new group of friends, almost all of whom were adults. I learned how to converse and even joke around with adults as though I was one of them. I even learned how to teach adults how to train their dogs in dog agility.

Through five years of training and competing, I changed from being a shy little kid to being a well-spoken young adult. At school, presentations that I had once dreaded became a joy-the longer the presentation, the better! In the future, I would like to grow to become even more of an ambassador for the purebred dog. I would like to get more juniors involved in the dog community, and especially in agility! I will hold demonstrations with Balto at schools and community events to meet this goal. Also, I plan to become an agility trainer to help other people experience the joy of learning to communicate and work with their dogs.

Author is a 2007 AKC Junior Showmanship Scholarship recipient.