|Agility with Sage
By Cecelia Madsen
When I arrived home as a ten-year-old from a nearby kennel with a squirming ball of fur squashed on my lap, I had no idea what having a puppy meant in terms of responsibility and hard work. I quickly learned just how much time and energy it took to raise a well-behaved, obedient companion. Sage, my Pembroke Welsh Corgi, was a naughty little thing whose favorite activities included chewing on the comers of our kitchen cabinets and rolling in the foulest messes available. She needed an activity that was more productive but at the same time brought us closer together. With this in mind, I decided to take dog agility classes with the local training club.
Agility consists of an obstacle course around which the owner must direct the dog. Although we made many mistakes during the first lesson, it was fun, and Sage and I returned for more classes. After several long months of hard work, both teaching Sage the obstacles and learning how to handle her, I was ready to make my first foray into the world of dog competition: I decided to attend an AKC agility trial with Sage.
Looking back on that first run in Novice A Standard, I see just how little I knew about what I was doing. First, I had never been to a dog show. Second, almost all the people who participate in dog events are adults, and as a child I was a bit intimidated. Third, I didn't have nearly enough experience. To sum it up, I was terrified, and as a result I made several mistakes.
However, we still managed to come out of the ring with a bright red second place ribbon. Sage and I went home, successful after our hard training.
We didn't stay away from the competition ring for long. In the following years, we returned to the agility field in spring and summer, and each year we became more advanced. Soon after attending my first agility trial, other members of the dog world introduced Sage and me to obedience and tracking. Obedience was a challenge to teach Sage, because it is not nearly as interesting or fun as agility for either of us. She was a natural at tracking, but I had a lot of difficulty in handling her. We persevered, however, practicing long and hard until finally we were ready to compete successfully. And successful we were.
Throughout our career, Sage has been trained and handled solely by me. I was the first Junior handler to ever handle and train a dog to a VCD2 (Versatile Companion Dog 2), a combination of advanced titles in the three areas of agility, obedience, and tracking. When we competed in the AKC Agility National Championships in Tampa, Florida, Sage ranked within the top 60 dogs in the 12" height division for two years in a row. Out of about 700 handlers, there were fewer than five junior handlers in competition.
My big accomplishment came in June of 2005, after years of attending dog shows around the Northeast Region of the United States. Sage and I were about to win a MACH (Master Agility Champion) title, the highest title possible in agility. As I approached the finish line, I knew that I could expect a polite applause from the audience. But I was wrong. Lining the perimeter of the ring were exhibitors and competitors from surrounding cities and states who knew the significance of this run. As I crossed the finish line, all the years of teamwork culminated and the air exploded with a deafening roar. Never will I forget that day.I am proud of the titles and awards that Sage and I have won, but participating in dog shows is not just about competing and coming home with pretty ribbons of various colors and toys that squeak in strange places. It's about having a good time with my best friend and knowing that I have worked hard to get where I am in the dog world. I may splat myself into puddles of mud and my face might be lobster-red with sunburn after a long day of helping out at trials, but Sage and I are always enjoying ourselves. Because of this, I am sure that I will continue to participate in agility, obedience, and tracking for the rest of my life. Perhaps I'll even teach classes or become a judge. Whatever happens, I know that I have been very lucky to have such an amazing first dog. It will be very difficult for Sage's successors to live up to her example.