People travel from all over North America to compete at AAC Agility Nationals. AAC National courses are “international” style, and consist of three course types. The venue so far is always outdoors. This year, AAC Nationals were on the East Coast. One moment there was rain, thunder, and lightning, and the next, it was blisteringly hot, sunny, and humid! Miles and I have worked really hard at our competition skills as long-time readers know, and this year, we experienced a personal best.
The compilation video of our six Nationals runs:
Our Nationals Story
This year AAC Nationals took place on the other side of the country from where Miles and I live. We took two planes to first arrive at my parent’s place, and from there, my parents drove our little caravan hours to the event. Halfway through the road trip, we stopped in Toronto for a fun city day reprieve. My favorite thing to do in Toronto is to go down the alleyways and see all of the cool graffiti. Look what Miles and I found in an alley the day before Nationals!
Here is a silly video I made of the behind the scenes of our Nationals trip:
Off to the races!
PROUD MOMENT #1: TRUST & CONFIDENCE
Long-time readers know the struggles that Miles and I used to have with tunnel traps. For Jumpers #1, there was a MONSTER tunnel trap! The trap was located at the end of a sprinting portion for the dog and person. Many handlers decided to cross right in front of the dog just before the tunnel trap hoping to block it (and it turned out that many of those handlers were met with their dog zipping behind them and into the other tunnel mouth!). The second I began walking the course, I decided to be confident and brave. I opted to run fast and trust Miles and my communication. It was a risky move, because if I hesitated even a little bit, or if I didn’t signal to Miles clearly, there was NO avoiding the trap. I was all in! As Miles came out of the first tunnel in the sequence, I booked it towards the other tunnel, signalling him with complete gusto. Miles relished my trust and speed, and returned my trusting gusto with his own. I was so proud of both of us! Video below:
PROUD MOMENT #2: PACE & FLOW
I am the most proud of my handling in Jumpers #2, which was at the end of our Nationals experience. I am so happy with my Front Crosses (a front cross is where the handler turns in front of the dog to switch which side of the dog they are on). While my group was waiting to walk this course, I dubbed this run “front cross city” which made the other handlers laugh. I personally did this move FIVE times on this course!
At AAC Nationals your overall placement is based your cumulative score, so one mistake can cost you a lot of points. That means that most people handle courses a little differently than they would at a regular trial. In that final run, I felt the everything but me and Miles fade into the background. In that moment, Miles and I celebrated the culmination of everything we’ve worked for together. The best way I can describe it is to imagine what it would feel like to be inside a bubble. Bubbles are precarious and can burst, and are kept together aware of external pressure, but the moment they exist is so beautiful that you don’t think about that, you see nothing but beauty. When I watched the video, I was surprised at how loud the background noise and yelling people are. I didn’t hear any of that when I was in the moment. My own voice was so quiet because Miles and I were in our bubble. What a special moment it was. The following video is included in the compliation, but I wanted to share it by itself in case you are curious after reading this.
The Steeplechase Run-Offs
On Friday, we did the Steeplechase warm-ups before the main Nationals events. Miles placed high in our division and on Sunday we were in the Steeplechase finals. We even won some money! Steeplechase is all about speed and accuracy on a fast course. The finale at Nationals is for entertainment and money alone, so unlike an official competition, they can blast music and the crowd can cheer along! Miles and I have been in the Steeplechase run-offs 3/4 times we’ve entered. It never fails to amaze me that Miles and I rise to the occasion despite how tired we both always are! We love the music and the adrenaline (and making money for a celebratory dinner)! It is a very special experience to be a part of, but it is exhausting after a big weekend! This will be our last year entering Steeplechase.
Competition: It’s Not for the Weak
The mental game for an agility handler is challenging at any event, but especially the big ones. You plan for a full year and no matter how well you plan, you learn to expect the inevitable rough spots such as limited sleep and weather. The better I get at competition, the more I’ve also learned to expect the unexpected.
For years I have documented the work that has gone into Miles and my agility pursuits. Competitive agility is hard to do with a Welsh Terrier consistently and accurately! A Welsh Terrier that is competitive is usually still unpredictable. Although Miles doesn’t look it on the outside now, he hasn’t lost a single wild hair! These days Miles is labeled a “reliable” agility dog at local trials, much to my pleasure and amusement! Behind the scenes internally to our team, I am always paying non-stop attention to ensure that Miles gets all of the information he needs, and I am constantly gauging Miles’ distraction levels and reactions, and adjusting myself to help him.
This year at Nationals, everything Miles and I have worked for came together. There was not a single moment of notable panic or distraction for either of us throughout all six runs. We were in a dream together, and having both of my parents there was also a dream come true. Yet, I still faced a disappointment that I could not have expected. We were one of the last teams to run on Saturday, and as we left the ring, the judge removed 49 points from our score. The call felt like a mistake, and my dad’s 4K video footage proved it to be. Each ring has just one judge who scores hundreds of runs a day, and the calls they make are immediate and final. Video review is not currently allowed. When it happened, I knew that there was a mistake, but I also knew that judges rarely change their calls and that Miles didn’t know what happened. It doesn’t matter how bad a human aspect of the game feels in agility– there is still a dog there who has just put his absolute heart into the run! All I could do was rush out of the ring and reward Miles for a glorious run!
At the hotel, I gave Miles more treats, a bath, and dinner. Miles spread himself out on the bed and snoozed away, happy to be out of the sun and rain and in the air conditioning. I collapsed in a lump of confusion and devastation. Miles and I have experienced so much failure in the past, that I am used to competitive failure. This felt different. This time, we hadn’t done anything wrong. What I learned that evening was that failing is a lot different than losing. Failing is a real mistake or learning curve; losing is a competitive term and competition outcomes can be swift and flawed. Losing isn’t the same as failing. We could not have done better, yet, what we had spectacularly earned was gone, poof, as if we hadn’t just gone out there and demonstrated our very best. The difference between winning and losing is so confusing sometimes.
The next morning at 5am my mind felt like when you open a storage box full of Christmas tree lights, and see them all tangled together: shocked twinge mixed with excitement and anticipation. I could feel the deep happiness over how good our performances had felt on Saturday, so I pushed the toothache into the background, and focused on our team. Sunday Miles and I were on fire, with three more spectacular clean runs! Every minute out, we relished as a team.
Because of the bad call on Saturday that stripped Miles and I of 49 points, we missed becoming National Agility Champions by 19 points.
Miles’ Second Place Podium Finish at AAC Agility Nationals
Neither Miles or I are naturals at competition, but we love agility. Miles and I are proof that passion, hard work, and mutual respect can earn you and your wild dog a place in anything you want to do together.
Never in a million years would I have dreamed Miles and I would be on a agility podium, let alone in 2nd place in a very competitive height class. Miles is the first Welsh Terrier to ever be on any agility podium, and it has been such an honor to be on three. To see how we’ve consistently risen up and up has been very rewarding for all of our hard work. Our first podium placement was last year’s Nationals, where we placed 9th. This year at Regionals, we placed 6th. At this year’s Nationals, we placed 2nd.
Competition has taught me so much. What a strange world that I decided to dive into agility with a little Welsh Terrier that both a veterinarian and a trainer told me was “untrainable” and “impossible.” I am grateful to be in the center of the madness with my best friend. Miles has trained me that anything is possible.
Thank you to Miles’ Agility Food Sponsor!
Miles and I would like to extend special thanks to Miles’ agility food sponsors, Natural Instincts raw dog food. Click here to read more about Miles’ diet story. Coming up is a post about how we travel to big events with raw dog food.