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.
Bad scoring sucks, you and Miles are WINNERS and will always be champions to me. Good job!
Thank you Mary Anne! ?
Having had Welsh Terriers for years and years, I can’t tell you how proud I am of you and Miles!! Thank you for sharing this. Congratulations!!
Hi Gretchen, thank you! It means so much coming from you!! ? And you are well aware of how far we’ve come! I guess you could say we’ve arrived “out of the rabbit hole!” ?
What a great documentary of your trip to Nationals! Congratulations to you both!
Thank you dear friend! What did you think of the courses from what you could see?
You and Miles are absolutely in what Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi calls flow. He has been studying for decades states of “optimal experience”–those times when people report feelings of concentration and deep enjoyment. These investigations have revealed that what makes experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow–a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. Poised, confident, seemingly effortless, joyous perfection: that’s what Geoff, George and I think of when we watch the videos. I truly wish the judge had not made the mistake, but the way we see it, you ARE on the First Place Podium. Congratulations! I can’t wait to see you and Miles next month.❤️
Thank you Denise for this very thoughtful and thought-provoking comment! I am going to research this because it far exceeds my articulation here… Can’t wait to see you either and do some more big time agility!!
You guys did great. I love seeing a welsh terrier pay so much attention, what a great bond and hard work!
Thank you Santa! That is very well-said, I feel the same way. Our bond is what drives us and the best part is that now in our off-time we enjoy being distracted together. We are so much alike!
What kind of collar is Miles wearing? Looks like it would be good for dogs who pull.
Hi Sandi, in many agility organizations dogs need to compete “naked,” so Miles is wearing a traditional collar/leash combo that is easy to get on and off very quickly. A lot of excited agility dogs that have a tendency to pull wear harnesses to protect their necks. I hope this info helps!
What an accomplishment! I can only imagine all the hard work and perseverance that you and Miles have been through. The pictures on the podium are beautiful, but my favorite is both of you standing in front of the rainbow. You are my role model for raising my 5 month old welsh puppy.
Thank you Jean, I could not agree with you more! By the time Miles and I were on the podium late that evening, it was pouring rain and we were so exhausted and hungry we could barely think straight. I wish Miles could’ve carried me, but I outweigh him! I felt the best of the experience running with him. You are doing so great with your puppy, the bond is everything! Thank you for your support and kind words. ❤️
What a great dog Miles is you must be a very proud Mum
I am grateful everyday for my teammate! He’s been very patient with me as I’ve learned. ☺️
Thank you for all the work you do to put these awesome posts together. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching. Plus, every picture in itself is beautiful. I have a welsh and know only too well their stubbornness, so it’s amazing to see what you and Miles have accomplished. Congrats to you both on a spectacular job! All us Welshie owners couldn’t be more proud of you two!
Aww I am so happy you enjoy them Susan! Your kind words mean a lot!! ? How is Stella? I’d love to hear more about her! ?
Congratulations Emma and Miles! I loved watching the videos and seeing the photos from behind the scenes. Miles at your friends house doing roomies, howling in support of another dog, the weather! Crazy weather. You both are true grit. Thank you for sharing your adventures and always good luck, keep up the hard work and play.
Agreed Kim, totally crazy weather!!! Agility is certainly not a glamorous hobby! ? I am so happy you enjoy our wild wiry tales!
Emma and Miles! Huge congratulations! I know how hard you’ve both worked for this, and I am so proud of you. Watching your videos reminded me of the Golden Compass movie based on books by Phillip Pullman. This book takes place in a universe where “daemons” are real; they are entities that are bound to specific people and represent parts of their personality. In the movie, and in His Dark Materials, the Daemons are animals that go everywhere with their humans, talk to their humans, never leave their human’s side, and are in fact, part of them.. that’s what you and Miles look like! Beautiful! It makes me so happy to see what you’ve achieved! Well done! Love from, Darcy and Sally
Hi Darcy, what an interesting comment! I think I am Miles’ daemon! We really are attached. That is so interesting. I don’t play games on my iPhone ever, with one exception. One holiday season I heard about this game Never Alone and was inspired to try it because of the interesting backstory. It really reminded me of me and Miles! Give Sally a treat from Miles!
So proud of you guys and what a touching write up of the event! Those videos really helped explain the trap for us non-agility folk!
Thanks Katherine! I am glad the videos helped make sense of it all too!
Oh Emma! I was so proud of being there to see your 9th place finish two summers ago. But 2nd is even more incredible!!! (Even if it should have been first!) I wish I could have been there to see that in person! Thanks so much for sharing the videos so we can get the next best thing to being there. You and Miles are on fire!!! I don’t even know what else to say other than that I’m so happy for both of you! What an amazing team. We love you both!!
Danielle, thank you for the really nice note. It was so special to have you there last year too! I feel so bad I didn’t have more time, or independent transportation to be able to spend more time with you! We love you guys so much too!
Congratulations Miles and Emma!! Well-deserved! Very happy for you!
Thank you so much Michalis!! I appreciate it!
I loved seeing Miles and you in the agility competition! I had hoped to do agility with Asher. We were wondering how he is doing? We all miss him terribly, even the good neighbors ask how he is. Regards, Trudy,Don, Brianne and Andrew Francis