2013 AKC Agility National Championship April 9, 2013

Strata says, "What do you mean, I can't ride shotgun? You get in the back!"

Strata says, “What do you mean, I can’t ride shotgun? You get in the back!”

Strata, Dan, and I had a great time at our very first national competition. We traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the 2013 AKC Agility National Championship.


Our trip started on Thursday morning, long before the sun came up at Logan Airport. Driving to Tulsa would have meant too many days away from our dog walking clients, so we opted to fly from Boston to Dallas. Strata had never flown before, but he handled the experience like a seasoned pro. Let me tell you, if you want to attract attention at an airport, wheel around a crate with “Live Animals” stickers all over it. Adults would stop what they were doing to peek in the door and tell Strata how handsome he was, and kids would read the labels and start making wild guesses about what kind of “animal” was in the crate.

The flight was uneventful. When we landed at Dallas-Fort Worth, Strata and I had over an hour to kill while Dan picked up the rental car. We practiced just about every trick and obedience maneuver he’s ever been taught while waiting at the pick up/drop off area. At long last, Dan drove up in the little rental car, we loaded our gear into it, and started our four-hour road trip to Tulsa.

The drive was about as uneventful as the flight. Strata’s chiropractor told me we wouldn’t see much beyond than casinos and cows, and he was spot-on in his assessment! We checked in at our hotel and discovered we had a first floor room (awesome!), and immediately began running into familiar faces from the Northeast agility scene at the hotel and restaurant next door.


We arrived at Expo Square ridiculously early to check in and familiarize ourselves with the layout of the buildings. I am terrible at remembering indoor locations and “visualizing” where each building is in relation to another building, so Dan more-or-less acted as my guide dog for the day.

Friday was the “warm up” day of competition and we started the morning with the Warm-Up Standard class. My goals were to refresh Strata’s contact criteria in a new, exciting setting, and to have a clean run to boost my confidence. We met both of those goals! I had forgotten how much Strata loves to run on dirt, so this run helped me adjust my timing.

This run was followed in the afternoon with the Time 2 Beat class. I love T2B because it’s so similar to USDAA Steeplechase, my favorite class ever. Strata does not have the blazing fast speed necessary to win such a competitive T2B class, so my goal was to treat it like another warm-up run and just lay down a clean run for my sanity. Strata was wonderful, and we earned a qualifying score and 7 points towards his T2B title.

Strata’s videos are in chronological order in this playlist, starting with T2B.


Day one of real competition! My first class was Jumpers With Weaves. I was antsy to get out and walk the course. Once I was out there, I struggled to come up with the “right” plan. In hindsight, I think I was just over thinking it. There wasn’t anything particularly challenging about this course, but it was like I could find a thousand different ways to run it and they were all equally suitable. Nothing jumped out at me as a “brilliant” run, which was frustrating. After walking it many ways, I settled on one plan and stuck to it.

When it came time to actually run, Strata was rowdy! He is usually pretty steady before a run – he’s excited and knows he’s about to do agility, but he keeps his head screwed on straight. I didn’t feel particularly nervous, so I don’t know if he was picking up on the show atmosphere or what. He was bouncing and barking as he watched the previous dog run and I was trying to get him to simmer down. You can see in the video that he has two “false starts” in his anticipation to run. This is the first time he has ever broken his start-line stay in three years of competition. Fortunately I was able to re-cue him to sit and we recovered.

The second class of the day was Standard, which tends to be our strongest class. As soon as I saw the map I knew we had it. Unlike JWW, I knew exactly how I wanted to handle everything before I even got out there, and my confidence increased more once I walked it.

This wound up being my favorite competition run with Strata ever… I handled the course exactly the way I wanted it (including that blind cross after the A-frame – wee!) and Strata delivered. I’ve watched this run over and over and it never fails to make me smile.

We finished Day 1 in 26th place overall in the 16″ division with two clean runs.


I knew going into this event that we would need three clean runs to have a chance at making the finals. Strata is fast but not a speed-demon and we had no chance of making the Challengers round. When I got the course map for Hybrid first thing in the morning, I felt pretty good. I felt even better after walking it – it was a genuinely fun course, tricky but not too hard, with a few good places for dogs to open up and run.

Strata came off the start line like a bat out of hell and I had to scramble! I got him to the teeter in one piece, but he stalled out at the top of the yellow contact zone. My plan was to be a couple of strides ahead of him, but I was neck-and-neck with him as he exited the teeter and I didn’t think I was able to get to the right spot for my front cross before the double. He read my rear cross over the double nicely, but didn’t see the first weave pole in time to collect for the entry, causing a refusal. We recovered and finished the course. In hind sight, I think I could have fought to make it to that front cross – now I know I have to be more aggressive!

In Conclusion

Strata and I finished in 50th place overall, out of 211 teams – not too shabby for our first time. I’m pleased that I was able to keep my head on straight and not let the pressure of competition get to me, and that Strata rose to the occasion and stayed focused. I’m really looking forward to attending again in 2014 – if they ever decide where to hold it! (It’s definitely going to be in the “Eastern time zone,” so hopefully within driving distance.)

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