Video Credit: Mark Zitter
Interview with AKC EOJ Agility Team USA Member Sasha Zitter. Before jetting off to the European Open Junior (EOJ) in The Netherlands this July, 16-year-old Sasha Zitter of Team USA spoke with us about her experience in agility.
Question: How old is your dog? What breed is he/she?
Sasha’s answer: Jinx is a mini poodle, and she’ll be three years old at the end of May.
Question: How long have you and your dog been competing in agility?
Sasha’s answer: Jinx and I have been competing for just over a year and a half. As for me, I’ve been doing agility since I was 12, so that is going on 4 years now. I started agility with my family’s standard poodle, Ozzie. He was really difficult, but he was a great first agility dog because he taught me a lot, especially patience. Question: How did you get into agility?
Sasha’s answer: When I was 10 years old, we moved into my current house and my neighbor came up with her big Aussie to give us a housewarming gift. She saw me and told my parents that we should check out agility. She invited us to come see a trial, and my first thought upon seeing a run was, “This looks easy enough…” I was wrong! Anyway, I decided to try it with my standard poodle when I got him as a puppy. I found out it was much more difficult than it looks at first glance. At first, I didn’t really want to stick with it, but after the first year, things started to click and I thought, “Dang, this is really cool!”
Question: What’s your favorite part about agility? What’s your least favorite part?
Sasha’s answer: I think my favorite part would probably be the bond you get with your dog when you do agility together. Before I started agility, I don’t think I would’ve ever guessed that a dog would be able to do such amazing things by hearing verbal and physical cues. I just think that’s really incredible. Looking at that from an outside perspective is impressive, but really being part of that team just feels so good when you have chemistry on the course. My least favorite part isn’t about agility itself. The biggest thing that I’m not a huge fan of is that sometimes at trials there are issues in the way people treat one another. Especially coming up as a junior where there aren’t many other young people for you to connect with. It can feel a bit lonely if there isn’t an adult that sort of takes you under their wing. Some people aren’t fond of kids, so sometimes it can be tough to deal with that.
Question: What’s your dog’s favorite part about agility? What’s your dog’s least favorite part?
Sasha’s answer: I think Jinx’s favorite part about agility is the food. I would want to say she likes something cool like “running unrestrained,” but no. It’s the food. She’s very picky, but when we find food she loves, she gets really into it. She wants the finest meats and cheeses because she’s a poodle. She’s very particular. Her least favorite aspect of agility would probably be a lot of repetition.
I’m sure this is true for many dogs, but she just doesn’t like it when we work on one thing over and over again. It has really pushed me to figure out how to train in the most fun but also efficient way. I appreciate that she doesn’t love repetition because it shows that she thinks; she doesn’t mindlessly do whatever I’m asking her to. It’s really pushed me to become a good enough trainer to work around that.
Question: Where/when do you train?
Sasha’s answer: I train on full courses 2 or 3 times a week. Once a week or so, I’ll do small stuff at home with a few jumps. We also hike a lot, so that helps in terms of conditioning. I train at Freilance Dog Sports in Martinez, California with Sharon Freilich.
Question: How long have you been part of the AKC EOJ Agility Team USA? How did you get on the team? Has this been a goal for you since you started agility?
Sasha’s answer: I first joined the team last year, so this year is my second time going to EOJ. I was following along with the team since 2015, but I was running my big standard poodle at the time and he wasn’t suited for international competition. I didn’t have a dog to apply for the team with until 2017 came along and I had Jinx ready to compete.
Since I live in the same area as Coach Susan, she kept encouraging me to try out. Eventually, I tried out with videos and an online form, and I was so proud to hear that we were accepted. I was actually a little surprised because Jinx was still quite young. When I first started agility, I just thought it as a little side hobby. But once I started to really get into it, I did a lot of local trials and tried to get as far as I could with my dog.
When I started training Jinx, I decided I can go further, so I started to train more vigorously. I wouldn’t say that I had the goal of trialing internationally until I really got on the team, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. Since then, the team has really helped me foster my international competition dream and really look to bigger things. I think that once I age out of EOJ and finish Jinx’s international career, I would love to try out for the EO team with my next dog. I really love the junior version of the European Open because it really helps you get a feel for international competitions in a slightly less selective environment, which can set you up for major success in the future.
Question: What are you looking forward to most in terms of competition? Will you be traveling a long distance? Do you have any tips for those traveling with pets?
Sasha’s answer: EOJ 2018 is taking place July 13-15 in the Netherlands. I have visited the Netherlands before, but it wasn’t with a dog. I’m not very nervous about the traveling part, but I am a little nervous about the competition itself. Jinx is actually great at flying. I thought she would pee in her crate when we flew to Europe the first time, but she actually held it for over 11 hours! Although this is hard, I recommend remaining as calm as possible when flying a dog because the calmer you are, the calmer your dog will be. Also, with flying a small dog under the seat, don’t give too much food or water before or during the flight.
I’m really looking forward to reuniting with all the friends I made at EOJ last year. I’m excited to spend time with my teammates from last year, as well as the new members of Team USA. I also became friends with a lot of juniors overseas whom I hope to see again, specifically from Team Luxembourg.
Question: Do you give your dog 1TDC? For how long? What differences have you seen it make for your dog?
Sasha’s answer: I do not currently give 1TDC to my dog, but I really want to. I plan on starting really soon.
Question: Do you think agility is a good sport for other young people to be involved in? What do you think agility has taught you and could teach other youth?
Sasha’s answer: I really think agility is a great sport for youth to be involved in. I get so much enjoyment from it, my dog gets so much enjoyment from it, and it prevents her from having to stay at home doing nothing all the time. It has taught me how to be patient and persistent, which are skills that I use in everyday life as well. Without youth involved in agility, there is no future for the sport. We need people to grow up enjoying the sport in order for it to stay alive, just like any other sport.
Agility has taught me dedication, patience, and definitely persistence because I am literally communicating with an animal that does not speak my language, follow my logic, or anything like that. Every day, I’m developing new ways to make something clear to her or get teach her something that she doesn’t know.
I have to be so patient or else it doesn’t work. That has really served me well in other areas of my life, and I think other kids can greatly benefit from it.
Question: Where should people go to learn more about agility and begin training?
Sasha’s answer: Seek out any foundation classes near you. If it’s your first dog, you don’t have to worry about going to a top trainer. It’s just about getting the foundation and learning with your dog. There’s so much to learn that seasoned handlers may see as a habitual.
People think it looks easy, but when you’re actually there running a dog, there’s certain footwork and physical details that don’t just come naturally. If you want to just learn about it, you can attend a trial and check out how it works. People are always pretty eager to educate others about the sport.
1TDC is looking forward to seeing how Sasha, Jinx, and the rest of Team USA perform at the EOJ in July!
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