Westminster Kennel Club’s 6th Annual Masters Agility Championship took place on Saturday, February 9, 2019, bringing together K9 athletes and handlers from around the world.
The competition was fierce, with participants doing their best to win the coveted title of Westminster Masters Agility Grand Champion.
This year, the Westminster Masters Agility Champion was Verb the Border Collie and handler Perry DeWitt. After her win, DeWitt was kind enough to talk with 1TDC™ about her experience at this year’s event and provide tips to those interested in competing in agility. Question: Was this your first time competing in the Westminster? How long have you been dreaming about competing at this event?
Perry’s answer: No, it was my second time competing. I’ve been dreaming about competing since the first year they ran it and I watched it on TV. I knew it would be an amazing experience to compete in front of this crowd. It is also a nice opportunity to share agility with people who may see it for the first time.
Question: What has the journey been like leading up to you and your dog finally getting to compete at Westminster? Did you change anything about your training to prepare for this specific event?
Perry’s answer: I am always training my dog and myself for the big competitions. I tend to do better there as I am more focused. I focused my training on running the courses I set cleanly on the first attempt. I set up some courses similar to what I could expect at Westminster in preparation. I knew I would need to run clean and fast, especially as a Border Collie (BC) to do well in this competition. We set up some courses in similar styles. We also trained on 20’ jumps, as it is Verb’s AKC height. I normally jump him at 24’ to prepare for international competitions as that is his international jump height. While it is an easier lower jump height, it also means he is faster and I need to adjust my timing as a result.
Question: Were the courses more difficult than other events you’ve competed at?
Perry’s answer: The courses were more difficult than average AKC courses; there were more backside jumps than we normally see. Also, it was an international judge designing one of the courses, and he had a different style than typical AKC courses we see.
Question: What is the environment like with the other competitors?
Perry’s answer: It was pretty friendly. Some people I am close with were there, so it felt like normal. We were helping each other. While everyone is very friendly, we are still being very competitive with each other.
Question: Did you have a place to warm up with your dog in advance? How did you warm up? Do you have any tips for warming up and prepping your dog when you are on deck and about to hit the course?
Perry’s answer: Yes, they had practice jumps. I took Verb out 20 minutes before his run, walked him for 10 minutes, then went to the practice jumps with a 15-foot space to ourselves. We did some jumps to get used to the footing. I kept him moving until he had to go. It is important to warm up the dog’s body. Mental preparation is really adapted to the type of dog. I
n the case of Verb, mentally he is almost always ready as he is a naturally calm and focused dog. I will focus on his stretches and movements that fit his biomechanical structure. I want him to compete and stay injury free. Sometimes I will incorporate some tricks for his physical and mental readiness.
Question: Did you give your dog any 1TDC™ before the event? What benefit do you see from the supplement as it relates to your dog competing in agility?
Perry’s answer: Yes, I’ve been giving him 1TDC™ every day for the past 3 years! I give it to him with breakfast. It’s just the routine to give him supplements to protect joints and muscles and keep him healthy in the game. He has been on it for so long, I use it preventively. He is doing well and running very well. He’s not breaking down, and that’s what matters to me at his age.
Question: What were you feeling when you knew it was about to be your turn?
Perry’s answer: I was more nervous during the preliminary runs, as I wanted to make it to the finals. I always get nervous, but I calm myself down by doing visualization exercises. When I made to the finals, I was calmer. Also, by the finals you are starting to feel the tiredness of a long day.
Question: Did you give your dog a pep talk before you hit the course?
Perry’s answer: I don’t need to give Verb a pep talk…he loves agility. He is ready from the time he does his practice jumps. He is giving me a pep talk! Question: How did you feel your run went? Did you know that you were going to win Masters Agility Champion?
Perry’s answer: My final run went mostly as planned. It took me a long time to know how I wanted to handle the opening. One part that did not go as planned was after the seesaw… I put Verb in a position where he had to make a decision, but he made the right guess. He saved it for us and covered for me being a little out of position. After my run I knew it was the fastest yet, but I had to wait for the last dog—Fame (US), last year’s champion. So, I knew it was not going to be a given. Also, to become the grand champion, we had to go against a great dog named P!nk who was very fast!
Question: How did you celebrate winning Masters Agility Champion? How did you reward your dog?
Perry’s answer: The awards ceremony was a nice celebrating moment with Jessica Ajoux. Some of my students came too, which was nice. They seemed to be very excited, and a few days later, they threw a nice party for me at practice. As for rewarding Verb, I played his favorite game (tug) with him afterward, which is the same reward he gets with any agility run. He doesn’t know the difference between winning and losing, as he always gives his best. But I did give him some extra treats!
Question: You won Westminster—now what? What goals do you have for yourself and Verb in agility moving forward?
Perry’s answer: I am going to Europe 3 times this summer, representing the USA internationally. The next big event is April 11-14 at the IFCS in the Netherlands.
My goals are to be more consistent, getting it right on the first try and to become more experienced in making perfect runs. I am always striving and learning to be a better trainer and handler, leading us to ultimately perform well and consistently at international events, which are highly competitive.
It is also my goal to become a better instructor, so I’m able to share what I have learned while becoming a competitive handler. It has now been 2 years since I started teaching agility full time. I also teach 10 seminars a year where I intensively share my experience with like-minded agility trainers/competitors.
My key goal as a trainer is to help students develop clear communication and trust with their dogs and vice versa, enabling them to excel at the sport they and their dogs love.
Question: What advice/tips/steps can you share with other agility trainers/competitors in order to be on the path to competing at Westminster and ultimately becoming a Masters Agility Champion?
Perry’s answer: My advice to handlers aspiring to be at the top of the game is to study and learn what is and is not natural to dogs.
If you can understand what is easy for them and what is hard, then you can gear your training toward finding a middle ground between what is easy for you and what is easy for them. With this knowledge, reading the course is easier for both of you and training becomes more fair and enjoyable for the dog.
Also, once you feel comfortable choosing the right handling plan for you and your dog, make sure you know that plan inside and out before you step into the ring. Once nerves take over it should feel like you have already run the course (in your head) 10 times! That makes agility easy :)
The 1TDC™ team wants to congratulate DeWitt and Verb once again on their impressive achievement of winning Masters Agility Champion. We’re looking forward to seeing them in their next competition!