Sandy & Pepin's Agility Journey to MACH

By Sandy Kott (January 2012)

Master Agility Champion aka MACH. According to AKC, a dog must achieve a minimum of 750 championship points and 20 double qualifying scores obtained on the same day for the highest skill level of classes. A championship point is equal to a second under standard course time measured by the trial judge.

Pep and I were able to spend extra time in the agility ring on May 29, 2011. Tradition calls for a celebratory lap around the course where the final requirements for MACH are met. While this was Pep's first celebration lap, I had made this trip before with my two time agility champion, Bela. My emotions during those celebration laps are significant; pure and simple elation, a satisfying sense of accomplishment, tremendous relief and mild trepidation that I may have miscalculated points.

I drove a small compact car for years. Recently I traded it in on a larger SUV (to hold dog crates, of course). It has been a real challenge to learn how to park and maneuver this larger, more powerful vehicle. Pep is my third competition dog to train and this vehicle comparison sums up the adjustment of handling Pep compared to my very compact sized girls, Bela and Nauti. Not only is he more exuberant, he goes faster, takes up more space AND he is very vocal on the course particularly when I give a poor cue. I have to run faster, think faster, stay out of the way and try to concentrate through Pep's feedback sessions.

Adjusting my handling style to Pep, particularly while I was still training and competing with Bela was a key challenge. I had to use (and learn) handling skills I simply did not need with Bela. As we started competing, we often had disqualifying runs because I lost my nerve to use newly learned skills and the old standards were not timely enough with Pep. I still struggle with this today.

And then there is the "boy" factor. Pep is an intact male and while he can maintain focus in most circumstances, he has his "moments". For example, there was the "moment" that lasted four months. One of the agility obstacles is a table that all the dogs in the trial will eventually stand, sit or lie on. For four months, Pep frequently disqualified on that particular course because he stopped to thoroughly sniff the table before jumping on it. It started as scent interest and turned into a stress response as I became increasingly frustrated. There was the another "moment" when someone brought an "in season" female to class without telling us. I welcome the challenge but would have loved the warning.

I was asked to write about Pep's journey to MACH. While it is truly a journey for me, I need to clarify: Pep doesn't care about MACH titles, qualifying runs, points and he surely doesn't care about "no stinkin'" journey. Pep cares only about what he loves agility racing with me and the treats probably not in that order.

However, my journey to Pep's MACH actually began with Bela, my first performance dog. Dogs learn the game of agility in days and weeks. Handlers learn skills in months and years. And in my estimation, there is some misperception about who teaches and who learns. When it came to making me an agility trainer and handler, Bela did the bulk of the heavy lifting. Pep stepped in where she left off and taught me to pick up the pace!

Pep and I reached true "team status" this summer after the MACH. I noticed that we were anticipating each other's moves more fluidly and handled each course from preparation to go into the ring until celebration afterwards - in a familiar tandem. Agility with Pep is more fun than I could have ever anticipated. He is a humorous, somewhat demanding teammate and I love every minute of our time together. As of this writing, Pep is closing in on MACH #2!