It's a Three-Dog Final
By Brenna Fender
Darlene Paul had a lot on her mind at this year’s AKC Nationals. Running three dogs certainly kept her busy, but worry about the sick dog she left behind gave her even more to think about. Her Leonberger, Kasi, had been ill for two weeks prior to the event. “My husband, who was supposed to go with me, decided to stay home with him because we were both too worried about him to leave him with a sitter,” Paul says.
Brave Kasi, who was later diagnosed with an uncommon form of leukemia, rallied as Paul met, and then exceeded, the challenges of the Nationals weekend. “The entire weekend, while I was competing, Kasi seemed to be doing a little better, which definitely eased my mind while I was away,” says Paul.
So Paul tried to focus on the event, with stunning results. She made it to the final round—with three dogs! Her two Corgis, seven-year-old multi-agility champion Tobi and Tobi’s rising star daughter (three-year-old Winnie) competed in the 8" class, and her five-year-old rescued Border Collie, Mickey (a multiple agility champion himself), graced the 20" class.
This Sykesville, Maryland resident, who has her own training center known as “Crack the Sky Agility,” shared some of her experiences on this successful weekend with Clean Run.
Brenna Fender: How did running two dogs in the 8" class affect your runs?
Darlene Paul: Actually, I felt most rushed running my first dog, Winnie. The 8-inchers were supposed to be at the gate ready to go as soon as the big dog walk-through was done. I hardly had any time after finishing my 20" walk to get Winnie ready, who was second in the ring, plus the fact that she is my least experienced, greener dog of the three. I didn’t feel that rushed with Tobi, who is the most experienced and actually does best when he doesn’t have a lot of waiting time.
BF: Did you learn things on the first run that changed the way you ran on the second run?
DP: I lost Winnie into a tunnel with a pretty difficult dogwalk-tunnel discrimination, so that did help me with the other two dogs. I had underestimated it, so consequently I under-handled it. I was able to adjust accordingly for the other two dogs.
BF: Obviously your methods of training and handling must be successful for you to do so well with all of your dogs. Do you follow a particular handling strategy or training method?
DP: I’m pretty open-minded as to what ways I train. Most recently I have tried to follow Linda Mecklenburg’s handling method in training my dogs and feel it has made my runs much more efficient and gives my dogs much clearer information. I’m still working a lot on being more on time with early information for them.
My foundation work is just based on trying to have independent obstacle performance that will hold up under the excitement of a big competition.
BF: How did you handle the stress of having several finals runs?
DP: Really, the most pressure was running Winnie in the Challengers class, knowing that you had to win to advance to the finals. I just looked at it as if it were her finals. With competing in general, I try to work on my mental game all the time. I never walk into the ring thinking about what it’s for, whether I can do it, or the dogs can do it. I only think about my plan. The other thing is that I always go in believing I’m going to run clean and that there’s nothing on the course we can’t handle. That’s not saying it goes perfect every time, but I try to never go in with any negative thoughts to begin with.
As far as having more than one run in the finals, I just tried not to focus on it being the finals, and tried to discipline my thinking to go from one dog to the next and what I had to concentrate on for each one of them.
I also tried to appreciate being in the moment of the whole experience, because the likelihood of having that happen again is probably pretty remote.
When it was all said and done, Winnie finished 8th and Tobi 3rd in the 8" finals. In the 20" class, Mickey took 5th. Those were three great finishes for three outstanding dogs and one handler who should have been very tired.
Sadly, Kasi the Leonberger died two days after Paul returned from her top-of-the-world Nationals experience. She says, “Having something like that happen so close to something so wonderful really tends to put things in perspective. I’m not trying to take anything away from what I was able to do with my agility dogs; I just want to point out that it’s really all about the love we have for them and the love we get back in return. Kasi never competed in agility and the void we feel in the house and the hole in our hearts is just as big as it would be with any one of my wonderful agility dogs.”
Click here to see Darlene Paul and Tobi in their Finals run. This video is provided courtesy of Agility Vision.