Former Stray Dog Makes It to the AKC National Agility Championship

By Judy Finley

A friend was training in agility and told me many times how much I would enjoy it.  By the third class, both my dog and I were hooked; I never thought of quitting after that.

Get the live stream of the AKC Agility Championships in Reno here. 

Unfortunately my Boxer had some physical issues I discovered only after we had been training about a year.  I decided to retire him from agility to lessen the chance of additional injury.  I always wanted a second dog, so my husband and I started our search.  We went to our local shelter, where we had adopted several dogs in the past.  

We saw a five-month-old Lab mix named Dixie who was found as a stray in Oklahoma, and after an unknown amount of time in the shelter there, was brought to Minnesota for adoption.  Dixie was a wormy, scrawny stray.   But she was very friendly and outgoing, so we decided to bring her home to meet our Boxer.  It was love at first sight between our big Boxer and the little puppy, renamed Ruby.

Ruby had a lot to learn, as it became evident she had never lived in a home before. But I also found out Ruby was very reactive of other dogs--how in the world was I going to get this very reactive dog into an agility ring?  With the help of trainers,  and more exposure to other dogs, Ruby became a little less reactive.  And she loved agility!  The day finally came when Ruby was 20 months old, that we stood at the starting gate for our very first trial in Novice A.  Ruby stayed completely focused and not only did we have a clean run, but we won the class!

My agility goal at that point was to get our Open title.  Some of the students at my training facility had gone to Nationals, and I just couldn't imagine how great that would be.  After hearing their stories of Nationals, it became my dream to compete there.  But Ruby and I had a long way to go.  I still needed the help of friends to act as human "gates" with Reactive Ruby.  I was also still learning how to handle (front crosses were my nemesis).  So we practiced and competed, and two years after our first Novice A trial, I set my goal to qualify for Nationals.  We needed to have more clean runs, and I struggled with staying in the moment with Ruby.  Thinking ahead made me miss some of the basics, and we have many, many runs with "one little thing" that went wrong.

Just as we were going into a long summer stretch of trials, I developed tendinitis in my leg, trying to get into shape to run faster.  Instead of resting my leg, I continued to run, which only made it worse. I ended up missing most of the summer trials, meaning my dream of qualifying for Nationals was over.  It was so disappointing!  But I was just thrilled to be able to run with my dog, finally, in the fall.  So Ruby and I really had fun that fall, and we started qualifying more often.  

As we went into our second to last trial for the year, I realized we actually had a chance to qualify for Nationals if we got two double Qs at our last two-day trial.  I really didn't think it was possible, and didn't dwell on it.  But at the end of the first day, with my double Q ribbon in my hand, I realized we only needed 12 points to qualify for Nationals.  

The next morning was JWW, and I was a nervous wreck.  I wanted to get those points!  I was late with some cues, which sent Ruby wide in a few spots.  We ended with a clean run, but only got 11 points. One more point!  I knew I had to get it at the standard run.  At the start line I was calm and ready to go on the tricky course.  I knew I had to focus on the entire course, as it was difficult all the way to the end.  Only after I sent Ruby into the tunnel, the final obstacle, did I realize that we were going to Nationals!

So three years after we started competing in agility, we'll be standing at the start line for our first run at Nationals.  Dreams really can come true!

-- Judy Finley and Finley's Ruby, CD, BN, MX, MXB, MXJ, MJB