While growing up in Siberia, Sasha Feiler couldn’t have anticipated that dogs (and one in particular) would play such an important role in her life. Nobody she knew kept a dog as a pet, although people would tend to the occasional strays in her town. Perhaps the only clue to the future would lie in her childhood dreams to one day be an animal trainer in the circus.
Fast forward many years and Sasha is now living in LA and considering getting a dog with her then-boyfriend, now-husband Jay Hunter. They were fans of The Dog Whisperer and were intrigued by a breed featured in one episode, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog. They really liked what they saw of the breed; Sasha describes it as “classic dog” and the breed they’d someday own. Someday came quickly, in 2011, as Jay surprised Sasha for her birthday with a photo of the Entle puppy they’d own and soon bring home. Before the pup’s arrival, Sasha gave herself a crash course in dogs and dog ownership. She read everything she could get her hands in, determined to be a good owner.
Spoon, aka Virgil Spoonovich Von Adhem, came home at eight weeks. It didn’t take long for Sasha to realize that Spoon was “a lot of dog,” bursting with energy and high spirits. With no thought of dog sports, competition, or anything other than giving Spoon a way to blow off energy, Sasha took him to Zoom Room, a combination of training facility and indoor dog park. While the setup isn’t quite an AKC agility course, Spoon showed an instant and impressive talent for agility. So much so that the other dog owners urged Sasha to train with Spoon.
Spoon and Sasha Get Ready For the Big Time
The pair moved to outdoor facilities, including fun run agility events in Woodley Park. Sasha makes clear that she was discovering all of this along with Spoon and says self-deprecatingly that she had no idea what she was doing. It seems Spoon, though, wasn’t the only one with a natural affinity for dog sports, because it takes a willing and able human partner for a dog to succeed the way Spoon has. Their next move was to start training at Jump City Agility and, at two years old, Spoon’s real career began. Spoon entered his first trials in the 20” class and was so incredibly fast that he routinely placed. As Sasha says, “If he Q’s, he places.”
This is all the more surprising if you know how rare it is to see an Entlebucher Mountain Dog on the agility circuit. Rugged dogs, with a muscular long body and short legs, this Swiss mountain dog was bred as a herder and drover and was also used as an all-around farm dog and guardian. Their build is ideally suited for the job of moving cattle up and down from high, sloping alpine pastures. But other defining traits of the breed would seem to make the Entle a natural: they’re extremely agile and balanced and have a strong driving need to work.
Sasha and Spoon began training in earnest, and Sasha gives special credit to Anne Graumann, who, she says “took on training our clueless Agility team and saw our potential before I did. We’ve been training with Anne since August 2016 and I have to give her credit for being open-minded about training “non-traditional” breeds (aka non-Border Collies or Aussies, though she does own Aussies herself).”
Spoon Takes the Titles
Over the last several years, Spoon has earned numerous titles, including MX (Masters Standard), MXJ (Jumpers With Weaves), MXF (FAST), among others. On the circuit, Spoon is well known for his Dog Walk. While most dogs slow down towards the end of this contact obstacle to ensure they make contact, Spoon speeds up, and Sasha says he always nails it. The pair has mainly competed in the Southern California area, where there are plenty of trials to keep them busy.
But one of their most gratifying events was in Orlando, Florida, when, for the first time, they were invited to the AKC Agility National Invitational as one of the top five Entlebucher Mountain Dogs in the nation. Sasha proudly notes that “Spoon was #3 nationwide for three years straight and in 2019, he became #1 Agility in his breed, nationwide!” This type of acclaim is important not only to Sasha and Spoon; it stands as an example of the breed and how the Entlebucher Mountain Dog is represented.
Agility has been so rewarding for the pair, that Sasha decided to add another sport, nose work, where Spoon won a title. When the AKC began offering Scent Work as an event, they switched over to that. Sasha and Spoon travel one and a half hours each way to train in Scent Work with AKC judge and instructor Steve DeTata in Orange County. Spoon has won titles in his second sport. As if that weren’t impressive enough, he also participates in Trick Dog events and has titled in those, too. We were lucky enough to see some of Spoon’s tricks over Zoom and they’re impressive! One could say that Dog Sports are Spoon’s superpower.
Spoon suffered a major setback in January 2020, when he was diagnosed with bloat. He had a fifty-fifty chance of survival. But the Entle wasn’t ready to retire just yet. He recovered and spent several months rehabbing and doing physical therapy. He returned to Agility trials in July 2020.
What’s Next For Spoon?
Although Spoon is back in fine form, the pair’s Agility career will be changing soon. Now that Spoon is nine years old, Sasha has decided to move him from the Regular 20″ jump height to the Preferred 16″, just to keep him running for years to come. The obstacles may be lower, but Sasha knows that Spoon wants to do this more than anything in his life; he lives to run. He’ll also be able to spend more time hanging out with his little brother, Shark, and maybe teaching Shark a thing or two as the younger pup prepares for a career as a therapy dog.
A career in dog sports has given Spoon his best life and Sasha has seen unexpected benefits as well. As she told us, living and training with and caring for Spoon has fostered empathy and a connection on a deeper level. She says it’s taught her “to be capable of teamwork, to appreciate every day. It’s never about the ribbons; it’s about you and your dog on the course, being connected. It makes you a better person.”
Spoon is an ideal lesson in expecting the unexpected. Sasha Feiler couldn’t have expected that this solid, muscular little guy, with his long back and short legs, would excel in Agility, finding his own winning style. Nor could she have imagined the bond that would grow between them, so in tune with each other that “he can read my mind.” Spoon is reaching the veteran stage of his career, “very gracefully entering his senior years,” as Sasha put it. The bond and the teamwork this pair has found in each other will remain as strong as ever.