The AKC Rally National Championship, National Agility Championship, and National Obedience Championship all take place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, March 15-17. While thousands of adults travel from across the country to compete, several kids will be competing amongst them.
Meet Emilee, Alexandra, and Mara: three Junior Handlers taking Tulsa by storm.
Agility – Emilee Cragg, 15
You may remember Emilee Cragg. At just 13 years old, she wrote down her dream: to attend the National Agility Championship. This week, she traveled from Alaska to Oklahoma with her Miniature Schnauzer Dash to see that dream come true.
“Being at Nationals means the world to me,” Emilee says. “It is truly a dream come true, and I am on cloud nine.”
She credits her success to her instructor, Cindy Mildbrand. Emilee has had a passion for dogs her entire life, so when her parents let her get a dog, she knew she wanted to do something special with him. That’s when she decided to start basic Agility classes with her first dog, Roscoe.
“It was love at first jump, and I have been ‘hooked’ ever since,” Emilee says.
But did she ever imagine, when she wrote that article at age 13, that her dream would come true?
“In my wildest dreams, never,” Emilee says. “I imagined that as something I would do around the age of 40. Also, when I wrote the article I knew Dash and I made a good team. I didn’t realize how good though.”
Emilee and Dash share an amazing bond, and she says she encourages other young people to try dog sports as a way to bond with their dogs.
“If it is your passion, put your heart into it,” Emilee says. “It pays off big time. You can succeed if you put in the effort and believe in yourself. And most importantly, have fun! That’s what dog Agility is all about.”
Rally – Alexandra Cosby, 10
Alexandra Cosby has been training dogs for almost half her lifetime. At 10, she is not only younger than every competitor in Tulsa, but she is younger than hundreds of the dogs as well! Alexandra is also the only Junior Handler competing at the Masters level in Rally.
This will be her first Rally National Championship, and she says she is both excited and nervous.
It all started when Alexandra was just six years old. That was when she told her grandmother, Pamela Fusselman, what she wanted to be a dog trainer when she grew up.
“So I let her do Rally and Agility exercises with my Border Terrier, Molly,” Fusselman says. “Molly helped Alex to become comfortable handling in these sports and by the time she was eight, she was putting some (WCRL) Rally titles on the dog and was handling some of her runs in the AKC Agility trials.”
Sometimes, Alexandra says other handlers think she is just there to help her Grandma. “They are surprised when I go into the ring to walk the course,” Alexandra says. But she says the other handlers are super supportive and helpful.
“My grandma has been teaching me to train dogs for a long time so I am excited to show how fast Molly is on the Rally Masters level course,” Alexandra says.
Fusselman gifted her granddaughter her very own dog – a Cocker Spaniel – a couple of years ago. But in the meantime, Alexandra continues to work with Molly to build on skills she will teach her own dog.
Her advice for other kids? “Other kids that want to do this should know that it takes a long time to train your dog,” Alexandra says. “It also takes a long time to train yourself to think like a dog. The first step is to have a good teacher like my grandma.”
Obedience – Mara Wackler, 16
Mara Wackler is the only Junior Handler competing in the National Obedience Championship this weekend. While Mara says she is honored, she has mixed feelings about being the youngest competitor.
“I am so proud of Tyson and how far we have come this past year,” Mara says. “However, I wish there were more juniors competing in Obedience at this high of a level. The sport of Obedience has changed my life in so many ways, and I think juniors should definitely compete in it. It is so much fun for you, and the dog.”
This will be Mara’s second National Championship with her Miniature American Shepherd, Tyson. Mara got Tyson when she was nine years old, so the two have grown up together over the years.
Mara says the National Obedience Championship is a unique experience she shares with her dog. “One thing most people don’t know about Tyson is that he is the first Miniature American Shepherd to earn his OTCH title,” she says. “He is also my Novice A dog.”
Her advice to younger kids wanting to get involved is to look for local Obedience clubs and training schools. She also suggests attending upcoming trials to get exposed to the sport.
“My favorite thing about competing as a junior is the feeling when you have been working hard on a particular exercise or detail, and it goes perfectly in the ring,” Mara says. “That is a feeling like none other, that is so hard to describe.”
Want to Get Involved?
If you or your child is interested in becoming a Junior Handler, the first step is to watch a show and sign up for a class. Juniors under 18 years old can sign up for a Junior Handler number here. This number will allow them to both take classes and compete. In all sports other than Junior Showmanship, your child will exhibit in the regular classes and in the field along with all other exhibitors at the trials and tests. They obtain the same titles and awards as adult handlers if they qualify.
If you can’t attend the National Championships, tune in to the live stream March 15-17, 2019 by going to AKC.tv on any device or download the AKC.TV app on Roku, Apple TV, or AmazonFireTV. You can also watch the shows on-demand afterward.