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Theresa Cones

Katie Cones started competing in dog sports at 12 years old with a seven-year-old Golden Retriever who was the family dog (and who also wasn’t very interested in competing.)

Her dog, Bailey, much preferred leaving courses during competitions and going up to the judges to get attention and pets. Katie, wanting to be a serious athlete, grew frustrated with her beloved dog’s antics.

“In our agility class, the Border Collies were very focused and looked like so much fun to work with,” she says. “I wanted to compete at a serious level and felt like a Border Collie would be the best suited for the fun I planned to have.”

It took a year of convincing her parents that her passion was genuine before she got her first Border Collie: Dash.

Becoming a Dog Athlete

Dash is a beautiful smooth-coated herding dog that hails from a Texas cattle farm.

“When I met him, I just knew we could do great things together and he has never disappointed me.”

When Dash was two and Katie just 14, they competed together at the World Dog Expo. The World Dog Expo was the first time Katie and Dash had ever competed at a highly professional level.

Katie was intimidated by the size of the venue and the number of competitors.

But while Katie was daunted, Dash wasn’t at all. He seemed to enjoy the crowd’s cheering and ended the competition with two personal bests.

“He jumped 26′ in distance, and 21′ in Air Retrieve to win the entire competition in both events! It was a once in a lifetime feeling that I will never forget,” Katie says.

Photo courtesy of Ray Sepesy | Raymond J Photography

Growing as a Team

As a Junior Handler, Katie is used to being one of the youngest competitors in any room — and knows how to handle being overwhelmed.

“So few Juniors compete that usually, I am the only one, or there are one or two others at any given competition,” she says.

She’s also dealt with setbacks before. “When we first started competing to get his jumper titles or his jumper runs, he very rarely qualified,” she says.

Then, they were at the last round of the Open Jumper Cycle to qualify for the Junior Open. It was the last run on the last day. And Dash disqualified.

At the time, Katie was disappointed. But since that day, she and Dash have become an amazing team, competing in Agility and Dock Diving and earning titles like Air Retrieve Master Advanced and Dock Elite Advanced.

She couldn’t have done it without her mom, Theresa, who drives Katie to all of her events across the country as Katie does her homework in the passenger seat. Her mom encourages her to practice and to be her best every day. Katie does online school so she can juggle school and competitions, often doing homework in hotel rooms.

“It’s been really, really exciting and really fun. I really love it because my mom and I get to spend a lot of time together.”

Dash and Max. Photo courtesy of Theresa Cones

Katie and Dash were even set to compete on the 2020 JOAWC Team USA in Finland until COVID hit. That July, when they should have been competing in Europe, Katie and Dash traveled to Perry, Georgia to compete instead.

“I was feeling down thinking about what we were missing out on, but not Dash! He had his best competition ever, and won six first place ribbons in both Excellent and Masters as well as two earned titles,” Katie says. “He always seems to know when I need him to make up for what I’m lacking, and he did not disappoint.”

Though Katie was disappointed, she’s focusing forward on the future. To her, the COVID cancellation represents an opportunity to practice and improve her skills.

It’s also given her a chance to spend more time with Max, a Border Collie puppy who became a part of the family right before the pandemic struck.

The extra time at home has given Katie the chance to work with Max and Dash on training — and playing!

Dash and Max love to play tug of war together and chase each other around the yard. They both love to swim, something that Max took to quickly.

“He’ll be swimming in the pool all by himself with no toys, nothing. That’s impressive for such a young dog!” says Katie.

In the future, Katie hopes to make the 2022 JOAWC AKC Team USA and go to Portugal with Dash (and maybe even Max).

“I’d like to get Dash’s MACH title, and have Max get his Novice and Open titles when he begins competing in June.”

Photo courtesy of Ray Sepesy | Raymond J Photography

You Can Get Started in Dog Sports Too!

Anyone can get involved in dog sports — including young people ages 9 through 17. If you — or your child — are interested in joining Junior Showmanship or Agility, attend a local dog show in your area. You’ll be able to see how competitions run, the friendships that are formed, and get an idea of which sports you may enjoy.

As you train your dog, Katie recommends using lots of positive reinforcement. “As a puppy, you spend all of your time working on simple things with lots of positive reinforcement. As their abilities and attention span grows, the tasks can become more complex but the reward still needs to be positive reinforcement.”

Young athletes will learn a lot of life lessons from competing — everything from how to be a good sport to good presentation skills. Katie has learned communication skills from competing, along with timeliness and responsibility.

“It teaches you a lot of responsibility, especially with training the dog,” she says. “I feel like that’s definitely made me more mature and think of training my dog from another perspective.”

Join Katie, Dash, and Max

Follow Katie’s adventures with Dash and Max on Instagram!

Any breed — including mixed breeds — can participate in dog sports like Trick Dog, FAST CAT, and Diving Dogs.

Think your dog has what it takes to be Dog Athlete of the Month? Use the hashtag #ThisIsAKC on Instagram.

Related article: Born With a Rare Heart Defect, Weimaraner Grows Into Agility Star
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