Czarina Ellingson held her breath as she took the leash off her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Gatsby, at an Agility trial. She had decided that if he didn’t obey her, Czarina would pick him up and walk him out of the ring — therefore willingly disqualifying them from their favorite dog sport.
Gatsby — named after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous character — shares the same drive and perseverance as his namesake, but is also incredibly stubborn. As soon as his leash came off, Gatsby was gone: running laps around the ring, taking random obstacles, and generally causing an embarrassing ruckus.
“That was something that he was really stubborn about. The motion of the leash passing his ears was like his green signal, like, okay, that means I can go,” Czarina said. “We had to really break down that behavior.”
Czarina worked with a trainer for a month to correct the behavior. Gatsby had to learn that just because the leash came off didn’t mean he got to go. She knew that letting him compete after showing this bad behavior would be positive reinforcement.
So when Czarina entered him in a trial for the first time after retraining that behavior, she knew she had to be mentally prepared to leave the ring. Thankfully, Gatsby showed Czarina just how focused he could be and performed perfectly.
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Czarina had seen Agility on TV and knew she wanted to try the dog sport. As a newlywed living in a Southern California tiny apartment, she started looking for a breed that she could compete with. She convinced her German Shepherd Dog-loving husband, Bradley, to get their first Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Gatsby.
She got her first taste of dog sports at a local training facility in an intro to agility course.
As a puppy, Gatsby showed an extraordinary talent and took an immediate liking to the sport.
“I literally was going into the whole thing completely blind,” she said. “I was totally new to everything.”
Since Gatsby was quickly advancing through training, it looked like something that they could start competing in.
“I really started learning more about entering trials, what to expect when you get there, and the kind of courses that you’ll be running at different levels,” she said.
Gatsby has certainly lived up to his “great” title: he’s accumulated a ton of 1st and 2nd place ribbons. But the road to winning his accolades hasn’t always been easy: Gatbsy has had many health concerns. He’s currently in clinical remission from meningitis and sees a neurologist regularly.
Gatsby tore his CCL after competing in the 2018 AKC National Agility Championship. Though Gatsby didn’t need surgery, they spent six months going through rehab and slowly easing back into doing weave poles and jumps.
“It was a very gradual return to the sport and because he’s my first agility dog, that whole experience was a new thing for me to deal with,” Czarina said.
Luckily, the Great Gatsby was able to recover. Two months after he was medically cleared to return to Agility, he earned his Agility championship title.
Now that Gatsby is nine years old and earned his Agility championship title, he mostly does Agility as a way to stay active. That’s allowed Czarina more time to focus on the rest of the Corgi pack.
Adding to the Corgi Pack
There’s an ongoing joke in the Corgi community, Czarina says. Corgis are like chips: you can’t have just one.
As a puppy, Gatsby started struggling with a problem many Corgis deal with: weight gain. It’s bad for Corgis to be overweight: it puts extra pressure on their backs and joints. Czarina knew she had to do something to make him more active.
This is what led Czarina and Bradley to get their second Corgi, Scout. But while Scout helped encourage Gatsby to be active and helped him lose 10 pounds, Scout didn’t want anything to do with Agility. Though Czarina had initially planned to participate in dog sports with Scout, she learned an important lesson.
“Love your dog for who they are and not what you want them to be,” Czarina said.
Scout, a beloved, sassy member of the family, died of cancer when she was four. Though they were heartbroken, they missed having two dogs and started casually researching responsible breeders and rescue groups. After an application process and interview with a breeder, they were approved for their next female puppy: Huffle.
Czarina quickly realized that training Huffle was a completely different experience than working with Gatsby. Huffle is quicker than Gatsby, which prompted Czarina to adjust her handling since she has to anticipate Huffle’s actions quicker. Huffle is also more independent.
“She’s like: I know how to do what you’re asking me to do, but do I want to do it as the question?” For instance, Huffle may decide she needed a drink of water during training and not return.
But even with two Corgis in the household and balancing the demands of pursuing her law degree in grad school, Czarina wanted a third. That’s how Pippin joined the family in January of 2019.
Pippin the puppy shows promise in the future of dog sports: he’s “laser focused” on everything he does and loves to work. Whenever Czarina tells Pippin that they’re done training for the day, he would throw a little tantrum because he wanted to keep working. Pippin is currently the sharpest dog in the pack and is already starting Agility, virtual Rally, and Herding.
“Every dog that I’ve since added to the family, the sole goal was to do performance sports with them,” Czarina said.
While Czarina had to convince Bradley to add Pippin to the family (and credits her husband’s support for being crucial to balancing Corgis and grad school), they were both excited for their fourth Corgi: Jo.
When Czarina’s breeder discovered a “fluffy Corgi” in a litter, they reached out to Czarina since Czarina had always wanted one. With her and her husband working from home due to COVID-19, it seemed like the perfect time.
Named after Czarina’s favorite literary character Josephine March in Little Women, Jo is a sweet, friendly, and smart puppy. Even though she’s only been a Literary Corgi for a month, she’s already house broken and is progressing quickly through basic obedience training.
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“How do you manage four dogs?”
Czarina hears this question from people all the time but she doesn’t mind. It takes a lot of organization skills to keep track of her family of Corgis. If you’re trying to train multiple dogs at once, Czarina says it helps to keep your expectations consistent.
“You need to be in control. You need to be the leader of the pack,” Czarina said. If your dogs know to look to you for leadership on what they should do in a certain situation, it helps prevent all the chaos and confusion that leads to conflict.
Czarina’s advice to anyone looking to get involved in dog sports is to find a local trainer and try it out. Corgis in particular need a lot of mental stimulation, so be prepared to keep them both physically and mentally active.
“It’s very harmonious when all the dogs kind of have a job to do and know what is expected of them,” Czarina said. “We’re finding that that’s really kind of like the key to maintaining a peaceful pack.”
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