Sela Cooper, a 16-year-old from Tennessee, has accomplished big things with her Vizsla, Jersey (Mesa’s Little Jersey BN RI NAJ BCAT ACT1 ACT1J DJ DN DDS DDBE CGCA TKE VHMA). Cooper got started competing in dog sports in 2019 with Fast CAT and she and Jersey were instantly hooked. The two now also compete in Agility, Obedience, Rally, Updog (disc), Dock Diving, and Barn Hunt, with plans to also start competing in Confirmation. The duo finished the second quarter of 2021 as the No. 3 Vizsla in AKC Novice Agility.
“My parents bought Jersey when I was ten as a family pet, with no intentions of getting into dog sports,” Cooper explains. “She wasn’t bred for sports or for conformation.” When Jersey came home, Cooper was active in gymnastics and didn’t have time or interest in pursuing dog training. “When I quit gymnastics in 2019, I decided to start an Instagram for Jersey to share photos and videos of her,” Cooper says. “I quickly discovered the community of junior handlers training dogs and wanted to be a part of it.”
Even though Jersey wasn’t intended to be a sports dog, she’s taken to training naturally and become a great teammate for Cooper. The pair have a busy schedule training and competing in a variety of performance events. “Since I participate in many sports, it’s difficult to pick a favorite, but if I had to choose, I would say Agility,” says Cooper. Her love of Agility is rooted in the joy she finds with the technical aspects of learning new handling techniques and figuring out the best way to navigate her dog around the course. But most of all, she loves seeing how much Jersey enjoys it.
Despite only training and competing for a couple of years, Cooper and Jersey have already experienced a lot of success together. The most special ones to date have been Jersey’s titles in Obedience and Rally.
“Being a family dog before we started dog sports, her minimal obedience foundations didn’t exactly set us up for success in those sports,” Cooper says. “But I kept working with her and am so proud I have been able to get her to where she is now.” Similarly, Cooper remembers initially having doubts if she and Jersey would be able to ever compete in Agility. “When I learned that treats and toys cannot be used in trials, I remember thinking we would never be able to trial successfully. However, we kept learning and training and under a year later we trialed for the first time and earned our first Q.” Jersey now has her NAJ title as well as virtual ACT1 and ACT1J agility titles and they are 1 Q away from NA and NF.
All of the hard work has paid off—Cooper finished the 2021 AKC Junior Recognition program as the #1 Vizsla junior for all sports combined and is currently at the top for 2022 based on AKC’s junior points for Vizslas.
Small Business Owner
At 15, Cooper is already the owner of two small businesses, both related to her passion for dogs and dog training. “I started my first business, SouthernPupDesigns, in May of 2019,” she says. “I enjoyed purchasing bandanas and collars for Jersey and figured I may as well try making them myself. I started with just bandanas and matching scrunchies, and I now offer many different styles of fabric collars, lure coursing leads, bandanas, and more.” Cooper’s products are available for purchase through her brand’s Instagram.
In August 2020, Cooper started a photography business, selacphotography born out of her love of photographing dogs. “I purchased my first camera and fell in love with the art of photography,” she explains. “I enjoy every aspect of it—finding unique compositions, working with clients, editing photos, and capturing the dogs’ personalities. I photograph lots of the dog events I attend and also offer portrait sessions.”
Advice For Kids and Teens
Perseverance is an important lesson Cooper learned as she began training and competing with Jersey. “In the beginning, I often got discouraged because it wasn’t the easiest to learn how to best work with Jersey. It was a huge accomplishment to get her to do a trick outside of the house, then at the park, then at a training facility, then without treats, then with a lot of dogs around, and so on.”
As they kept working together and Cooper gained more skills as a trainer, the duo began developing a strong working relationship. Cooper explains that it was a matter of figuring out how to best reinforce and motivate Jersey in distracting environments. “Once I figured out the right way to motivate her and how she learns best, new tricks and behaviors came quickly.”
For kids and teens thinking that dog shows look like a lot of fun, Cooper encourages them to give it a try. Even though she was initially very nervous about trying to get involved, she’s very glad she took the chance. She remembers feeling concerned about whether people would take her seriously or be willing to help her learn because of her age, but discovered that her fears were unfounded. “The majority of the people I have met have been so kind and welcoming.”
Cooper suggests finding classes to attend to learn more about what you’re interested in and meet people involved in those events. From her experience, “most people are happy to see a junior participating in sports” and are eager to help them get involved.
An Eye on the Future
Thanks to her experience as a junior handler, Cooper has now found what she hopes will be a life-long passion. Dog sports have also deepened her love of Vizslas as a breed. “Ever since getting Jersey, I’ve loved Vizslas, but I’d really only met a few before getting into dog sports and attending a couple of shows,” she says. “After meeting some wonderful well-bred Vizslas, I know for sure I never want to be without at least one.”
Jersey and Cooper have a busy fall planned with Fast CAT, Updog, Dock Diving, Barn Hunt, Rally, and hopefully an Agility trial. In addition, Cooper hopes to enter Junior Showmanship for the first time at a local show next February and is “excited to learn more about the world of conformation.”
For Cooper, the competitions and the wins are fun and she’s very proud of what she and Jersey have accomplished, but what’s most important is the relationship. “The Qs, titles, and ribbons are great,” she says. “But what I enjoy most is strengthening the bond between me and Jersey and seeing how much she loves giving her all at anything we try.”
Getting Started in AKC Juniors
Teens and children under 18 have the chance to learn about good sportsmanship, dogs, and dog shows, and develop their handling skills with the AKC Juniors Program.
Juniors are eligible to compete in Showmanship, Obedience, Agility, Rally, Tracking, Hunt Tests, Herding, Field Trials, Earthdog, Lure Coursing, Coursing Ability, Coonhound Events, and more. There is no minimum age requirement for sports other than Showmanship (where you must be nine).
If your child is interested in becoming a junior, they should first watch a dog show and sign up for a class. Juniors under 18 years old can sign up for a Junior Handler number here. This number will let them both take classes and compete.
Junior participation in AKC sports will be recognized through the AKC Junior Recognition Program and at the end of the year, AKC will award the Junior Versatility Awards and Scholarships. You can go to this link to learn more about the AKC Junior Recognition Program.
For more information, email your questions to Juniors@akc.org.