For the majority of people in the U.S., Michael Phelps is a household name. He is the most medaled Olympian, having won a total of 28 medals in individual and team events. So who is the “Michael Phelps” of the dog world? Some may say it’s Jennifer Crank.
At just 32 (a year younger than Phelps!) Jennifer holds the record for the most U.S. medals at the FCI World Agility Championship. Her first medal was a silver medal with her Shetland Sheepdog, Guess, in 2006, when Crank was just a teenager. The following year, she received a Bronze with Guess. In 2009, she earned a team medal with her Sheltie Blaster.
At the 2018 FCI World Agility Championship, competing for the USA on the AKC World Team for the sixth time, she and her dog Swift earned silver.
“It was kind of huge to have one person have four medals over the course of three different dogs,” she says. “It’s just kind of funny to come full circle. Because my very first medal was an individual silver and then to get the individual silver this year.”
So how exactly did Jennifer become the Agility star she is today?
At five-and-a-half, Jennifer remembers casually practicing with her dogs on basic Agility skills in her backyard. Growing up, her mother, Susan, competed in Obedience, so Jennifer was already immersed in the dog world. Jennifer earned her first Agility title when she was just seven years old. Things only got better for the young dog handler. At 17, she was the first-ever Junior to earn a spot on the FCI World Agility team. That year, she and her Sheltie, Guess, traveled to Italy for the competition.
“That year at tryouts, there were actually just four of us Juniors that tried out for the team,” Jennifer says. “So, at that time there were only four of us really kind of doing high-level agility. Now the number has grown so much and the program has grown so much, it’s great to see.”
Starting a Training School
After graduating from The Ohio State University with a business degree in December 2009, Jennifer started thinking about what she wanted her career to look like. At this point, she already had a client base of dog owners she worked with. While she had been teaching before this point, it was not with a formal business name or as an exclusive job — it was a way to make money as a college student. But at 22, Jennifer couldn’t help but wonder: could her passion become her career? Just a month after graduating, she signed a lease on a building and opened up a training center just outside of Columbus named IncrediPAWs.
Every year, Jennifer has multiple students make it to the AKC National Agility Championship and make it to finals. “That’s just such a high for me,” Jennifer says. “To know that every year our hard work has paid off, and seeing all these students achieve the goal they want. The lows are hard as well.”
Teaching has helped Jennifer improve as a competitor as well. She says it forces her to verbalize to her students what needs to be changed or fixed, which translates to her own growth.
“As far as balancing it all — being a good competitor, being an instructor, running the school, and having a son — It really is a balancing act,” Jennifer says. “I think, you have to put family first. You absolutely have to put family first.”
A Family Affair
Both Jennifer and Susan compete in agility at the same height, but it rarely feels competitive. Now, Jennifer says she is sort of a coach and instructor to her mother. “She did actually recently just travel out of town to go to a show because she wanted to avoid me as her competition,” Jennifer laughs.
Growing up as an only child, Jennifer and her mom are close.
“She’s a competitor, but she’s actually a mom first and then a competitor second,” Jennifer says about Susan, who goes out of her way to help Jennifer compete — whether that means driving her dogs across the country or babysitting Ethan. Just being able to do the same hobby and spend so much time together means the world to Susan.
Because Agility became such a huge part of Jennifer’s life, when she met her husband after college, he started doing competing as well. But he soon had to stop after he got his assigned position as a police officer. Their son, Ethan, is just four-and-a-half, but Jennifer hopes one day he will want to compete in Agility as well. He accompanies Jennifer on most of her trips in the U.S. and loves cheering for the dogs.
“He talks about wanting to do Agility, but he’s a little too young,” Jennifer says. But I’m hopeful. I’m really, really, hopeful that he will maybe have some interest in it. Of course, I’m not going to push him, but it would be great if he did.”
The AKC Agility Premier Cup
When Jennifer first saw the announcement of the AKC Agility Premier Cup presented by EEM, she kept thinking about how cool the event looked. “All I kept thinking was, I hope I get an invite, I hope I get an invite.” She sat around for almost two weeks before the invites came out. But when they did, she was overjoyed. “To be invited, not with just one, but actually two dogs, I’m going with two dogs, was super exciting.”
Since there are only 12 dogs in each jump height, Jennifer says she has never been to an event with such a high-caliber group of dogs. Since the event is tied to a horse event, she hopes more people in the horse world will watch and want to join dog agility.
“I know there’s a lot of people out there that want to get into horses and their parents just don’t have the means or the time to pay for that,” Jennifer says. “Horses are a huge drain financially and Agility kind of gives you a lot of that same aspect of working with animals, the training, the having the responsibility, and the competitiveness.”
Versatility in Dog Sports
Although most of Jennifer’s life is spent teaching and competing in Agility, she does a little bit of everything. She and Swift compete in Conformation shows. On other weekends, you’ll find her in the AKC Rally and Obedience rings.
“I hope we do well in Obedience, not because Obedience is my favorite passion, but because I think that it’s a fantastic representation for a breeder. I would say that we do it because we have to prove that the dogs are versatile.”
Don’t Forget Why You Love Agility
Jennifer’s top piece of advice for people getting started in agility is not to forget why they started in the first place. So many people are drawn to Agility because of the excitement and fun, but she says some people quickly get stressed during the learning process.
“I see a lot of beginners — and advanced people — get really nervous or stressed that they’re not doing it the right way, or they’re doing it wrong. That this is too much for anyone. I think at the end of the day, if you and your dog are both genuinely happy and having a good time, you’re in it for the right reasons.”