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Emily Wentland, an 18-year-old from Ohio, got started training and showing her dogs through 4-H when she was just eight and began competing in AKC sports at 13. She and her Miniature American Shepherds and Borzoi (Woodridge’s I Shot The Sheriff CD NAP OJP CGC TKE “Gunner,” Shadowland’s Designer Gucci Girl NAJ CGC TKE “Gucci,” GCH CH Bella Luna Moon Goddess of Dakamar TKN “Joy”) are now very active in a variety of sports, including Disc Dog, Junior Handling, Conformation, Agility, Rally, Tricks, Obedience, and Musical Freestyle.

Staying Positive

For Wentland, regardless of the sport, her joy comes from the connection she has with her dogs and what they can accomplish together. “I think my favorite part of training and showing dogs are the personal accomplishments—being able to see my dogs and I improve and grow as a team, even if we don’t win.”

A positive attitude is essential for making training and competing fun for dogs and for keeping yourself motivated to get out and train. It’s little moments of connection and growth that Wentland finds especially meaningful. “We may go to an agility trial and not qualify because my dog leaped off the teeter, but if my dog had perfect weaves or a good connection with me throughout the rest of the course, Ican still walk away happy.”

Wentland says that keeping training positive is so important for helping your dog to maintain a good attitude about training. “Even if we have a terrible training session, I always end on a good note—something I can be proud of that gives me motivation to try again the next day. I take great pride in the bond I have with my dogs, which all stems from training and trialing together.”

Whether they’re in the Conformation ring or running Agility, Wentland and her dogs have a lot of fun together. “I love the connection and speed of Agility, but I prefer the competitiveness of conformation,” she says. “I also love the bond you have to have with your dog for Agility. You learn to read your dog’s movements and they learn to read yours. Simply turning one way or another can signal your dog to do exactly what you want. I don’t think there’s anything quite as fascinating as watching a dog and handler smoothly navigate a tough Agility course.”

Finding Success

To date, one of Wentland’s proudest moments in the ring as a Junior Handler was putting a Grand Championship on her Borzoi, Joy. “We spent only a few months showing and we both improved so much over that time,” she recalls. “Moving up from Novice to Open Showmanship was a super exciting show day for me. That was a personal goal I had set for myself, to move into Open before I age out.” Her other proudest moment to date was earning the Novice B CD Obedience title with her dog Gunner. “He was a difficult dog to work with, and originally refused to even walk on a leash. I learned a lot about training from him and he quickly became the best dog I’ve ever owned.”

Her advice for anyone with a difficult dog is to never give up. “It may take a while, but you’ll get there,” she encourages. “The key is to find what works best for your dog, and reward even the smallest baby steps.” Finding what motivates your dog is essential for building a stronger training and working relationship, and is especially important to keep in mind if you’re planning to compete. “I see so many kids get caught up in the fact that you can’t use treats in the show ring, and they stop giving frequent rewards early on in order to ‘prepare the dog for trialing,'” she says. “While some dogs do fine with this, some need a lot more rewards and motivation in order to succeed, and that’s perfectly okay!”

Mentorship and Mentoring

Wentland credits her journey and success with dogs to the experience she gained through 4-H. “4-H has guided my journey with dogs from the very beginning,” she says. “I started when I was eight and I only knew what dog shows were from what I saw on TV. After just a few lessons, I think it’s fair to say that I was hooked.”

In 4-H, Wentland not only learned how to start working with her dog, but also how much work it takes to do well. “It’s always clear which kids practice at home with their dogs, and which ones only train during an hour practice once a week,” she says. She also learned that “you can’t compare your dog’s abilities with anyone else’s. All our dogs come from different backgrounds, they all have different quirks and behavior issues, and some dogs are simply much more eager to please than others.”

Her experience with 4H prepared Wentland to start competing in AKC events as a Junior Handler. “My 4-H club followed AKC guidelines for most of their classes and encouraged us to go beyond 4H and try competing in AKC events,” she says. Now as an adult aging out of Junior Handling, Wentland is committing to help other kids grow and excel with their dogs the same way that she did. Wentland hopes to encourage other kids to go beyond the county fair and dive into the world of dog sports. As part of giving back to the 4-H community that introduced her to dog sports, Wentland is currently helping teach 4-H dog classes through her county and has plans to become a CGC Evaluator.

Advice For Juniors/Aspiring Juniors

Wentland hopes that people of all ages including kids and teens will get involved in dog sports. She also encourages everyone not to let your inner perfectionist keep you from going out and having fun with your dog. “There’s no harm in entering your dog in a trial and using it as a training experience for them. While you’re there, you can reach out to veteran competitors and ask for advice.”

It can feel scary or overwhelming to think about stepping into the ring for the first time, but Wentland encourages kids and teens to go for it. “Everyone is super encouraging, especially if you’re a Junior. They all want you to get that Q. Competing can be a bit nerve-wracking, but just remember it’s all about having fun with your dog!”

She also tells kids and teens not to feel discouraged if they can’t start out participating in the sports or activities they’re most interested in because they don’t own their own dog, or don’t have a dog who is eligible to compete in a specific sport. “A lot of breeders are willing to work with Juniors and mentor them. They know Juniors are the future of the sport and ultimately want what is best for the sport and their individual breeds.”

Even though it might feel intimidating, Wentland encourages kids and teens to put themselves out there. “Reach out to a breeder you admire or make a post in a Facebook group and ask if there is anyone willing to mentor you in a specific sport. You could not only end up finding your passion, but also making lifelong friends and mentors as well.”

Dream Breed

Wentland did a lot of research about Borzois and their grooming, exercise, and training needs to make sure her “dream breed” was right for her. “Once I realized they would be a good fit for me, I started following breeders online and joined Borzoi Facebook groups. I also went to local shows and talked to breeders in person. I wanted to build a rapport with them and learn more about the breed before getting one of my own.”

The connections she made there were invaluable and she credits those relationships with helping her get started in the breed “Everyone was so forthcoming, and really excited to encourage someone young within the breed,” she recalls. “When I was finally ready to get my first Borzoi, I made a post in a Borzoi breeder Facebook group. Again, I just wanted to get in contact with local breeders and find a mentor in the breed. From there, I was given the opportunity to co-own Joy. Despite her co-owner living a few states away, she always sends me informational resources and information on the breed so that I continue learning.”

What’s Next

As Wentland prepares to age out of being a Junior Handler at the end of the year, she reflects back on how meaningful the experience has been for her personally and as a dog person. “Being a Junior Handler has really helped me to find my passion in life, working with dogs,” she says. “I set a lot of goals in life, both big and small. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them involve my dogs—not just trialing or earning specific titles but overcoming general training struggles. Showing dogs has really taught me to appreciate the small accomplishments in life. Not only that, but also to lose gracefully and be a good sportsman.”

Wentland is currently a sophomore in college, majoring in biology as part of the Pre-Veterinary program. She plans to attend veterinary school after she finishes her bachelor’s degree, and of course will continue to train and trial with her dogs. In the near future, she plans to include Lure Coursing, Barn Hunt, and Scent Work to the sports her dogs participate in. “I will also be embarking on my breeding journey with Joy, planning her first litter for some time in 2022,” she says.

Although she is aging out of Juniors, Wentland says her journey in the dog world is just beginning. “I plan on not only carrying on the sports I love so much, but also ensuring the breeds I love so much are preserved. I look forward to eventually being able to use my dog breeding and training knowledge hand in hand with my veterinary knowledge.”

Related article: How Do Dog Agility Competitions Work?
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