Fifteen-year-old Reagan Wallace from St. Peters, Missouri got involved with training dogs during the pandemic. Now, she’s an active dog Agility competitor, placing third at the AKC Junior Agility Championship. In addition to Agility, Wallace and her dogs now participate in a variety of AKC sports, including Rally, Fast CAT, and Obedience.
Wallace competes with her dogs Zeusical the Musical AX AXJ XF (Zeus), an All-American, and Lewis’ Breaking out of Azkaban (Bellatrix), a Border Collie. She also co-owns and handles a variety of breeds including Golden Retrievers, an English Cocker Spaniel, and another Border Collie.
Wallace has always loved dogs and when she was younger, she got involved with Dock Diving with one of her aunt’s dogs. It was this experience that helped introduce her to showing and training dogs. “I have been training my family pets since I was really little, and I started competing in Dock Diving around 8 years old,” Wallace says.
But it wasn’t until a few years ago that she got more seriously interested in training. During the initial COVID quarantine Wallace got her first dog and wanted to be seriously involved in dog sports. Her first love? Agility. Wallace fell into the sport by chance through a family member.
“When my great-grandma was in a nursing home, a relative of mine would bring her dog in to visit,” she says. “She would always talk about her dog shows and invited me to come watch. When COVID hit I got my Novice A dog and started training agility. Everything has taken off from there.”
Wallace and her dogs train in multiple sports, but Agility remains her favorite activity they do together. “I love the trial environment, training obstacles, skills needed to execute courses, and the mental aspect of it,” she says. “I love trying to figure out the fastest prettiest line for the dog.”
She especially enjoys how competitive agility is, and the challenge of figuring out how to run clean and fast at the same time. For Wallace, the joy of Agility is also the special relationship it inspires for her with her dogs and the way it builds their bond and connection on and off the course.
“Zeus is like my best friend,” she says. Regardless of if the pair qualifies or not when competing in Agility, she says that they “have fun and learn a lot.”
Understandably to date, Wallace’s proudest moment competing with her dogs is taking third place at the 2021 Junior Agility Championship. Wallace comped with a Border Collie she co-owns, who is 11 years old and “ran clean all weekend.”
But it’s not just the big wins that stand out as accomplishments for Wallace. She loves all aspects of training and competing with her dogs. Wallace is especially proud of the training she’s done with her dog Zeus on his running contacts (in Agility, dogs must put at least one foot into the yellow lower zones of the contact obstacles).
“While it’s not something as major as placing at a big event, he went from having inconsistent stopped contacts to running contacts with consistency which was a major thing for us,” she says.
Raising a dog comes with its own set of challenges, especially when you get one when you’re home all the time. Zeus has struggled with both separation anxiety and noise sensitivity.
“Zeus was surrendered to a rescue after growing up with his littermate,” Wallace says. “He broke out of tons of crates when at his foster home and struggled to be away from me.”
Some of these challenges carried over into Agility, as well. “When he started competing, he struggled in the environment,” Wallace says. “He couldn’t function in the ring and was fearful in the crate. After lots of desensitizing and FEO (For Exhibition Only) runs, he has improved majorly. He still struggles occasionally but is a totally different dog now.”
It’s that perseverance and commitment to her dogs that have contributed to their continued success.
Advice for Involving Juniors
Wallace encourages other kids and teens to not feel like they are alone or must do everything on their own. She is a big believer in asking for help and noted that the support and help she’s received from others has been invaluable to her dog show journey.
“I’ve been blessed with an amazing group of supporters whom I can turn to for all my questions,” she says. “I can’t imagine where I would be without them.”
One of the great things about getting involved with dog sports is meeting new people and being able to benefit from their experience and expertise. Wallace encourages kids and teens to remember that “it’s OK to not know everything and to need help” and wants local kennel clubs to make events welcoming and accessible.
She also asks that adults involved in dog sports be kind and welcoming. “The dog world can be intimidating, and I don’t think I would’ve continued sports without supportive adults near me,” she says.
If possible, she recommends finding clubs with reduced junior handler rates to enter their trials, as the “entry fees add up quickly and it gets really expensive to enter shows.”
A Life-Changing Sport
For Wallace, dog training has not only been a hobby, but it has also changed all aspects of her life. “Dog training, in general, has really helped me become more responsible and confident,” she says.
Wallace credits participating in AKC Events to shifting the way she’s able to relate to others and the world around her. As an introverted person, dog sports have forced her to step out of her comfort zone for the better.
Wallace is looking forward to finishing high school and spending more time training and competing with her dogs. She and Zeus are close to qualifying for AKC Nationals, so she hopes to show enough to do so and travel more for shows. With her puppy Bellatrix, Wallace is focused on foundation training and hopes to one day compete at the national level together. “I’m mainly just focusing on my dogs and school,” she says. “I’m always trying to keep improving.”
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.