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Randy Gaines

While she’s now an active agility competitor racking up titles, 14-year-old junior handler Ari Beaudoin’s introduction to dog sports was actually through Flyball. Beaudoin of Boise, Idaho, attended a local dog club’s event with her mom and got hooked from there.

She primarily does agility with her All-American Dog “Jeter” (Beaudoin’s Jeter NA NAJ OAP OJP TKN), but also handles her friend Ann Richards’ Flat-Coated Retriever, “Siri” (Shasta Sirius Brownstone AX AXJ OAP OJP OF XFP CGCA). Beaudoin is working towards Jeter’s agility Novice Jumpers With Weaves Preferred (NJP) title, and has put Excellent Agility Jumper (AXJ) and Agility Excellent (AX) titles on Siri. Beaudoin also has another All-American Dog “Lou Boo” (Beaudoin’s Lou Boo).

Despite her success and love for agility, but she and Jeter have also had to overcome challenges together on their journey in the sport.

Love at First Flyball

Beaudoin didn’t grow up around dog sports, and for a long time, didn’t know anything about them. The now-agility-lover got involved as a direct result of community outreach from a local dog sports club. When she was 11, Beaudoin’s mom saw a listing on Facebook for a Flyball group’s event happening at a local park. The group was doing a demonstration, and Beaudoin and her mom decided to go and watch. Beaudoin loved what she saw, and she and her mom talked with the director of the Flyball team to find out about how to get involved.

“They were super excited, and they had me come out with my dog for an evaluation to see if he would be good for the sport, and he passed that,” she remembers.

She didn’t get Jeter or Lou Boo with dog sports in mind, but notes that some handlers and junior handlers do. When she first started, dog sports didn’t come naturally to Jeter. Early in her sports journey, some people encouraged Beaudoin to think about getting a different dog because Jeter didn’t have a lot of drive for Flyball. He also had some attention issues, and wasn’t very fast.

“We would get told ‘Oh, your dog will never be ready to compete, and he’s not the right dog for the sport,'” Beaudoin recalls. But she persisted, believing in herself and her dog. The pair kept training, and Beaudoin also explored different sports that her dog might like more, eventually deciding on agility. During their training, they clicked as teammates, and Jeter’s focus improved.

From Flyball to Agility

As they progressed with training, Beaudoin entered her first agility trial. Beaudoin remembers being nervous, and that she didn’t know what to expect. At that point, she’d only seen dog shows on TV, and didn’t have a good sense of what an agility competition might be like.

As soon as she arrived with her mom, she found that there’d been no reason to worry. She says everyone she met at that first agility trial was very kind, and many have become her friends. She now frequently sees the familiar faces at trials, and they’ve formed a community helping Beaudoin to get her dog warmed up and focused.

On their first time in the ring, things didn’t exactly go as Beaudoin and Jeter planned. “He went over a couple of obstacles, and he left and was running around,” Beaudoin says. “And the buzzer went off, and I picked him and walked out of the ring and started crying.”

Erin Beaudoin

Beaudoin didn’t let that first show discourage her, and dedicated herself to training to help Jeter gain confidence. She credits her trainer with helping her to work with Jeter to overcome his distraction issues, trying different parks and equipment to help. Working on engagement games at home also helped Beaudoin to build Jeter’s focus around distractions. She says she appreciates how supportive her trainer has been in helping her to navigate dog sports. They walk courses together, and her trainer helps Beaudoin to figure out her course plans.

Recovering From Injuries

Understanding and working through Jeter’s distracted tendencies was unfortunately not the only challenge that Beaudoin faced with Jeter. As Beaudoin was preparing for her second trial, Jeter injured his knee in the backyard after incorrectly landing a jump while playing. Because of this, Jeter was out of dog sports for six months while he recovered. Beaudoin wasn’t sure if he would ever compete again. But Jeter got through surgery, and Beaudoin was committed to his rehabilitation.

Once he was cleared by veterinarians to do agility again, Beaudoin says she could feel his excitement. “On the first day back, he was so excited, running around everywhere and doing every single obstacle he could remember,” she says. “He would run over the dog walk, and then he’d do the A-frame. He was really, really fast, and he was really happy to be back.”

Thankfully, Jeter has remained injury-free. On top of a clean bill of health, he’s also wasting now time earning more titles in the sport. Since returning from his injury, Beaudoin and Jeter have earned his Novice Agility (NA) and Novice Agility Jumper (NAJ) titles.

Practicing Patience Through Dog Sports

Randy Gaines

Beaudoin is still setting her sights in agility high. She’d hope to try out for the 2024 AKC Junior Open Agility World Championship Team (JOAWC) with Jeter, but unfortunately wasn’t able to. Jeter has a docked tail, which meant he wasn’t allowed to compete in Belgium. But Beaudoin isn’t let this setback stop her: she’s borrowing Richards’ Flat-Coated Retriever, Siri, to handle, who she’s also trained with for a long time. They’re now competing together as an Alternate for the 2024 JOAWC, and Beaudoin hopes to try out for the AKC Junior Open Agility World Championship Team with Siri in 2025.

Beaudoin hopes that her experience competing with Jeter, who’s had a lot to overcome, could inspire other Junior Handlers to get involved, even if their dog isn’t an ideal sports dog at first glance. “Jeter has taught me a lot, and I’ve definitely become a better handler because of him,” Beaudoin says. She says she’s proudest of her and Jeter’s ability to come together and focus on agility as a team.

Being involved in dog sports has also helped shape Beaudoin’s approach to life. She credits agility with helping her to take things slowly, and she says it’s reminded her that not everything will always work out right away.

Beaudoin says Jeter has taught her to break big goals down into smaller goals, and celebrate each of those. Small, more achievable goals, she notes, build towards bigger goals, and that’s worth celebrating.