At just 12 years old, Finley Shryock Taylor is already throwing farther than adults—and beating them!—in Disc Dog events. Involved in dog sports since she was a toddler, she recently became the only Junior Handler invited to compete at the 2022 AKC UpDog Challenge. Competing in the Pro Division, she finished eighth.
Building a Competitive Bond
With Border Collies Nyx, Sol, and Fiddle, Shryock Taylor, who lives in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, is involved in events including Disc Dog, Flyball, Freestyle, and Diving Dogs. Involvement in these dog sports means she has developed (and continues to build) a deep connection with her dogs; she appreciates the opportunity to see them excel at the activities they love most.
“It’s really cool to be able to share that bond with your dog as you go into the field because nothing else matters,” she says. “You know your dog is going to have a good time and to see them happy after your round makes you really happy.” Win or lose, that relationship is the foundation of what makes dog sports special to her.
When she was 9 years old, Shryock Taylor won the K9 Frisbee Toss & Fetch championship. “Before that, I was playing for fun and I hadn’t gotten serious about that, and that was what got me even more into Frisbee and even more into Disc,” Shryock Taylor explains. Since then, she and her dogs have built an impressive resume.
In 2022, she competed in the Hero Cup, in which handlers and dogs compete for who can throw a disc the farthest for their dog to catch. “I had never done long distance before and was like, ‘Okay, this is just for fun.'”
Shryock Taylor had originally decided just to tag along with friends who had been planning to enter. She wound up competing in the Women’s Open Division and threw a jaw-dropping throw of 54 yards: the winning toss! Prior to this competition, her furthest throw had been 30 yards.
“It was amazing to surprise myself and surprise everyone else,” Shryock Taylor remembers. She adds, “It’s pretty awesome to beat adults. They are kind of surprised when you do it, but they are also really supportive.”
Shryock Taylor loves experiencing these shows with her family. Altogether, they own and train eight dogs, including Border Collies (three of whom the family bred), a Whippet, an English Cocker Spaniel, and All-American Dogs. These dogs compete in dog sports like Agility, Flyball, and Disc Dog. “We get to pack everything into our van with our dogs and the whole family goes,” she says.
Training dogs and competing at a high level aren’t always easy. Shryock Taylor has learned to work through and overcome frustrations. “Sometimes I can get a little impatient when things don’t happen as I want them to. I can get frustrated but that doesn’t help me build a good relationship with my dog, and getting over that is a really important thing to keep moving forward,” she explains.
Whenever she gets frustrated with training, she takes a break, tells her dogs they are good, and then sits down to think of a new training plan that will hopefully work better. As a result, she credits working with dogs for making her a better and more understanding person. She says, “To understand a dog is challenging. They don’t know what you’re saying, and you really have to look at their body language and how they are trying to communicate with you.”
When coming back to training after a frustrating session, Shryock Taylor advises working on something your dog knows well and is good at. That helps to get both dog and handler back into the flow of training. Then you can slowly go back to working on the new, challenging skill that gave you problems in your previous training session.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many dog sports were put on hold. Shryock Taylor explains that she and her family had to take a break from Flyball for almost two years. Unfortunately, this meant training one of their young dogs had to be put on hold. Although it was frustrating and Shryock Taylor missed practicing with her team, it also gave her a chance to focus on pursuing other individual sports.
Advice For Junior Handlers
For kids or teens interested in getting involved in dog sports, Shryock Taylor encourages them to talk to their parents. That way, young people can gauge parents’ support, and adults can help find opportunities to start training. She also recommends prospective Junior Handlers learn about sports they’re interested in by looking them up online, going to a local competition, and taking classes.
Shryock Taylor also encourages Junior Handlers to find time to practice regularly with their dogs. She notes that not practicing will ultimately make training “demoralizing for the human and the dog, and it will make them less motivated to keep doing it.”
She recommends young people not put too much pressure on themselves or their dogs and encourages adult mentors to make sure Junior Handlers and their dogs are introduced to sports in fun ways. Most of all, Shryock Taylor hopes that Junior Handlers focus on enjoying themselves. “Dog sports should be fun and relaxing,” she says.
In addition to competing in multiple dog sports, Shryock Taylor is busy with a variety of school and extracurricular activities. The seventh-grader also plays saxophone in her school’s jazz band. She loves reading, especially about dogs, and playing softball in her spare time.
Balancing her busy training and sports schedules isn’t always easy, but she notes that doing things she loves makes her happy and she is grateful for the opportunity to be involved in so many activities and events.
In the next year, Shryock Taylor is looking forward to competing alongside her family in regional and national competitions in Disc Dog and Flyball. Although there aren’t many Junior Handlers in Disc Dog currently, she explains that the sport is very accessible and especially welcoming to young people. Shryock Taylor especially hopes that she can encourage other kids to consider competing in Disc Dog events.