There may not be dog agility in the Olympics quite yet, but the European Open Junior (EOJ) event in Europe comes close. Seventeen-year-old Sasha Zitter is one of 19 Juniors headed to Switzerland this year as part of the only International Junior Agility team in the United States. For her, this year’s event is particularly special, as it is her third and final year competing in the event and representing the AKC.
Sasha has been competing in Agility since she was 10 years old.
“My neighbor actually got me into it,” Sasha says. “She brought me to one of her classes, and I thought, ‘Oh, this looks easy,’ But, I was wrong, and I started to do Agility, and I just fell in love with it.”
Competing in the European Open Junior
Sasha will be competing in Switzerland with her three-year-old Miniature Poodle, Jinx.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing all my friends again, and facing the competition in Europe with them,” Sasha says. “I know it’s gonna be a really good year.”
To apply to be part of the EOJ team, Juniors are required to have the AKC titles OA and OAJ and send videos of a Standard and Jumpers run to the team coaches.
Team announcements are then made at the beginning of March. While the AKC pays each dog’s entry fee and for each handler’s uniform, all other expenses are self-funded.
At last year’s EOJ, Sasha says she made her favorite memory in all her years of agility. “My teammates Claire O’Neil, Natalie Spinsby, Morgan Vance, and I got to stand on the podium,” Sasha says. “We earned the U.S.’ first-ever team medal at EOJ. It was amazing.”
This year’s team practice will be held May 25 and 26 in Blue Springs, Missouri. Later in the summer, the team will head to Switzerland for the competition July 12-14.
Creating Agility Summer Camp
A few years ago, Sasha wondered if there was a summer camp for Junior Handlers, but realized she couldn’t find one. ” I always wanted to meet other children who had the same passion as I did,” she says. That’s when she decided to make her own summer camp.
She was immediately met with lots of strong support, and as she began creating and planning the camp, she met her co-founder, Madison.
Last year, Boundless Junior Agility Camp (BJAC) became a registered non-profit organization.
“It was created to provide a place for Junior Handlers to fall even further in love with agility, just as Madison and I have done,” Sasha says. “It can be hard to run a big non-profit like BJAC, because Madison and I are both young and busy with school and our own extra-curricular activities, but we know that all of the effort is worth it.”
BJAC has grown tremendously in the past three years. It started with 13 campers in its first year, and is now up to 32.
Advice for Other Juniors
When she’s not competing or running her summer camp, Sasha loves to hike, play guitar, and listen to the Beatles. She and Jinx also love to watch the Warriors together.
“I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from dog sports is that patience is key,” Sasha says. “Whether you’re working with an animal who doesn’t speak your language, or a person who does outside of agility, the best thing you can do in life is be patient with others, and I think dogs really taught me that. I’m really grateful for that.”
Her advice for other young people who want to get started in Agility? “Two words: Stay committed.”
“It can be hard,” Sasha says. “And there are gonna be times where you feel really discouraged, or like it’s not gonna be worth it, but in the end, it is really worth it. And the bond you get with your dog and the other people in the sport, it’s just, it’s amazing.”
Want to Get Involved?
The AKC Juniors program offers children under 18 an opportunity to develop their handling skills and learn about good sportsmanship, dogs, and dog shows.
Juniors are eligible to compete in Showmanship, Obedience, Agility, Rally, Tracking, Hunt Tests, Herding, Field Trials, Earthdog, Lure Coursing, Coursing Ability, and Coonhound Events. There is no minimum age requirement for sports other than Showmanship.
If your child is interested in becoming a Junior, the first step is to watch a show and sign up for a class. Juniors under 18 years old can sign up for a Junior Handler number here. This number will allow them to both take classes and compete.
Your child will exhibit in the regular classes and in the field along with all other exhibitors at the trials and tests. They obtain the same titles and awards as adult handlers if they qualify.
For more information, email your questions to Juniors@akc.org.