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Catherine Talbert hugging her Miniature American Shepherd Weeping Willow Mountain Melody.
Photo by Mark Talbert
Catherine Talbert hugging her Miniature American Shepherd Weeping Willow Mountain Melody.

The world of AKC Rally may still be growing, but there’s certainly room for Terry Albert, her daughter Catherine Talbert, and the four Miniature American Shepherds they’re bringing to this year’s AKC Rally National Championship (RNC). Five of their ten Miniature Americans qualified this year, though one of whom didn’t compete because she was pregnant.

Both boasting degrees in Animal Science, Albert and her daughter are unsurprisingly both animal lovers. They live together on a horse farm with ten Miniature American Shepherds and three livestock guardian dogs. Like many breeder-handlers, they started small but soon got hooked.

Getting into the Dog World

Albert wasn’t always involved with dog sports and events but did some “just for fun” in her thirties. It wasn’t until 2016, when she got her first Miniature American, “Lexi” (Rocking J Mahogany In Deluxe BN RE FDC BCAT CGC TKA), that she got more serious in the world of dog sports and dog breeding.

Photo by Terry Albert

AKC Rally started in 2005 (when Talbert was in high school), and she got involved right away through her local 4-H group. She became more deeply involved by training one of Lexi’s daughters, “Willow” (Weeping Willow Mountain Melody BN RE BCAT CGC TKP ATT FITS). During her first RNC in 2020, Lexi received the Parent Club medallion for the breed.

Lexi, who is now 7 years old, had her first litter in December 2017. Since then, Weeping Willow Miniature American Shepherds has only continued to grow. Since Albert and Talbert have gotten into dog breeding, they now have ten Miniature Americans of their own, almost all of whom are related to Lexi, their first. Lexi had daughters “Willow” (Weeping Willow Mountain Melody BN RE BCAT CGC TKP ATT FITS), “Wren” (Weeping Willow Morning Song BN RA FDC CGCU TKN FITS), “Taborri” (Weeping Willow Music In The Wind RE FDC CGCU TKP ATT FITG), and “Charlotte.”

“We were very brave last year and ended up breeding two dogs, and they had puppies three days apart,” Albert recalls. “We’d always just breed them once a year and usually one at a time.” But Lexi was around the age when Albert wanted to breed her for the last time. It just so happened that Taborri was of breeding age, too. So the mother-daughter duo bred the mother-daughter canine duo at the same time. They ended up with 21 puppies, some of whom they added to their own family.

One (Very) Big Family

The Miniature American family tree doesn’t stop there. Willow’s daughter is “Nayla” (Weeping Willow Appalachian Harmony BN RA BCAT CGC TKP FITS). Taborri has two daughters on the farm as well, “Hymnsong” (Weeping Willow Hymnsong of Praise TKN) and “Tara” (Weeping Willow Musical Belle Of The South RN TKN).

You may notice their registered names have a certain musicality to them. That’s because Talbert has a second degree in music. She teaches music lessons, dog training, and horseback riding, where she says she often brings a dog along.

Catherine Talbert and Terry Albert with their six Miniature American Shepherds.
Photo by Pix 'n Pages
Catherine Talbert and Terry Albert with their six Miniature American Shepherds.


We can’t forget about “Popsicle” (Blue Elk’s Sweet Treat) and “Sprinkles” (CH Wolfpen Fairway Playing In The Rain RN CGC TKI), their other Miniature American Shepherds. Sprinkles also qualified for RNC and would have been their fifth dog competing this year if she weren’t pregnant.

“This breed fits us because I like to do things, and I like to train,” Talbert says. “They like to do things, and they like the challenge.” Albert stresses that they’re not necessarily a high-energy breed, but Miniature Americans need a mental challenge in order to be happy.

But their crew doesn’t stop with Miniature Americans. They also have a Great Pyrenees named “Triss,” and two Anatolian Shepherd Dogs “Tucker” (Rising Phoenix Sakin Koruyucu) and “Tobias” (Rising Phoenix A Bhalaich At Cupric), who keep busy on the farm.

Managing Four AKC Rally Stars

This year, Willow, Wren, Lexi, and Nayla are competing at RNC, and it’s Albert and Talbert’s third year attending. Typically, Taborri also qualifies, but since she underwent major surgery, she’s training for next year.

With so many dogs competing at once, you’d wonder how Talbert is able to juggle it all. “It really helps that the stewards and judges work with me because I’ve also started dabbling in beginner and novice Obedience,” Talbert notes. They get there at least an hour early, and her mom usually has the next dog prepped and ready to go. “[The dogs] get their little pop quiz before we go in the ring because that’s all we really have time for.”

Now that they’re also doing more classes within AKC Rally, they’ve been working on focus with their dogs. One recent AKC Rally was combined with Obedience, which proved challenging. “It was a little more hectic than I was used to. Plus, they had three rings at this trial instead of two. So I don’t feel like I got as much connection and warm-up time as I usually do, which was actually great practice for Rally Nationals, because that’s going to be very hectic.”

Not Stopping at AKC Rally

Their Miniature American Shepherds all have impressive titles on their names, and their talents extend past their shining AKC Rally achievements. “The more you do with your dog, the closer they’re going to be with you,” Albert says. “We want them to have fun. If they don’t have fun, then we don’t make that dog do that particular activity.” Many of their dogs have achieved titles in other sports, including Obedience, Trick Dog, and Fast CAT, and they have passed their Canine Good Citizen (CGC) tests.

Photo by Terry Albert

“They absolutely love training, and they’re very easy to work with,” Talbert says. “They’re very biddable, and I love working with them.” They may have had five qualifying dogs this year, but they hope to have six dogs qualify for next year’s RNC. “Obviously, I would love to win with each dog in their respective class,” says Talbert. “But I want them to focus better and just have fun. That’s the main thing.”