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Sarah and Shayna
Photo by Anonymous
Sarah and Shayna

Saint Bernard “Shayna” likes to be right. If Shayna returns the wrong dumbbell in an obedience trial, she spits it at her owner, Sarah Friedlander of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, as if to say, “Hmph, no, you’re wrong.” In the agility ring, Shayna would sometimes circle around the dog walk, rather than walk across it. In addition to her occasional antics, she is still a top obedience and agility dog. With only the top five dogs from each breed invited, Shayna is the sole Saint Bernard competing in the 18th annual AKC Agility Invitational and the 10th annual AKC Obedience Classic. These events are part of the AKC National Championship, presented by Royal Canin week, including the biggest dog show of the year on December 16 and 17 in Orlando, Florida.

Transferring Obedience Knowledge to Agility

For Shayna, winning a slot in these elite events wasn’t the luck of the draw. The six-and-a-half-year-old dog has worked hard with Friedlander to attach a string of AKC performance titles to her name, RACH Swissmiss Shayna Snowflake CDX BN RM4 RAE2 FDC MXP AJP MFPB DCAT SWN RATN CGCA CGCU TKP ATT. The Saint knows how to achieve distinction in agility, obedience, rally, scent work, and trick dog.

It’s the second year that the team has qualified for the AKC Agility Invitational. For a 130-pound dog, learning to scoot through a tunnel, leap over bars, and maneuver tight turns around weave poles takes determination, skill, and a knowledgeable handler. Fortunately, Friedlander is no novice to dog training. Her first dog, “Kelly,” was an anxious German Shepherd Dog who required extra attention, so Friedlander took her to obedience. “Kelly taught me everything I know about dog training,” Friedlander says. “She died in February at age 10, so we’re running the Invitational in her memory.” This will be Friedlander’s first time going to the AKC Obedience Classic with Shayna.

624 16" Swissmiss Shayna Snowflake CD BN RM RAE OAP NJP XFP SIN SEN CGCA TKA. PAL271743. St. Bernard. F. 8/17/2017. Breeder(s): Unknown. Unknown - Unknown. Owner: Sarah Friedlander, 7244 Grant Blvd, Middleburg Heigh OH 44130. Handler: Sarah Friedlander
Pix 'n Pages ©American Kennel Club

Friedlander’s training journey picked up speed when she started prepping other agility dogs for friends and family. The various breeds and different dog’s ages that she dealt with helped her handle other dogs. These include her aunt’s dog “Olivia,” a 3-year-old Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and Friedlander’s friend Linda Schmidt who owns “Quasar,” a 7-year-old Flat-Coated Retriever. Friedlander herself added a 9-year-old Papillon, “Bruiser,” and “Keegan,” a 4-year-old All-American Dog, “Wynnie,” a 2-year-old Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and 3-year-old “Sharona,” a Bernese Mountain Dog to the mix, giving her a well-rounded training experience with many different kinds of breeds.

Defying Stereotypes for Large Dogs

When Friedlander’s grandmother first bought her a Saint Bernard puppy, Friedlander knew she wanted to compete in dog sports with her new dog. But people told her it wasn’t the breed for agility. “I never owned a Saint, but when well-meaning friends told me, ‘No, you don’t compete with a Saint Bernard because they’re too big,'” Friedlander says. “I luckily refused to listen.”

From the beginning, Friedlander knew what she wanted to teach her dog to do. Shayna’s education began on her first birthday. “At the end of our agility practice, she liked to jump and hug me,” Friedlander recalls. “In obedience, she loves retrieving the dumbbell but has no patience for the articles. She thinks she’s got better things to do.”

1154 16" St. Bernard RACH Swissmiss Shayna Snowflake CDX BN RM3 RAE2 FDC MXP AJP MFPB BCAT SWN RATN CGCA CGCU TKP ATT PAL271743 8/17/2017 Sarah Friedlander
Pix 'n Pages ©American Kennel Club

“As we began training, Shayna was receptive to everything, but was somewhat of a challenge. She never thinks she’s wrong and jumps at me when I tell her otherwise.” As training progressed, Shayna collected a Masters Standard title and eight legs of her Jumper’s title. In Time-2-Beat (T2B) titling class, Shayna has 10 legs. With speed and strategy, dogs and handlers race against the clock. This class is a hybrid class of Standard and Jumpers With Weaves.

There are always good runs and ones that could’ve been better. At the last AKC Agility Invitational, Shayna had two near-perfect runs, but she knocked one bar over and hit the tire.

“At the very least, my dog doubles up on personality,” Friedlander says. Every time Shayna leaves a ring, she lets everyone know she accomplished something. “This dog walks around and barks to anyone who will listen.” Knowing she’s the center of attention only prompts her to puff herself up even more.

Prepping for The Big Week

Shayna and Friedlander have been busy preparing for not one, but two events during the week of the AKC National Championship. There are some things that Friedlander aims to keep in mind during the competition. “The only thing I need to remember in agility is to give Shayna a lot of space,” Friedlander says. “If she’s feeling exuberant and I get in her way, she’ll knock me down.” She says that Shayna prefers waiting to hear what’s coming next. “If I don’t call out the obstacles, she turns and barks at me. She’s that special.”

624 16" Swissmiss Shayna Snowflake CD BN RM RAE OAP NJP XFP SIN SEN CGCA TKA. PAL271743. St. Bernard. F. 8/17/2017. Breeder(s): Unknown. Unknown - Unknown. Owner: Sarah Friedlander, 7244 Grant Blvd, Middleburg Heigh OH 44130. Handler: Sarah Friedlander
Pix 'n Pages ©American Kennel Club

Despite Shayna not being the fastest agility dog or the most traditionally obedient, Friedlander is looking forward to competing with her. “I’m super excited. You never know with these big dogs, and I don’t expect to win anything,” she says. “But it’s special to compete at this level.”

The AKC National Championship, presented by Royal Canin, is the dog world’s biggest event of the year! Learn more about conformation and follow your favorite breeds at dog shows throughout the year. They might be competing for the coveted Best in Show title in December!