Competing with a senior dog can come with its fair share of concerns, from joints to weakened eyesight — but at nearly 14 years old, Radiance, a Shetland Sheepdog, is still moving well in Agility. In fact, she’ll be the oldest dog competing in the 2022 National Agility Championship (NAC) on April 1-3 in Ocala, Florida.
While this isn’t her first time at NAC, being able to compete at this age gets more and more special for her and owner Patti Gagnon.
“I do feel super blessed,” Patti says. “I mean there are dogs her age that we started with that aren’t even alive anymore. So, I do feel that, that sense of gratefulness.”
Breeding Her First Sheltie
After growing up with German Shepherd Dogs, Patti decided to switch to a smaller herding dog that she could more easily take care of and carry in their old age. She landed on Shelties for their small size (and the fact that they look like Lassie, a Collie) and has stuck with them ever since.
Patti first stumbled into Agility when her rescue Sheltie Peanut “wanted a job.”
“She was very happy herding things and running around with me and so we sort of fell into Agility,” Patti says. “But being a rescue dog, she just didn’t have that good, solid conformation that you’d want an Agility dog to have.”
The two ended up loving the sport, but Peanut had several issues, including an injury on her calcaneus bone. Patti wanted to kick things up a notch with her next Sheltie.
After researching breeders and looking for a well-built Agility dog, Patti got another Sheltie named Sparkle who also competed in Agility. When the appropriate time came, she decided to breed Sparkle herself — which is how she got Radiance.
“She was my first puppy from scratch,” Patti says. “Her personality, she’s just very dependable, very reliable. She’s like, ‘I know my job, I got it. I got it.’”
Radiance has been bred, as well, now having both grandchildren and great-grandchildren who compete in the sport, making it a family affair.
Maintaining Top Titles at Age 14
While Patti has had Shelties that have lived to be 18 and ones still running Agility when they were 16, Radiance’s skill level is still nothing to scoff at.
She’s an Agility Grand Champion (AGCH), has her Master Agility Champion Title 13 (MACH), and is a Preferred Agility Champion (PACH) 18. Even at her age, she was the AKC 2021 Top PACH Dog, is the Top PACH Dog Lifetime, and is ranked 18th for Top MACH Dog with 358 Double Q’s and 23,106 points.
There are 176 Shetland Sheepdogs competing in Ocala this year with Radiance being the oldest. They make up nearly 13 percent of the 1,374 competing dogs but she still ranks highly amongst them.
“It’s like it doesn’t matter how sad or whatever things might be happening in your life, it’s like for 30 seconds, I go into the ring and it’s just me and Ray and there are just no words for it,” Patti says of their time together.
Patti feels blessed to have been able to compete with Radiance as long as she has and attributes it to having both a well-bred dog and maintaining good nutrition. Though there’s been a slight decline in her eyesight, she’s had no major injuries and she continues to take supplements for both her joints and back.
The partnership that Patti has developed with each of her Shelties through Agility is what keeps her going despite feeling that loss of connection when one passes.
“There’s just such a joy to it. I really love the sense of that teamwork,” Patti says. “It’s just like everything sort of falls away and it’s just me and my dog.
Her recommendation to those starting out in Agility is to be open to the joy of getting to know your dog and learning with your dog as you advance in the sport. “But don’t ever feel discouraged because your dog will love you no matter what, so you’re going to go home with the best prize ever right there at the end of your leash,” she says.
Remember that all dog owners should consult their vet before beginning a new exercise or training routine, especially those with older pets.
Watch full coverage of the 2022 AKC National Agility Championships on AKC.tv all day April 1-3. Tune in to ABC on April 10 for full coverage of the finals and catch it again on ESPN2 April 17 at noon ET.