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Agility really is for any dog, and at the 2021 AKC National Agility Championship (NAC) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, dozens of rescue dogs showed up to prove it.

In total, more than 1,000 dogs took place in the competition on March 26-29. Representing 100+ breeds, these dogs came from across the nation.

For some dogs, Agility is more than just a sport. It’s an outlet.

The rescue dogs who competed in Tulsa ranged from purebred to mixed breed and from young to senior dogs. Piper is just one of many rescue dogs that has found success — and so much more — in Agility.

Piper’s Story

In January 2017, Diane Swanson and her boyfriend Dave Dean fell in love with a photo of Violet. Here’s what they knew: Violet came from a high-kill shelter. Her latest foster was in over her head. And Violet was submissive.

They agreed to foster the dog, and take her in officially when she got along with their cats. They named her Piper.

Soon, Diane and Dave realized Piper knew very little. She didn’t know what treats were, how to go on a walk, how to navigate stairs, how to play, or even how to just be a dog.

“I hope you don’t think Piper will ever be an Agility dog,” Dave told Diane. Dave has 31 years of dog training and evaluation experience working for the federal government, so his opinion mattered.

But the couple didn’t give up. Thanks to both of their training methods, Piper was doing a 10-obstacle agility course in the backyard just one month later.

Growing up in Michigan, Diane never had pets. Each summer, she’d catch a toad, make an indoor home for it, scrounge up bugs to feed it every day, then release it in time to hibernate for winter. She’d bring home every stray dog she found, begging to keep it.”

“Mom taught me how to call the number on the tag, and let the people know we were holding their escape artist,” Diane says. “I was desperate to have pets.”

When Diane got older, she filled her Texas home with pets: a few dogs and several cats. Once, when her mom visited her house, she told Diane she wanted to be reincarnated as a pet in her home — even a toad — because she saw how well Diane took care of her pets.

Saturday, January 14, 2017 would have been her mom’s 84th birthday. It was also the day Piper came to their home.

Piper’s Timeline:

1/14/2017

Piper joined the family. She did not know how to go on a walk, navigate stairs, play, or just be a dog.

2 / 2017 Piper was doing 10+ obstacles in the back yard including the teeter!
4 / 2017 Started training at Euro with trainer Dave Millmore, former World Agility Competitor
6 / 2017 Piper broke toe playing; used former dog’s wheel cart so Piper could still walk
10 / 2017 Resumed agility training
12 / 2017 1st UKI trial
1 / 2018 2nd (and last) UKI trial
1 / 2018 1st AKC trial (Novice A)
6 / 2018 AKC allows ALL levels to enter Premier. Piper is still in Open Standard. They nailed their first Premier run (Standard), but were 1.5 seconds over course time.
8 / 2018  Their first Premier Qs – all in one weekend: 1st, 2nd Premier Standard; 1st Premier Jumpers – and still in Excellent!
 12 / 2018  Competing in all Masters classes
1 / 2019  QQ #1; QQQ #1
 9 / 2019 Piper placed 2nd in 20” class UKI Texas Cup behind Melanie Wall Miller; Dave Millmore placed 3rd.
 1 / 2020  MACH 1

MX MXB MXJ MJB MXF T2B qualified for AKC NAC 2020 (canceled due to COVID)

1 / 2021

MACH 2

MACH2 Piper Pie Swanson-Dean MXS PAD MJG PJD MFS TQX2 T2B3 BCAT

 2 / 2021  76% complete toward AGCH

86% Premier Q’s are placements

44% QQ’s are QQQ

3/2021 Took 8th place in the 20″ AKC National Agility Finals

Outside of Agility

At the beginning of the pandemic, Diane and Dave started working on Trick Dog titles with Piper. “She made it clear that she enjoys being an athlete, not a performer, so we will stop at the advanced trick title,” Diane says. In addition to excelling at agility, she averages 26 MPH in Fast CAT, is phenomenal at catching discs, and enjoys running, hiking, and long walks.

And about those cats? It turns out, Piper loves them.

Not only does Piper get along well with Diane and Dave’s cats, she’s become quite famous in the neighborhood as the “cat whisperer.”

“Dave and I were caring for Mama Kitty (MK), a feral cat that we trap-neuter-returned (TNR’d) in 2011,” Diane says. “Piper and I would sit near MK when she ate, and eventually MK was very comfortable with Piper. I earned her trust in 2018 and she allowed me to fully pet her.”

Later that year, MK joined Diane and Dave’s indoor cats. Now she lives the life of luxury, and follows Diane and Piper everywhere.

Piper has worked her magic on several other strays that now have homes. She’s also friends with all the neighborhood outdoor cats. “People cannot believe their eyes when they see these cats running toward Piper and rubbing all over her!”

Diane credits Agility with giving Piper the confidence and socialization she needed. “And it’s a great outlet for her energy,” Diane says.

When they first got started, Diane never imagined Piper would trial, let alone compete in the AKC National Agility Championship.

“I started collecting Q and 1st place ribbons, and then you find out you are addicted,” Diane says.

2021 AKC National Agility Championship

On the final day of the 2021 AKC National Agility Championship, Diane learned that she and Piper had qualified for finals in the most competitive 20″ class. The group was stacked with 21 other dogs, mostly Border Collies, so qualifying alone was a huge accomplishment. But the success got even sweeter — Piper ran a clean run and came in eighth place. You can watch Piper’s finals run on ESPN.

Get Started in Agility

Any breed — including mixed breeds — can participate in Agility. The first step is making sure your dog is registered. Mixed breeds can register as Canine Partners.

A great first step is working toward your ACT title. The Agility Course Test (ACT) is an entry-level agility event designed to introduce and welcome beginning dogs and their handlers to the AKC sport of agility. Any dog 15 months or older can participate and the title can now be earned virtually. 

Watch full coverage of the 2021 AKC National Agility Championships on AKC.tv and ESPN March 26-28. All rings will be live on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning on AKC.tv.  The Challenger round and Preferred finals will also be live on AKC.tv. Stream on any device or download the AKC.TV app on RokuApple TV, or AmazonFireTV. Regular finals will move to ESPN. The regular finals can be enjoyed live on the ESPN app and will also be featured on ESPN2 on Wednesday, March 31st at 8 p.m. ET.

Related article: Meet Louie, the Oldest Dog at the 2021 AKC National Agility Championship
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