Michelle Persian walked into her very first Agility trial in July 2004 with her English Springer Spaniel, Noodle. Overwhelmed, she nervously approached the ring to run the course.
After beginning the run, Michelle’s dog made it over the broad jump. But as they approached the tunnel, Michelle noticed the obstacle was covered with a huge cutout of a frog, bulging eyes looking straight down at Noodle. Startled, Noodle barked at the strange image and wouldn’t go through, so Michelle carried on, completing the course, but feeling discouraged.
“This is the most stupid thing ever,” Michelle remembers thinking. “I am never doing this again.”
Luckily, someone at the event convinced her to stay for the Jumpers round. “I got a pretty, blue ribbon,” Michelle says. But many people who start out in Agility aren’t so lucky.
“It’s just so overwhelming,” Michelle says.
It wouldn’t be until 12 years later that Michelle realized what had been missing for people like her that were new to the sometimes-intimidating Agility world.
Removing the Pressure
By Spring of 2016, Michelle was far from a newbie — she had competed at Westminster, the AKC National Championship, and had made finals at both events. That’s when she first heard about ACT (Agility Course Test). These entry-level agility events, which began in 2016, are designed for beginners and teach newcomers everything there is to know about competing in Agility – from filling out an entry form to learning how to enter the ring. She immediately applied to be an evaluator. Soon after, she held her very first ACT event. Only five or six people showed up, but she says it was an amazing experience.
After that first event, Michelle began holding ACT events through her training school, The Purple Puppy, and another school she teaches at.
Let’s just see what happens if we put it out there, how many people will come, Michelle thought in July 2016. She posted the upcoming ACT event on her Facebook page, at the training school, and in community groups in the Minnesota area.
They ended up with 82 runs at the training school’s very first event.
In the next three years, Michelle hosted more events at her training school, at 4-H clubs, and at events around the Minnesota metro area. In late February, she was judging a show at Fusion Pet Resort. A week before the show, there were 62 runs scheduled. But by the morning of the show, there were 82, making the event just as big as her first one.
“Whenever I promote it, I always say it’s a very fun, low-key atmosphere to have fun with your dog and learn about agility,” Michelle says.
And people do have fun. One of the first things Michelle is asked after an event is: “When’s the next one?”
Sharing the Sport
Michelle thinks back to her first show in 2004. “I had no clue what I was walking into. Where do I put the crate? Where are the walkthroughs? The schedule?” she says. “So I think it’s a really good thing for people to find out about how the AKC events work without having too much pressure.”
The biggest thing, Michelle says, is making sure more people know ACT exists. For about half the people that show up to Michelle’s events, this is their first interaction with the AKC. The ACT events educate newcomers on everything they need to know — including how to sign up for an AKC or Canine Partners number.
Now, some of the teams who have run at Michelle’s ACT trials are running in the Master’s Agility level, competing at high-profile events like Westminster and the AKC National Agility Championship.
“One of the things I liked about the ACT program even before I became a judge is, it was something that I could do to give back to the sport,” Michelle says.
When she was filling out her application to become a judge, one of the questions was Why do you want to do this?
She thought for a moment, reminiscing back to her very first agility dog and the agility dog she just had recently lost.
She realized why ACT meant so much to her:
“I want to stay involved in, support, and give back to what has been so much fun for me over the last 15 years,” she wrote in her application. Today, Michelle continues to help hundreds of dogs and people learn the sport of agility — without the pressure.
Get Started in Agility
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 — they do not need to be AKC-registered at the time of entry. Find an upcoming ACT event near you.