Do you need to have lots of space to practice agility? Lisa Topol would tell you no. In fact, she’s been competing in agility for nearly 12 years while living in a New York City apartment.
Today, she has three dogs and competes with two: 12-year-old Schmutzy and four-year-old Plop, both All-American dogs. Her 11-year old, Wedgy, is happily retired.
Lisa’s successes are numerous. Just this year, Plop won the top All-American dog at Westminster and earned a spot on the IFCS Agility World Team. And through it all, Lisa has lived in and trained in the heart of New York City.
Discovering Agility in New York City
It all started with her now 12-year-old dog, Schmutzy. When Lisa first took Schmutzy home, she had so much energy that she was running on the sink, counters, and tables. She realized quickly that her dog was eager, athletic, and smart.
“I didn’t know what to do with her,” Lisa says. So she would take her to Madison Square Park, just a block from her apartment, to play ball. On one of these outings in 2007, a woman came up to Lisa and asked her a question that would change everything.
“Hey, do you know agility?” the woman asked.
“Yeah, the thing on ESPN?” Lisa responded.
“I think you guys can be champions,” the woman told her. “I think you should really do it.”
The woman handed Lisa the card of Kris Seiter, a world champion agility handler and trainer.
After one class in the city, Kris told Lisa “You’ll be really, really good at this.”
She was sold.
The Benefits of Small Space
When she first started training, Lisa didn’t have any outdoor space. So she would set up six weaves in the hallway of her apartment building and have Schmutzy go back and forth. She had just enough space in her living room to set up a jump.
“I think you can actually do all the basics in small spaces,” Lisa says. Although she would travel up to her training facility in Westchester for more space.
Now, Lisa lives in a first-floor apartment with a small backyard.
“I don’t have the advantage of a field, or a bigger space like a lot of people do,” Lisa says. “But it forces me to teach foundations. And it forces me to teach the essentials because that’s kind of the space I have.”
Her square backyard is covered in green turf. Against one wall, Lisa has a stack of agility equipment: weave poles, multiple jumps, a tunnel. It’s just enough room for a line of weave poles diagonally. She can comfortably set up two jumps and a tunnel.
By the door, she has a small pool for her dogs to cool off in and drink from and a large assortment of dog toys.
Making Use of the Space You Have
Lisa has made use of every inch of space inside her apartment, too. In fact, much of Plop’s early behavior training was done in the closet-sized bathroom.
“It’s just the little spaces that I think work great for dogs,” Lisa says. “Sometimes [bigger space] is just a distraction. Not just of the space, but there’s just too many things happening around them and sort of having a small containment area, really helps. And then when you start to move it into bigger spaces and outside, it’s a lot easier.”
Has she ever thought of leaving the city?
“Having this backyard has allowed me to kind of have the best of both worlds,” Lisa says. “I can live in the city and I can have some space for them to run around. I have moments, maybe more often lately, when I’m like, ‘What am I doing in the city? I want more space, I want more land, I want more quiet. I don’t want all these neighbors…'”
But ultimately, Lisa wouldn’t change her situation for anything. She loves being one of the few New York City residents to compete in agility. In fact, she sees it as an advantage.
Getting Started in Agility
Like Lisa, you can get started in agility no matter where you live. Even without a backyard or any equipment, there are ways to practice with the items and space you have at home. There are also hundreds of agility events each week all over the United States. You can find one near you using the AKC events search.