One meaningful achievement that I am very proud of was the earning of my Master Title as a Junior Handler through the American Kennel Club (AKC) dog hunt tests. These hunt tests are designed to test and qualify dogs in a rigorous series of field exercises intended to demonstrate both the dog’s hunting ability and the teamwork between the handler and the dog. The process of training and performing at the tests taught me not only the intricacies of dog training, but it provided a pathway for me to develop many new skills that helped me mature and grow from a timid little girl into a more independent, confident, and responsible young adult.
When I was 12 years old, my dad drafted me to become his partner in his dog training efforts. As my passion for the dogs grew, I started participating in the dog training events myself. Many times I was the only youth at these events so it was very intimidating for me at first. I not only had to get past my shyness, but I needed to learn the test rules and develop the discipline and patience required to handle a dog. I also learned some very valuable social skills, such talking to and listening to adults, accepting criticism and mentoring, and developing the camaraderie with the other dog handlers. Other skills I developed were learning from my failures without getting discouraged, the value of hard and persistent work towards a goal, working with other people on developing strategies for training our dogs, and the power of encouraging others.
In July of this year I successfully passed the Master level. These were tests that were very difficult, and as a youth handler I was required to pass the very same tests that the adults and professional dog trainers did. AKC tells me that in the past three years, only 37 junior handlers have participated in the hunt tests and I am the first one in the the nation to successfully complete the entire series. I am very proud of this achievement, but as I look back on the experience, I can see how it shaped my attitudes and sense of independence and confidence that will serve me well as a young adult.