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Junior Stories

Junior Stories Summer 2021

Thank you to Abby, and Darin for sharing their experiences. Have your own story? Submit it to

  • Abby Engler +

    My name is Abbey Engler from New Palestine, IN and I am 11 years old. My adventure into dog sports began when I was 9 years old and I received an early Christmas gift; a small rescued puppy born under a dumpster in Tennessee. My dog is mix of a Catahoula and German Shorthair and her name is Gracie Lou.

    In 4-H, I learned about the dog projects available that I could participate in the next year. I started at the lowest level with Showmanship and Obedience. Never owning a dog before and training a 6 month old puppy in a livestock ring with many, many smells was far more challenging than I had ever expected. There were definitely a few tears and frustration since neither me or my dog knew what we were doing. After that season was over, I learned of a place near me where I could take lessons and continue to train with my dog. I learned so much from the teachers and the other people taking the classes. Never thinking I could compete with my dog in anything but 4-H, my mom learned that mixed-breed dogs could get a Canine Partners number and I could get a junior handler number to compete in AKC companion events. This news was a game changer. I was so excited to know I could do more with my dog.

    Learning to handle and train my dog is my favorite activity. My dog’s issues with confidence was something that was really holding us back. My class teachers referred us to a dog behaviorist/trainer who changed our whole experience. It is amazing how much the trainer was able to help Gracie and I learn to work together, develop confidence, and build a trusting connection. I have continued with obedience, rally, and agility classes and working with the trainer to prepare for competition.

    Our first AKC trial was just one year ago. I chose a trial at the location where we took our classes for the home-court-advantage. Sadly, it didn’t help us in the ring. My dog’s lack of confidence rang through again and our first run was an NQ.

    Some ladies crowed around me to share how I well I handled my dog in the ring and with such maturity. I will never forget how nice everyone was that weekend at the trial, how the judges gave me pointers, and that my teachers and trainer were there to cheer me on. I finished the weekend with my first leg in rally novice and a first leg in beginner novice obedience. While it took me a few tries to get a decent recall in the ring, I have learned so much, had lots of fun building the best relationship with my dog, and continue to learn so much from others at class and at trials. I have found that that the other competitors are so free to share their experience and teach me the ropes. During the year, Gracie and I earned titles in BN, RN, RI, TKN, and CGC.

    My dog is now two years old, continues to mature and she loves having a job. I too am continuing to grow in my handling skills. The certificates and ribbons hang on my wall remind me that when you work really hard good things can be accomplished. My goals for this year include earning titles in Novice obedience, Rally Advanced, and Novice Agility. All of this has been a doggone good time!

  • Darin Strickland +

    My stepdad told me when I turned nine years old, I could hunt test with our dog Luna, but first we had to practice. We started practicing at home and a lot on the beach when we were on vacation.

    Luna is a one-year old Vizsla. Her real name is Crimson Sky’s Total Eclipse. I had to teach her to find birds and listen to me when I told her which way to go. When she found a bird, she would have to stay on point until I flushed it. The hardest thing for me was making the starter pistol shoot when the bird was flying away.

    The day we went to the hunt test I had to sign-in. All the other handlers were grown-ups. When it was mine and Luna’s turn, we were braced with a Brittany. Luna ran fast and found the first bird. It was hard to get the starter pistol out of my holster, but Luna stayed still until I found the bird and shot. One time I could not find her because the grass was over my head. The judge was on a horse and told me to look in another place. I found her pointing again.

    When we got back my mom was so happy. We went to the clubhouse and found out Luna and I passed! We did another hunt test later that day and two more on Sunday. We passed all our tests with an average score of 9. Luna is now a Junior Hunter and I get to keep the ribbons.

    I really liked all the people there because they were nice, and I saw a lot of dogs including some cute Brittany puppies. I hope I get to do more Hunt Tests with my dogs.

    Kensi Wiggins is now a 4th grader at Holton Elementary School in Richmond, VA. Her older brother Denbigh handled 3 dogs with a pair of JH passes each at age 16. Her sister Afton handled 3 dogs with 5 JH passes at age 13. In addition to training dogs, Kensi likes soccer and all things Harry Potter.