Charlene Lewis’ family dogs were always general ranch dogs and trail companions. As Lewis’ passions took her to horseback riding, they began to follow behind happily.
Teaching others how to ride horseback got Lewis to thinking about a skill she wanted to teach herself – dog agility.
Lewis and her mother Tammy Robinson drove to New Mexico to pick up two Australian shepherd puppies.
This curiosity has now led them both to compete at the Australian Shepherd Club of America National Finals Championship in Texas on Oct. 29, putting their hat in the battle for the top spot out of 60 internationally qualified dogs.
“It became just part of me,” said Robinson.
Robinson followed her daughter along this journey after being in an accident.
“I did this intensely to try to improve my memory, actually,” said Robinson.
The two began training in their horse arena. The more training they did, the more they captured the interest of their friends and neighbors.
They took this interest and ran with it to create the Santa Clarita Valley Dog Agility Club in 2010.
Since then, the club has grown to include 60 members.
“My dogs love it … They think it’s the greatest thing on Earth,” said member Kim Koch. “I kind of fell into it by accident.”
Koch joined the club in 2020 looking for something to do for herself. She found the club and began to participate in their classes.
Same story went for Alycia Wise.
“It’s very fun. It’s very competitive. It’s a team, you and your dog,” said Wise. “We all get along really well as a club and teammates and we support each other and it’s like having a second family and it’s turned into something that I never would have guessed.”
Cheri Preciado found the club after a 20-year hiatus from the sport. She started training in 1997 in Colorado, competing only a few times before life got in the way.
She is grateful now to be reintroduced to the sport and see her dogs Faith and Mercy thrive in their element.
“When they’re doing agility, they think they’re playing and we get to play with them, and they’re all excited about it,” said Preciado. “It brings out who they really are and gets them over that timidity.”
Agility is scored on accuracy and speed. According to Robinson, the happiness of the dog contributes a large portion to those skills.
“A happy dog is a fast dog,” said Robinson.
The dogs may be the ones teetering, racing through tunnels and weaving through poles, but it is actually the handlers who need the most training.
“The human has to learn more than the dog, so that’s an ongoing process,” said Robinson.
After years of training, both human and dog, members of the club are ready to let go of the leash and compete for the top spot.
Robinson will be competing in elite and finals with her three dogs Arrow, Diva and Mariah. Lewis will also be competing in elite and finals with her two dogs Breezy and Odin.
“I’ve been really trying to get here for a long time, so just to get there, I’m happy,” said Lewis. “It’s been a long road.”
Corey Benoit, Wise, Koch and Preciado will all be competing in the novice division.