Following the highly-charged atmosphere of the Westminster Agility Champion finals, I was able to speak with professional agility trainer and handler of champion Fame(US), Jessica Ajoux. Jessica walked me through what it takes to prepare mentally, emotionally, and physically for the elite course.
Question: What was it like competing at Westminster for the first time?
Jessica’s answer: Given it was the first time to compete it was cool to make it to the finals and win. It’s a big competition and being televised makes it even more special.
Fame(US) has won other events such as the 2017 Cynosport Grand Prix Champion (USDAA). She got 2nd place in 2015 at AKC national. She is a seasoned dog, well trained and has down her routines. Reviewing and maintaining her skills is my focus. As a trainer I need to stay sharp year-round.
Question: What was the journey like getting ready to compete at Westminster?
Jessica’s answer: I didn’t do anything specific. Fame(US) was coming back from a month-long break in December after winning a spot on the USA European Open Team…. I’m a believer in giving dogs a break and let them just be a dog.
We started physical conditioning the second week of January. We ramped up training slowly to prevent injury .
Question: What was it like to show up to the event and get ready to compete?
Jessica’s answer: We had to get there very early, around 6:15 a.m. and the first walk through was at 8:15 a.m. Luckily Fame(US) is low maintenance, so she was comfortable.
There is no separation between the dogs and the public. It was our first time at a benched show where people walked amongst the dogs.
Question: How did you prepare and warm-up Fame(US)?
Jessica’s answer: There were practice jumps set up in a 10 x 10 area. I checked out the surface, as there were concerns of a slippery turf, but I was pleased to see that it wasn’t at all, at least not for Fame(US) and me.
I walk Fame(US) a lot and do a warm-up series. I focus on keeping her moving and trotting. Walking also helps me focus, going over what I need to do in the ring.
I visualize the course, as if I had to write out the course, documenting all the steps, the visual and verbal contacts I’d make with my dog. That allows me to not feel rushed or surprised when running the course, which makes me a better handler.
Question: Were the courses more difficult compared to other events where you’ve competed?
Jessica’s answer: The final course was not too difficult but the Jumpers course was more difficult. They had microphones and video cameras attached to the equipment during the finals run. For example, there was a small camera on the dog walk, clearly something we never see in usual non-televised events. There were even cameras taped to the middle of the weave poles, but Fame(US) wasn’t bothered by them.
Question: Did the course make you or your dog nervous?
Jessica’s answer: Fame(US) shows nervousness by being more energetic. It looks like excitement, but it’s really an expression of stress. I have learned not to fight it or change her emotion. I just meet her there. We have trained to be able to perform at that emotional level.
She needs something to do with all that energy and I let it come out. In the past I tried to calm her down, but I knew in my gut it was the wrong strategy. Now I meet her at her level of energy and we become one, very focused.
Question: What was the atmosphere of the event?
Jessica’s answer: The atmosphere was exciting with lots of the local crowds. I knew most everyone because of traveling across the country teaching and competing. It was competitive, but at the same time friendly as we encouraged each other.
I think most of us were happy to be there and excited to participate in an agility trial that is a high-class event with beautiful equipment from Max 200. It’s highly unusual to have so many spectators, plus they paid to come see us!
Question: Do you think 1TDC is helping Fame(US) have a longer agility career?
Jessica’s answer: Absolutely, 100%! It is helping with joint and muscle health, which enables her to compete at a top level. It helps improve recovery, one of the key elements in maintaining an overall healthy body.
Fame(US) gets 1TDC every day with breakfast. She took it this morning, it’s just a part of her diet.
Question: Would you recommend 1TDC to other agility competitors?
Jessica’s answer: Yes, competitors should be giving 1TDC to their dogs and provide every advantage they possibly can—1TDC is one of them for me.
Question: You just won the class of 20” AND were announced Overall Grand Champion at Westminster, now what?
The takeaway: Training and preparing for agility competitions requires focus, dedication, endurance, and stamina for both the dog and handler. Physical and mental effort are essential to prepare for advanced and difficult courses, such as the Westminster agility competition.
There are a variety of factors that play into successfully executing runs and obstacles, but 1TDC has a clear advantage for every canine athlete in terms of recovery time and overall well-being. Add it to your dog’s daily diet and see the changes for yourself.