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Many have anticipated when the first Agility Dog Champion title might be earned. First offered in January 1994, the title is USDAA's designation for the most highly skilled and versatile dogs in agility. The accomplishment takes not only training and natural talent, but determination and a handler's ability to keep a dog excited about performance for a number of years.
The Agility Dog Champion title is awarded after a dog has earned each of masters level titles in Standard, Gamblers, Snooker and Pair Relay agility, representing a total of 29 qualifying scores - not an easy task by anyone's imagination. By the end of 1994, no one had accomplished that feat. In fact it was in March 1995 before anyone could lay claim to the coveted title. Surprisingly, it wasn't one of the acclaimed natural breeds for dog agility (Border Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, etc.), but a speedy energetic Pomeranian.
For Laura Yarbrough of Dallas, Texas, and Cody, the Agility Dog Champion title was the culmination of 4 years hard work and a tribute to small dogs, as it took a tenacious belief that small dogs could be athletes too. Physical conditioning would play a major role in their accomplishment. Rather than running out to the obstacle course at each opportunity, Laura and Cody spent time in the park going on 3 mile walks and doing fifty yard sprints, several days a week. Laura believes a dog cannot mentally concentrate on learning new tasks if it is physically fatigued and uncomfortable. It takes an ongoing training and conditioning program to develop the mental and physical stamina that enables dogs to work happily and successfully under the stress of competition. This effort, combined with ongoing work on obstacle sequences and refining individual obstacle performance would afford her and Cody the Agility Champion honours.
The award of the Agility Dog Champion (ADCH) is not just an acheivement, but the end of a saga for Laura and Cody. Laura discovered agility in 1988 while attending the Grand Prix agility trials as a spectator. She became excited about the sport after realizing that the dogs were having just as much fun as their handlers; however, she did not immediately become involved in agility. Her only dog at the time was Crystal, a six-year old Pomeranian, which Laura felt was past her prime for training and competition. Two years later in 1990, Crystal had five puppies; Laura chose a male she named Cody to keep. Time after time they sought to complete the distance control challenges required in Gamblers, always coming up short. For the ensuing two years, each failure slowly led Laura to a realization - it was going to take more than drilling different 'Gamble' exercises to succeed. She had become increasingly frustrated and quit appreciating the successes experienced in other classes - and her frustration was beginning to affect Cody's enthusiasm too. With others passing them by (the first Master Agility Dog title was awarded in early 1993), Laura decided to focus once again on having fun, which was why she had become involved in the sport in the first place. This meant not measuring their successes by titles earned.
Beginning the 1994 show season with renewed vigour, in his second show of the year Cody earned his first masters gamblers qualification and the Master Agility Dog title. By then, with all the time and energy already expended, the accomplishment seemed almost like a consolation prize. Laura did not know, however, that Cody had a surprise in store for her, as she qualified in Gamblers four out his next six attempts, becoming the only dog in the mini-dog division to earn the Gamblers Master title in 1994, perhaps the most difficult title to earn while working towards the ADCH designation. By the end of 1994, Cody was just one Jumpers and two Pairs relay short of completing the Agility Dog Champion title.
With the highest titling accomplishment behind her, Laura plans to focus on the Grand Prix championship - the last major acheivement still to elude her and Cody (they finished second on 1992). Laura said that she will not forget the lessons of patience and perserverance learned during her quest for that first Gamblers qualification. She says that for the remainder of Cody's agility career she will remember to have fun and enjoy the moment, no matter what the outcome in the ring. As for Cody, he continues to work in his spirited ways. While Laura has set her sights on agility, Cody has confided that his real desire is to one day become a Border Collie and live on a sheep farm, for which he has shown a natural affinity.