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Talking with IFCS WAC Team Member Jean Lavalley

Jean shares her thoughts on the upcoming event with Deborah Davidson Harpur.

Handler Name: Jean Lavalley
Dog Name/Breed/Age: Cheer/Sheltie/4 years
Hometown: Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Occupation: Veterinarian
Years Competing in Agility: 17

This year the IFCS World Agility Championships are being held in the USA. Did knowing this affect your decision to try out for the team?

Yes it did. Cheer was still very green when we started down this path. I wasn't sure about flying with her and other things that go with international travel for agility. Frankly I just wasn't sure she could make the team because her gamblers and snooker skills were not very good yet. The fact that it was in this country made me more willing to give it a whirl. I also think it meant the competition would be high this year, so if Cheer made it she deserved it.

Have you ever tried out for the team in the past?

I have not tried out for the IFCS team before. Have tried out many times for the AKC team with four different dogs.

Have you represented the USA at an event before?

Taz was on the AKC team back when the IFCS was a new developing program. She went to Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland in the years 2001-2006.

Do you find yourself enjoying any type of "home court" advantage since this year's event will be in the US?

Yes. I think the travel to Europe is very draining, so it's harder to be ready and at your peak a few days after arriving in a new time zone. The food differences are often hard for me, as I'm not very comfortable with new foods and often find myself living on tuna, peanut butter, and crackers mixed in with McDonalds (which I never eat at home) and pizza. I am often unable to sleep, so by the time the long days of the event arrive I'm already very tired. I'm looking forward to a World Championships in my own time zone!

What were some of the challenges you faced during the world team qualification process?

I really enjoyed the process. It did add to my travel and expense, but I picked events that I wanted to attend so I could also visit with friends and family that I don't normally see rather than picking the events I thought were strategically best.  I figured that way if I didn't make the team, I would have still gotten something out of the process. I'm really glad I took that route because during the process I also gained confidence in Cheer when she was faced with such great competition. It helped me realize Cheer really was ready.

How did your family and friends react to the news that you made the USA IFCS team?

As you would guess, they were very happy for me and proud of Cheer Puppy.

Will any of your family or friends be traveling to the event to cheer you on?

Yes! My husband Joel and my Mom are coming with me.  Speckie Spec is coming too to keep Cheer and the rest of us company. (That's something that couldn't have happened if we were going overseas.)

What is your goal at this year's event?

Go out and put in a solid performance for my team and hopefully achieve a team medal. I also want to do well in individual of course, and I especially would like to have "respectable" games runs since those are not my strength and I've been working hard on those skills.  Of course I'm a perfectionist and want to run every run clean and fast.

As the event comes closer, are there additional stresses to your daily life because of your participation on the team?

No, I haven't found that to be the case.

Have you done any specialized training to prepare for this event?

I've worked harder on snooker and gambler skills than ever before. Kristy Netzer has really helped me improve my gambling skills with Cheer, who is a very handler focused dog. She also holds me to a higher standard on my turns in practice than I will often hold myself, causing me to focus hard on my turns and not just getting around clean, which is my nature.

I've been trying hard to work on "balancing my cues" ala Linda Mecklenburg.  I went south to Florida for an international challenges seminar with Linda this winter, and I did an online course with Linda too on balancing cues. I have a tendency to drive my dogs into wide turns, and I've been working hard to try and rectify that. Cheer helps because she is very honest on the numbered courses and goes right where I cue her to go, be it wide or tight. I think I've become more consistent in my cues this year with Linda's help via seminars and her book.

What do you think will be he most difficult part of the event for you and your dog?

I don't know! I am very intense about my individual runs at big events, but I hope the event itself will be fun. I suspect the travel will be the most cumbersome part, but that seems insignificant compared to traveling to Europe.

Photo courtesy of Jean Lavalley.

Good luck at the big event!

Photo of Jean courtesy of Karen Moureaux,

Deborah Davidson Harpur has been competing in agility since 1998. She currently handles 16 dogs of various breeds including Rat Terriers, All Americans, French Bull Dogs, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a Shetland Sheepdog, a Border Collie and more. She enjoys competing in USDAA agility and is the proud mom of USDAA roving reporter Rickie Roo. Her dogs are all proud canine ambassadors for the Active Care line of dog food by Breeder's Choice and for,, and You can learn more about Deborah and her dogs at


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