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Experiences of a "Host Dog" Mom

Marla Friedler-Cooper, MA CPDT shares her experiences of owning a host dog at the recent IFCS World Agility Championships.

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life. My dog, Spritz, was on Team Australia for the IFCS World Agility Championships. Well, how did that happen if German-born Spritz lives in the US?

The IFCS World Agility Championships takes place every two years, with teams coming from many countries all around the world. In the past, it has been held in Russia, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, and England. This was the first year it was held in the US and hosted by USDAA.

Teams from Australia and New Zealand are eligible to compete but, because their dogs would be subjected to a lengthy quarantine if they left their country and then returned, they are allowed to run "host" dogs (dogs from the country that is hosting the competition).

The USDAA asked for US competitors who were interested in having their dogs be considered for the Australian or New Zealand team to fill out an application. We were asked many questions about our dogs' experience, training, and if they would work with other handlers. Plus, we had to submit competition videos.
I had heard from a couple of other people who had submitted their dogs for consideration that their dogs were not selected. I knew these were great dogs, so my hopes were beginning to wane.

Then a few weeks after submitting the application and videos, I was notified that Spritz was selected as one of three dogs to represent Team Australia in the 26" class in this elite international competition. I was so excited. I know that Spritz is a world-class dog but, because I have not been fast enough, I haven't been able to show him at his best. I've done a good job training and was so excited about being able to see someone handle his power and speed. I was so looking forward to seeing him on the international scene!

The next part of the process was reviewing videos of the Team Australia handlers. I wrote about each one of them and what strengths and weaknesses I thought would work for Spritz. In all honesty, they are all great handlers (and, I soon found out, super nice people too).

Then I found out we were matched with Andrea "Andy" Gibney shortly before the team left Australia for their trip to the US. We exchanged a couple of emails and then we met up in Fort Worth, Texas, for a few days of training before the big competition.

Andrea, Spritz, and Marla pose together. Photo courtesy of Natalie Kirkwood.

Spritz was really excited to meet Andy and took to her right away. He just couldn't stop kissing her! However, the heat was overwhelming and so we didn't get to practice much for the first two days. Then we got a respite from the heat and finally had a good day of practice.

So, with a few hours of practice under the belt of Team Australias Andrea Gibney and Spritz, off we went to the world competition!

Team Australia presented all of the US dog owners with team shirts with our dog's name on it. Our shirt is fantastic and something I will always treasure. It is a beautiful green and gold(the official competition sports colors of Australia).

Marla and Andrea walking the course. Photo courtesy of Robyn Docker.

Spritz really got to know that Team Australia shirt. Each morning when we got into the competition arena, Spritz would pull me around to each person he saw with a Team Australia green and gold polo shirt until he found his Andrea! It was amazing the incredible relationship and bond that was built in a matter of days. Andrea is a super person who gave her heart to Spritz and was always concerned about his safety as we walked the course and looked at the approaches. It was such an overwhelming experience walking the course with Andy and suggesting the best way to handle Spritz, yet knowing that she had to do what was most comfortable for her as well. Spritz obviously felt the love and concern of Andrea and they developed a very strong bond.

Spritz and Andrea did great over the three days of competition, especially considering that they just met. It was really fun to be able to be a spectator. I felt like a proud Mama watching her kid at the Olympics! I was very, very proud of Spritz. He really is a world team dog!

On the last day of competition, each handler presented the host dog owner with a team bag with our dog's name embroidered on it and with a whole bunch of sweet and sentimental goodies inside the bag. It was definitely time for tears as we knew we would be saying goodbye at the end of the day.

Photo courtesy of author.

Photo courtesy of author.

Luckily for us, Andrea, her partner Lloyd, and her friend Robyn were coming to Los Angeles (close to where I live), so we planned a visit for the very next week. I drove Spritz to meet up with Andrea when she was in the LA area and felt like I was bringing my boy to see his long-lost friend. It was a very bittersweet dinner we all had together as we knew that this time we would not be meeting up again in just a week. I still feel a sad spot in my heart knowing that Andrea is very far away now but I know that we will all be friends forever and I just hope that Spritz will get the opportunity to give Andrea a big kiss again!

Friends forever! Photo courtesy of Robyn Docker.

Marla Friedler-Cooper is an agility trainer and competitor, a film/tv producer and a college professor. She can be reached at or through her websites: and or through her blog:


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