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Meet the 2012 USA/IFCS Word Agility Championships Team

Deborah Davidson-Harpur will interview each of the team's members as they prepare for the big event in June. First up: coach Rachel Sanders!

Photo courtesy of Rachel Sanders.

Name: Rachel Sanders

Hometown: Atascadero, California

What do you do for a full time job? Dog/Agility Trainer

How long have you been doing that job?

In some form or other I have been teaching dog training since I was very young. I was 14 years old when I taught my first dog training class at my local dog club. I would have to look up my tax returns to see when I started to teach agility full time.

Tell us a bit about you, your dogs and your background in the sport, including how long have you been participating in agility?

My dogs and I share our lives with Better who is happily retired and a companion for Nellie, who has a great life now after starting out with a pretty horrible one. Together they are company for Michael when I am away from home teaching or competing.

My background in England was in competitive obedience but when I moved to the US I found obedience in this country to be far too stuffy and stringent, a stark contrast to what I was used to, so thought I would try agility instead. I started competing with my Border Collies (Spinner and Whist) in 1995 and Whist made it to the USDAA nationals finals in 1996. She went on to have a super career, including winning the USDAA nationals in 1999 and Veterans in 2003.

Trump was born in 1997. He is a good natured and endearing Jack Russell Terrier and a fantastic demo dog during seminars and camps. He won the Steeplechase finals in 2000 and USDAA nationals in 2002.

Fable was my next BC. She had a great passion for agility which sometimes overwhelmed her technical ability. I am a great believer that every dog we own will teach us something if we let them.  Fable did not fit into the handling trend that was available during her early years and that forced me to expand my knowledge by seeking other handling ideas and theories. I will always be thankful to her for that.

Stuie arrived next and she requires that my handling is perfect! This comment from Linda Mecklenburg during a private lesson summed her up: "She is not incorrect (when she makes an error), she is just unforgiving."  She may never win a major event or be on a world team but she has probably improved my handling more than any of my other dogs because unless I am perfect she will not run clean. She has overcome many fears and issues and is now quite the demo dog, a super dog to have around and fun to compete with.

Gifted is my youngest and he learns fast, tries to always be correct, and does nothing wrong but because of this he can be a little too careful. When he matures and gains confidence I think he will be brilliant as he is already perfect.

When do you think you became serious about the sport?

I think I became serious about agility when I started to compete. In general if I am going to do something I do it to the best of my ability, I'm not really a dabbler! Prior to competing in agility I didn't appreciate just how exacting dog agility is to excel at.

Have you ever been on a world team as a competitor?

Fable and I were members of the 2008 IFCS world team that competed in Belgium. She won a silver medal.

How did you get involved with coaching the IFCS team?

I was asked by the USDAA President Ken Tatsch.

Tell us a bit about the format for the event. Do all the US members run the same classes or do you choose who does what class? If so, how do you determine who is doing what classes? Are each classes judged individually for medals? I want people new to the sport to be able to either come cheer you on with confidence knowing what is going to happen or give them the info to help them watch the team online and know what is going on.

There are several opportunities for the team members to compete for medals. The Biathlon Class combines scores from a Standard Agility and Jumpers class. Teams compete for Gold in Standard Agility, Jumpers, Snooker, and Gamblers. The All Around competition is the combined scores of the four individual classes. All 12 team members compete for the Biathlon and All Around Championship title. The Team Triathlon event consists of Standard Agility, Jumpers and Team Relay classes. Each country can field up to 2 teams for the triathlon event. Each three-member team must consist of two heights and must contain both small and large dogs in each team. I will pick the handlers/dogs for the team classes and it will be based on prior experience and results from previous competitions.

What is your goal for the team for this year's event?

Obviously to do well and win but more importantly to be good sportsmen, good team players, and to showcase the best of USDAA agility.

How have you been preparing your team for this event?

Many on the team are seasoned international agility competitors and they are very aware of the type of practice and training that they need to do with their dogs. I am available to help all the team members with any training or logistical help they may need.

Do you feel the US team will have a "home court advantage?"

I believe that this is a double-edged sword. Yes, we do not have the stress of travel to Europe, competing on unfamiliar equipment as in past years, but we will be expected to win in front of the home crowd. This puts additional pressure on the team members but I am sure they will rise to the occasion.

What do you feel is your greatest concern regarding the team's success for this year's event?

The [USA/IFCS WAC team] has never had the benefit of a team practice prior to the event. A practice allows people to get to know each other and allows me as a coach to see all the competitors in the same place training rather than in the competition ring. This helps the team become more cohesive and helps me evaluate the team members strengths and weakness.

What do you think the USA team will excel at in this event?

I expect us to be competitive in all classes and in representing the best of USDAA agility, bring home some bling.

Do you think there are aspects to this competition that some of the other teams may have an advantage over the USA team? How do you address that situation?

Yes! The level of courses that European competitors compete on in general are much more challenging. So although the team members have practiced difficult courses, it is never the same as competing on those types of courses each weekend.

What is the team doing to prepare for the event?

For some team members, the early part of the year was spent working on Snooker and Gamblers skills. During March and April they will be practicing some of the more difficult challenges in the Standard and Jumpers courses. There are several courses designed by each of the judges available on line for the team members for practice. Mid-April to May will be spent keeping both handler and dogs healthy.
Thanks to Coach Sanders for sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the USA/IFCS team's preparation process. In the coming weeks, you'll hear from all of the team members as well!

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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