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Personality Profile: Elicia Calhoun (Part 3)

Deborah Davidson Harpur finishes her "Personality Profile" of Elicia Calhoun as they wrap up their chat about agility.

A week ago, we started a new interview series with part one of a conversation with Elicia Calhoun, a well-known agility competitor and instructor. On Monday, Deborah Davdison Harpur started talking with Elicia about agility and in today's final portion, Elicia shares more of her thoughts on that subject.

Elicia and dogs. From left to right: Destiny (15-month-old Australian Shepherd), Iceman (12 1/2-year-old Border Collie), Nika (9 1/2-year-old Australian Shepherd in this photo, now deceased), Captain Jack Sparrow (3-year-old Border Collie, Tobie's brother - co-owned and agility trained by Elicia), Tobie (3-year-old Border Collie) and BreeSea (9-year-old Border Collie). Photo courtesy of Elicia Calhoun.

Deborah Davidson Harpur: What do you do to relax at a major trial?

Elicia Calhoun: Take a walk with the dogs, massage/stretch us both out, and take a nap.

What are your short term agility goals?

To complete my physical therapy and be able to run agility again in my best shape ever. Get Tobie back to how she was competing before the crash in June.

What are your long term agility goals?

Continue to be a driving force in the sport as it grows, coaching and competing at the top levels.

How often do you trial?

Prior to the crash, I was averaging one-to-two shows per month. At the moment, I am shooting for five shows before the end of the year. A lot depends on how the dogs and I are physically doing.

How often do you teach seminars away from home?

Prior to the crash, I was averaging two-to-three weekends per month. If I wasn't teaching, I was competing. Now, I've got five weekends scheduled for the remainder of 2012.

Why do you think you are such a popular instructor for seminars and camps?

I LOVE what I do! I view my job as working with dogs to help their handlers while doing so through the sport of dog agility. I believe the work we do in agility translates to how we live our lives.

I push people out of their comfort zone so they learn while having fun. They don't have a chance to feel self-conscious about trying new things because I will make sure they succeed! And they walk away feeling excited to try new things and BELIEVING that they can do it: their dog, their own handling, their TEAM!

I balance theory with hands-on application, identify where the holes are in both the team's training and handling, and develop a program for them to start in the seminar and to finish the training at home. I give individual attention to each team, regardless of breed and skill level, while taking the entire group through that process. So, even if it may not apply to every team working in the seminar, someone from the seminar may know a friend/client at home who would benefit from the information. And, I WANT them to succeed!

I must admit, although I enjoy working with the most competitive teams to shave time off their runs and refine their techniques for that winning edge, I REALLY enjoy working with the teams that haven't realized their potential and showing them that they CAN reach it! Teaching them that it's okay to dream and reach for seemingly "unrealistic" goals! And how to make that goal a reality if they just TRY!

Are there specific subjects you feel you specialize in when you teach your seminars?

1. Relationship, team building, and tapping into the connection with their dog. Showing handlers what their dogs can offer them in feedback, that agility is a two-way street of information, to continue improving at home. Building upon that relationship, developing their communication skills to create a new sense of TRUST in the teamwork. There is a balance between handling, training, and teamwork. It's the relationship that is the most important part of this balance as it ultimately determines the team's success.

2. Course analysis and mental training. Showing handlers how to improve their timing, efficiency, and developing efficient course strategies by listening to their dog's needs, and building upon their strengths. How to utilize that trust in their teamwork to strategize their handling plan, and how to take the visualized course from the mind and channel it into physical execution while connecting with their dogs!

3. Giving yourself permission to PUT OUT 110% effort, lay it ALL on the line (heart and soul), and see how things turn out! Sometimes it works out as planned and sometimes it doesn't. But picking yourself up and trying again it really what this is all about! But you will have NO REGRETS when you look back. Learn from mistakes, as you MUST make mistakes to grow, individually and as a team. If you are afraid, you are guaranteed to make a mistake. If you're to make a mistake, wouldn't you rather MAKE it with conviction, rather than letting it HAPPEN to you?

I know you have books/DVDs and so on available. What are they and what do they focus on?

I did a series of DVDs for Agility In Motion that covered course analysis, running contacts, basic handling foundation, and front cross exercises ( I'm also finishing up a book called "Get in the Game!" that was supposed to come out earlier this year, but will be available by the end of December. It is an interactive workbook that will first come out in digital form, then in hard copy.

Do you have an agility website? I'm setting up to offer online training soon as I continue my rehab. Be sure to check back...

Is there anything else agility-related you'd like to share?

The one message I'd like get people to really understand is that life is way too short not to live it fully! Agility is just one way of doing this, but it does exemplify so much of HOW we live our lives. Dig deep and find the courage to put yourself out there and experience it! Cherish every moment and accept being human, for we are made to learn from our mistakes. Embrace the fact that we have our best friends to experience these learning curves, who love us in spite of us being human. So we aren't doing this alone and we have nothing to fear.

I have created the following mantra through experience: Run every run with conviction! YOU make the decisions, YOU make things happen! Run every run as if it were your last!

Nika and Elicia on the podium at Cynosport. Photo courtesy of Elicia Calhoun.

Two agility runs I think back to often:

One is with Suni where we were in the rain/muck outside in the cold at the end of a four-day weekend. All weekend she just wasn't quite herself and we couldn't pinpoint where the problem might be. But, I decided before we ran that I would do whatever it took to get her feeling 100% and we would run like we were at the World Championships for the gold medal. We laid down a run that beat others by two seconds, and celebrated like we'd won the gold. Little did I know it would be our last run together. I didn't know that she had a huge tumor in her heart that was limiting oxygen and blood flow through her body, and that the very next weekend she would be fighting for her life.

The second run I think about is Nika's first weekend in the AKC Preferred class this June. I knew that her vision was beginning to fade and knowing how much she LOVED to compete, I decided to begin working towards her retirement among friends at this local show in Texas. We ran fast, even after passing the weave poles the first time since she didn't see them, and qualified, winning the 12" class. We celebrated at the finish like we had when competing in the many finals - like we had just won the gold! I'm forever grateful for this run because the thing I remember next is the following afternoon in the median of Interstate 10 and finding her body after our horrifying crash.

Before the crash I always thought about how it might be my last to run with my current teammate (dog). But since this crash, I never realized that it might be MY last run, so the last thought I want to leave you with in this interview is Run every run as if it were your last. It just might be.

[Editor's note: There are two more things that Elicia wants you to know. "The current National Canine Cancer study is in desperate need of some volunteer dogs. Anyone who is interested or know someone who might be interested to go to" Also, visit for "Tobie Alert," a facebook page designed to help reunite missing dogs with their owners. It's named in honor of Tobie, who was missing after her car crash.]

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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