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Personality Profile: Rachel Sanders (Part 3)

The final day of our interview with this well-known agility competitor, instructor, and author. By Deborah Davidson Harpur

This is the third part of an in-depth interview with well-known agility competitor and instructor Rachel Sanders. You can read part one of this interview here and part two, here.

Questions from the Agility Public

What do you find different running BCs and other breeds like your JRT? 

Even within the same breed, all my dogs are very different some like to drill, some hate to drill, some are quicker to learn than others; however, the JRTs need more strategy to keep them honest! 

What method do you feel is the most effective way to train reliable weaves: weave-o-matics, gates/fences, etcetera? 

Spinner, Whist, Trump, and Fable were all introduced to weave poles with guide wires and then I used other methods to finish up the training. With Stuie and Gifted, I veered away from that initial introduction and used other methods, with, in my opinion not as good results. If a dog is to weave well, they must really like the obstacle and late last year I decided to start all new dogs and any dogs with weaving issues with weave pole guide wires. Introducing a dog to weave poles with guide wires helps prevent some of the other side effects of other methods. I can encourage a dog to run through the poles without error so that he learns to really like the obstacle. The dog can develop a rhythm for weaving. I can encourage the dog to weave more independently from the handler. If an error occurs, the feedback to the dog is imediate - either he goes over or under the wire or there is no open pathway. One of the biggest issues I see withnhandlers training weaves is the delay in the handler marking a missed entry or skipped pole, which generally results in the dog being pulled out of the weave poles when the dog is weaving and long after the error has occurred.

I then fade the guide wires and then if I need to use other methods to finish up the training, I will. 

Rachel and her canine family back in 2008. Photo courtesy of Rachel Sanders. 

How did you get started teaching?

I have always taught some form of dog training since I first started teaching at my local dog club. However I didn't feel qualified to teach agility until I had a methodology or recipe to teach agility to people and dogs.

Where have you always wanted to go and teach?

New Zealand; it would be great to combine work with a return to where I was born. 

What single thing would you tell everyone is the most important thing to remember with your dog?

Your dog doesn't sit up at night with an advanced copy of the next days courses plotting where and what he is going to do wrong. Your dog is only doing what he thinks you want him to do! 

What is your favorite thing to teach your dogs?

I'm not sure I have a single favorite thing.

What is your favorite thing to teach handlers?

To be better than they were before they started working with me. 

As a competitor, where is your favorite competition? 

Any USDAA Cynosport finals.

What is your best learning experience? 

I have too many to answer that. 

What is your proudest moment with your dogs? 

Earning third place in the 22" Final at Cynosport, because I believe it was the best I could have handled her at that time. Earning second place(22") with Stuie and I will always remember seeing Mary Ellen bending over whispering something to Stuie just before I went to the ring. 

What is your proudest moment with a student?

I have too many to answer that.

What do you think the biggest changes in training and the biggest development in handling and training in the last five years are? 

Running contacts. A new infusion of European ideas again. The last big influence was from people like Dave Blackshaw and Greg Derrett, but that was a long time ago (1998/1999). Now with Jenny Damm, Anna Eifert, Jaakko, and Janita, to name just a few, our handling is expanding again. Now we need the course design at shows to include true handling challenges, and not just challenge our dogs to hit all contacts, weaves, and not drop a bar. I believe that most of us train on harder exercises at home/class than we run at shows. We should embrace some harder handling challenges in a course, and learn to execute them well. We will get better and then these "hard" things will become easier. 

If you were on "In the Actors Studio," what would your answers be to their infamous 10 questions? 

1. What is your favorite word? 

I have two - The word that makes me smile the most last year was "rocks" and the other most used was "Yeah Yeah" - and all its intonations.

2. What is your least favorite word? 


3. What turns you on? 

Making progress.

4. What turns you off? 


5. What sound do you love? 

Rain/water or crackling fire.

6. What sound do you hate? 

Barking dogs

7. What is your favorite curse word? 

F--k and all derivatives of....

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? 


9. What profession would you not like to do? 

Health care

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? 

I'm an atheist so I'm guessing there would be silence.

Any other comments:

We have a new dog in our house. Rummy arrived in January 2013 from Kari Jepson and Barbie Trammell via Deb Davidson Harpur. She is a "coated" American Hairless Terrier.

Rummy is just super! She has a fantastic temperament, she is wonderfully friendly, confident,  playful and quick to learn  loves people and she hasn't met a dog who she couldn't get to chase her yet. She loves being the bunny and whizzes around out maneuvering the other dogs.

Since I got her in January she has been all over - Minnesota, Colorado, New Hampshire, California, Oklahoma, Texas - and now we on our way east for the summer. She is fantastic at seminars; when I am teaching all day she will rest in her crate, never fuss if dogs are going past her, etcetera, but is ready to get out and play when I get a break. I have been on a couple of trips with just her and Gifted; they play constantly in the hotel room and we have to have a ground floor room!

As far as training goes, she is doing well, working on toy drive, which she has but it needs to be on demand so I can switch between food and toy rewards. Her sit stay is coming along, as is her down and her recall is getting more consistent. She is starting to come when I need her, not just when I have treats  progress! As far as agility obstacles go, everything is sort of started and hopefully this summer we will make some headway when I can find time to train her!

Editor: We'd like to thank Rachel for taking the time and effort to answer so many questions! 

Deborah Davidson Harpur has been competing in agility since 1999 and is known as a handler of a wide variety of breeds of all shapes and sizes. She offers agility training classes in the Port of Los Angeles area for both recreational and competitive agility students. You can find her on facebook at or read about her dogs at


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