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IFCS 2016 Team Member Profile: Melanie Miller

A profile of IFCS 2016 Team Member Melanie Miller and her dog Integrity.

The World Agility Championship in The Netherlands is coming up this month! Meet Team Member Melanie Miller and her dog Integrity.


Where do you live?

Raleigh, North Carolina.

How did you first get involved with agility?

I started agility with my Cocker Spaniel in 1998. He had severe separation anxiety and could not handle out-of-sight sits and downs in obedience, so we went to an agility class to build his confidence. We never looked back, although I did put a few more obedience titles on my dogs.

What made you decide to compete?

It seemed like a logical progression and my instructor told me that she thought we'd be ready in about three months for the trial held at her facility. This makes me laugh now, but little Cole did qualify so I guess she was right!

Do you (or did you) participate in any other dog sports or training with your dogs?

I have also competed in conformation, obedience, rally and even a hunt test, but agility is definitely my passion.

Tell us more about the dog you will be competing with as an IFCS Team Member?

Integrity (Grit) will have her fifth birthday just prior to the competition. I found Grit a bit randomly while looking for a puppy with similar bloodlines to my small Border Collie, Smitten. Grit was 15-weeks-old, and was born on a working cattle farm in Missouri. At the time, Jim and Karen Clanton had never heard of agility, but were fascinated with the idea that one of their dogs might be involved in the sport. When I described the type of dog that I was looking for, Karen informed me that had produced such a puppy in her recent litter, but that she had already been sold. I figured this conversation would lead to nowhere, but Karen called me back a couple of days later and said she had convinced the farmer to switch puppies. A few more days went by, and it turns out that they had a relative that would be driving to within three hours of my house. So I took a HUGE leap of faith and said ok.

Does your dog have any quirks or unique habits that you would love to share?

Grit was definitely a challenge to train. It felt like agility was a foreign language to her, and I had to patiently describe every possible scenario, every how and why, before she understood what her job needed to be. She is a tireless worker, and she loves her job. She wants to be very precise and accurate and as a result, could easily be a medium speed dog. I've worked very hard to bring out the best in Grit, because I know what all is in there. There are actually a couple more gears in speed that I'm hoping to access as her confidence continues to grow.

Are there any challenges you have faced with your dog that you'd be willing to share and how you both overcame the challenge and achieved success?

Oh, Grit and I have had all sorts of challenges. She wanted to weave by crossing her front legs over on themselves, certainly not ideal! That we fixed by giving her some time on weave-o-matics. We are still building weave speed, confidence and proficiency. And jumping was a tremendous challenge for her. If in doubt, she wanted to take off super early and just hope for the best. She can still struggle with some visual puzzles, but we just take them one at a time and recreate them to help her understand them whenever we come across a new one. She can also be worried by some makes/styles of dog walks, which is ultimately why I decided to train a stop in addition to her run. This way, if we go to a new location and she's unsure about that particular dog walk, we still have an option.

So you see, there are no perfect dogs out there, and at the same time, each and every dog has a chance to shine. It's up to us to bring out their best and enjoy the process of getting a little bit better all the time. I have always believed in Grit's ability to be amazing, and I'm really proud of her accomplishments so far!

Do you have other dogs/pets aside from your IFCS dog? Tell us more about them:

I have now had six dogs:

  • Cole, Cocker Spaniel - My first agility dog, blisteringly fast and driven, but was retired early due to a ruptured disk. 
  • Austin, Vizsla - Top Vizsla in USDAA of all time; he was a huge focus/motivational puzzle. He competed until the age of 12 and we just recently lost him to cancer. 
  • Regan, Border Collie, retired - Also a huge motivational challenge. She earned her ADCH-Silver and LAA-Silver. 
  • Smitten, Border Collie - My introduction to "super fast dogs." She has taught me about timing and handling and she has her ADCH-Silver and LAA-Silver. 
  • Heart, Border Collie - My new youngster, two-years-old and bursting with confidence. We are having fun seeing just how fast we can go.

I also have six chickens that are far more fun than I ever imagined! We added them to our family in January and are looking forward to eggs in July.

Describe for us what you do in your "other" non-agility life/work life?

I left the corporate world, where I had worked for 17 years as a project manager, in January 2015 to teach agility full-time. I am enjoying teaching seminars across the U.S., as well as online classes and private instruction.

Outside of agility, I'm enjoying spending time on our 11-acre farm. I'm planning a vegetable garden to plant this spring, raising chickens and caring for the landscaping on the property.

How does it feel to be on the IFCS Team this year?

This is a new experience for me and I'm looking forward to learning how the event works and doing our best to represent Team USA! We have worked hard to prepare and I think we are both ready!

What are you looking forward to the most at the World Agility Championship event in The Netherlands this April?

I am looking forward to putting our best out there and seeing how that stacks up against the rest of the world. I'm looking forward to seeing where we have made progress and where we need more work. One of my favorite classes to compete in is gamblers as I love strategizing how to get the most points for MY dog, so I'm looking forward to doing this on a world stage!

Do you do anything special to prepare yourself for a big competition?

The one area that I'm most focused on is Grit overall health and fitness. So we are really careful not to over-train. I want her fresh. She's a small dog to be jumping 26", and I don't take for granted that she needs to be fit and strong. When we are training, I try to keep things balanced: 1/3 skills, 1/3 coursework, 1/3 mental games.

People who enjoy agility with their dogs are often intimidated by the idea of competition - what advice would you give them to encourage them to take the plunge?

My advice would be to look at competitions as a measure for your progress for you and your dog. Don't worry about the competition, the challenges on course, or anyone but your own team. Find ways to measure your progress that doesn't include ribbons and you can go as far as you want!


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