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IFCS Team Profile: Chip Gerfen

A profile of IFCS Team USA member Chip Gerfen and his dog Trudi.

Where do you live?

Takoma Park, Maryland

How did you first get involved with agility?

I found myself in possession of an insanely energetic puppy, and someone said I should "try agility" to keep her occupied. I said, "what's agility?" And here we are.

What made you decide to compete?

Once I started playing with Trudi at agility, there was never a doubt that I would enter us in competition. I had always done competitive sports, and she was crazy about the game from the get go. So I really never had to decide. I just knew.

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

Trudi is a Miniature American Shepherd (or mini Aussie, whatever). She is my first agility dog. She was bred near Santa Barbara by Karen Keller of Timeless Aussies. She is up for anything, will play any game, and will work till she collapses, so I have to be "the adult", which is not easy for me.

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

Don't we all think our dog's unique quirks are amazing? I start telling people about Trudi's and have noticed that their eyes glaze over. Here's one that amuses me and which I've reinforce (unfortunately). She has trained me to hold her Nylabone for her while she chews it and won't give up until I hold it exactly as she wants me to.

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

Just Trudi.

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

I'm a professor and am currently Chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at American University in Washington, DC. My area of specialization is linguistics.

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

It feels pretty cool.

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

I was really fortunate to make the team last year for the WAC in the Netherlands. I'm looking forward to the incredible intensity of the competition, to the chance to see some of the best teams in the world, and to the fantastic team experience. The one ring nature of the WAC makes it pretty special, since you get to see and support all of your teammates' runs. Also, my wife is from Spain and I have lived there and continue to spend lots of time each year there. It will be great to be able to run Trudi in Spain.

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

Practice. Lots of practice, both on specific skills and on my mental game. Having had the chance to go last year provided me with a good way of taking stock of my weaknesses, both technical and mental, in order to enable me to build up my skill set. We've got great coaching in place, too. This helps us to focus on particular challenges that we'll need to be ready for in international competition. I really like Tracy Sklenar's focus on the importance of resilience in the mental game, because lots can happen that you don't expect, especially when the level of challenge on course is relentless throughout the run.

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?

First, one of the things that is wonderful about agility is that no matter what level you are competing at, you can still have a phenomenal time doing it. People tend to see competition in terms of winning and losing with respect to other competitors. But it is really much more nuanced than that. In some ways, agility reminds me of golf. You don't have to play golf at a professional level to derive great satisfaction from it and to be successful. In golf, at some level you are really always playing against yourself, and specifically, against your handicap. In agility, you are also playing against yourself. When you compete, you are competing to run clean, or shave seconds, or earn a title in order to move up to another level of difficulty. 

Since Trudi is my first dog, I really never thought that we would compete internationally. I just wanted to continuously improve my skills so that I could let her shine and my goals have always been focused on competing as a means of being a better team compared to where we were before. She's a special, fast and driven girl. But even if she weren't, I'd still be competing the way I would in golf, i.e. against my own handicap. Getting better through competition is analogous to lowering your handicap. It's really all about you and your dog doing this amazing thing together as a team. 

I also think that one of the things that maybe prevents people from competing is our own self-consciousness. I have failed A LOT in agility. I've fallen down, knocked over jumps, hurdled over jumps, rolled over jumps, and forgotten courses. I've set up in front of a tunnel to start a run, imperceptibly (to me) leaned sideways, and watched Trudi bolt straight into the wrong end of the tunnel for an immediate E. Stuff like that happens to everyone, and it doesn't matter as long as you are having fun with your dog. Competition gives you the chance to meet people, develop friendships, and play with your dog in a context in which others are doing the same thing, making the same mistakes, and feeling the same sense of excitement when it all comes together. I'll always be grateful for all of the generous and kind help that people gave me when I was starting out in agility and didn't know anyone. So if you understand these things, the real question is why aren't you entering into competition.

Do you have a favorite dog from a book, movie, TV-show or video game?

I don't know. As a little boy, I suppose Rin Tin Tin was front and center for me ... maybe because my grandmother always had a GSD. Rin Tin Tin was definitely a proto-agility dog.

Enjoy a video of Chip and Trudi and their silver medal Gamblers run from last year's World Agility Championship:


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