Preparation for world-class agility-team competition is no different than any other form of sport at that level–bring your A game physically and psychologically, says Daisy Peel, 32, of Sumner.
Despite all of the mental management, for which patience is key, the last few weeks have been among the toughest ever for her since engaging in the sport a dozen years ago.
After competing in the 2010 AKC World Agility Team tryouts in Minnesota in early May, she was forced to wait more than two weeks before learning May 24 she made the select U.S. team that will be competing in the Federation Cynologique Internationale Agility World Championships in Rieden, Germany, Oct. 1-3. That marks the second time she has been named to the U.S. squad for the Olympic Games of the sport.
“Waiting that long was really tough,” she admits. “We tried (she and her two border collies, Solar and Jester) as hard as we could in the trials and made a few mistakes. But those happen in this sport and others. Waiting to get the word is stressful, since at this point there is nothing more you can do.”
Peel, a member of the 2007 AKC World Agility Team, has discovered plenty about herself while climbing the competition ladder. Probably the most important thing, she says, is “learning that my self- worth is not about placing in the ring. While winning is nice and that’s what I strive for, it’s about the special bond one develops with his or her dog in the process. And the strong relationships you build with other competitors.
“You have to believe in your dog and appreciate the process, whether that is working out on the treadmill or lifting weights in the quiet of home, or working your dog through a challenging course at a local, national or world event before hundreds of cheering spectators.”
A chemistry major at Oregon State University, Peel was inspired by a dog-agility show she viewed on Animal Planet in her dormitory room. “I didn’t have a dog and knew nothing about agility. But I said, to myself, ‘I am going to be on Animal Planet some day.’”
Within a few months, she moved off campus into an apartment and adopted Gonzo, a red-and-white border collie, then began obedience classes and later agility instruction. She was hooked.
A year later, upon graduating from Oregon State, she moved to Portland with her then boyfriend and now husband, David, and they rescued another dog, Fly, to keep Gonzo company and satisfy Peel’s yearn for more training. Fly and Peel made it on Animal Planet in the AKC Agility Championship Finals several years later.
While teaching high-school chemistry in the Portland area, her agility involvement became even more deep-rooted. Eventually, she began teaching agility classes, simply to stay involved and to sharpen her skills. And she has been on a fast track since.
Her two super-star border collies today, Jester and Solar, have piled up numerous wins and major placements. Jester became the first AKC 26-inch jump champion in 2007, a title Solar matched this year. Solar will be her teammate in the world meet in October.
Jester was her partner on the 2007 AKC Agility World Team that competed in Hamar, Norway. “I was a first-time handler and Jester, a first-time dog, there,” she explains. “I was not prepared for what we stepped into and did not have the big picture in mind. Others tried to tell me what to expect, but until you’re there and do it, you are not totally ready.”
On a recent blog, she discusses competition at the early May U.S.A. team tryouts. “One of my goals was to go and really live up to the mental-management idea of focusing on controlling the quality of my participation in events, since I cannot control events themselves. I don’t know why it is that I can do this at nationals, but not as easily at tryouts. Maybe because tryouts represent a gateway to something I really deeply want.
“. . . I am proud of . . . meeting that goal this past weekend (May 8-10). . . . I made some errors, my dogs made a couple of errors, but I honestly enjoyed each and every run, as well as the runs of my competitors, and I had fun. I made a promise that I would never shoot for something like the world team again if I didn’t have fun on the journey.”
Peel was inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller “Outliers. “ “because it really hit home with me that nobody makes it on their own. Upbringing, culture, friends, supporters, situation, opportunity and other factors all play into one’s total experience,” she affirms.
The agility whiz teaches 15 obedience and competition classes weekly and vies in approximately 20 agility trials a year. And she finds time to hike and exercise with the dogs, too. “Not only does that keep them in shape, but it strengthens the bond between us, too,” she says.
Border collies offer her everything she wants out of a dog. “They have a deep desire to learn and please and a personality that ranges from mellow to hyper. It’s a breed that you have to keep busy and not allow to get bored,” she explains.
Jester, 6½, is 19½ inches tall and 38 pounds; Solar, 3, measures 21 inches tall and weighs 40 pounds. “The breed’s size and weight work well for me, since I’m 5-3,” she explains.
Asked if success in the agility ring is a 50/50 proposition between handler and animal, Peel replies, “It really falls more on the handler, from the early socialization of the dog to its continued development and the trainer’s ability to communicate effectively throughout the trial.”
Peel credits her personal coach, Linda Mecklenburg, an Ohioan, for much of her success. “Her coaching and keeping me focused on the big picture have been critical. She can spot little flaws in my handling others might miss.” While much of the communication has been via phone and e-mail, Peel attempts to travel at least once yearly to Ohio for one-on-one training.
Mecklenburg, involved in dog agility since 1990, is one of the pioneers of the sport. Recognized as one of the sport’s leaders and premier instructors, she is a 12-time member of the U.S.A. team at the FCI Agility World Championships.
Maximizing clear, positive communication in the race against the clock on agility course, explains Peel, requires pinpoint use of body language and verbal commands. And, she adds, performance is not enough. “The attitude must accompany the performance.”