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Originally printed in The American Airedale.

 A NON-CONFORM(ATION)IST AGILITY AIREDALE

Erin is a free spirit... an Airedale with an attitude... an independent thinker. Her "I will not be ignored" personality was too much for her first owners. Fortunately, her people loved her and decided to contact Airedale Terrier Rescue and Adoption (ATRA) so that this 10-month-old wild child could be matched with people who were searching for an Airedale with just those attributes. That's how Erin and I managed to team up, 9 months ago.

Erin takes a jump at the Week of the Airedale
Erin flies over a jump.

We began attending agility classes when Erin was 13 months old. Agility was the perfect outlet for all of her excess energy. Obedience suddenly made sense to her in the context of agility; if she held a long "sit-stay" she would get to charge up the A-frame or zoom through a tunnel. The quickest way to "make" me give her a click and a treat was for her to do a lightening-fast down on the pause table.

Agility provided an environment where Erin and I began to develop our own form of communication. We became acutely aware of each other's body language. A slight twist of my shoulders or a turn of her head took on profound meaning during an agility run. When we fail to communicate, we find ourselves tripping over each other, crashing into obstacles or dancing off alone across the training arena. It was enlightening to realize that Erin was training me every bit as much as I was training her. We were building a partnership based on mutual trust, fulfilled expectations and the exuberance of working as a team.

Just because we understand each other, it doesn't mean that we always see eye-to-eye in this partnership. After all, we each have our own agenda. If Erin becomes bored, she careens off-course to hunt imaginary rodents, visit friends or snarf horse poop (horse d'oeuvres we call them). Erin has taught me that it is my responsibility to hold her interest. We currently have an agreement, reached through several rounds of negotiations, that she will stay on-course if I reward at the end of the run with fresh-baked salmon (at $7 per lb.)! I've found that successful agility with an Airedale partner depends on mutual respect and having arrived at a compromise. My friends with herding breeds don't understand this process of negotiation, but I find it fascinating.

Recently Erin and I attended the Airedale National Floating Specialty at Columbus Ohio. With her snow nose, high rear and bobbed tail, Erin was quite a contrast to her exquisite cousins in the conformation ring. But Erin has her own kind of beauty. The Specialty was designed to celebrate the versatility of the Airedale, so conformation, hunting, obedience and agility were featured. This was a wonderful opportunity to witness the innate working ability of the average Airedale. I gained a new appreciation of the beauty of our breed by watching various manifestations of that Airedale attitude as it surfaced in the different events.

Erin on the aframe
Erin negotiates the a-frame for Christie.

For me, the highlight of the weekend was the First All-Airedale AKC-Sanctioned Agility Trial. The audience was large and enthusiastic. Many spectators had never seen agility, let alone the Airedale interpretation of the sport. Erin and I ran the Novice A Standard Agility course as if we were in a high-speed dream. Our choreography was flowing and synchronized as we flew over jumps, leaned into turns, banged the teeter and ripped through the chute. We were communicating on the highest plane. I was immensely proud of my partner as we crossed the finish line, leaping into the air with excitement. Erin, in her "no nonsense" way, did a quick front sit and looked at me with an expression that said, "Where's my salmon!"

What better place to earn our first leg toward an agility title, with a first place finish 18 seconds faster than standard course time. During our photograph with the judge and ATCA representatives, I kneeled to be with my partner as she leaned into me. Even a sassy Rescue Girl belongs at the National Airedale Specialty.

Christie E. Williams, Ph.D.
West Lafayette, Indiana


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