When Kira Baugh took her puppy, Riley, to his first obedience class nine years ago, she didn’t realize that it would be the beginning of a training partnership that would eventually take them to the highest levels of canine competition.
Riley quickly took to obedience training, and the dog’s devotion to Baugh was evident from the start.
“We went to a basic obedience class,” said Baugh, now a first-year University of Virginia student from Northern Virginia, “and the instructor said my dog had a lot of drive, seemed really willing to work for me and that I should try agility – a dog sport in which handlers guide their dogs through an obstacle course as fast and as accurately as they can. So I started taking agility classes, and shortly after I got involved in a dog training club that sparked my interest even more.”
Another member of the club suggested she try out competitions next, sending Baugh and Riley down yet another road.
Baugh first started competing in dog shows when she was 12 and Riley was 2. Since then, she has participated in many competitions, sanctioned by groups like the American Kennel Club and the Australian Shepherd Club of America. She has been ranked in the top 20 of junior handlers in the United States by the United Kennel Club, and was invited to United Kennel Club Premier – a national event – to compete for their Best Junior Handler award in both 2016 and 2015.
She is proudest of being awarded Best Junior Handler at two agility pre-trials at the Australian Shepherd Club of America National Specialty in Tennessee, and Best Non-Australian Shepherd at an agility pre-trial at the same competition.
“That was my first big show,” Baugh said. “I have been invited to big shows at other venues, but they have always been during finals or graduation. This year I qualified to go to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in February. Parts of it are shown on TV. I’m going to try to enter because it’s first-come, first-served – I guess it’s a dog-eat-dog world.”
While Baugh enjoys going to competitions, the most important part of this journey is its effect on her relationship with Riley, a mixed breed.
“Dog sports really do enable people to become closer to their dog,” she said. “You also learn a lot about resilience and how to deal with someone else having a bad day, even if that person happens to be a dog. They could go over and say ‘hi’ to the judge or go to the bathroom on the equipment. I’ve had all of these things happen. I’ve had my dog jump on top of the tunnel – you’re supposed to go through it.”
While Baugh and Riley have missed out on some of the bigger competitions since coming to the University, Baugh hopes to eventually go to World Dog Show, an international competition and the world’s largest dog show.