For Sylvie Fefer, agility training was only supposed to be a hobby; something she did with her dogs for fun.
“The teacher who I took lessons from told me that she knew I was hooked after the second lesson. I didn’t know this, but she knew this!” said Fefer.
Now, 16 years later, it’s turned into a passion that’s taking her all the way from British Columbia to the world’s stage.
“First time going to worlds! This has been a dream that I’ve been afraid to have,” said Fefer.
Fefer is one of 20 teams heading to the Netherlands to represent Team Canada at the IFCS World Agility Championships. Fefer is one five handlers from this province who’ll be travelling with their dogs as part of Canada’s 20-member roster. Fefer said Zappa, her 6 year-old border collie, was made for this sport.
“He’s very athletic and he’s just a really good dog,” she said.
There’ll be plenty of training in the weeks ahead for the pair as they prepare for the April 13 international showdown. However, the competition is about more than just high jumps and tricky maneuvers: with the world’s most agile dogs and their trainers will all be vying for top spot, Fefer said strategy is key.
“You have to be able to communicate to your dog and let the dog know exactly what obstacle to take and what obstacle not to take even if the one that he’s not supposed to take is right in his path,” she said.
Those who know and love the sport say it’s becoming increasingly popular, as all dogs–regardless of shape, size and breed–can take part. Much like equestrian jumping, handlers direct their dogs through complex obstacles courses.
At the club where Fefer and Zappa train, there is excitement…and a bit of nervousness.
“This is going to be probably an unprecedented experience for Sylvie,” said Elisha McCallum, president of Paws Squad K9 Club. “I know that she’s ready, but this is going to be something that I believe will be the pinnacle of what she is working towards and we’re really excited to see her do this.”
Fefer said, in the end, all that matters is what happens when she and Zappa get to that starting line.
“The mantra that I walk to the line is ‘I am the Queen of Smooth’ and if I say that to myself as I sit my dog down, usually things go pretty well for us.”