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English Setters are versatile dogs and many of our dogs and their owners love to compete in agility. Few people have been as successful as Sue Johnson (Birchrun). Sue and her English Setter, Parker, recently reached the pinnacle of success in agility. Sue tells their story.

Parker earned her Master Agility Championship (MACH) on August 27, 2016 making her the first female conformation and agility champion English Setter. Her official name to date is CH MACH Birchrun Begin The Dance RN, MX, MXS, MJX, MJS, MFB, T2B2, CGC….and we’re not done yet!
To earn a MACH, a dog has to complete their Novice, Open and Excellent titles in both the Standard and Jumpers With Weaves classes before they can compete at the Master level. Once you reach the Master level, you need twenty double Q’s which is a qualifying run in both Standard and Jumpers With Weaves on the same day. To qualify, you cannot have any faults and have to be under the Standard Course Time determined by the judge. You also need to earn 750 speed points: you get one speed point for every second you are under course time. It’s not an easy feat.
Parker is my second agility dog. I started agility with her mother, Tatum, years ago and loved it! I’ve shown in conformation for more than thirty years but agility is addicting and constantly changing, full of challenges and there’s always more to learn. Tatum did well and when I bred her in 2009, I kept Parker. She finished her conformation championship easily and we occasionally showed in the breed ring after that.
We started training foundation behaviors before she was four months old and we’re still training seven years later. We go to group classes, take private lessons from several instructors occasionally and work at home almost every day. I did not start Parker in AKC trials until she was 2.5 years old. Although she knew all the obstacles and behaviors long before that, I wanted her to be more mentally mature to handle the challenges and stresses of running “in public.” We did a lot of fun matches and some ASCA agility trials. In my experience, English Setters tend to stress when having to perform in the competition ring. They may run off, zoom around, sniff, walk slowly and appear to ignore you. This is not willful disobedience but rather nerves or not understanding what you want or sensory overload.
On our big day, first Parker Q’d in the Standard class on a very difficult course. As I watched dog after dog fail to get around clean, I just kept running the course in my mind until it was second nature. I knew she could get through all the hard parts as long as I kept my eye on her and didn’t push for speed. She did it!
We waited a few hours for our Jumpers run. Again, I ran the course a hundred times in my mind so I would not have any hesitations about where to go and what handling maneuvers I was going to use. When a MACH is on the line, your friends are gathered around, ready to videotape, everyone knows exactly what your time needs to be. In my mind, a hush fell over the building. I don’t think I breathed for the entire 42 seconds. As Parker raced out of the tunnel for the final line of jumps, I knew I needed to pick up my speed but make sure she took every jump. When she flew over that final jump and I heard the spectators cheering, I can’t explain what I felt. All of a sudden, I had reached a ten year goal. You can share in our joy in this MACH movie I made. https://youtu.be/fMI_tsLjoFU
The second phase of Parker’s agility career is just starting. We will move to the Preferred class which means she can jump 4” lower. If she should earn 20 double Q’s and 750 speed points again, she would earn the Preferred Agility Champion (PACH) title. It would be icing on the cake but regardless if that happens, we are going to enjoy our agility journey as long as we can.

Congratulations to Sue and Parker on earning their MACH! And thanks to Sue for sharing their MACH experience with all of us.

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