Local 16-year-old to represent Jr. Agility Team USA

VALLEY CENTER, Kan. (KSNW) – Hayden Brown and his dog Onyx have accomplished a goal they’ve had set for years: making the American Kennel Club Jr. Agility Team USA.

“My favorite thing about agility is it’s fast, it’s complex,” Brown said. “You’re trying to execute perfection at a high rate of speed.”

They will compete at the Jr. Open Agility World Championship in Belgium this July. This is the only Junior agility team in the United States, and many compare it to an Olympic team.

“This has been a long-time goal,” Brown said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for the last 3 years.”

Brown has been working with his Shetland Sheepdog Onyx since she was a puppy. Brown started the sport when he was 8 years old.

“My mom said I should try it in 4-H, and we got started, and I got hooked, and I’ve been doing this ever since,” Brown said.

The team is made up of 26 junior handlers around the U.S. from ages 8-18. Brown is the only male and only Kansan.

“I think what’s kept me sticking with it is the fact that I enjoy the complexity of it,” Brown said. “You’re not doing something that’s easy. It requires two different mindsets – one from an animal, one from a person.”

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Onyx and Brown train daily, always learning new skills.

“We’re training with small skills to make sure my dog is confident on different sequences that we might see in Europe in order to keep me confident, her confident,” Brown said. “My day starts with conditioning. I do several training sessions throughout the day with jumping, contact and weave pulls. Then it ends with conditioning for both myself and my dog.”

They won’t know what the course looks like until the day of their competition, and they have limited time for practice.

“You have eight minutes to memorize a course in which you’re going to handle an animal that you’ve trained to do the best you can do on that course in eight minutes,” Brown said.

There are usually 19 obstacles they have to go through in order. Completing the course takes just about 30 seconds. Each mistake is a penalty or disqualification.

Brown says you have to know your dog well.

“You have to know what your dog prefers to do on a course if they like backside slides better than a back slide wrap,” Brown said. “It’s much easier to know what your dog is going to do.”

The skills he learns in agility transfer to life.

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“One of the top things I will take away is the mental toughness,” Brown said. “Nothing is given. You always don’t know what’s going to happen. It makes it a challenge and creates the ability to fail and get back up and keep working at it.”

The competition is July 18-21.

“I am excited and honored to represent the U.S. in Belgium this summer,” Brown said.

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