Interview with AKC 26” Champion Melissa Henning

Melissa Henning at the 2016 AKC National Agility Championshipphoto credit: Matteo Geer
Melissa Henning at the 2016 AKC National Agility Championship
photo credit: Matteo Geer
Melissa Henning won the 26” height class this past weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the 2016 AKC National Agility Championship with her border collie Relay. She also won the 26” ISC round with her other border collie Caper, earning them a spot on the European Open team.

Dog Agility NOW: Congratulations on a terrific weekend! I’ve been watching you and your dogs for years and I strongly felt that you were due. What’s the toughest part about running two dogs in the elite 26” class, which had 29 entrants this year?
Melissa Henning: The most challenging part of running two dogs on the same course and close to each other in the run order is switching ‘handling gears.’ My dogs are similar but also different enough that they need different timing cues, verbals and obstacle support.

Dog Agility NOW: Tell us about your ISC run with Caper, which was unbelievably amazing. That win earned Caper a spot on this year’s European Open team—and your other dog Relay was already a team member.
Melissa Henning: We actually came to the NAC hoping to win the ISC event. Relay had already made the EO team and I had entered both dogs in the Border Collie Classic in The Netherlands the weekend following the EO. Anne Braue had already agreed that I could travel Caper with the EO team so I didn’t have to ship him out separately. I felt that both my dogs had the skills to run that class well and was thrilled that Caper (despite a wide turn at the end) was able to win the spot.

Dog Agility NOW: Let’s talk about the finals. You were seeded 2nd and 3rd out of 6 dogs. Presumably to give you a break, officials had you run Relay (the 3rd seed) as the first dog of the class. What was going through your head after your run with Relay?
Melissa Henning: I was happy that she ran so well but immediately focused on prepping Caper for his run. There was a lot of energy in the arena and Caper needs some time to focus and settle before running.

Dog Agility NOW: And then after Zip faulted, you ran Caper, knowing that with a winning run, Caper would the champion, and with a fault, Relay would be the champion. What were you thinking before the run?
Melissa Henning: I was not aware of Relay’s placement until Caper and I entered the ring. Then I heard on the PA system that Relay was still in first place. I was incredibly proud of both of my dogs regardless of the outcome; they are champions to me every time we step to the line.

Dog Agility NOW: Did AKC officials offer the top seed, Jaime Herren and Zip, the opportunity to run last?
Melissa Henning: Jamie was originally in the last position but moved in front of me as Caper and I were heading toward the gate. I know the officials were eager to keep the competition in flow but I was also told to ‘catch my breath’ and ‘take my time’ after Relay. I had planned to run Caper before Zip as we were seeded to be fair to Zip and Jamie.

Dog Agility NOW: What do you do when you’re not agilitizing? Yes, I just made that word up.
Melissa Henning: I am a partner in a firm that brokers commodity transactions—mostly between governments and private groups.

Dog Agility NOW: What’s up next for you?  If you make the AWC team, will you still attend EO?
Melissa Henning: Yes, both Caper and Relay are attending WTT in San Jose. If either make the team we still plan to compete at the EO in France this summer and the BCC in The Netherlands.

Dog Agility NOW: Where can people find you?
Melissa Henning: I am on Facebook mostly. I do not have my own website and still consider myself a student of the sport and total amateur.

Esteban Fernandezlopez

A long time agility competitor and co-creator of Bad Dog Agility, Esteban is serving as the first Editor-in-Chief of Dog Agility NOW.