Betsey Lynch and Wren Win AKC 8″ Championship by 0.02 Seconds

Two weeks ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Betsey Lynch and her papillon Wren captured the American Kennel Club’s National Agility Championship in the 8” division, capping off an incredible six-month run of big agility wins. Since the fall of 2015, Betsey and Wren have won the USDAA Cynosport Performance Grand Prix, four UKI U.S. Open classes (National Championship, Biathlon, Games Challenge, and Speedstakes), and the Westminster Masters Agility Championship. Wren’s winning run in Tulsa drew extra attention when the judge initially called a dogwalk fault that was subsequently reversed.

Tamar Fuhrer (TF): How did you get started in dog agility?
Betsey Lynch (BL): I bred cavaliers and showed them in conformation in the 90s. In 1996, a cavalier friend asked me to go to agility class with her. My little cavalier excelled at it and we were off and running. He was 6th in the 12” class at the AKC NAC in 1998—so it was a long time ago!

TF: The 8″ jump height is for dogs at or below 11″ at the shoulder. How tall is Wren? She looks a lot smaller than many of the other dogs in the 8″ division.
BL: Wren measures 10”, so she’s far from the smallest in the class, but she is very petite all over and weighs just five pounds. She looks smaller when she runs because she flattens out in full extension.

TF: How have you used Wren’s petite size to her advantage?
BL: I think papillons are strong in the 8” class but what tends to divide this particular height class at the top is weight. The time spent on the teeter is so different for a five pound dog versus even a ten pound dog—much less a fifteen or twenty pound dog. If you ask me or Daneen Fox or Andrea Samuels what the biggest challenge on most any finals course was, we will all usually say the teeter! It is hard to keep a lighter dog on there long enough for it to hit the ground when it tips so slowly—even though their execution of the obstacle is good. When I know a dog is heavier and has an advantage on the teeter, I try to find other ways to be faster. Wren turns tight and has an amazing ability to accelerate out of turns so those are two ways she can make up time. I spend a lot of time analyzing our videos and will do side-by-side videos with other fast dogs when possible to see where we could have been sharper.

TF: Bad Dog Agility has Wren ranked as the top 8″ dog by PowerScore for 2015, slightly ahead of the legendary Masher, who finished #2. With so much recent success under your belt, did you have any specific goals entering AKC nationals?
BL: My mantra for the weekend was to do what we always do—run fast, run tight, and trust our training and the connection we have. If we did that, I felt we would make the finals and give ourselves a chance. Wren turned four the week before the NAC in Tulsa and it was her third year in the finals at AKC nationals. She has also been in the finals at two Cynosports and two US Opens, so we are comfortable there.

TF: Wren won Premier Standard, JWW, and Hybrid, and took second place in Standard. In Premier, she won by more than two seconds on a technical course. Going into finals, Wren was the top seed, with a cumulative score five full seconds ahead of #2 seed Andrea Samuels and Sparkle, a former AKC national champion. Did your dominance affect your mindset or your handling decisions in the finals?
BL: It did feel different to me the first time we entered the finals as the top seed, but it is a honor and I love the feeling of running last. This year all of the top seeded 8” dogs were pretty even in weight so I didn’t have to worry about making up time lost on the teeter. There was one big handling option on the finals course which was the backside after the teeter. Wrapping is almost always slower but Wren spends so little time over the jump that it would have been risky for me to try to beat her on a serpentine to set the line to the finish jump instead of the tunnel. If I had felt I needed to pick up time somewhere against a heavier dog, I would have evaluated that option more closely. We could have been a lot tighter on our finals run but turning on the loose dirt was a problem for Wren on some of those turns.

TF: As a small dog handler, what type of handling system has influenced you the most?
BL: I train with Jennifer Crank at IncrediPAWS in Columbus, Ohio and she uses the Awesome Paws system. Jenn has been very successful with smaller dogs and understands their different strengths and challenges. The combination has given us the ability to excel.

TF: You and Wren defeated Mike Fitch and toy fox terrier Bing by a margin of 0.02 seconds. Walk us through the infamous dogwalk call that was reversed, resulting in the confusion that led to officials first awarding the title to Bing, and then a few minutes later, to Wren.
BL: I heard the crowd react to the call and heard the announcer say she had faulted the dogwalk. As I turned to the teeter, I could see the judge reversing the call. At that point, however, all I could do was execute the plan I had (make her stay on that teeter!) and see what happened. It is what I would have done even if I had not been able to see her reverse the call. I knew Mike Fitch and Bing had laid down a phenomenal run so I had to stay focused and be aggressive. Wren and I don’t give up on each other or our runs.

TF: Did you prepare yourself in terms of mental management for this event?
BL: I have studied it and also have a background in various types of competition. I started using Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management System in 2007 and it is second nature to me now. I wanted a little more mental preparation for this event so jumped at the chance to take Kathy Keat’s new online course “90 Days to Nationals” when she opened it over the winter. It gave me a little more focus on preparing for an event that involves a canine teammate. I went through all of the mental management training sections to see if there was anything that could build on the system I already used. In the curriculum she covered what to do if there is a major distraction before or during your run, so I had thought through that eventuality. Never did I dream that it would be so necessary and the circumstances so unusual.

TF: How do you manage to keep up with such a fast dog on course, and with such grace?
BL: I work hard at both my own fitness and Wren’s. I have a close friend who is a fantastic personal trainer in Southern California and I work with her remotely. She used to compete at the top level of dog agility and understands the unique demands it presents. She has made a huge difference in my fitness and preparation for big events. I definitely prefer to run in front of my dog. The joy that we have as a team is to run as fast as we can while maintaining that connection. It would not be fun to me to send my dog around a course. I want to run as hard as she does. I am lucky that Wren is very biddable and is willing to go where she is directed to go. I am able to work at a considerable lateral distance from her despite her size and that allows me to stay ahead.

TF: What’s next for you and Wren?
BL: Having competed in four major national events over the past six months, we will be shifting our focus to some performance or skill related goals to take us to the next level. We are definitely looking forward to Papillon Nationals in May which is a fun and highly competitive event.

TF: What do you do when you are not doing agility?
BL: I retired from the investment management industry in 2011. We are pretty chill when not doing agility. We play hard, train hard, and rest hard.

Tamar Fuhrer

Tamar Fuhrer

Tamar began training in agility in 2012 with her all-American, Murray who went on to earn his MACH and PDCH. Today, she runs Murray in the 8" class and a young lowchen named Riff in the 12" class.