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Flowery Branch retriever makes a name in AKC competitions

POSTED: May 22, 2011 1:30 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Terri Everline of Flowery Branch recently returned from competing with her Golden Retriever, Tag, at the American Kennel Club National Agility Championships in Lexington, VA. There were over 1000 competitors who had spent a year qualifying to attend the event. Tag earned a 3rd place finish in his height class at this event.

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The Atlanta Falcons aren’t the only world-class athletes who make their home in Flowery Branch; so does Terri Everline’s dog, Tag.

He’s not only well-known to local industry insiders, he has earned a national title. The Hall County Golden Retriever recently secured a third-place award in the 24-inch height class at the American Kennel Club’s National Agility Championships.

To make his way to the top three, Tag had to face very stiff competition.

"In his height class there were about 140 dogs — and that’s just the dogs that qualified to go to nationals," said Terri Everline, Tag’s owner and trainer.

"To make it to nationals, you have to qualify for a spot by competing in local trials on a weekly basis. There are thousands and thousands of dogs that are trying to qualify over the year, so just getting to nationals is a very big deal."

Once there, Tag and Everline had to put on their game faces.

"Agility is very different from other competitions. Most of the dog competitions that the public are aware of are a pretty dog trotting around the ring and you’re looking at what they look like," Everline said.

"This is actually a sport where we run with the dog and navigate them through an obstacle course. At the AKC championships, you have to complete three runs over the course of two days.

"You basically have to be perfect, and that’s hard to do."

Measuring up to such high standards may be difficult, but Tag proved that the third time’s a charm.

"The first year that we competed at AKC nationals, Tag was perfect on one run. The second year, he was perfect twice and this year he got them all," Everline said.

Not only do the runs have to be perfect. They have to be fast.

Tag’s final run time was 40.222 seconds. Less than one second behind the first place winner’s 39.718 seconds.

 

Although she was delighted with Tag’s performance at last month’s nationals, Everline says she suspected that things were going to play out in his favor this year.

"We were at the United States Dog Agility Association Nationals in the fall and he took fifth there, so I knew he had the capability of doing really well," Everline said.

"It was just a matter of whether he and I could hold it together all weekend for AKC."

Everline has a good eye for what it takes to be a winner. She’s been training dogs for the last 15 years. Her passion for training and agility competitions started when she and her husband purchased their first puppy.

"Like most people, we bought a house and we got a dog. And the dog was into everything and we thought, ‘We need a little help,’" Everline said.

"We enrolled him in obedience class and it sort of bloomed from that. As a part of those classes, they did a week of agility training where we put them over obstacles — little baby stuff.

"It was just to give them exposure to different environments. And my little guy thought it was pretty cool. I (saw) his tail wagging and he was enjoying it, so I thought, ‘This is something we can do.’"

She began her career as a trainer after one of her agility instructors asked Everline to assist her with a class. Eventually she stepped out on her own.

"It’s incredible to me to think about the fact that I’ve been doing this longer than my real career I went to college for. I actually was in theater," Everline said.

"In a way, this is still like performing. Navigating your dog through the competition courses is a lot of cause and effect. How we move determines whether the dog makes a correct turn or whether they don’t. My theater training helped because I have a good eye for how movement affects reactions."

And their winning streak isn’t hurt by the fact that Tag comes from a line of champions.

"His mother was an amazing dog, so he was kind of destined to be what he is," Everline says.

Although 8-year-old Tag came from a quality background, he still had to learn the basics like every other competitor.

"I got Tag as a puppy, so he started with basic obedience classes. He was taught all of the pieces of equipment (that he would encounter on a competition course)," Everline said.

"Pretty much most of the equipment is things dogs kind of do most of their life — climbing over things, going through tunnels — so its pretty easy to teach those.

"The hardest thing to teach are the weave poles because it’s a very specific movement. They have to enter from the same direction always. That’s the one thing they don’t naturally do in life. That takes the longest to train."

With her background as a trainer, and with Tag being her fourth dog, it only took the duo six months to get on the same page. Training would take the average pair about a year to complete, Everline said.

Although the Everlines relocated to Flowery Branch from Chicago about four years ago, Everline says they never missed a beat with agility trials and competitions.

"The dog culture in the Atlanta area is like this little subculture that nobody knows about," she said.

"The local trials usually have about 200 dogs entered. A lot of people come to it from the horse community. They can no longer afford to do horses so they start training dogs, then they find agility."

Everline says their run isn’t over yet.

"Each year he has gotten stronger and stronger," Everline said about Tag, who has already qualified for next year’s AKC nationals.

"When you have put together a run where you’re both on the same page, it’s a really good feeling.

It’s so much fun for the humans and the dogs. It’s a partnership and connection between (human and animal) that you don



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