DeAnn Nelson of West Richland used to spend her days off on horseback — endurance riding, trail riding, or just plain riding.
“I was a horse girl,” said Nelson, who works for Battelle at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
After high school, she even earned a “stable management” degree from an equine college.
“But it’s hard when you get older,” she said.
One bad fall and the loss of her favorite horse pretty much grounded her, she said.
That’s when she started looking for a dog. And not just any dog.
During her time at that equine college, Nelson had spent a lot of time around one of the stable dogs — a Pembroke Welsh corgi. The corgi, with its large ears and short stature, had a huge personality.
“It was just a cool little dog,” Nelson said.
Nelson, or rather her husband, Rich, already had a dog — a brown lab named Gracie.
“Gracie used to go riding with me all the time and she really was my dog,” said Nelson.
Until her husband started taking the lab bird hunting.
Gracie’s natural instincts took over and suddenly Nelson’s dog was spending more time with her husband.
Nelson started researching corgi breeders and looking for a puppy.
Five years ago, Poppy, a tan and white Cardigan Welsh corgi, came into Nelson’s life.
But Poppy quickly became attached to Gracie the lab and would have separation anxiety whenever Gracie left to go hunting.
Nelson heard about some dog agility classes and thought that might be a good way to help Poppy gain some confidence and have some fun.
In agility, dogs completed an obstacle course that includes jumps, weave poles, tunnels, teeter-tooters, and an A-frame the dogs must climb. The dogs, which are placed in different height categories based on size, race against the clock. Having a fast dog is good, but it’s even more critical to have a well-trained dog that completes the course cleanly.
“Poppy hated it,” Nelson said.
But through a few members of the class, Nelson learned about the Columbia Basin Dog Training Club and decided to get involved.
She took Poppy through a “Canine Good Citizen” class, an obedience class, and a rally class, in which obedience skills are tested through a course.
But Nelson was still interested in trying to get Poppy involved in agility.
“At that time, we really didn’t know anything about how to motivate the dogs — we were just watching training videos and figuring it out on our own,” Nelson said.
Then Nelson took an agility class offered by CBDTC members Dan and Leslie Couch, who compete in agility with their papillons.
“That’s when we discovered the ‘magic’ soccer ball,” Nelson said.
One of her husband’s nephews played soccer and had brought over a ball and left it.
“Poppy just played and played with that ball,” Nelson said.
So she began using the ball as a training tool for Poppy in agility, using ‘toy motivation.” When Poppy would complete a task properly, Nelson would give her the soccer ball to play with as a reward.
Suddenly, the small dog was making big strides in the training arena — paying attention to the commands Nelson was giving her and completing courses.
It took nearly two years of training before Nelson believed she and Poppy were ready to compete in a trial.
“We were doing other things too — herding, rally and obedience,” said Nelson.
Nelson’s perseverance and dedication have helped Poppy earn her Excellent Jumpers Title
Nelson also has gotten more involved with Columbia Basin Dog Training Club, spending two years as president.
She helped the club create a more diverse curriculum that was balanced with more obedience, rally and agility classes. And now there is more continuity to the classes, allowing participants and their dogs to continue and expand their training and knowledge.
“I’ve gained a lot of friendships through the club — and I’ve come to appreciate the value of training,” said Nelson.
That’s been especially important, since the Nelsons dog family has also expanded in that time, with the addition of a black lab, Teyla and a second Cardigan Welsh corgi, Smooch, who are also in agility training.
Nelson’s husband, Rich, has also gotten more involved — in the club, the training of their dogs, and in agility.
Horses still graze in her West Richland pasture, but she doesn’t spend much time with them between work and dog training.
It’s not unusually to find an agility course set up in the Nelson’s large yard on the weekend, with a dozen or so club members and dogs practicing and helping each other learn. Other weekends, the Nelsons hook up their trailer, load up the dogs and travel to the nearest agility trial.
“I love to compete,” said Nelson. “I don’t have to win to enjoy it. I’m not competing against other people, I’m competing against myself.”
For more information about Columbia Basin Dog Training Club or the dog training courses offered, go to www.columbiabasindogtc.org.