Agility Pro 'Nanuk,' a Siberian Husky, Is Owner's 1st Dog
Rusty Boone never dreamt that a walk around the block with his dog would lead to “Nanuk” (MACH5 Boone’s Nanuk Of The North MXB2 MJS2 NJP XF T2B CGCA CGCU) becoming the No. 1 Master Agility Champion (MACH) Siberian Husky.
In a roundabout way, that’s exactly what happened.
“I was living in downtown Atlanta close to where I worked,” Rusty says. “At lunchtime, I would go home to take Nanuk out. One day a coworker, Jenn Rast, saw us walking. She has four Siberian Huskies that she trains for agility. She said, ‘You should try agility with Nanuk.’”
Rast guided Rusty to agility trainer Anne Jones at Alchemy Dog Training in Acworth, Georgia, where they enrolled in the puppy obedience class, followed by the foundation agility class. Playful training games taught Nanuk how to move and turn with Rusty. He began learning to focus and be attentive when other dogs were moving and running. Obstacles, such as a lowered A-frame, weave poles, open tunnels, and a lowered dog walk, helped to build confidence as well as balance and coordination.
“We were just getting our feet wet, but class by class, he excelled and showed interest, and week by week, he kept getting better and better,” Rusty says.
In November 2014, they competed in their first agility trial in Perry, Georgia. Braving new handler jitters, Rusty says, “The trial atmosphere was completely different than practice. We were at a fairgrounds with a dirt floor, lots of smells, and lots of people and dogs. In the middle of our first run in Novice A Standard, Nanuk escaped out of the ring and then out of the building. My stomach dropped. I finally got him to come back using food to bait him.
“Over the four-day trial, we got one Q (qualifying score) in Novice Jumpers. Despite the distractions, he always kept his attention on me for a few obstacles, and he consistently came back to me after losing focus. That was a good thing.”
In July 2015, Rusty’s job transferred him to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Rusty and Nanuk began training in the Master Agility class at Dog Sports at Kim’s (DSK) in Caseyville, Illinois, taught by Kim Berkley.
The team began fine-tuning their competitive skills. Berkley helped Rusty train Nanuk on the 2-on/2-off method in which a dog learns the proper contact zone on the A-frame, dog walk and teeter by practicing holding the front feet on the ground and the rear feet on the obstacles before exiting. They learned how to maneuver front, blind and rear crosses in which Rusty used different cross patterns to change sides with Nanuk. The energetic Siberian Husky was beginning to master the fast-action, in-and-out concept of weave poles and understand the game of agility.
Simultaneously while training with Berkley, Rusty enrolled in Joan Meyer’s handling class at DSK. Under Meyer’s tutelage, he learned how to effectively use hand signals and body language to guide Nanuk’s runs.
“We became more consistent in our performance and began competing in trials more,” says Rusty. “After we got our contacts down, we went to the regular Open and Excellent classes.”
Over the 1 ½ years they trained at DSK, Rusty and Nanuk earned their Novice (NA, NAJ), Open (OA, OAJ), and Excellent (AX, AXJ) agility titles. They also advanced to the Master agility level in the spring of 2016, a fast progression from their start in Novice A in 2014.
Now, they were working on earning the lofty MACH title. Doing so would require achieving 750 speed points on the Standard course, one of the toughest to master with 18 to 20 contact obstacles such as the A-frame, dog walk and teeter, plus 20 Double Qualifying (QQs) points. Earning a QQ requires qualifying on the same day in the Standard and Jumpers with Weaves classes. The Jumpers with Weaves course includes up to 16 jumps plus weave poles and tunnels.
In July 2016, when he was only one QQ away from his MACH title, Nanuk injured his shoulder. The injury required three months of rehabilitation involving 10 biweekly cold laser treatments.
Nanuk lost confidence during the time off. “When he did the weave poles, he would pop out, which slowed his time. It was as though he remembered getting hurt. After a couple of trials we were back to working as a team,” Rusty says.
At a trial in Columbia, Missouri, in November 2016, Nanuk and Rusty earned the long-coveted MACH title. Rusty grabbed the last bar Nanuk jumped over, and they joyously ran around the ring in celebration.
One month later, Nanuk and Rusty took part in the AKC Agility Invitational in Orlando, Florida. There were 172 dogs competing in the 24-inch class. Nanuk and Rusty took fourth place, and Nanuk earned the breed medallion as the top-scoring Siberian Husky at the Invitational.
“This was my first big dog show with my first agility dog, and it was nerve-wracking,” Rusty says. “There’s a warmup and four rounds – Jumpers with Weaves, Standard, Hybrid and another Jumpers with Weaves – then the dogs with the highest average scores advance to the Finals. Nanuk came through with fast, clean runs.”
In January 2017, Nanuk and Rusty started working with Jennifer McDonald at Topshelf K9 Agility Training in Gray Summit, Missouri, signing up for her advanced handling competition class. “She has taken me to another level of handling and helped us to be more consistent,” he says. “My ground speed is much faster and my handling is tighter. Importantly, she has reinforced the importance of positive reinforcement and ample use of praise in training.”
Having earned three MACH titles, Nanuk and Rusty began a new pursuit in 2018. “I set goals for our team to achieve every year, and this year it was to try and earn MACH5 at the Siberian Husky National,” Rusty says. “In mid-June, Nanuk got MACH4. I looked at the number of trials being offered to see if it was feasible. It was.”
The agility trial was held the first day of the 2018 Siberian Husky Club of America National Specialty in St. Charles, Illinois. Nanuk and Rusty entered all six agility events offered at their skill level: Master Standard and Jumpers with Weaves; Premier Standard and Jumpers with Weaves; and two games, Fast and Time to Beat.
“Our first run was the Fast game, where you make up your own course and try to run through the obstacles in 32 seconds. We missed a jump and didn’t qualify,” Rusty says.
After the Fast game warmup, Nanuk and Rusty qualified in the Master Standard course. Jumpers with Weaves came last, and Nanuk was tired, but still qualified, earning Double QQs. “He ran fast and clean and got MACH5,” says Rusty. “We also earned High in Trial, which we had never done before.”
It’s been a fast track for Nanuk and Rusty, earning five MACH titles in only three years, especially considering that Rusty had never trained a dog or competed in the sport. To top off the success of the year, Nanuk was the No. 1 MACH Siberian Husky, netting a first-round invitation to the 2018 AKC Invitational.
“It’s been bittersweet earning Nanuk’s MACH titles, since he’s my very first agility dog,” Rusty says. “A big part of our success has been the really good trainers behind us. They are definitely the foundation of our success. Importantly, I’ve learned that if you put in the time and train, you’ll get the results you want.”