The owner of a young Shiloh Shepherd went from not knowing if her then 2-year-old pup would survive through the night to recently rewarding him with a steak dinner for becoming the only dog of his breed to ever win the highest obedience title in World Cynosport’s Rally history.
After three long, hard years of training, Leigh and Kingston Sylvester have proven to be a dynamic duo.
Kingston is much like other dogs. He enjoys digging in his backyard, meeting new people and spending time with his mother and much older sister.
He’s different in the sense that when it comes time to compete, most dogs just can’t keep up.
Kingston has made a remarkable recovery from barely being able to use his back legs to now rising to the top of a competition that features a dog-like version of parkour or intense obstacle courses and that tests his obedience.
According to Leigh, each course consists of about 18 to 20 different signs that require an increasing level in obedience. She added that each rally trial consists of three levels. The first requires that the dog be on a leash, while the last two are off-leash challenges that gradually increase in difficulty. Once you get all three of those levels, you rise to what’s called a championship level.
On Sept. 16-17, Kingston competed in what was arguably his most successful competition to date, according to Leigh.
“We came home with 21 ribbons that weekend,” said Leigh with a grin on her face as she explained that the duo had competed at a facility called All Dogs Gym in New Hampshire, which is also where Kingston began his career.
“Now that’s where we won, that’s where we won the ARCHMX. It’s very special for me,” said Leigh. “It’s amazing that everything has come full circle.”
The ARCHMX or APDT Rally Master Champion award is the highest obedience title in World Cynosport’s Rally.
Leigh explained that she thinks the time they took off from competing in order to nurse an isolated injury that Kingston suffered made all of the difference.
Kingston suffered an iliopsoas injury, a strain that is a result of excessive stretching of this muscle during highly athletic activities such as agility training or fetching a tennis ball. The injury occurs commonly at or near the muscle-tendon junction, the weak link, according to bluepearlvet.com.
“I think the time off gave us both a break mentally and physically, which we needed. When we got back in the ring, he was much happier working,” said Leigh.
During their time away from competition, Leigh said, they focused on their relationship.
“I made sure to keep his stress levels down and made sure to keep our training fun,” said Leigh.
Kingston was enrolled in swimming lessons, which Leigh said has been a huge part of his rehabbing. He also participated in lots of K-9 conditioning, both workshops and classes.
“That was really helpful, because it built up his core and hind legs, shoulders; he got faster in the ring and better at the jumps,” said Leigh. “He has a lot of weight to move around, so as he became more agile, he also lost a few pounds.”
She explained that she is considered a force-free positive-reinforcement trainer and was told the duo would never make it this far because of the training style she uses.
The people who made that assumption couldn’t have been more wrong.
“I took him to many different environments and requested simple behaviors to enhance his obedience levels,” said Leigh. The more places they went the more comfortable he got and the more things started to just fall into place.
In less than a year, Leigh and Kingston have found ways to continually up their achievements, but with their latest victory being the literal peak of the Cynosport’s Rally world they are looking in a new direction.
“We’re hoping to get into more nose work competitions in 2018,” said Leigh.
The nosework competitions are based on a dog’s ability to search for and locate specific scents. She said they’ve already begun training at home.
“He loves it,” said Leigh. “We will do rally and the nosework stuff at the same time, but he seems to really enjoy, this because sniffing is just what dogs do. I want him to do something that he really likes.”
Kingston will have to do an odor recognition test before competing, according to Leigh, who said the training is similar to what police K-9s go through for their training.
Leigh said she also wants to convert Kingston to doing more therapy work as he calms down out of the ring.
“We have a lot of things in our future,” said Leigh. “I couldn’t have done any of it without him.”
Last year’s rankings helped Leigh, as she now qualifies to become a judge in World Cynosport.