The Secret Life of the Librarian: Dog Training

Debby Barnes Talks About her Nationally Ranked Dog


Courtesy of Debby Barnes

Debby Barnes and her dog Pepper running through a Chances course. According to Barnes, because this course is difficult, it feels more rewarding when they are able to complete it. “I like Chances because it’s the hardest, so when we do one correctly it is extra exciting,” Barnes said.

Debby Barnes

Kaiya Wilkinson, Reporter

While some people think Debby Barnes is a librarian by day and night, many don’t know that she has a secret talent; she’s a dog trainer. Not only that, but her miniature Australian shepherd, Pepper, is nationally ranked.

Pepper and I have been training for four years,” Barnes said. “The agility organization in which we complete ranks the dogs competing at the Elite level every January for the previous year. They rank all Elite level dogs overall, and they also rank within each breed distinction. Pepper is ranked within her breed group.”

The dogs go through a series of eight courses: Barrelers, Regular, Jumpers, Tunnelers, Chances, Weavers, Touch n Go and Hoopers. These courses are definitely no walk in the park, especially since the dog must complete a flawless run in order to gain points.

“Rankings are achieved through the accumulation of points at the Elite level,” Barnes said. “Dogs receive 10 points for each qualifying run. In order to qualify, dogs must run the obstacle course as numbered under time and without any faults. [During a competition I think] ‘Am I going to be fast enough?’ ‘Am I going to be able to execute the front or blind cross where I need to change sides?’”

In the nation, Pepper is first in Barrelers, second in Regular, Jumpers, Tunnelers, and Chances and third in Weavers, Touch n Go and Hoopers. According to Barnes, she was super excited upon hearing the news.

I was jumping up and down,” Barnes said. “When I called and told my husband, he thought I was nuts because I started tearing up.”

Barnes said that her favorite course to do is Chances. Despite being liked, Chances is the hardest course to perform.

“I like Chances because it’s the hardest, so when we do one correctly it is extra exciting,” Barnes said.  “Obstacles can include:  jumps, hoops, tunnels, barrels, a-frame, dog walk [and] weave poles. The goal of this course is to test the distance, directional and obstacle discrimination skills of the dog and handler team. It consists of 10-14 obstacles with a distance test where the dog must navigate obstacles set at a minimum of 20 feet away from where the handler is allowed to be.”

Though Barnes likes the Chances course, Pepper has other ideas. Her favorites include Tunnelers and Jumpers

“[Tunnelers] course highlights the dog’s ability to respond quickly to directional commands from the handler since the dogs don’t really see what’s next while they are in a tunnel – and it’s usually not what is directly in front of them when they exit the tunnel,” Barnes said. “[Jumpers] obstacles include jumps and maybe a tunnel or two. This course highlights the dogs’ jumping ability and humans’ ability to handle at a rapid pace.”

Barnes and Pepper constantly work hard together. Not only are they nationally ranked, but they have won numerous awards.

“Pepper has earned numerous titles at the various levels of competition,” Barnes said. “The BIG title is a NATCH – North American Agility Champion.  She had to have 13 qualifying runs in Jumpers, 13 in Chances and 23 in Regular.  She earned her first NATCH in June and her NATCH 2 in October of last year.”

Barnes said that she loves training with her dog and encourages others who are interested to give it a try. For those interested go to the Travis Agility Group website.

“If anyone is interested in training for dog agility, my club is starting a new beginners class in March,” Barnes said. “All agility organizations have junior handler programs.  AKC has some sweet college scholarships for junior handlers, too. The training field is located on the Texas Humane Heroes property off Crystal Falls. I am one of the Beginner class trainers!”

For additional videos of Pepper, click below:

Touch and Go