We all love our Kerry Blue Terriers (KBT) but once in a great while such a remarkable almost magical relationship develops between an owner and her KBT that this special partnership allows both to soar to new adventures and heights together and bring us all along for the ride. This was the partnership of Tracey Fulmer and her KBT Bailey. Together Tracey and Bailey introduced hundreds of people to our special breed, demystified and debunked the “aggressive” myth of KBTs, became true ambassadors of the KBT all around the nation and became superstars in the agility world, going on, to paraphrase Captain Kirk of the Star Ship Enterprise, “where no Kerry has gone before.” Bailey’s awards in agility make us all proud:
- 5 time Master Agility Champion -- the first Kerry to achieve MACHs 4 and 5
- 7 time Top 5 Kerry Invitee to the AKC Agility Invitational (including 2013)
- 3 time Top Kerry at the Invitational
- 6 time qualifier for the AKC Agility Nationals (including 2014)
- Top AKC Agility Kerry 2009 and 2011
- Numerous USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) agility titles.
But the story of Bailey is much more than his agility record: it is a lifetime of play, rescue work, agility, being Tracey’s best friend, and showing the world how amazing a KBT really is. In Bailey’s story there is something for all KBT owners: training tips, dealing with the nay-sayers about our breed, and new opportunities to consider for stronger partnerships with your own KBT. Here is some of Bailey’s story written in Tracey’s own words done in a series of electronic interviews answering specific question about Bailey and his life with her:
Tell me about where you and Bailey first met and how did he select you or you him.
I did a lot of research on dog breeds, trying to find the right dog for my first dog. Having grown up with mini Schnauzers and an Airedale, I was drawn to terriers. I settled on a Wheaten but when I couldn’t get any Wheaten breeders to return phone calls or e-mails, a Kerry was my next choice. Thankfully, the Kerry breeder network helped me find a good breeder in Lynn Travers. I remember visiting for the first time, when the pups were about 4 weeks old. I wanted to meet a Kerry as I had never seen one. When I saw the litter birthdate of August 30th -- my birthday! -- I knew it was meant to be. Knowing what I know now about puppy mills and internet dealers, I had great reassurance when I bought my puppy from a reputable source.
Tell us about Bailey as a puppy and how you trained each other and learned to work together.
As a puppy, Bailey played roughly with other dogs, pulling on ears, etc. At puppy training classes, he growled at the other pups so the trainer didn’t let us play in the pre-class puppy play group. We had to sit across the room from the other pups during class because Bailey was so excited. That was my first time (but not my last) at being mortified and embarrassed by a Kerry. It was also my first experience with the Kerry “reputation” preceding the dog -- the trainer just assumed a Kerry was not good with other dogs.
I was absolutely determined to have a well socialized, well behaved Kerry. I took him to the dog park every day, rain, shine or snow. I was very quick to intervene if he got too rough. I learned that about 20 minutes was the most time he could spend at the park, otherwise he got bored and started causing trouble. I took him every morning on walks on wooded trailswherehemetotherdogsoffleash. Hewasmuchbetter off leash than on -- no leash “barrier” to prevent him from getting to what he wanted. My pockets were always stuffed with treats so I could reward him for nice interactions. I let him loose, dragging a 15 ft. lead, so I could step on it if he got too far away or didn’t come when called, always giving treats and high praise for coming. I would hide behind trees so he would worry and come running to find me -- more rewards (and a fun game). I had him jump and sit on stumps, or walk on downed trees -- more fun games for sticking by me. It took about a year before I could let my guard down and he would reliably come when called and not cause trouble. Those walks became our heaven on earth and I met many good dog people along the way.
What made you decide to try agility with Bailey?
I knew Bailey got bored easily, and I wanted to do something more with him. I saw agility on TV and thought it looked like fun. Turns out I was lucky in that there was a local practice club 5
minutes from my house, BARK. They told me to take some classes and get familiar with the equipment before I could join. Interestingly enough, club members included a Bedlington terrier, two Airedales, a Border terrier and an Irish terrier, which is really unusual for a sport filled with herding breeds. That small BARK group became some of my best friends and I learned a TON about dog training from them.
How did you and Bailey become the champions that you became?
Agility is a game of speed. When I started, I was more focused on the accuracy, thinking the sport was about getting the dog through the course and qualifying. I learned quickly that was the easy part. After reinforcing “slow but accurate” in the beginning, it took years to finally get Bailey to RUN. There was nothing I liked better than seeing him flying over jumps and weaving the poles with drive. He stayed insanely accurate -- we qualified something like 80% of the time. But all I ever wanted was for him to run like the wind, whether he qualified or not. Agility is a sport where you improve with every run. Bailey holds a very special place in my heart because we traveled that “novice” journey together. I look back on our humble beginnings and realize that Bailey was incredibly forgiving and taught me far more than I ever taught him.
I think Bailey liked agility because we did it together. When he got older, I really didn’t need to train him much. All I know is that without agility -- and training him -- I would have never realized what a truly
awesome dog he was or how smart and willing he was. Our training and competitions elevated our relationship to new plane. There was a mutual respect that built an incredible bond between us. I’ll be forever thankful that I got involved in the sport.
What is Master Agility and how is it different from other agility?
There are many venues to compete in agility. AKC, USDAA, CPE, NADAC, to name a few. All have different levels -- novice, advanced, masters -- so you start out in novice and earn qualifying scores to move up to the next level. Masters classes have harder courses and tighter course times -- you have to run the course within the course time to qualify. Although Bailey and I were incredibly successful in AKC, USDAA has by far the most challenging courses, which I prefer, because they require more training, teamwork and timing.
How many agility trials did you compete in over the years?
Over the 8 years of competition, Bailey and I must have participated in close to 400 agility trials, most of them local in New England. However attending the Terrier Trials in Kimberton, PA (Montgomery week), the AKC National Championships in Tulsa, OK, and the Agility Invitational for 6 years in a row -- in Long Beach, CA and Orlando, FL -- were always the highlights of the year. It didn’t matter how we did -- we got to see friends from across the country that we only saw every few years.
What advice do you have for someone considering agility with their KBT?
Make it fun for you and the dog. Make agility a big game. A successful, confident dog is a fast, happy dog. Your job as the trainer is to help your dog succeed. Be 100% consistent and take it slowly so that the dog is insanely successful before you increase difficulty. If your dog fails at something 3 times, take a step back and make it easier. The dog is never wrong -- it’s a transformational mind-set that the dog is only as good as the trainer. If you take on that responsibility, then you will quickly become addicted to the sport! And that “dog is never wrong” responsibility -- that dogs don’t act willfully to spite you -- will help anybody improve their relationship with their Kerry or any dog.
All I can say is that Bailey made me smile and laugh every day. Sometimes I got infuriated -- like when he went in a mucky pond to swim after ducks -- but he always made me laugh. I’m sure everybody reading this would agree that if you don’t have a sense of humor, then a Kerry is not for you. Expect to be embarrassed in this land of Goldens and Labs. Kerries are definitely independent thinkers as well as devoted shadows but once you unlock how to work as a team and what makes your Kerry tick, you unlock the pure magic of a Kerry.
Talk a little bit about the prejudice that you encountered from other owners in taking Bailey, a KBT, into agility and how Bailey won them over.
I don’t know how many people told me they had never met a “nice” Kerry before and they’d never seen one doing agility. I think Bailey made people -- and these are experienced dog people -- realize that the breed isn’t as tough as they thought....and that they are highly trainable. The Kerry reputation definitely precedes the dog. People assumed Bailey wasn’t good with other dogs and steered clear. Then when they saw him interact with other dogs (although he didn’t really have interest in them after the initial meeting), I could see a light bulb go off -- “Hey, Kerries aren’t so bad.”
In addition, Bailey always carried around a plush soccer ball. When he was a puppy, I would give it to him if he started barking. If he got excited, he would look around for his ball. It became his “pacifier” and an incredible training tool by using it as a reward. That ball kept him out of trouble -- hard to sniff a dog’s butt when you have a soccer ball! We traveled to many agility events across the country where Bailey became known as “The dog with the soccer ball.” I don’t know how many photographers snapped his picture with it. Everybody smiled when they saw him with it. That was Bailey -- he just made you smile.
In addition to his agility work, the two of you teamed up in the KBT rescue work. Talk a little about that.
At the local dog park, I met many people who were fostering dogs for a local rescue. I started fostering, screening applications, and performing home visits. We must have fostered 10 dogs, mostly mixes. I somehow stumbled on Petfinder (www.petfinder.com) in fall 2004, curious to see if there were any Kerries. There was a dog that looked like a Kerry, picked up as a stray, in PA in a shelter -- her name was Sapphire. I googled Kerry rescue and found Janet Joers and the Foundation. Turns out it was indeed a purebred Kerry. Once I realized that the Foundation needed help looking for and assisting Kerries in need, I devoted my volunteer time to KBTF rescue.
What type of rescue work have you done?
I worked with Jan and Janet Hopkins (who has since passed, bless her) to start up a group called “KBTF Shelter Scanners.” Basically, it was a small yahoo group of Kerry owners who wanted to help with rescue and who scanned Petfinder for potential Kerries. If a Kerry or potential Kerry was identified in the scanner’s geography, the scanner was responsible for positively identifying that it was a Kerry, pulling it out and working with a rescue coordinator to get it intofostercare. MostoftheKerrieswepulledoutofshelters were not listed as Kerries -- the vast majority were listed as schnauzer/poodle mixes. I became an expert at identifying an overgrown or shaved Kerry from shelter pictures. We had an awesome group of scanners -- many are still involved in rescue today.
That morphed into fostering and becoming the rescue coordinator for the Northeast. The timing was good because the mills were dumping Kerries. We placed over 250 Kerries from 2005 - 2009, when I was involved in KBTF rescue. Nothing was more rewarding than getting notes from happy adopters, with pictures of happy, content Kerries!
Bailey was a very good judge of other dogs. We had one foster (a mix) who, a few days in, started becoming very possessive of me, blocking Bailey from coming in the house. Bailey steered clear of that one and that helped me know that the dog needed an adult only, experienced home. With mill rescues, Bailey was a rock for them. He exuded confidence and had such nice manners -- the fosters took their cues from Bailey. He helped the less confident mill dogs integrate into a home.
What is Bailey’s legacy for all Kerry Blue Terriers?
Wherever Bailey went, he introduced people to the true Kerry Blue Terrier personality, not the one so often quoted from outdated and ill-informed dog books or people. His extraordinary success in the agility world showed that KBTs have incredible talents and skills just waiting to be used. Carrying his soccer ball with him wherever he went enhanced his lovability and playfulness to all who were fortunate enough to be introduced to him.
Hopefully Bailey’s story will encourage other KBT owners to try agility or any of the other many other activities out there for a Kerry and owner to enjoy together. They are truly capable of anything you teach them and there are a wide variety and lots of new sports to try -- rally obedience, nose work, dock diving, barn hunt. Just do SOMETHING with them and give them a chance to use their minds. You will be blown away by their talents and their willingness to please you!
Bailey’s invitation to the 2013 Agility National Invitational, to be held in December, came this year and I had to decline. But in a strange twist of fate, my Border Terrier, Piper, who had just missed being in the top 5, was invited to attend due to two Border Terrier teams declining. I will be running with her in Orlando in Bailey’s honor. And I know Bailey will be running with me every step of the way.