Meet Britain’s youngest dog agility trainer – an 11-year-old schoolgirl who took up the sport aged just five.
‘Dog whisperer’ Taylor Lyon has developed an unbreakable bond with ‘best friend’ Elliott, a six-year-old cocker spaniel, who she has grown up with since she was five.
The pair, from Stoke Bruerne, Northants, have since fetched 21 class wins for completing timed obstacle courses together against the clock in top contests like Crufts.
And last year child prodigy, Taylor, became the youngest person ever to compete with Team GB’s agility squad.
Taylor: “Elliott is basically my best friend – I spend all my time at home with him after school and on the weekends, playing in the back garden and training him.
“He’s very outgoing, clever and focused and he’s really good at pole weaves because he’s really fast.
“I’ve been competing in Crufts for the past four years and was really happy to compete as part of Team GB, I hope to be selected again.
“I’m proud to be one of the UK’s youngest dog trainers – to me it’s just something I’ve always done.
Taylor became interested in dog agility due to mum Hannah, 40, a vet and dog behaviourist, having 14 years of experience in the sport.
There are two different classes in competitions – one is agility-based, where the dogs run over frames and seesaws, whilst the other is a jumping class which consists of tunnels, weave poles and jumps.
A judge sets the course with around 20 obstacles and the fastest dog with the least faults wins.
Last year Taylor also became the youngest Team GB member to win two international bronze medals at the Junior European Championships in Switzerland.
Mother-of-one Hannah said dog agility was always in her daughter’s blood, but the youngster proved a natural at the sport from a young age.
The dog handler of 17 years said: “I’ve competed in agility with my dogs since 2006 and took Taylor to see her first agility show at five weeks old.
“I wanted to get Taylor a puppy to grow up with so we got Elliott.
“She began walking around the courses with him as a puppy when she was five.
“It’s been amazing – I questioned it all when we first got Elliott as they were both so young, but we’re blown away with how far she’s come – she’s a determined hard worker.
“Their bond is really strong – sometimes when you watch younger children run dogs, you can tell the dogs are looking for the child’s parents or their handler in the arena, but Elliott is totally focused on Taylor.
“When Elliott is in the house when Taylor is at school, he always looks for her!”
Taylor also runs with her friend’s dog, nine-year-old border collie Tariq, who acted as a ‘schoolmaster’ to help her learn when she first picked up the sport, and practices every Tuesday in her local agility centre Chance Agility’s adult class.
But she juggles training with her schoolwork by doing her homework before agility sessions and getting early nights when she doesn’t have practice in the evenings.
The youngster plans to get a job in physiotherapy and hydrotherapy for animals after she leaves school.
Dad Gavin, 43, is also very proud of Taylor’s incredible progression in agility so far and loves watching her compete with Elliott.
Taylor said: “My school friends are really excited for me and my teacher announced my Crufts nomination in front of my class.
“I’m not sure what I want to do in the future yet, I want to continue dog agility training with Elliott and get to grade seven.”
Hannah added: “I just hope she keeps enjoying it and it keeps making her happy.
“They’re a really well-matched pair and both have a nice bond and partnership, we couldn’t have asked for any better.”