Abigail Stark, of Roberts, got into dog training competitions at the early age of 4 when her mother would take her to training sessions and shows. For the last eight years, the St. Croix Central senior has been training her Shetland Sheepdog, Fuji.

"I used our older dog just to get me knowing the ropes. Later on I got my dog Fuji and I wanted to do everything with him," Stark said. "As I got older it taught me leadership skills and I really like helping in the 4-H Dog Project."

Stark and Fuji recently received a series of accolades after taking part in the American Kennel Club Juniors Classic - a obedience and AKC Rally competition for kids up to the age of 18 - in Orlando from Dec. 15-16.

"It's fun to see all the Juniors from around the country and to see all the different events. The show is huge, anything that is dog-related is there," Stark said. "Everyone makes everything a little extra special, from dog treats in the hotel rooms to welcome receptions and special dinners."

The pair earned first place in each of their classes of the tournament-style competition, highest combined score in their respective obedience classes (preferred open) and rally classes (rally excellent), and top combined obedience and rally classes based on the highest score from obedience and rally plus bonus points.

"The best thing about competing is the bond you have with your dog and getting to learn more about your dog and teaching new things. I have so much support that I am surrounded by. I love my Animal Inn family, they help me be the best I can be. So here I am today with a dog that I am so proud of and would not trade him for the world. He is a once in a lifetime kind of dog!"

The AKC Juniors Classic is sponsored in part by Eukanuba and J and J Dog Supplies and held in conjunction with the AKC Obedience Classic, AKC Agility Invitational, AKC Juniors Agility Competition and AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin. The venue hosts a total of 5,003 dogs over all events, 9,023 entries in over a million square feet of event space at the Orange County Convention Center.

Fuji is a certified therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International and especially likes visiting with people.

Stark and Fuji train at the Animal Inn Training School and St. Paul Dog Training Club. Stark is a member of the Animal Inn Juniors Team, St. Croix County 4-H Dog Project and a Junior member of the Lochland Shetland Sheepdog Club. The team has qualified for the AKC Rally National Championship and will be competing in Tulsa, Okla. on March 15.

The basic objective of obedience trials is to recognize dogs that have been trained to behave in the home, in public and in the presence of other dogs. All contestants in a class are required to perform the same exercises in essentially the same way, so the relative quality of the various performances may be compared and scored.

In AKC Rally, handlers are permitted to use verbal encouragement to direct their dogs through a course of exercise skills identified with directional signs and are timed from start to finish. AKC Rally is a companion sport to AKC obedience; both require teamwork between dog and handler and have similar performance skills. The AKC's Junior handler events are aimed at recognizing and supporting the special relationship between young people and dogs, encouraging responsible dog ownership and promoting dog sport participation for future generations.

In obedience, Juniors competed in the beginner novice, preferred novice and preferred open classes twice, based on their AKC obedience accomplishments. In AKC Rally, Juniors competed in rally novice, rally intermediate, rally advanced or rally excellent, twice based on the dog's AKC Rally accomplishments.