(Posted February 9, 2015)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- In some circles, starting a college career can be seen as an obstacle course, what with studying, tests, readings, labs and finding the perfect roommate. For Kaitlyn Dreese, a Juniata College freshman studying biology, such intellectual gymnastics are old hat because she has spent most of her life training her dogs to conquer physical agility courses in national and international competitions.

While the biology major has just been in college for less than a year, she has been competing (with her border collies) from the age of six, competing with adults in contests that test a dog's agility over a series of obstacles.

"Competitions definitely make me work harder at college. In elementary school through high school, good grades were always needed so my parents would let me go to the (competitions)."

Kaitlyn Dreese, freshman

"Each course is different, but typically there is a see-saw, tunnels, jumps, an A-frame and weave-poles (or slalom) in each course," explains Dreese, the daughter of Mark and Jennifer Dreese, of Lewistown, Pa., who is currently working to prepare her dogs for the National Agility Competition 2015 in Reno, Nev. "My mom started with agility competitions when I was small, but my mom and dad started a business where they build equipment for agility courses, so I've been competing since elementary school."

Dreese has four border collies that she trains and enters in competition. Her dog Seacrett was rated No. 1 in the nation in 2013 and two others, Phil and Karli, were named to the international team representing the United States in the European championships. Her fourth dog, Robber, also has done well in competitions.

"Each dog has different strengths and talents, they're almost like human athletes," she says.

Up until this year, Dreese has been living with her dogs and was able to train them whenever she felt like it. Now immersed in time-consuming coursework, like Organic Chemistry (which she passed in fall semester), and dorm living, the world-traveling trainer can only work with her furry foursome for a few hours on weekends. Right now, she is working toward the sport's national competition in March and possibly the world championships in May.

Last year, Dreese traveled to Hungary with two dogs to compete on the U.S. team, and has traveled to England and other countries as well. She manages the expense of travel through organizing fundraisers, but it's in time management that she shines.

"Competitions definitely make me work harder at college," she says. "In elementary school through high school, good grades were always needed so my parents would let me go to the (competitions)."

Although Dreese does her training at home, she has brought different dogs on campus for short visits, much to the enjoyment of her friends. "A lot of students miss their dogs at home, so when I bring them on campus everybody comes out to see them," she says.

While her free time is spent racing her dogs through their obstacle course challenges (the trainer runs with the dog, so Dreese must stay in competitive shape along with her dogs), she's already decided on a career path -- veterinary school.

"I want to keep working with dogs, but I'd like to specialize in rehabilitation and chiropractic medicine," she says.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.