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Meet Rally Judge Leigh Sylvester

Read about Rally Judge Leigh Sylvester


Leigh Sylvester's love for animals goes back as far as she can remember. She studied Agricultural Animal Science and Veterinary Science in college, graduated from Animal Behavior Institute's Canine Training and Behavior Program and later became a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. 

In 2013, her "heart dog," Kingston, a Shiloh Shepherd, came into her life. From the first time she took him to puppy class, they built an ever-growing bond. Leigh wanted to help others experience this same bond with their dogs. 

As an instructor, Leigh focuses on relationship building and incorporates out-of-the-box teaching styles and fun games. She offers a Rally Games class that encourages teams to have fun while they learn with their dogs through Rally versions of games such as Jeopardy, Monopoly, Truth or Dare, scavenger hunts, Bullseye, and more. 

Q & A with Leigh

Q: What inspired you to become a Rally judge?

A: I am an instructor at Paws 'N Effect in Hamden, CT, and as I saw my students' abilities, relationships with their dogs, and passion for the sport grow, I wanted to offer more. This is what led me to become a judge, and I absolutely love it.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a judge?

A: Every team's journey is different, with different goals and achievements, and I get so happy when I see their improvement in the ring. When I see those happy tears from the handlers and wagging tails from the dogs, it fills my heart with joy. Unfortunately, I do see teams on both the good and the bad days in the ring. As a competitor and a judge, I understand those feelings too and try to encourage teams to not give up. I personally designed a ribbon for the Paws 'N Effect WCRL trials for teams - NQ, which stands for Not Quitting. It's to encourage teams to not give up on themselves or their canine partners and pick up and get back on the road to success. 

Q: What is the most difficult thing you have had to do as a Rally judge?

A: The most difficult thing is to excuse a team because I believed it was in the best interest of their dog. We all want our dogs to enjoy what we do with them, but unfortunately, different environments, different dogs, treats, sounds, and travel times can all play a part in their behavior that day. I know how disappointing it can be when you have worked so hard and then your canine partner is not 100% the day of the trial. 

Q: From a judge's perspective what advice do you have for competitors? 

A: Don't enter the ring until you and your dog are ready. The titles, the ribbons, the awards -- those are all great, but don't lose sight of why we do sports with our dogs. It's to have fun, to build our bond, to strengthen our relationship, and to make great memories! Set your team up for success, listen to your dog, and enjoy every day together.

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