A Conversation with Penny Leigh CPDT-KA

Penny Leigh with her dog Cam


Interview with Penny Leigh


The first ever AKC Agility League National Championship will be held on September 2nd-4th, 2023 at Purina Farms in Gray Summit, Missouri. How does this event differ from the AKC National Agility Championship?

Penny Leigh: The AKC Agility League is a separate and different program than the main Agility program. It is a non-titling, recreational program that allows Agility competitors to form teams and compete on their home fields or local training schools, running the same courses as other teams around the country. The League Championship is unique in that participants will compete on teams (3 to 8 dogs) and in that all levels of competition will be offered, including International, Masters, Open, and Novice. The top teams and dogs will be named in all divisions as well as the top Veteran Dogs (10 years and older) and the top Junior Handlers.


Who is eligible to participate in this inaugural event?

Penny Leigh: For our first event, the League Championship is open to all teams that have successfully completed a League season since the program began on May 30, 2022. The seasons are 12 weeks long, and we just completed our third season.


Is there still time to qualify?

Penny Leigh: Yes, there is a last chance qualifier in our spring/summer season which starts on May 15, 2023. All teams that complete all six (6) rounds of the upcoming season are eligible to enter the Championship.


About Penny Leigh

Penny Leigh CPDT-KA is a former newspaper reporter and editor who has worked for the American Kennel Club for 17 years. She directs several programs for AKC, including AKC Canine Partners, the AKC GoodDog Helpline, and the new AKC Agility League.

The North Carolina native began training her family’s dogs as a young child, and her love of dogs and working with them has been her primary passion in life. Penny began competing with dogs in 1988 and has trained several dogs of various breeds to advanced-level titles in multiple sports, including:

  • Master Agility Champion (MACH) in Agility
  • Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) in Obedience
  • Rally Championship (RACH) in AKC Rally

Penny began competing in Agility in 1992 and has made the finals of the AKC National Agility Championship and the Westminster Kennel Club Master Agility Championship.

In addition, Penny and her husband, Dale McElrath, have shown and bred Flat-Coated Retrievers, producing numerous Conformation champions. Penny has breeder/owner-handled several dogs to their championships.

True dog sports junkies, Penny and Dale also compete—or have competed—in these sports with their dogs:

  • Disc
  • Herding
  • Barn Hunt
  • Lure Coursing
  • Fast CAT
  • Scent Work
  • Retriever Hunt Tests
  • Dock Diving
  • Flyball

Penny has worked with many top trainers and attended numerous seminars. She teaches dog training classes, including Rally and Agility, at two schools in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area and as a volunteer for the Durham Kennel Club. She is an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator, an AKC Agility Course Test (ACT) evaluator, a mentor for Animal Behavior College, and a former dog daycare manager.

Her current competition dogs include Border Collies, Belgian Malinois, and All-American Dogs.