Anicira Alum Willa is a highly accomplished show dog. She knows more than 365 tricks, is a trick and stunt dog champion, and was a finalist at the 2019 Stunt Dog Nationals to name just a few of her achievements. With such an impressive resume, it might come as a surprise that Willa has a shy personality that can make crowds and noisy places overwhelming.

Willa’s mom, Michelle Gamage, realized Willa was going to be shy when she took her to a puppy manners class.

“She was a star at the skills, but was reluctant to greet new people,” said Michelle. “I worked hard on trying to socialize her, but she had to come around to meeting new folks on her terms, some she took to easily and others were not her cup of tea.”

Michelle was looking for a dog that she could agility train when three-month old Willa (then named Flower) caught her eye. When she met her at Petsmart for the first time, she was drawn to her inquisitive nature.

“I picked her out from her sisters because she was the first one to want to come out of the crate. She had such beautiful, soulful eyes.”

Because of her shyness, Michelle determined that Willa would instead be better suited as a trick and stunt dog. She picked up the skills easily, but struggled with the crowds.

“Voices and noises would draw her attention, and she would lose focus. I was determined to help her in any way I could,” stated Michelle.

Willa excelled when she started participating in stunt dog shows. Michelle felt “this is what we were meant to do together.” Last year, she performed at the finals of the Stunt Dog Nationals in front of a crowd – “ a big accomplishment for a dog who really doesn’t like a crowd.”

Willa’s story goes to show that each pet has their own individual personalities. Understanding what a pet prefers can lead to a fulfilling, deep bond.

“The fact that she is a “Shy Dog” has not stopped us from achieving our goals and setting higher ones” Michelle said. “She keeps amazing me. She has the strength of character to succeed. I just had to listen to her and work to her strengths, the things she liked to do.”

Willa has changed Michelle’s life and now Michelle helps other families explore their pet’s potential through dog training. “She is my heart dog, the one that taught me more than any other about dog training and myself. She made me gain confidence in myself to pursue dog training as a side job. I wanted to help others see their dogs the way Willa has made me see her.”

Michelle and Willa’s deep connection is an inspiration to all pet parents. You can follow their journey on Instagram.