WATERLOO, S.C. (AP) — Two wooden tunnels sit in Emory and Samantha Vaughn's backyard in Waterloo; the tunnels are connected at a right angle by a small, square corner piece.

At one end sits Mickey, a live rat protected by the thick plastic walls of his cylindrical container. On the other, Emory holds Minnie, the couple's 1-year-old Jack Russell terrier.

The instant Minnie saw Samantha carrying the container that holds Mickey to the end of the tunnel, the high-energy dog switches from a friendly family pet to a single-minded huntress with laser focus.

In Emory's arms, Minnie keeps her eyes fixed intently on the tunnel's entrance, even as she twists slightly in an attempt to free herself from his grip.

Emory sets her down and in flash she disappears inside the tunnel. A moment later, she reappears on the other side, growling as she bites and claws at Mickey's shelter, which suddenly looks flimsier than it had just a moment before.

Samantha lets Minnie go at the cylinder for a few seconds before scooping her up in her arms and scratching her behind the ears.

Minnie's run the drill so often now, she doesn't even need to think about it. It's part of her training for the Jack Russell trials she and her owners compete in across the country.

A little less than a year ago, the Vaughns went to a breeder in North Carolina to get what would be their seventh Jack Russell. At their home on Lake Greenwood, pests such as lizards and rats are an issue, and Jack Russells are ideal for keeping their yard varmint free. But when they went to pick up Minnie, then 2 months old, the breeder told them about the breed-specific competitions that go on across the country.

So they took Minnie to a trial near Charlotte, not expecting much but excited for the experience. Then, Minnie started winning.

"We just wanted to see what it was like, and went there planning to stay just a couple hours and ended up spending all day, spending the night and staying the next day," Emory said. "We went out a week later and bought a camper and, counting nationals, have been to three real trials with her."

Now, the walls of that trailer are lined with ribbons Minnie has earned at different competitions.

On Oct. 13, Emory and Samantha loaded up their trailer and took Minnie up to Boonsboro, Maryland for the 2017 Jack Russell National Trials. They entered her in 14 events and by the end of the weekend, Minnie had racked up two national championships, two second-place finishes, two third-place medals, and a sixth place finish.

"We really lucked out when we got her," Samantha said. "We were just looking for a backyard breeder to get another Jack Russell and ended up with a puppy who was able to compete on a national level."

Though the Vaughns spend time working with Minnie in their backyard to help build endurance and an understanding of the courses, they said most of her success comes down to her natural canine instincts.

"We thought that you would have to have your dog really trained and everything," Samantha said. "But really, it's like 85 percent instinct. It's what they want to do and then you just kind of help them along and build the skills."

Samantha and Emory said, now that they've gotten started, they plan to schedule 2018 around competitions across the country. It's the tight-knit community at each event as much as the competitions themselves that keeps them going back, Emory said.

"There's a lot of camaraderie and, in a short time, we've gotten to know a lot of nice people," Emory said. "It's just a fun weekend and you get to work your dog and exercise, and the dogs have fun too."

Emory and Samantha are now on the waiting list for another Jack Russell puppy — this one from a breeder in Virginia — who they also plan to enter into competition.

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Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com