NEW YORK — You might think your dog is talented because she sits on command, rolls over, and makes it to the vet without throwing up in the back seat.
You might think again, if you were watching the Masters of Agility Championship of the Westminster Kennel Club.
Consider Elf, a border collie, who jumped, dashed and zigzagged through 18 obstacles in just over 24 seconds. Or Sparkle, a pint-sized papillon, who covered the same territory in a quick 25.82 seconds.
Both were vying for canine glory as the prestigious Westminster club, which holds its 138th Annual Dog Show competition Monday and Tuesday, hosted its first agility competition for 225 dogs. There were 63 breeds among the competitors, and for the first time in more than 100 years, All-American dogs -- that's the polite term for mutts -- were allowed to battle it out with purebreds in a Westminster event.
The mutts did well for their first time out, even though a purebred -- border collie Kelso -- won the trophy for the overall performance, based on speed and style.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, February 13, 2014 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Westminster Kennel Club: In the Feb. 9 Section A, an article about dogs entered in the Westminster Kennel Club's agility competition said that ABBA, a border collie, went home without a prize. ABBA won a prize in the Best of Class category.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, February 16, 2014 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Westminster Kennel Club: In the Feb. 9 Section A, an article about the Westminster Kennel Club's agility competition said that ABBA, a border collie, went home without a prize. ABBA won a prize in the Best of Class category.
But Roo! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the formal name), an energetic mixed-breed, won the trophy as best All-American. Roo! also bested nine large dogs to win the top spot in the 24-inch division. Another mutt, Panda, took fourth place in the 20-inch competition.
"I didn't even expect to make the finals, so this is the icing on the cake," said Panda's handler, Stacy Eastman of Chester, N.J., as they headed for the exit, a huge yellow ribbon in hand.
"I don't think a lot of people realize the time that goes into it," said Lisa Tibbals of North Haven, Conn., whose two dogs, Castle and Sadie, competed. "You can't just go out there and run."
That was clear.
By the end of the evening it seemed some of the dogs had enough of the competition. A golden retriever drifted toward the crowd, nose sniffing the air, apparently drawn by the smell of food. A border collie leaped into her handler's arms rather than finish the course. A Weimaraner trotted in circles, refusing to take a particular jump.
Colleen Copelan of Camarillo, Calif., zigged while Lacey, her Labrador retriever, zagged, wasting valuable seconds. Handlers say even the best dogs will have problems if their humans fail to guide them through a course of jumps, tunnels, hoops and tightly spaced poles through which the hounds must weave.
"It's more about training the handler," Copelan said. "Occasionally the dog will blow you off to take a tunnel because they love it, but it's up to the handler to direct them."
Neither Castle, a West Highland white terrier, nor Sadie, a black and white mutt, were among the dogs who made it to the finals. The pair didn't seem to mind as they sat in their carrier, the roar of the crowds carrying through the sprawling venue on Manhattan's West Side.
Both of Tibbals' dogs are small, which begs the question: How can they compete against a canine like Isis, a Doberman pinscher, or Sally, an Old English sheepdog?
That's why the bars to leap over are placed between 8 inches and 24 inches above the ground, to accommodate different dog sizes. Each error, from a fallen pole to a missed jump, costs crucial points.
"Awwwwwwwww," the crowd cried as Mayzie, a tiny Havanese, stopped at the center of the teeter-totter, as if to ask herself whether it was wise to be standing atop a moving board. She made it down the other side but knocked over a bar on a jump.
Tommy, a gray poodle, soared through the run
flawlessly, as did Sparkle and another papillon, EZ, who went on to win the
This being a dog show, there was no shortage of fascinating people to watch. A burly man in a short kilt walked a dainty papillon. A man with his hair in a mohawk, wearing polka-dot trousers, craned his neck to get a better view of the ring. Before competition got underway, handlers wove slowly through the course
in a ballet-like dance, their hands held out as if
coaxing their dogs waiting to go on.
As the show began, announcers urgently called roll over loudspeakers, sounding like airline workers looking for straggling passengers.
"ABBA the border collie! Last call for ABBA the border collie!" said one. "Stormy! Is Stormy here?"
Stormy and ABBA eventually showed up but went home without prizes.
Whether they won ribbons or not, though, it seemed every dog had its day.
"She was full of sass," Jon McConnell said of his Australian shepherd, Jenny, who did not win a ribbon. "She still did great, and she was happy."