No matter what type of dog I’ve owned, from “All-American” to bona fide pedigree, I’ve taken every one to Obedience 101 and prayed my clever canine would carry us through and spare us the public humiliation of failing the final exam. Secretly, I’ve always suspected the instructor took pity on me (or maybe the dog) and gave us an easy command to demonstrate in front of our classmates, most of whom seemed to float with ease through even the most difficult trials. My dog and I never advanced to the higher classes, even on paper, and I stuck to conformation in my novel Almost Perfect.
With that as background, last night (February 8, 2014) I watched in slack-jawed amazement at the wondrous display of focus, athleticism, and canine enthusiasm at the Westminster Kennel Club’s Agility Competition. For the first time in 138 years, 225 dogs, 63 purebreds, and an assortment of “All-American” dogs competed in an agility course that included jumping, dashing, and zigzagging through 18 obstacles in less than half a minute.
The dogs made it look easy until a number of them faulted at #9 where they were fooled by an unexpected turn in an unfamiliar Continental course. Then the teamwork between dog and handler really became apparent when the handlers who came later in the trials figured out a better way of signaling their dogs, and the number of faults at that particular spot declined dramatically.
The variety of the entrants’ sizes and shapes was as impressive as their performances. Dogs competed against fellows their own size starting with the pint-sized, eight inch Toys all the way up to the 24 inchers won by the last to show in that group of ten—an All-American named Roo!
And speaking of sizes and shapes, it was inspiring that many of the handlers were past the first spring blush of youth and apparently were in as good shape as their dogs. The energy and affection between handler and dog at the end of each run, regardless of the outcome, was a touching reminder of what remains after the crowd’s roar fades and the lights go out in the great stadium—the indelible bond between humans and their dogs.