The (obstacle ridden) Road to Westminster
For an agility dog, the road to Westminster is paved with obstacles…A-frames, jumps, tunnels, teeters…
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. The WKC conformation dog show is one of the most prestigious dog shows in the U.S. It got its start in 1877 and was named after a hotel in Manhattan where sporting gentlemen would talk about their shooting prowess. It was in the midst of one such conversation, that they decided to form a dog club. They bought a training area, as well as a kennel, and hired a trainer for their dogs. During one of their club meetings, the members thought it would be a good idea to have a dog show in order to compare their sporting dogs in a venue far from the field. Their first annual show drew 1,201 dogs. To put Westminster’s extraordinary history in perspective, allow me to quote from their website: “Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the zipper; the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Monument; and manned air flight and the establishment of the World Series. Since Westminster held its first show 127 years ago, there have been 26 men elected president and 12 states have joined the union.” With 2919 entries this year, encompassing 201 different breeds or varieties, WKC is also one of the largest dog shows in the U.S. Amazing, right?
In 2014 WKC added an agility trial to their breed show. The agility competition is open to all dogs that run in the master’s class, which is the top level in American Kennel Club agility. Of the 330 dogs entered, 60 will make the finals. On February 10th of this year, dogs and handlers must arrive at Pier 94 by 8 a.m. They will check in and set up their crates in their designated spot. The trial goes on all day, with the finals starting at 7 p.m., so the crates will provide a safe and comfortable place for the dogs to rest in between runs. Due to the spectator draw of Westminster, the agility trial is among the most stressful trials to compete in. There are people everywhere, the crating area is crowded, there is very little grass for the dogs to relieve themselves on, and it is exceedingly loud. Hands reach for the dogs from all sides, there is no respect for personal space. Getting from the crating area to the ring is an obstacle course in and of itself. You must make your way through the sea of sandwiches and other edibles held at your dog’s eye level, ensuring that he doesn’t snatch one out of the child’s hand that is waving it around aimlessly. You must avoid being run into by people who do not believe that situational awareness is a vital part of life. You must keep your dog from being trampled on by the many children
screaming and running around with nary a parent in sight. Only the most emotionally stable dogs can handle this environment, let alone trial in it. That said, competing at WKC has a certain je ne sais quoi that is intoxicating for both the dog and handler alike. The excitement in the atmosphere is palpable and the crowd of people visibly appreciates the poetry that is a well-trained agility dog running a course. You can feel their exhilaration with every jump a dog takes, you hear their cheers as dogs run seamlessly through the weave poles. They gasp at every dropped bar, at every missed contact.
For dog lovers, young and old alike, the thrill of Westminster Kennel Club’s agility trial must not be missed. I suggest you hop on a plane, on a train or in an automobile and beeline it to the Big Apple post haste. If you are unable to get to Manhattan to watch it live, you can enjoy it from the comfort of your home when the finals air nationwide on February 11th at 2 p.m. on The Fox Broadcast Network.
If you enjoy Christina's writing, check her books out! She is the author of “Chester Gigolo: Diary of a Dog Star” and "Insider Training: Chester Gigolo’s Dog Training Secrets Revealed” for which she won the 2016 DWAA Captain Haggerty award for Best Training Book and the 11th Annual National Indie Excellence Award (Animals & Pets). She is also a contributing author to “Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors”. She has written multiple articles which have appeared in various international publications.