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Dogs take on Westminster show's first agility trial

Fame, 3, a Papillon, demonstrates skills for the agility competition as part of the Westminster Dog Show this weekend.

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Fame, 3, a Papillon, demonstrates skills for the agility competition as part of the Westminster Dog Show this weekend.

NEW YORK — Top-knotted Tommy the toy poodle might look like he's more interested in laps than leaps.

But the 5½-pound silver poodle took a maze of obstacles in stride Saturday as he and about 225 other dogs jumped, darted, clambered and broke new ground at the Westminster Kennel Club show's first agility competition.

The agility trial added a dynamic, fast-growing sport to the nation's best-known dog show and marked the first time mixed-breed dogs have appeared there in 130 or more years. And for enthusiasts like Tommy's owner, Barbara Hoopes, it was a chance to showcase what dogs of all shapes and sizes can do.

"He's a big dog in a little dog's body," Hoopes, a biology professor at Colgate College in Hamilton, said after Tommy finished a strong run. Dogs are judged on accuracy and speed as they navigate jumps, tunnels, ramps and other objects off-leash, with handlers guiding them via calls and signals.

Established decades ago, agility is an increasingly popular canine pursuit. The number of dogs competing in agility trials sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, the governing body for many canine events, has grown by nearly 50 percent over the last five years.

But at Westminster, the sport is playing on dogdom's biggest stage. The final rounds Saturday night were to be televised on Fox Sports 1.

"It's very special being here because of Westminster's prestige," said Westbury-based dog trainer and breeder Andrea Samuels, who had five papillons in Saturday's contest.

Agility aficionados say the sport is a canine confidence-builder that creates rapport between dogs and owners and provides a healthy outlet for high-energy dogs that need something to occupy them.

Australian shepherd Jackie D. is "crying to do agility," says her owner, Neno Pessoa, a dog trainer and breeder from Bloomsbury, N.J. "If I train her puppy and I don't train her on one day, she's cranky."

Saturday's competitors spanned 63 different breeds, from the diminutive papillions to such big dogs as Doberman pinschers.

Many — like the 35 border collies entered — represented breeds known for their agility chops. But their rivals included breeds with physiques that don't necessarily scream "nimble."

Dogs take on Westminster show's first agility trial 02/08/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 8, 2014 9:50pm]
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