1. Archive

Baby, she was born to run

Ears pricked, black and white fur quivering and a stuffed toy grasped firmly in her mouth, Cody waits until the video begins running.

As dog after dog dashes across the screen, jumping hurdles and weaving through poles, Cody leaps repeatedly at the screen.

It is unclear whether Cody is urging the other dogs to run faster and jump higher, or trying to say that she can do better than they, said Seminole resident Susan Koontz, who owns Cody. But it is clear that Cody is more than ready to join the fun.

It's that attitude that has worn out two TVs at American-Icon Auto Paint and Supplies, the Pinellas Park company that Koontz and her husband own. But, more important, that eagerness and focus have made Cody one of the top agility dogs in the United States.

Dog agility is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. It tests the skills of handler and dog as well as their ability to work together.

Dogs must run around a timed course that includes hurdles, weave poles, teeter totters, tunnels and other obstacles as the handler shouts out commands so the dog will know where to go next. They're scored on their speed and ability to negotiate the course without making mistakes.

While all dogs, including the nonpedigreed variety, are allowed to compete, Border collies, like Cody, have virtually cornered the sport because of their intelligence and speed.

Interested folks can see agility performed by the country's best dogs this weekend during the AKC Eukanuba National Championships in Tampa. Agility dogs will also compete Friday to determine which state has the best dogs.

During the day Saturday and Sunday, agility, obedience and breed competitions will be held at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St. The venue will also have a Meet the Breeds section.

During the evening both days, judging for best of group and best in show will be held at the St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, about two blocks from the convention center. The evening events will be shown live at 8 both nights on the Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.

Koontz said she was thrilled that she and Cody will compete in the event, especially because many of the other human competitors are professional trainers. Cody is the first dog she has trained in agility.

She began training Cody about six years ago, when the pup was about a year old. It was mainly a way to give Cody something to do. Border collies are so smart and energetic that they have to be given an occupation or they can drive owners crazy. They are not couch potatoes.

"I just did it from reading books. I had no idea what I was doing," Koontz said of those early training sessions. "If you can't teach her something in 30 minutes, you're doing something wrong."

Cody caught on easily and "really likes it."

So Koontz decided to try competing just for the fun of it. The next thing she knew, they were winning.

"You get sucked into it, it's so much fun," she said.

About two years ago, Koontz and Cody began working once a week with a professional trainer in Tampa.

Now they've been invited to the Eukanuba event, which has about 750 dogs in all levels of the agility competition. In Cody's division, 150 to 160 dogs are expected to compete. To win, Cody will have to finish high in qualifying rounds, then win the finals on Sunday.

Koontz said she's eager to see how well Cody does. But if she does not win, Koontz will not be upset as long as Cody has fun.

"She's got everything down, so the way I look at it is, if we do it, we do it," Koontz said.

Either way, Cody will come home after and resume her life: watching agility and jumping at the TV, playing watchdog for the Koontzes' business, snow sledding on vacations, and riding water scooters. (Cody has her own life jacket.)

Cody finds the scooters especially fun. If they don't go fast enough, she leans forward in an apparent effort to make the crafts go even faster.

"Speed. This dog is into speed," Koontz said.