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Fast, attractive dogs to unleash their talents

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 if 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 at the AKC Eukanuba National Championships in Tampa. Agility dogs will also compete Friday to determine which state has the best dogs.

They'll also be able to see other top dogs competing in obedience and conformation.

"I have the beauty contest part," said Karrie Kuper, who owns Karasar Kennel in St. Petersburg. Kuper is one of the country's leading breeders of whippets, and her 18-month-old dog, CH Karasar's Essence, will compete in the conformation portion of the show. (The CH stands for champion.)

"She's named after a magazine," Kuper said. "We expected her to be a cover girl and a star from the time she was 8 weeks old. . . . She's living up to it."

Even the dog's kennel, or call, name _ Elle _ reflects a fashion magazine.

Elle quickly qualified for the Eukanuba by defeating 200 to 250 other whippets over two weekends, a "very, very rare" occurrence, Kuper said. It is even more impressive because Kuper shows Elle rather than hiring a professional handler, as do many owners.

Kuper is a second generation breeder, who has been breeding and competing for almost 40 years. While Elle is a great dog because she's so "whippety looking," Kuper said she does not fancy her chances this weekend.

The judge prefers whippets that more closely resemble greyhounds. Still, with a big show just 20 minutes away, it's an easy decision to compete. Besides, Kuper said, other judges will be there to impress in case they judge Elle in the future.

"You have to think ahead like that," Kuper said.

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 Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.

Like Kuper, Koontz is an amateur who will compete against professionals. 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.

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

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.