Westminster dog show adds agility competition that will allow mixed-breed canines

Long Island dog owners prep for the 2014 Westminster Kennel Club show, which this year features agility trials for the first time, which will include mixed-breed dogs. Videojournalist: Chris Ware (Jan. 15, 2014)

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Speed, high jumps and dashing maneuvers by dogs of all sizes and breeds, even mixed breeds, will spice up this year's Westminster Kennel Club dog show with an agility competition, which will involve 255 dogs running through obstacle courses of tunnels, tire jumps and teeter totters.

"It's just plain exciting to watch these dogs run through the course," said Sean McCarthy, president of the Westminster Kennel Club, which showcased a demonstration of the new agility category Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

The agility contest is a precursor to the dog show, and while it does not exclude mixed breeds, the main show does.

Carly, a papillon, zipped and weaved through a line of poles hugging low to the ground before leaping through a rubber tire. The miniature dog does from 4 to 6 yards a second, said owner Andrea Samuels, 37, of Westbury.

"She's an accomplished champion," said Samuels, who feeds her dog a raw diet and bathes her weekly in preparation for the competition. She also entered Carly's half sister, Fame.

Papillions are perfect for running through obstacle courses, she said. Their agility and eagerness to please are key, Samuels said. "They are easy to work with and they really want to play games."

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The agility demonstration also included a mixed-breed poodle-terrier named Alfie, whose owner, Irene Palmerini, said she bought him for $99 at a mall pet shop. "He really jumps high," said Palmerini, of Toms River, N.J., after Alfie decided to take his time to weave through the poles.

Also strong on the agility obstacle course are border collies. Dianne Jamison, 60, of Central Islip, a former Hicksville physical education teacher, said she has been training her dog, Gem, with hourlong hikes in the country and swims in ponds. Gem started his swim exercises in a kiddie pool.

The competition is challenging because "you don't know what the course will be and they are never the same," Jamison said. "You can feel the excitement."

The obstacle course is 80 to 130 feet long and includes a 5-foot elevated plank, which can "be scary for a dog," said Paul Campanella, the show's director of agility. The jumps are as high as 26 inches.
This year's dog show will include more than 3,000 dogs comprising 187 breeds. Labrador retrievers continue to be the most-registered. New breeds recognized this year are the Portuguese podengo pequeno, the rat terrier and the state dog of New Hampshire, the chinook.

The agility competition begins Feb. 8 at Pier 94 in Manhattan, which precedes the full dog show on Feb. 10 and 11.

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