On a wet weekend
last December, a pack of 25,000 humans and 4,000 dogs made its way
to Long Beach, Calif., for the annual AKC/Eukanuba
National Championship. There were plush blue carpets, fully
stocked bars, and 100 vendors pushing crystal-fringed dog sculptures
and custom canine earrings. While most of the spectators didn’t
venture upstairs, away from the classic breed competition, that’s
where history was being made.
On the second
floor, in rings surrounded by white plastic fences and folding chairs,
the country’s top-rated canine obedience teams competed in the American
Kennel Club’s 14th Annual National Obedience Invitational. Over
an exhausting two days, the dog-handler pairs performed a strictly
defined set of exercises: heeling patterns, figure eights, the retrieval
of specific dumbbells from a pile, high and broad jumps. In one
of the more stunning displays, the dogs would hurtle toward the
handler and – on a hand signal delivered from a world away
– come to an immediate stop and drop to the ground.
And then they
did it all again. And again.
level, you make a significant mistake and basically you’re out,"
said the winner, Petra Ford of New Jersey, who didn’t. For the second
year in a row, Ford took the rosette with her black Labrador retriever,
NOC2 OTCH Count Tyler Show Me the Money UDX4 OM1, called Tyler.
Indeed, those who had the privilege of standing around the hushed
finals arena enjoyed one of the most consistent performances the
sport has ever seen.
In the final
round, neither of them showed any signs of fatigue. If anything,
they were in danger of committing errors of exuberance. Ford accidentally
overthrew the dumbbell in the retrieval exercise, and Tyler denied
his predictable canine urges in not bounding after it. Joyously
wagging his tail during the heeling patterns, he was close to overtaking
his handler – a serious mistake. As Ford herself admits, "[Competitions]
are hard because they require the dog to overcome every instinct