NEW YORK (Parlay Game) – Zurri is not the typical image of an elite dog agility. As a Bernese mountain dog, she comes from a breed historically known for pulling carts rather than maneuvering through a route of obstacles.
So, just taking a step in the ring – heck, even getting off the car – at the Westminster Kennel Club's agility competition for the first time Saturday was felt as a success for owner Cheryl Brickach.
"An agile Berner is a bit like bringing a Clydesdale to the Kentucky Derby," Brickach laughed, "but that does not matter."
Which proves, she says, that the big, robust breed can be sporty and competitive in popular sport. And seeing that Zurri's tail is constantly moving, she follows the course.
"And being in Westminster is kind of a top of domination," added Brickach of Bristol, Rhode Island.
The agility contest, which inaugurates the club's annual historic exhibition, featured 330 accomplished dogs, as big as Zurri, weighing up to 98 pounds, and as small as a Chihuahua.
The finals were scheduled for Saturday night.
In agility, dogs navigate jumps, ramps, tunnels and other objects on a route with challenging turns. Manipulators, who are often the owners of animals, guide them with vocal and manual signals. The score is based on the speed and accuracy of the dog.
Border collies and Australian Shepherds have always been the force of agility at Westminster, winning every time since the sport was added to the annual show of 2014. Fifty Border Collies and 16 Australians were registered on Saturday.
Traditionally bred for livestock, "they have the habit of spending their money" and can translate this skill into an agility class, explained Tom Gooding of Schenectady, New York, waiting to compete with his Australian, Lili Ann.
Although dominated by pure breeds, the contest is also open to purebred dogs, and the top scorer receives a special prize. Some 27 competitors were in this group this year, including Buster, a mixture of shih tzu and silky terrier bursting with energy as a puppy.
The owner, Jackie Soccodato, tried agility as an outlet for him. Six years later, she thinks the sport works for both of them.
"It gives me a goal. That gives him a purpose, "said Soccodato, of New Rochelle, New York. And it's "a great way to bond with your dog".
Like all athletes, dogs have different strengths. Many, a golden retriever, heads to the poles of armor or zigzags across a line of poles.
Kie, a miniature schnauzer, does not do it. But he digs the dog walk, a ramp and board assembly. Jim Murphy, owner of Nashville, thinks it's because the poles require some concentration, while Kie "really likes to move forward".
Darby, a Boston Terrier, is in the A-frame, a sheer ramp steep. His least favorite thing?
"She does not like to stay on the starting line," said Nicole Davilli, owner of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
While agility dogs showed their clothes in circles, cats also had their Saturday day on the side of the show. A "Meet the Breeds" event, sponsored by the American Kennel Club and the International Cat Association, featured dogs and cats.