The complex world of dog competitions is so much more than a dog jumping through a hoop or getting paraded around on a diamond leash. The talented owners of Colorado’s finest dogs work hard to train them for sports that test their agility skills, hunting abilities, obedience, and much more.
To those unfamiliar with dog competitions, it can be easy to slap the label of “dog shows” onto every event involving talented and beautiful dogs. However, there are many differences between dog shows and dog competitions. According to John Hendershot, co-owner and trainer at Two Bears Pet Service, dog shows are meant to accentuate the beauty and structure of the dogs. There is not much training that goes into preparing a dog or owner for a dog show. Dog sports however, are a different story. Preparing a dog and their owner for a dog sporting events takes months or even years of training, practice, and guidance in order to take home an award.
The dog sporting event world has an intricate history and has continued to change and evolve throughout the past century. These evolutions include adding more events, changing some events and educating breeders to ensure the wellbeing of all dogs involved.
In 19th century Victorian England, dog competitions were a staple for the upper class according to the Kennel Club. People belonging to this social class loved to showcase their dogs’ ability to assist in hunting practices.
When people from England immigrated to America, they brought their love of the sport with them. The Westminster Kennel Club was America’s first kennel club and began in 1877, while the American Kennel Club began in 1884. Both of these organizations have been hosting shows and sport competitions ever since.
In an effort to keep this high-class sport just that, in 1900 a system of show licenses was put into effect and it helped the growing sport stay organized, according to the American Kennel Club.
As the number of dog lovers partaking in the sport grew, so did the number of events. According to the American Kennel Club, working trails were added in the 1920s, obedience trails in the 1950s and agility testing in the 1970s.
The competitive side of the industry is not the only place where steps to improve the lives of the dogs partaking in the sport has evolved. In 1949 the American Kennel Club began to promote research that would ensure and enhance the wellbeing of dogs, and 55 years later they began educational programs for owners and breeder on the genetic health of dogs, according to the American Kennel Club.
Colorado is home to the Colorado Kennel Club, which started in 1901 and is Colorado’s oldest kennel club. For the past 21 years they have hosted the Rocky Mountain Cluster, which takes place in Denver every February. Although they are Colorado’s oldest kennel club, the Greeley Kennel Club hosts the state’s largest dog show every year in August. The Greeley Kennel Club is a part of the American Kennel Club and began in 1950 in Greeley, Colorado.
The competitive world of dog shows and sports is an exciting one, but it is not for every dog or human. Hendershot says that like any other sport, it should be something the dog and human are interested in. “It should be a sport that they enjoy and fits their psychical and psychological strengths,” said Hendershot.
After deciding on the sport, the human interested in training a dog for sport should then look for a breed of dog that has genes that would excel at the event, and ensure they have the time to work with their dog.
Although some dog breeds have an easier time training for events than others, all breeds can benefit from training and partaking in dog sports. Not everyone trains their animals to win awards. Dogs can benefit from doing these sports for recreation. According to Hendershot, it is a great way for humans to bond with their dogs.
“Dog training and sports create one more thing the human and the dog can do together that they both enjoy,” said Hendershot. He said this is the biggest positive of the competitive pet world in his opinion.
Meet the champions!
This young novice is 2-year-old Lewy from Lafayette. He has been hard at work training with his owner Cris Willett, but has not yet competed. Willett has been working with Lewy in hopes that he will one day compete at the Mondioring III level, which consists of 17 different exercises and last about 45 minutes. According to Willett, this training consists of obedience training, jumping exercises and protection work.
Obedience work includes heeling without a leash and retrieving an object. For the jumping work, Lewy would be expected to jump over hurdles and complete long jumps. As for the protection work, Lewy would have to defend his handler and defend an object. In a Mondioring III level the dog would have to complete all of these events while being intentionally confronted with distractions. Being able to ignore the distractions is one of the most impressive parts of this event.
Willett has already noticed small changes in Lewy’s behavior since he has begun training. “He is much more obedient,” said Willett. Willett says Lewy loves the training and gets excited when he can tell they are headed out to the field.
Lewy isn’t the only one in this partnership that is new to the competitive dog sport world. Willett has never trained a dog for sport before, but so far it has not affected his daily life too much. “I spend 5 minutes a day training him and we meet every Wednesday and Sunday and stick around for a few hours,” said Willett. “I usually work with him for 20 minutes at the most.”
Willett has learned a lot during his time training Lewy. He says teaching a dog proper recall is very important. Recalling is when a dog can be off leash and not go too far away from his or her owner. Willett says if a dog isn’t trained well enough, distractions will get in the way of the dog wanting to return to their owner.
While Lewy is off to a strong start, he isn’t all work and no play. In his down time Lewy loves to play with his human siblings and chase balls.
Lewy plans on competing in his first competition in the fall and is working hard to get ready for his first big event!
Zip is an award winning and talented dog from Fort Collins. Zip belongs to Alice Bradie who is very proud of her beloved dog’s accomplishments. Zip has won awards such as AKC champion, a novice jumper title, a novice agility title, and herding sheep title. These titles mean Zip can weave in and out of poles, jump gracefully over hurdles, run through tunnels, jump through hoops, and herd a crowd of sheep with ease.
These awards didn’t come easily. Zip has been through conformation training, agility training, and herding training. Bradie says that physically and emotionally the training and participation in dog spots has been wonderful for him. “Zip is now much more solid and reliable and it has made him a happier dog,” she said.
According to Bradie, Zip loves to compete and she has high expectations for the rest of Zip’s career. He has improved dramatically, and Bradie expects him to be able to reach a Mondioring III level before the end of his career.
Bradie says Zip’s training has had a great positive impacted in her life. “They really changed my life,” said Bradie referring to her dogs. She says the training has been beneficial to her health because it has increased her activity level.
Zip has not been the first dog Bradie trained. Her previous experience has taught her important tips about dog training. “People don’t understand when and how to mark and reward a dog for behavior,” said Bradie. “Owners tend to give treats at the wrong time and not enough treats.” Another important tip from Bradie is to have a clicker word and use it mark good and bad behavior.
In addition to spending time with Zip, Bradie loves dog sports because of the social element it brings into dog owners’ lives. Bradie uses the sport not only to give her dog an activity, but also as a way to meet new people. Fellow dog owners are always interested in helping one another succeed in sport, according to Bradie.
Even though Zip is busy training, he still enjoys down time every now and then. Zip loves chewing on anything he can get his paws on, but Bradie says he’s a good dog inside of the house.
As Zip continues to compete and improve his skills, the bond he has with Bradie will continue to grow. “The more time we spend together, the more love there will be,” said Bradie.
Suede is a retired award-winning dog from Boulder who had a very successful career in dog sports. Suede belongs to Judy Hetkowski and is the matriarch of a big family of pups. Suede’s life has been filled with family, fun, and training, and Hetkowski says Suede has enjoyed all of it.
Suede’s list of awards is longer than most and includes rally excellence, obedience, master hunt, and all-around champion. Suede has also won awards from clubs and has several versatility certificates. This long list of awards means that Suede can successfully retrieve a hunted bird, listens to commands extremely well, and complete tasks such as sitting, spinning, and recall on command. Suede’s career was everything Hetkowski hoped it would be. “I knew she was a good dog and had really good potential,” said Hetkowski. “We more than met the expectations for Suede and we enjoyed the process.”
Winning these awards took a lot of training and practice for Suede and Hetkowski. They train at Two Bears Pet Service in Erie, where Hetowski has been taking her dogs for 15 years. Suede has gone through foundation training, obedience training, and hunt training. Hetkowski says that Suede is a much better dog for having gone through this vigorous training. “Suede is a much happier dog when our expectations are clear,” said Hetkowski.
Suede isn’t the only one in this partnership that has benefitted from dog sporting events. Hetkowski says that it has made life more enjoyable for her and her pups. She says having trained dogs in the house is much safer for the dogs and humans, and they all live more confortable lives. Another fun perk of having such a well-behaved dog is being able to take Suede anywhere.
Suede’s dynasty is thriving. Her daughter Trip is 8 years old and has won many awards, just like her mom. Trip is a Grand Champion and has a Registry of Merit, meaning she can run, jump, and be obedient better than most dogs. Suede’s grandson Pre is 21 months old and just competed in his first competition, where he won a Grand Champion major. Suede’s great granddaughter, Tru, just competed in her first show and is off to a great start.
Hetkowski’s big family of dogs has taught her a thing or two about training for dog sporting events. “A lot of people will train their dog in the house to do certain things, but most people don’t teach them to perform with distractions,” said Hetkowski. She also says that laying a proper training foundation with puppies is a big key to being successful in the competitive world of dog sports.
Side bar- All Dogs Should Be Trained
We asked Elizabeth Simpson of Tender Foot Dog Training in Boulder, Colorado questions many owners have about training their furry four legged friends. She has been professionally training dogs for 30 years and believes the best tools to use are love, trust, and respect.
Elizabeth Simpson: When should a dog owner start training their dog? Is it ever too early or too late?
Yellow Scene: Puppies can be trained immediately. They are little sponges. Older dogs are equally trainable but the trouble comes in how long have they been practicing bad manners, because now you have to overcome poor habits for the dog and yourself.
ES: Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
YS: Absolutely! It might take little longer depending on how long he has been practicing ignoring or listening to humans.
ES: What are some things most dog owners don’t realize when it comes to dog training?
YS: The level of commitment. It’s work. Any relationship takes work. This is a relationship that could last 12 or more years. You have invited an animal into your home and this animal has sharp teeth, dirty feet, a sloppy tongue, hairy bodies, boundless energy and the ability to destroy your home in a heartbeat.