Thousands of dogs of mixed-breed or unknown pedigree have entered American Kennel Club agility, obedience, rally and coursing ability events more than 30,000 times in the last two years as members of the Canine Partners program.

Spayed or neutered mixed-breed dogs, purebred dogs that can’t be registered with the AKC or in its Foundation Stock Service, and dogs not enrolled in its Purebred Alternative Listing can join the program, which was launched in April 2010.

Many of the dogs are listed as “All-American,” rather than a mix of two breeds when signed up for Canine Partners by their owners.

The American Kennel Club uses multiple opportunities to get the word out about the Canine Partners program. This member sported a special scarf at the Harrisburg Kennel Club Show in April to help advertise it. Photo by Dan Sayers.

Former AKC Chairman Ron Menaker reported at the March delegates’ meeting that 85 percent of the AKC events in 2011 that could allow Canine Partners to enter “did invite them.” He also said that percentage was up 89 percent for the first two and a half months of 2012.

In 2011, 3 percent of agility and obedience entries were Canine Partners, and 5 percent of rally entries were.

Based on a review of events coming up in California in May, regional and local kennel clubs hosting performance trials and competitions have embraced the program. However, few single-breed clubs have opened their non-conformation events to mixed breeds.

“We have received nothing but positive comments about how well clubs have welcomed the newcomers with mixed breeds to their events,” says AKC Director of Communications Lisa Peterson. She says that it is completely up to each club whether events are open to Canine Partners.

Numerous dogs have earned titles through the program.

OTCH Twister UDX OM2, owned by Pat Mann of Lakeland, Fla., is the record holder of firsts for All-Americans, says Peterson. “He was the first UD, first UDX, and first OTCH, and first and only mixed-breed to qualify for the AKC National Obedience Invitational where he placed 15th out of 100-plus dogs!”

The first All-American to earn the highest honor in AKC rally – the RAE (Rally Advanced Excellent title) is Woodacre’s Court Jester RAE UD, also known as Dino. He’s owned by Jacqueline Phillips of San Leandro, Calif. Dino is also the second mixed-breed to earn the UD in obedience.

“Dino is truly a success story as he was surrendered to a shelter by his family at about 9 months of age because they had ‘too many kids and not enough time for the dog,'” Peterson says. “The shelter scheduled him for euthanasia after labeling him as ‘out of control and untrainable.’ Luckily, Grateful Dog Rescue of San Francisco did not believe the shelter and took Dino into their care. Phillips adopted him when he was about a year old and immediately set out to prove the shelter wrong by training Dino.”

Agility Competitors Welcome Mixed Breeds

The AKC agility world has apparently welcomed Canine Partners with open arms. Twenty-nine dogs qualified for the recent National Agility Championships in Reno, with 11 dogs competing.

Eleven dogs from the Canine Partners program competed at the April 2012 AKC National Agility Championship in Reno, Nev. Photo by Pamela Manaton.

Those dogs and their owners were Jimmy from Richardson, Texas, owned by Adrienne L. McLean; Maeby, Wildwood, Mo., Beth Ostrander; Harley, Las Vegas, Cheryl Alfred; Olivia, Salt Lake City, Leslie Dixwell; Duncan, Nampa, Idaho, Hope Kuo; Kipp, Englewood, Colo., Judith Stucky; Tucker, Monroe, Wash., Kelly Maier; Marley, Colbert, Wash., Shelley Kochel; Crush, Novato, Calif., Aryn Hervel; Roo, San Francisco, Stacey A. Campbell; and Tangle, Wilmington, Ill., Dana Pike.

AKC Director of Agility Carrie DeYoung says this is a typical NAC turnout. Thirty to 40 percent of the dogs that qualify for NAC compete, she says.

“The dogs and handlers that are part of this program were in the hunt all weekend for the title of National Agility Champion. We are excited that this group highlights that AKC agility is for all dogs. Two of them – Tangle and Roo – made it to the finals of their jump height divisions, with Tangle finishing fourth in the 8-inch class and Roo finishing fifth in the 24-inch division. Roo first had to win the 24-inch challengers round – for dogs that ran great in the competition – to make it to the finals. Two others made it to the challengers round, but just missed the finals. They both competed in the 16-inch height.”

Prince Doggie got his MACH just 10 months after the April 2010 launch of the Canine Partners program. He now has a MACH3. Photo by Raymond Dutton Photography;

One dog has earned his MACH3 through the Canine Partners program – Prince Doggie, owned by Tacarra Andrade and Michael Marshall of Novi, Mich. The Canine Partner dog earned his first MACH just 10 months after being enrolled in the program and his MACH3 in February 2012. “As soon as I saw [an agility competition], I knew that it was what Prince Doggie was meant for,” Andrade said when her dog earned his first MACH. “He was so rambunctious and would often make up his own little obstacle courses around the house. Agility seemed like the perfect activity for Prince to be able to use all of the energy he had, but in a more controlled and safe way.”

DeYoung said at the time: “Our All-American dogs have been earning placements and titles since becoming eligible for competition last April, but the MACH is a truly special achievement requiring a great deal of hard work and dedication.”

Tangle earned his MACH after joining the program for mixed-breed dogs and those with unknown pedigrees. Photo courtesy of American Kennel Club.

Honey Come Quick, ‘Tangle,’ owned and handled by Dana Pike Chamberlain of Wilmington, Ill., has earned a MACH as well.

Let’s Chase a Lure

In 2011 the AKC created a new event to allow any dog to experience the excitement of lure coursing. During the first year of the coursing ability test, 40 dogs earned titles: 37 received Coursing Ability titles, and three, Coursing Ability Advanced.

“The Coursing Ability Test can provide a wonderful community outreach opportunity, an enjoyable experience for dogs and owners and a way to expose a wider audience to the sport,” Assistant VP for Canine Partners Doug Ljungren said at the time. “Most dogs will chase a lure and have fun in the process.”

To pass the test, a dog must run alone, chasing the lure, and complete the course without interruption within a given time. Dogs that complete the course three times earn a Coursing Ability title. With 10 completions, the dog earns Coursing Ability Advanced, and, with 25, Coursing Ability Excellent.

Courses are designed based on a dog’s size: Dogs under 12 inches at the withers and brachycephalic dogs chase the lure for 300 yards, while taller dogs that are non-brachycephalic chase for 600 yards. All turns must be at more than 90 degrees. Regulations require that courses are set up with safety in mind, as many dogs running them are not as agile as the sighthounds that normally compete in lure coursing.

To pass the test, a dog must run the 300-yard course in less than one and one-half minutes or the 600-yard course in less than two minutes.

Also in 2011, AKC added a therapy dog element to the program. It, however, is open to registered purebred dogs as well. To receive a ThD title, a dog must be certified or registered with an AKC-recognized therapy dog organization and make at least 50 therapy visits.

According to a brochure for the Canine Partners program, it “opens up the world of AKC to mixed-breed dogs and the owners who love them.” It goes on to say that CP is not just about competition. “Once you and your dog learn how to better communicate, the benefits will be immediately visible in how your dog behaves both in your home and in public.”

When the Canine Partners program was announced in January 2010, AKC COO John Lyons, Ljungren and Assistant VP for Companion Events Curt A. Curtis wrote: “This positive step forward for AKC and dog owners enables us to share our passion for dogs and our commitment to responsible dog ownership with an even greater audience. It will simplify the planning and management of club events, while benefiting mixed-breed dog owners by giving them more opportunities to participate in events in their local areas.”

That’s exactly what’s been happening since then.

Peterson says audiences are “surprised” when they see mixed-breed dogs competing in these sports. “They also are excited to know that their pet dogs at home can also compete at AKC events. Many say they are inspired to start training their dogs at home, which is what we hope happens!”