Residents and visitors to Las Vegas had an opportunity to do more than gamble, eat and walk the Stripearlier this month. The western regional of the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge gave everyone the chance to see some of the top dogs in six performance events.
Sixty dogs, all invited to the challenge except in the case of dock diving and freestyle flying disc, did their best to take home blue ribbons in an additional four events: small- and large-dog agility, Jack Russell Terrier racing, flyball and something called “30-Weave Up-and-Back.”
Lourdes Edlin, the spokesperson-trainer for the Incredible Dog Challenge, explains that top handlers around the country are asked to recommend dogs that should be invited for the various sporting competitions. This event – at the Rio All-Suite Las Vegas Hotel – was the first of three in 2013, the 16th year of the challenge. The eastern regional will be in St. Petersburg, Fla., in May with Nationals in October in Gray Summit, Mo.
Going home with the top award in dock jumping were Amy Peterson and her 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, Hudson. Although this is Peterson’s fourth dock-diving dog, she was not expecting to head home to Vacaville, Calif., with the prize. Hudson injured himself a couple of months ago, and despite veterinary care, including X-rays which revealed nothing, plus chiropractic and acupuncture treatments, Peterson didn’t know if he was back to prime jumping condition.
“I had someone give him a chiropractic adjustment in the parking lot” before he started jumping, Peterson says. “I was not expecting much, but we got invited so I decided to go.”
Hudson didn’t have a dramatic injury. “I could just tell in the way he was jumping, he wasn’t getting as much height. I could just tell that something was a little bit off.”
Nonetheless, his jump of 31 feet and 3 inches earned him first place. He narrowly, by just a single inch, beat out the second place dog, Pyro, a Dutch Shepherd owned by Ashley Reifors of Santa Cruz, Calif.Pyro topped the third place dog, Remy, another Belgian Malinois, this one owned by Jon Langdon of Arvada, Colo., also by 1 inch.
Ten dogs competed, with each dog taking two dives, then the top six dogs dived once more. The longest of those dogs’ jumps determined the winners.
“I was honestly shocked,” Peterson says of Hudson’s jump. “I was stoked.”
Peterson, a professional dog trainer and former animal shelter manager, says,“it was beautiful, perfect, perfect dock-diving weather. Warm, but not excruciatingly hot. The wind kind of picked up on and off, but when we were competing there was no wind.”
Edlin says the diving was exceptional at the event, though she also recalled a Whippet that broke the western regional record last year. That dog jumped 30 feet and 11 inches this year, barely out of the placements. “It got the distance mainly from its speed. It was like watching a sports car. It was amazing to watch.”
While every event has its highlights, Edlin says, as a trainer she was particularly impressed by a rescued Chihuahua-Yorkshire Terrier mix competing in small agility. “It was impressive not due to her speed,” Edlin says, but rather her confidence. “It took every ounce of her to get the teeter down. She had to go to the very end of the teeter to get it to go down. This dog was out there having a great time. It was neat to see something so small do such an incredible job.
“Willow really inspired people. She made people laugh, and it made them feel like it didn’t have to be a speedy Border Collie.”
In fact, that’s what the challenge is all about, she says. “The Incredible Dog Challenge is about showcasing that any dog can be incredible. When they choose dogs like this, we’re also trying to inspire people to spend time with their dogs. It’s about achieving greatness,” she adds, invoking the event’s tagline – “Inside Every Good Dog Is a Great Dog.”
The agility competition for both small and big dogs is similar to other agility trials in that it uses obstacles and is timed. Each dog runs the course twice, and the fastest times win. Taking first in the small dog division was Shetland Sheepdog DJ, owned by JoAnn Eichorn of Mills, Wyo., with a time of 35.3 seconds. In second was Gosia Skowron’s Border Collie-Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix, Riot, at 36.54 seconds. Gosia and Riot live in Salt Lake City. Another Sheltie, Charger, owned by Gayle Anderson of San Marcos, Calif., came in third with 37.76.
In the large dog agility competition, Border Collies took first and second place. Steeple and Kim Terrill of Albuquerque turned in a time of 31.13 seconds, while Grit and Monica Bush of Flagstaff, Ariz., logged a 31.78. Third went to a non-Herding dog, Golden Retriever Rae, who traveled from Sacramento, Calif., with her owner Pat White, to earn a time of 34.86.
One event at the challenge that may have been new to some spectators was the Jack Russell Terrier races. They’re not unlike Dachshund races that are often held as fundraisers for various nonprofit organizations, except that the JRTs must wear muzzles, leap over three hurdles while chasing the lure and follow the lure into a hole.
Six dogs faced off in the finals. The speediest was Tinker, owned by Earl and Cindy Lund of Sandy, Utah. Dweezil, who lives in June Lake, Calif., with his owner Robbin Grabowski, came in second. In third was Cairo. He traveled from Grants Pass, Ore., with Deanna Gillette to race.
Another event unique to the challenge is the 30-weave competition. In this event, dogs must navigate 30 weave poles, dash through a tunnel, then return through the poles again. Speed and accuracy are equally important. If the dog misses a pole, it must go back and do it correctly. The regional’s eight competitors are divided into heats of four dogs. The fastest dogs advance to the next heat.
The fastest weaver was Cisco, a Cattle Dog-Corgi mix, owned by Keith Highley of Salt Lake City. He did the up and back in 18.06 seconds. Steeple, who took first in large dog agility, got second in weaving. In third place was another repeat winner, Riot, who was second in small dog agility. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with agility as weave poles are integral to that sport.
For the flyball competition, two teams of two dogs face off, until just two dogs remain, who then race each other. Hometown dogs swept this event. OMG, a Whippet owned by Rachael Croley, took home the blue. Second place went to Whiskey, another Border Collie-Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix. In third was Sequel, a Dutch Shepherd-Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix owned by Dan Brinkman.
The final event of the challenge, flying disc, for some is the most spectacular. Dogs chasing plastic discs into the air, over their handlers, and across the field create some breathtaking moments. Teams of one dog and one handler earn points for the difficulty of moves, quality of execution and other criteria.
A young girl named Kirby wowed Edlin. “She has a dog that weighs about 50 pounds and kind of catapults off the girl’s body. She can really showcase that dog’s ability.” The dog that won second qualified on Friday before the challenge on Saturday. “It was a beautiful little routine,” Edlin says, featuring a Cocker Spaniel mix. “They were so polished. They had all different types of behaviors. It’s truly inspiring to me to see these teams working together to the point where they become one.”
Working in just that way were Torch, a McNab, and Kirby McIlveen of Huntington Beach, Calif., who scored 93.5 for first. That Cocker mix mentioned above is Ronja, all the way from Wolfhagen, Germany, scoring a 91.0 with Christina Weiss. In third was Andrew Han and his Australian Shepherd, Solar, who trekked all the way from Milwaukee, Wis., for an 89.5.
Both Peterson and Edlin speak highly of the Incredible Dog Challenge.
“We’ve done this for so long, it’s a science,” Edlin says, in response to a question about whether anything went wrong. “We really, really work hard. This is the only venue I’ve ever been at where they want everyone there to feel completely relaxed and put their best foot forward. They really do go all out to bring out the best.”
Peterson adds: “Purina is one of my favorite events just because they put on such a great show and the quality of dogs is so awesome. It’s just a really fun event. The whole experience, whether you win or whether you lose, it’s really a lot of fun to be there.