It’s almost time for one of the biggest show weekends of the year, made even bigger by a change in the entry requirements of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. But the weekend isn’t only about show dogs, as hundreds of obedience and agility champions descend on the city as well for the AKC’s annual invitationals.

The last iteration of the AKC National Obedience Invitational coincides with the conformation show on December 15 and 16, 2012. Next year the event becomes the AKC National Obedience Championship, and will take place in Tulsa, Okla., in March, as part of the new AKC Companion Events Extravaganza. For the 2013 Eukanuba weekend, a new event, the National Obedience Classic will make its debut.

“Although the event name will change to the AKC National Obedience Championship, the event itself remains the same,” says AKC Director of Obedience Pam Manaton. “The event has always culminated in the awarding of the National Obedience Champion title to the winner. It just seems fitting to call the event a “championship” instead of an invitational, even though the entries to the event are by invitation. We are excited about the National Obedience Championship relocating and traveling around the country with all of the companion event national sports located at the same site on the same dates. In addition, we are excited about offering an AKC Rally National Competition in conjunction with the agility and obedience nationals.

“The AKC Obedience Classic will create a new venue for Novice, Open, Utility and Masters dogs/handlers to vie for top awards. The new event will provide an avenue for dogs of all levels in obedience to compete. This event will be held in conjunction with the AKC National Juniors Competition.”

The 2011 AKC National Obedience Champion OTCH Spirit’s Zim Zam Zoom UDX6 OM4 is owned by Ward Falkner of North Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo © AKC.

But for next weekend, all remains as it did last year. One hundred and twenty-seven dogs of 49 breeds will take their turns in obedience rings for the invitational, sponsored by Eukanuba and J & J Dog, a supplier of canine performance equipment. Six of the entries are All American dogs, mixed breeds enrolled in the AKC Canine Partners Program. The AKC National Juniors Obedience Competition, taking place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, will see 46 young handlers show off their handling skills.

“We will have a new element for the event with a ringside commentator announcing information about the exercises being performed in the rings so the spectators will have a greater understanding of the competition,” Manaton says. “We’re excited about offering more information to the public to help them understand and get involved in obedience.”

The top 25 AKC obedience dogs were invited to the invitational, based on their Obedience Trial Championship points gained between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012. Also invited were the top three dogs of each breed and those earning invitations at regional competitions throughout the U.S.

Anyone who has ever attended knows it’s a busy weekend with multiple rings in which the competitors strut their obedience stuff, so to speak.

Judges for the invitational will travel from Minnesota – Karen Anderson, Massachusetts – Elizabeth Chase, Kansas – Rick Garvin, Michigan – James Ham, Georgia – Carol Mett, Idaho – Alice Peterson and as far as California – Stephanie Gomez, along with Greg Feathers who lives in Florida, but almost in Alabama, to help crown the 2012 AKC National Obedience Champion. Junior obedience judges will be Bobby Self Jr. of Illinois and Louise C. Botko, also from Minnesota.

“This will be the second year for the National Juniors Obedience Competition, and the juniors and their parents are all very excited,” Manaton says. “I’m sure that the juniors ring will be surrounded by people cheering them on as they were last year. We have 46 juniors entered, representing 13 states and 24 breeds.”

In addition to prestige of the title, the National Obedience Champion’s handler will go home with a $2,500 cash award, the Soaring Eagle Crystal Award, placement rosettes and medallions, and a one-year subscription to Front & Finish. The first, second and third runners-up receive custom-made wood boxes, placement rosettes and medallions, subscriptions, and $1,500, $1,000, and $500 cash prizes, respectively.

If you’re headed to Florida, but will be too busy with show dogs or agility on the weekend to watch any obedience, you’ll have plenty of opportunity before AKC/Eukanuba even gets started. The Orlando Dog Club will hold AKC obedience trials beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday through Friday, also at the Orange County Convention Center. Nearly 150 dogs will trial in Novice A and B, Beginner Novice A and B, Graduate Novice, Open A and B, Graduate Open, Utility A and B, Versatility and International classes. Golden Retrievers top the entries with 33. Fourteen Border Collies are entered, with Labrador Retrievers right behind with 12. Three All American Dogs – mixed breeds enrolled in the AKC Canine Partners Program – are scheduled for trials as well.

The five 2011 AKC Agility Invitational winners were, from left, MACH8 Thomwoods Flare CD MXF TQX, “Flare,” a Doberman Pinscher owned and handled by Yvonne Mancino from Pataskala, Ohio; Ch. MACH4 Colquhoun’s No Time to Relax RN MXF TQX, “Miller,” a Bearded Collie owned and handled by Karen Barratt from Galveston, Texas; MACH3 Carazo’s Rogue in Red NF, “Rogue,” an Australian Cattle Dog owned by Nicole and Stephen Carazo of Riverside, Calif., and handled by Stephen; Ch. MACH5 Ravendune Right on Target CDX RAE OF, “T,” a Miniature Poodle owned and handled by Cathi Winkles from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; and MACH Honey Come Quick, “Tangle,” an All-American owned and handled by Dana Pike from Wilmington, Ill. Photo © AKC.

The AKC Agility Invitational, held annually during AKC/Eukanuba weekend, continues unchanged. For two days, dogs in five size divisions will take to the teeter-totters, “A”-frames and the many other obstacles that make up an agility course.

“I expect once again that everyone will enjoy getting to watch the diverse breeds we have running in AKC agility,” says AKC Director of Agility Carrie DeYoung. “From the Yorkshire Terriers to the Saint Bernards, we have grown to 164 of the 175 AKC Breeds competing. You do not get to see that at any agility trial in the United States. We also have exhibitors from five countries joining us this year.”

That broad breed spectrum is due to the nature of an invitational. The top five agility dogs of each breed were invited, and more than 600 will compete, representing 156 breeds and 45 states. Twelve All American dogs are entered in the event, which, like the obedience invitational, is sponsored by Eukanuba and J & J Dog Supplies.

Judges for the invitational are Linda Robertson, who will travel from Tennessee, Alan Arthur arriving from Texas, John Barry Hall from Alabama and Saso Novak, who definitely has the longest trek to make – from Slovenia.

Even with the addition of a third ring this year, handlers and dogs have early starts both days, 7 a.m. on Saturday and 6 a.m. on Sunday for course (agility map) distribution and walk-thrus for all breed heights. Runs begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, 7 a.m. on Sunday.

One of the winners of the inaugural AKC National Juniors Agility Competition in 2011. This year’s event takes place on the morning of December 14. Photo © AKC.

If you want to see which young handlers are coming up in the sport, check out the second annual AKC National Juniors Agility Competition from 8 to 11 a.m. Friday. The juniors will take over the rings from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. under the same invitational judges.

“Our junior agility event has grown in its second year with 56 juniors entered from as far away as Washington and California,” DeYoung says.

Preparation for this year’s invitational has gone smoothly, although “agility entries continue to grow and that definitely creates a challenge as we try to keep our competition days to a reasonable number of hours,” DeYoung says. The third ring was added this year to “try and make everyone’s day a bit shorter,” she says.

According to the event’s information booklet, four rounds of competition will lead to the finals, “open only to the top 57 dogs overall through four rounds of competition.” Just as an example of how easy it is to go wrong on an agility course, these faults are listed: refusal or run-out, 5 points; taking an obstacle out of order, 5 points; missed contact or dropped bar, 5 points; incomplete or skipped obstacle, elimination; and course time deduction of 3 points for every second over the designated course time. For the invitational, dogs are not allowed to compete outside of their height division.

Cash prizes will be awarded for cumulative point totals after rounds 2 through 4. The finals winners receive for first, a $400 J & J gift certificate and a $300 cash award from AKC; second, $200 gift certificate and $200 cash award; third, $75 certificate and $100 cash; and fourth, $50 certificate and $75. All four receive a Eukanuba prize trophy and placement rosette. Fifth through 8th place go home with placement rosettes.

As with the conformation part of the weekend, cash prizes have been part of the AKC/Eukanuba weekend since its inception.

So, regardless of your main reason for traveling to Florida this coming week, you’ll find plenty to watch and enjoy between the three main events.