Never say never. That’s what I learned this week at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. The nationally recognized Westminster show takes place every February in New York City. For nearly a week, dog people from across the country descend upon New York and the city is abuzz with everything dog.
For many years, I’ve heard obedience people say, “wouldn’t it be great if some day our sport could be at Westminster to show the public about the benefits of training dogs?” And every time, someone would inevitably respond, “It will never happen.” That’s because Westminster has been a club steeped in tradition and that tradition has always been conformation shows.
But then, there was a change. Westminster Kennel Club decided to add AKC Agility to the show, and this year, everyone cheered at the show (and at home as they watched via television) for this year’s National Agility Champion.
And this year, in another beyond-belief extraordinarily progressive move, the Westminster Kennel Club decided to give AKC obedience a try. AKC obedience staff went to work on the idea. Doug Ljungren, the Vice President of Sports & Events (who is responsible for Obedience) gave the team one requirement: “This can not be like watching paint dry. You have to make it fun.”
And that is exactly what they did. Borrowing an idea from figure skating where there are both compulsory and creative (freestyle) events, the format for this national obedience championship event had required exercises and then handlers did their own creative thing.
Some of the creative routines bordered on canine freestyle, some bordered on tricks, and MAGIC happened. The crowd cheered, and clapped and roared, and everyone held their breath in suspense during the run-off between two dogs. Judge Sharon Ann Redmer played to the crowd, with her stage-presence voice and dramatic flourishes as she tore score sheets off her note pad.
And so it was, at this historic event, the crowd screamed and roared for AKC obedience. It was entertaining and it was fun. And it was at the Westminster Kennel Club.
If you missed it, watch the live stream on the Westminster Kennel Club web page at http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org