A little drizzle didn’t seem to dampen any of the dogs’ spirits Thursday morning as they, lead by their handlers, took turns jumping, weaving, scooting through tunnels and climbing up and down A-frame ramps. The Kenai Kennel Club hosted its biggest event of the year this weekend — the annual dog show — at Skyview High School.
The teams of trainers and their more than 300 dogs traveled to the Central Kenai Peninsula from throughout Alaska and the Lower 48 and set up campers and tents on the school lawn for the three-day event.
The show opened Thursday with agility qualifiers where dogs and their owners were timed to do various obstacles to earn points.
“Any dog can run agility,” said Paula Lovett, club president, who raises Australian shepherds. “You just need to be able to spend time with them, work with them.”
Based on time and points, the pairs are categorized into one of three levels — novice, open or excellent. Dogs can be disqualified for things like refusing to do an obstacle. Excellent title-holders can start gathering points toward MACH or Master Agility Champion.
“Everybody is working for, what they call ‘Qs,’ meaning they qualified because the more ‘Qs’ you have, the more you go up on levels,” Lovett said.
Lovett said the show usually sees junior-level, or under 18-year-old handlers interested in agility more than conformation, which is judging on dog breed standards.
“And (juniors) outperform us like crazy (in agility),” she said.
Fifteen-year-old Thera Mullet, of Soldotna, became interested in training and competing with her dog about four years ago after her grandmother took her to a show.
“(Agility) gives the dogs great exercise, and they enjoy it and have fun,” Mullet said.
Mullet travels to shows in the state with her dog, Dandy, a husky and black Labrador mix-breed dog. She said it took about one year for agility to “click” for Dandy.
“At first it was (frustrating), but then I realized she is really independent so she had to take a lot of work to train her,” she said.
To learn how to do agility courses, the duo went to classes and worked with kennel club members.
“Since I’m a junior, if I don’t understand something, people help me understand what I’m supposed to do and how to do it, and that’s really helpful,” Mullet said.
The pair trains about three times a week. Dandy is particularly skilled at jumps, Mullet said. Last year, she said they earned a novice title at a show.
“Right when we’re about to go out, I get really nervous because she used to leave the ring and she used to pee in the ring,” Mullet said. “It was awful, but she’s gotten better, so I’m not as nervous as I used to be.”
Because Dandy is a mix-breed dog, Mullet and Dandy don’t compete in confirmation.
Conformation began Friday. The dogs are divided into groups like hearding and sporting. In sporting, for example, one dog from each different retriever breeds as well as one from other sporting breeds are judged. The judge then picks the best dog that represents sporting. There are seven groups total.
The seven dogs chosen, one from each group are then judged for Best in Show, Lovett said.
Lovett competes in both agility and conformation. She began showing her dogs in 2001, after a friend took her to a show and suggested Lovett give competition a try.
Lovett said while teens like Mullet and even younger kids compete, the majority of handlers are women in their 50s and 60s.
“It seems to be the age group who wants to put in the time to train a dog,” Lovett said. “Younger people have different avenues they’re going. Not to say there isn’t younger people out there.”