Two local dogs made their debut in one of the world’s largest and most prestigious dog shows — the 7th annual Masters Agility Championship at the 144th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, held this past Saturday in New York City.
Caisson, a 3-year-old female Miniature American Shepherd, and Dakota, a nearly 5-year-old male Miniature American Shepherd, both qualified for the competition. In addition to the dog’s first Westminster performance, it was also handler Kim Black of Waynesboro’s first appearance at the annual dog competition.
Despite having two perfect preliminary rounds, one of Black’s dogs, Dakota, did not qualify for the 16-inch division finals because of his time. However, Black and Caisson qualified for the final round of the agility championship — making Black the only first-time handler to qualify this year, and earning Caisson the honor of being the youngest dog to compete in both the finals and in the 8-inch division.
“It was everything I could have dreamed of,” said Black, who began agility training five years ago. “I actually was calmer than I thought I would be for the preliminary rounds.”
To remain calm and focused, Black said she looked at the preliminary rounds as a regular trial.
“Obviously I was nervous, but I felt comfortable,” she said. “I had to keep telling myself, ‘I deserve to be here.’ I didn’t realize we had made the finals and two of my Virginia friends came running up saying, ‘Kim, you made the finals!’ It was just really exciting.”
As the final round approached, Black said nerves took over.
“That was my first big, high pressure competition,” she said. “The first obstacles, I was doing well and then I had to send [Caisson] over the backside of a jump. She went over it front side, knocked a bar and made one more mistake.”
Although Caisson also had two perfect runs in the preliminaries, the errors in the final round placed the duo in eighth place out of 10 finalists.
“I look back at my finals run and think, ‘This is what I could have done differently.’ Now, I say, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to work on’ — and we’ll be ready,” Black said.
Black said she plans to make another Westminster appearance with both Caisson and Dakota, with hopes to land in a top 4 spot in the future. Both dogs also qualified for the American Kennel Club National Agility Championships held in Georgia at the end of March. The event can be live-streamed online at www.akc.org.