Charlotte dog competes in Westminster’s first agility championship

Agility is the fastest-growing dog sport in America and Reese, a 4-year-old papillon from Charlotte, will be in the thick of a national competition on Saturday.

The action takes place at the Masters Agility Championship at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club in New York City. This is the first time Westminster has held this competition, and it’s part of the club’s 138th Annual All Breed Show.

The pet business is booming and agility competition – a test of skills on a timed obstacle course – is gaining popularity with dog owners and spectators.

Acting on cues from their handlers, dogs jump, dart over ramps, scoot through tunnels, negotiate a see-saw and weave through a line of poles. The training for competition gives people something to do with their dogs and helps keep both of them in shape, Westminster representatives say.

Finals will be broadcast live from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday on FOX Sports 1. Reese’s owners, Steffan and Toni Moody, hope their little dog makes the cut.

But just being involved in the Westminster show – the second-oldest continous sporting event in the U.S. after the Kentucky Derby – is rewarding for them.

“That’s the biggest thing,” said Toni Moody, 48, who is an X-ray technician. “If we bring home one ribbon we’ll feel like we’ve succeeded.”

A total of 225 dogs are entered in the agility competition and Reese is among four from North Carolina. Two smooth collies from the same owners in Pittsboro are signed up and a mixed breed from Southern Pines also is entered.

The competing dogs were selected at random from a pool of 600, all holding master level titles in American Kennel Club competition.

Another Charlotte dog – a Chinese Crested Powderpuff named Maribou and owned by veterinarian Wendy Ryan – will be among 3,000 dogs competing in the all breed show.

Reese, who weighs 6 1/2 pounds, has competed in dog shows for nearly three years and trains at Charlotte-based DogHaven once a week.

His trainer, Deborah Knowles, called Reese “a brilliant little dog.”

“He’s come along quickly in his career,” she said. “And he’s doing quite excellent.”

A good jumper, he’s agile, quick and “reminds me of a little Jet Ski,” Knowles said. “He’s very, very sweet.”

The Moodys adopted Reese from a dog rescue organization in Cincinnati. His name then was Rex, but they didn’t think that suited him. As they considered other names that sounded like Rex, they thought of the Reese’s candybars made in Hershey, Pa., near where Toni Moody grew up.

Papillons belong to the spaniel family and their name in French means “butterfly,” which describes the dogs’ big ears.

“Reese is really friendly,” Toni Moody said. “He’s a lap dog, out and out. He’s got a good personality and is nice and calm.”

In agility competition, Reese is anything but the calm lap dog and lives up to his registered name: “Reese Lightning.”

Like any pet, he’s subject to mood changes. Some days he may decide not to do much of anything in the competition. Or he might lapse into a state that’s known in dog circles as a “zoomie,” a dog that darts around aimlessly.

“You never know what to expect,” Moody said.

The Moodys left for New York a day early so Reese could settle down and relax after the flight.

During competition, Reese will run two courses. A good time on the jump course is under 30 seconds, Moody said; on the standard course, a 40-second time is excellent.

Before Reese does his thing, Moody will walk the course, sizing things up, deciding what cues to use. Clear communication between dog and handler is critical.

“I’m his little GPS system,” Moody said. “I use body motions, verbal cues, certain turns.”

Reese will get a last-minute bite of his favorite treat – turkey. Then Moody will say, “OK.”

Usually, that’s all it takes for Reese to show off his agility skills.

If he makes the finals, he’ll tackle a course that’s a combination of the first two.

However things turn out, Moody will be proud of her big-eared dog.

“If Reese doesn’t quite negotiate the course, it’s the handler’s fault,” she said. “If we make a mistake, it’s me, not him.”