By Kathy Brown.
Oliver – a miniature poodle from Haddam – is going to the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show. He isn’t going to just stand there and look great, though he can do that; he’s going to show all that he can do on an agility course. Oliver, and his owner-handler, Debby DuBay, moved to Haddam three years ago because “I love the woods, the adorable village, and privacy, all while having great access to major highways and close proximity to NYC, Hartford, Springfield, and airports,” said Debby.
Debby has had an interesting life so far. She had a 21-year career in the US Air Force, and then was the owner of Limoges Antiques Shop in MA and VT; she has also written nine books, and is an expert on porcelain. One thing that has remained the same during those other careers is her love of dogs. She has had purebred poodles for over 30 years. In 2006, she attended the Big E in Springfield, MA and watched an agility trial. She was hooked! “I started training my dogs to do agility – taking classes and watching dogs at agility trials,” explained Debby. “It takes years of training, dedication, and patience, and I felt we were ready to attend my first agility trial in 2010 with my Champion standard poodle, Lincoln.” Lincoln went on to become a Master Agility Champion MACH. Sadly, he passed away last year.
The sport started in the United Kingdom in the late 1970’s as a way to entertain crowds during the intermission at traditional dog shows. Dogs can be any size and do the agility course because there are five jump heights. There are popular breeds for agility, but even a “mutt” can learn to do the agility courses.
She wanted something “faster and more competitive” so she purchased her first Miniature Poodle nine years ago. Oliver “became a conformation Champion by nine months old, and then we began training for agility,” said Debby. “Oliver is the best dog ever – athletic, smart, focused – the love of my life – and a maniac – making him the perfect agility dog,” enthused Debby. He has raked in the accolades. He has been a Master Agility Champion six times, Preferred Master Agility Champion, K9 Good Citizens Award, the AKC’s Number One Miniature Poodle in the US in 2017, and was invited to participate in the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge in 2015. This will be Oliver’s fourth time at Westminster Agility. To qualify for Westminster’s Agility competition, the dog already has to be a Master Agility Champion. The dog does this by accumulating points, which they earn while running a course faster than the “standard course time.”
According to Debby, “Westminster is open only to those dogs who have a MACH (or PACH). This means they are a Champion in Agility.” There are 330 dogs entered in this competition, according to the Westminster website. Each dog will compete in two qualifying rounds consisting of a Standard Agility course and a Jumpers with Weaves course. The 10 dogs with the highest combined scores from each of the height classes will move on to the Championship Round. The 50 finalists will be vying for the title of Westminster Masters Agility Champion.
If you’ve never seen a dog do an agility course. It’s more than just a few jumps. The dog, guided by the handler, has to negotiate an obstacle course consisting of tubes, ramps, jumps, see saws, and weave poles as fast as they can. To see a video of Oliver on an agility course in 2015, click HERE.
There is a lot of dedication involved in having an agility dog. On Mondays, they spend three hours at the Agility Facility in Salem, CT, on Wednesdays, they travel to Hadley, MA and spend an hour and a half training there, plus Debby has an agility field at home to practice when weather allows it, and a room in her house where “we practice flat work.” And on weekends, do they sit around cuddling on the couch? No! Almost every weekend they go to a trial, where they run “approximately eight full courses.”
“Training dogs is pure joy,” said Debby. “Being involved in agility or any performance sport is great exercise, mentally and physically, and is a great social outlet.” Debby not only participates with Oliver, she is also the team manager for the AKC USA Junior Agility Team, helping the next generation of handlers. “It is great for building confidence, empathy, and social skills; for making friends and being part of a team,” said Debby. “We have juniors all over the US working toward being on the AKC US Junior Agility Team. Every year these juniors and their dog – their best friend – compete in Europe representing the United States of America.” She went on to encourage anyone interested in the program or agility in general to contact her on Facebook.
Debby isn’t resting on her laurels. She’s already training her next dog, Kennedy, who she obtained last April. Since it takes years of bonding and training to achieve a confident and competitive agility dog, Debby works daily with Kennedy. “It’s having fun with your best friend; building a relationship.”
Watch the Westminster Kennel Club’s Masters Agility Championship on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, which will be televised on Fox News, to see Oliver and Debby compete in the 16″ height class!
Photos provided by Debby DuBay.
Editor’s Note 2/12/20: Two faults kept Oliver and Debby out of the finals, however, the Westminster Kennel Club donated $5,000 to the AKC Agility Juniors!