NEW YORK — Top-knotted Tommy the toy poodle might look like he’s more interested in laps than leaps.
But the 5½-pound silver poodle took a maze of obstacles in stride Saturday as he and about 225 other dogs jumped, darted, clambered and broke new ground at the Westminster Kennel Club show’s first agility competition.
Alas, Tommy was not good enough. A border collie named Kelso took top honors and a husky mix called Roo! got a special award for the best mixed-breed dog at Saturday’s event.
The Masters Agility Championship added a dynamic, fast-growing sport to the nation’s best-known dog show and marked the first time mixed-breed dogs have appeared there in 138 years. For enthusiasts like Tommy’s owner, Barbara Hoopes, it was a chance to showcase what dogs of all shapes and sizes can do.
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“He’s a big dog in a little dog’s body,” Hoopes, a biology professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., said after Tommy finished a strong run.
Dogs are judged on accuracy and speed as they navigate jumps, tunnels, ramps and other objects off leash, with handlers guiding them via calls and signals.
Agility is an increasingly popular canine pursuit. The number of dogs competing in agility trials sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, the governing body for many canine events, has grown by nearly 50 percent in the past five years.
But at Westminster, the sport is playing on dogdom’s biggest stage. The final rounds Saturday night were televised on Fox Sports 1.
“It’s very special being here because of Westminster’s prestige,” said Westbury-based dog trainer and breeder Andrea Samuels, who had five papillons in the contest.
Agility aficionados say the sport is a canine confidence-builder that creates rapport between dogs and owners and provides a healthy outlet for high-energy dogs that need something to occupy them.
About 225 dogs competed in the agility trial at Pier 94 in New York City. The competitors spanned 63 breeds; many, like the 35 border collies entered, represented breeds known for their agility chops. But their rivals included breeds with physiques that don’t necessarily scream “nimble.”
Look at French bulldogs, for instance, and many people see “cute, fat little couch dogs,” Katy Shreve of Palm Bay, Fla., said as she and her Frenchie, Henry, relaxed after his romp through the course.
About 16 competitors were mixed-breeds — what the show calls “all-American dogs”— which can’t compete for the Best in Show trophy.
The traditional breed judging begins Monday.
Nicole Bozich recalls being petrified by dogs before her husband persuaded her to get Audie, a probably-pug-terrier mix a pet store was selling for $20. Obedience classes evolved into agility training and, eventually, into a spot in Saturday’s lineup.
“If you told me five years ago that I’d be at Westminster showing a dog, I wouldn’t believe you,” said Bozich, of Southern Pines, N.C. “He trained me to be a dog owner; I didn’t train him.”