Photos by Jerry and Lois Photography
By Ranny Green
Mention the word Tigger and most people’s thoughts turn to the fictional tiger character originally introduced in A.A. Milne’s book “The House of Pooh Corner.” Disney Studios took the orange-and-black-striped character’s a big step further in film, maintaining his bounce and swagger.
The agility dog world’s namesake has a roar of its own when it comes to winning and dramatics. Pinpaps Jonquil Of Skipnlena, aka Tigger, a Papillon owned by Robin Cohen and Robin Kletke, of Woodinville, is a MACH (Master Agility Championship) machine with 38 titles, 13 ahead of its closest pursuer on the American Kennel Club Lifetime List.
When asked what has made Tigger such a big winner, the couple responded, “He has always had that special ‘it’ factor. He is a very good specimen of a Papillon from a conformation perspective. He also has that show-dog attitude that gives him amazing drive for agility. He’s a 5½-pound dog that would like to be 10-pound dog – so he’s very food motivated. That makes for good training possibilities.”
Years ago when the pair was looking for a small dog, a friend raved about the Papillon’s agility potential. “We started the sport with Afghan Hounds, so working with a dog one-tenth the size was new and challenging,” says Kletke. They started slowly with Tigger running courses in the mid 50 seconds, which eventually dipped into the mid 40s.
Since those early days, the whiz has accumulated more titles and points than any dog in AKC agility competition.
“He set records that might never be broken,” adds Cohen. “He has led the way for little dogs to be taken seriously in this sport and probably helped many other Paps get the joy of running in agility with their owners.”
But equally important, the two emphasize, that throughout Tigger’s stellar career, he has always remained “our little friend.”
The sparkle in his eyes remains strong at 14½ years old, they say. “While he’s slower, the drive and enthusiasm that has propelled him is still there,” adds Cohen. “We are grateful for the journey we’ve had with Tigger and look forward to each and every day we see his bright face.”
With an agility career that is unmatched, Tigger is driven to perform, not just in the show ring but on stage, too – he played “Chowsy” in the production “Gypsy” at a Seattle theater several years ago.
“What makes him a great agility dog,” the pair adds, “is the same thing that makes him likeable and lovable on a day-to-day basis. He WANTS to do things, to do them well and doesn’t take no for an answer. He has a great physical presence, but his spirit is amazing.”
For example, Tigger can beg for treats – and succeed – even when people know they shouldn’t feed him. Visitors will come to the house and at some point realize that they are carrying Tigger around, Cohen says. “”They have no idea when they picked him up, but Tigger wanted to be held. That persistent, happy and feisty attitude has been a key to his success in agility.”
Here are the couple’s responses to a set of questions posed about Tigger and the sport of agility:
Q: In some sports success factored to 50 percent man, 50 percent animal. What is the percentage in agility?
A: That depends on what the team is doing and what its goals are at the time. If the goal is to win a national (Tigger is a three-time national champion), the pure drive, enthusiasm and speed on the part of the dog is essential. The handler also needs to be a big part of the equation, but a great handler can’t necessarily take a slower dog and win on a national stage.
If the goal is to be the top dog of your breed or overall over a long time (Tigger was the top AKC MACH dog for five years and the top Pap for a decade) then it’s important to have a handler who can manage his/her dog around the course successfully day after day.
Since Tigger has been the best of both of these worlds, I’d say that in our team, it was a 50/50 split. I couldn’t have been the handler without him, and I don’t think he would have had the amazing career without the two of us.
Q: What are the key qualities a handler must possess to coax the best out of an agility dog?
A: Patience and joy of the dog and the sport.
Q: How unusual is it to see a Papillon as a big winner in the agility ring?
A: It has become one of the top breeds in agility. Tigger was a pioneer for Paps in that sense. He has set a pretty high bar for Paps and agility dogs in general.
Q: Did you get Tigger as a puppy? If so, what attracted you to him and from how big a litter did he come from?
A: We got Tigger at 7 months and he was the only pup in the litter.
Q: At what age could you tell you might have a dog with special agility potential?
A: By the time he was 4 or 5 (although he began competing when he was 1). He started getting faster and much more consistent then and won his first AKC National in 2003 at age 5.
Q: Throughout the bulk of the now-retired Tigger’s competition career what was your practice routine?
A: Once he learned the obstacles, most of our training was on the weekends at shows. During his heyday, we didn’t practice/train much. If there was something that needed to be fine-tuned, we’d work on that during the week. However, every run in the ring was a training run. The positive aspect of that was that it was in a real trial setting – essential to honing speed and precision.
Away from trials we played games in the backyard at times, but generally just worked to keep up his motivation and fun levels.
Q: Were both of you involved in Tigger’s training?
A: Yes. Mr. Robin was more involved in the actual agility training. Mrs. Robin much more involved in the attitude side of things. Having a happy, enthusiastic dog is probably more important than just being able to do obstacles and run around the ring.
Q: Please list some of Tigger’s major accomplishments.
A: He has won the AKC National Agility Tournament three times and placed on other occasions. He won the AKC Invitational Agility once and came in second another time. Tigger has 38 agility championships (MACHs); the closest dog has 25. Tigger was the No. 1 Pap for a decade and the No. 1 dog in AKC agility (any breed) for five of six years. The year he didn’t win, our Border Collie Vixen edged him out.
Tigger has set the gold standard for agility in many ways. It would be very hard to find another dog of any breed that has his combination of speed, accuracy and longevity.
Q: For those unacquainted with agility and the term MACH can you please explain what it is.
A: MACH is (M)aster (A)gility Champion. MACH is the highest level of accomplishment for an agility dog in the AKC program. Two original types of courses comprise the MACH – Jumpers with Weaves and Standard Agility. A MACH program requires 20 days where the dog qualifies on both of those courses and accumulates 750 speed points (full second under the allowed course time). Once the 20 “double Qs” and 750 points are accumulated (not necessarily at the same time) the dog earns a single MACH.