“AKC Canine Partners Program”

When the American Kennel Club launches its broad, sweeping Canine Partners Program April 1, longtime dog sport cynics would be prone to say it’s nothing more than an April fool’s joke.

 Not so! It’s a whole new ballgame. Times are a changing.

 The nation’s premier dog registry, sometimes labeled as elitist by mixed-breed dog owners, is inviting these same critics and their dogs to its companion events effective April 1. Think of it as March Madness extended. It’s the newbies vs. the notorieties in name only.

No one has a clue how quickly it will take these aspirants to make their mark in AKC obedience, agility and rally competitions, alongside the nation’s premier purebreds.

The premiere event in Washington state matching purebreds and mixed-breed teams is the indoor Washington State Obedience Training Club obedience and rally competition April 3-4 at Magnuson Park in Seattle.  About 10 percent of the entry is mixed breeds (34 of 336), an encouraging number for the first outing. The next area event is April 16-18, when the American Manchester Terrier Club hosts AKC agility trials at the Argus Ranch Facility For Dogs, in Auburn.

Yet another trials opportunity for mixed-breed agility teams comes May 21-23 at Argus Ranch Facility For Dogs, presented by the Seattle Kennel Club.

Anne Goldenberger, of Kirkland, and her multi-titled, 10½-year-old border collie-something mix, Zoe, who she adopted from the Seattle Humane Society nine years ago, is among the WSOTC entries.

“I am very excited the AKC has opened this door for us to compete,” says Goldenberger, president of the Washington chapter (29 members) of the Mixed Breed Dog Clubs of America, “especially coming on the heels of Zoe earning her recent United Kennel Club Utility Dog title.”

Zoe came with aggression issues, but Goldenberger carefully segued her from basic home obedience work into more socialized settings with competition. “She has blossomed through the years, and I have always wished we could show alongside the same friends with train with,” says Goldenberger.

“Years ago, I questioned if Zoe would still be alive when the day came that AKC would invite mixed-breeds to compete in its performance events.  I’ve had many people tell me that she is that once-in-a-lifetime dog.

“We don’t get the best scores in the world, partly because I am a klutz and partly because I am still learning how to train dogs. So it’s not really about our exceptional performances as much as it is just the sheer joy she takes in doing her work. Her sparkle is beginning to fade a bit as she edges into her double digits, but it’s still there if you look closely.”

As sort of a celebratory, goodwill gesture, Goldenberger has organized a four-member “dream team” – two mixed breeds and two purebreds – to compete in the obedience trials. “We hope to emphasize the unity and teamwork between all dogs and their handlers, especially now that mixed breeds are competing for the same titles in the same classes as purebreds,” explains Goldenberger. The others are a Belgian Malinois mix, Belgian Tervuren and a German Shepherd.

According to Doug Ljungren, assistant vice president AKC Canine Partners, eight of 28 AKC obedience events (28.57 percent) in Washington state through August are open to Canine Partners, compared to 20 percent nationally.

Conversely, 65 percent of AKC agility events nationally have invited mixed breeds. “Many of the agility dogs compete in events held by other organizations, which allow mixed breeds,” explains Ljungren, “therefore it is more readily accepted. There are not many obedience events offered by other organizations, plus many of AKC’s obedience events are held by conformation clubs. This combination has resulted in slow acceptance.

“The Canine Partners Department feels confident that acceptance of the program will grow. Many clubs had already applied for their spring events at the time AKC decided to allow Canine Partners into all events at the option of the club. I am sure there are clubs that did not want to hassle with modifying their application. There is also the uncertainty of exactly how is this going to work.  Will there be unexpected problems? The uncertainty most like made some clubs reluctant.”

Kelly Maier, of Monroe, already an AKC agility team member with Pearl, a Boston Terrier, will bring her 4 ½-year-old Boston Terrier-Rat Terrier mix, Tucker, into the AKC ring for the first time at the late April trial in Auburn. 

“We’ll be competing against some of the same dogs we’ve already gone up against in United States Dog Agility Association competition,” says Maier, an artist. “I signed up Tucker for AKC competition the first day it was posted.

“I’m excited and confident to see what he can do. He is a good jumper, runs smoothly and has the moves of a Whippet.” Maier and the 20-pound Tucker, which she adopted from a Yakima shelter at 10 weeks of age, have been competing together for 3 ½ years.”

Because this is their first AKC trial, Maier and Tucker must begin in novice competition. Under the USDAA banner, the team vies in Masters, which is equivalent to the Excellent level in AKC.

Maier says the added opportunity to compete in AKC agility trials is a giant bonus for longtime USDAA teams.  “We average six to seven trials a year with USDAA. AKC will probably offer us two to three a month.”
The AKC officially embarked on the Canine Partners program last year, committing to the April 1 launch. But that version is vastly different than what you’ll see this month.

The initial AKC proposal called for mixed-breed teams to participate in “stand-alone” sanctioned agility, rally and obedience trials, separate from regular purebred competition.

Quickly, however, many member clubs let AKC hierarchy know about their reluctance to conduct separate classes for purebreds and mixed-breeds, at the same time expressing an interest in a program where both would compete together.

And AKC execs listened. Management asked for input from its 11-member Delegate Obedience, Tracking and Agility Committee. All 11 voted to remove the stand-alone restriction. Next, the matter went to the AKC board of directors, who voted to concur and open up companion-event competition.

The only caveat, however, is that each club has the option to accept or reject mixed-breed entries in its obedience, rally and agility trials.

For mixed-breed dog owners, the program works like this:

Apply online by April 30, and the registry fee is $25. Afterward, it becomes $35. Online enrollment gives dog owners their listing number withinminutes, enabling them to enter events the same day.

The Canine Partners listing application is available both online and on paper. Go to www.akccaninepartners.org to sign up.

The registry offers additional program benefits, all noted on the registry’s web site.

To search for mixed-breed events, in your area, go to the Obedience/Agility/Rally tab on AKC Events Search and click “mixed-breed classes.”