Color no one surprised: A Border Collie named P!nk won the 2020 Masters Agility Champion at the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual agility competition on Saturday, the sixth of her breed to secure that top slot since the competition began seven years ago.
Bred to move with lightning speed and respond instantly to the commands of their owners, Border Collies have dominated the canine sport of agility ever since it debuted in the late 1970s as a way to entertain spectators in between events at dog shows.
At the Westminster agility trial – which preceded the club’s famous 144th annual dog show – Border Collies outnumbered any other breed, with a total of 44 entered. The only other breed to come out on top at Westminster’s increasingly popular agility event was – no surprise – another Herding breed, the Australian Shepherd, in 2016.
Named for the hit-spewing performer of such dance staples as “Get the Party Started” – which blared over the loudspeakers at Manhattan’s Pier 94 to commemorate the win – Pink has won her 16-inch agility class for three years straight, piloted by dog trainer Jennifer Crank of Pickerington, Ohio. Pink clocked in at 29.35 seconds, a split second improvement over her 29.78-second run last year and a Westminster best for the black-and-white Border Collie.
The Westminster record is 28.44 seconds, set by a Border Collie named Kelso in 2014.
Last year’s winner, Verb the Border Collie, also took to the course at this year’s competition, weaving through poles and barreling through tunnels to finish at 40.14 seconds.
The Breed for Speed
Though the Westminster Kennel Club dog show – which culminates in Best in Show on Tuesday night – is open to only purebred dogs, dogs of all backgrounds can compete in the popular agility trial, with 23 mixed breeds entered this year. The highest-scoring among them was 10-year-old Moses, Labrador Retriever mix who traveled all the way from Evanston, Illinois to strut his stuff.
Agility dogs compete in five classes divided by size, with jump heights set accordingly. In the 24-inch class, Punk the Golden Retriever won with a time of 36.05 seconds. Lili Ann, a very vocal Australian Shepherd from Niskayuna, New York, took the 20-inch class with a time of 35.04 seconds, while Pixel the Miniature American Shepherd from Omaha, Nebraska, bested her competition in the 12-inch class in 36.4 seconds. And the diminutive 8-inch class was won by Fortune, a Papillon from nearby Long Island, who clocked in at 36.73 seconds.
Though agility tends to be dominated by Herding breeds, the sport attracts a variety of dogs whose owners are willing to spend endless hours training them to sail over jumps and balance on seesaws. Among the 325 entrants were such unusual suspects as Dachshunds, Salukis, and Pugs.
After all, the secret sauce in agility, as in any canine sports, is intense teamwork across two species, so that canine contestants take the right obstacle, in the right order, from the right direction. Without that, even the fastest dog is just a ricocheting ping-pong ball.