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If you’ve spent any time watching the sport of dog agility, you know there are certain dogs you expect to take home the ribbons. It’s no secret that Border Collies, for example, are top competitors. You might assume all the dogs are in the prime of their youth as well, but competitors range in not only breeds, but also age. One such competitor is Dino, a 13.5-year-old Löwchen, owned and handled by Don Roback of Apex, North Carolina. Dino might not be the stereotypical agility champion, but he’s an incredibly accomplished canine athlete and one of the oldest to compete in this year’s 18th AKC Agility Invitational being held December 16-17 in Orlando, Florida.

Showcasing Top Agility Dogs in Each Breed

The beauty of the annual AKC Agility Invitational is that the five top-ranked dogs from each breed are invited to participate. Rather than seeing the top competitors from a few common agility dog breeds, a full range of breeds is on display. That means that along with Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers, you’ll also see dogs like Dachshunds, Entlebucher Mountain Dogs, and Bullmastiffs leaping over the jumps too. And of course, there will be Löwchen like Dino.

This isn’t Dino’s first national competition. Roback says that during Dino’s career, they have attended many AKC Agility Invitationals during the AKC National Championship week, along with World Team Qualifier trials. Aside from 2020, Dino has been at every AKC Agility Invitational since 2012. The event is Roback’s favorite of the entire year because breeds like Löwchen are showcased. “I most look forward to seeing all the nontraditional breeds at the Invitational. It’s also so fun to see people that I only get to see once or twice a year,” he says. “Over the last few years there have been fewer Löwchen competing due to retirements, but now there are a few younger dogs coming up, and I’m really looking forward to seeing them run at the event.”

Nan Henderson

Building Dino’s Agility Confidence

Although Roback started in agility with a Miniature Pinscher in 1997, Dino is only his second Löwchen. He got Dino as a puppy in 2010 and says Dino wasn’t the most confident dog coming out of the litter. But Roback saw potential in the dog. He spent a lot of time training, playing and working with Dino, slowly increasing his confidence. This got him to where they are now, on a big national stage doing dog sports together. “I have a photo of Dino on the dog walk contact the day I brought him home at around 10 weeks old,” Roback explains. “We didn’t do any actual agility training for several months, but from that first day I was working and playing with him to develop our relationship. These simple interactions encourage the dog to work as part of a team.”

And all that hard work paid off. Not only is Dino a Master Agility Champion, but he is also skilled in Obedience. His registered name, “CH OTCH MACH7, Windsor Bihar Boom Goes The Dynamite, UDX OM2 MXG2 PAD MJB3 PJD MXP2 MJP3 MJPB T2B3,” showcases the many titles of his long career, and it’s not over yet. This special dog was only the second Löwchen with three AKC championship titles to his name: AKC Agility Champion, AKC Obedience Trial Champion, and Breed Champion. And that’s Roback’s favorite accomplishment. “It shows just how versatile he is and how versatile the breed can be,” Roback says. “And all along the way, he was just the best little companion and willing partner.”

Dog Sports Have No Age Limit

This year Roback is particularly thrilled Dino made it to the AKC Agility Invitational — he says it’s probably Dino’s last year. At over 13 years old, he says that Dino is definitely slowing down a bit. “I think after 13-plus years, it’s just the thing we do together,” Roback says, “and he tries as hard as he ever has to run with me.”

Roback reports Dino has had some soft-tissue injuries over the last few years that seem to resurface more frequently now. Roback says that they can still have great runs like when he was younger, it’s harder for Dino to string several of them together now. Roback provides occasional chiropractic and massage sessions as well as a few joint supplements to help Dino stay fit.

As long as your vet gives the okay, there’s no reason you can’t participate in dog sports with your senior dog too. It’s a great way to provide mental stimulation and physical exercise as well as build teamwork and have fun together. Roback’s biggest piece of advice to anybody looking to get into agility with their dog, regardless of their age, is to do something with your dog every day. “The relationship is what makes the sport so great,” he says. “Develop the relationship with little games and tricks, and eventually agility and obedience will just be a series of more complicated tricks.”

David Woo

Chasing the Cheese

Dino’s favorite part of Agility is the snacks he gets after competing. He’s an extremely food-motivated dog, and can’t wait to get his reward. Roback says, “I think his favorite agility obstacle is the last obstacle on a course because he knows he is about to get cheese when we leave the ring.”

For Roback on the other hand, the best part of running Dino in agility is their partnership. “It doesn’t happen every time, but on many agility and obedience runs I can just feel the connection to him,” he says. “We are responding to each other and following the plan. It even happens sometimes when we don’t qualify in a run, but the connection is still there. We’re just running great as a team.”

It goes to show that any breed at any age can be a fabulous agility partner if you have the right attitude and make the effort. But when it comes to Löwchen, Roback can’t say enough good things about the breed. “All three of my Löwchen have been wonderful. They have been really fun to train and compete with, but also, they have been the best little companions,” he says. “I just love the breed. I only wish I was just starting out as a 10-year-old so that I could have many more over my lifetime.”

The AKC National Championship, presented by Royal Canin, is the dog world’s biggest event of the year! Learn more about conformation and follow your favorite breeds at dog shows throughout the year. They might be competing for the coveted Best in Show title in December!