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865 28" TC MACH5 RACH2 Luvakis Shirley's Thorin Eikinskjaldi CDX BN RM5 RAE4 FDC SC MXS2 PAD MJS2 PJD MFS TQX T2B4 THD RATN CGCA CGCU TKE. HP48604303. Rhodesian Ridgeback. M. 11/30/2014. Breeder(s): Teresa M West-Holmes/Paul Holmes. GCHG CH Invictus Nightmare Before Xmas JC - GCH CH Luvakis Ekundu's Don'T Call Me Shirley CD RE SC MX MXB MXJ MJB CGCA CGCU TKA. Owner(s): Alexandra Hart/Teresa M WestHolmes, 3760 Main Street, Amherst NY 14226. Handler: Alex Hart
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Alexandra Hart has been around the world of dog sports from a young age, growing up watching her father compete with their first dog, “Pippin,” a Golden Retriever, in obedience. When it came time for Hart to enter on competitions her own, you might expect her to follow in his footsteps and get a member of the sporting group. She went in a different direction.

Hart’s lifelong passion for the sports comes well before training for the 2023 AKC Obedience Classic. Despite Rhodesian Ridgebacks like her dog “Thorin” (TC AGCH MACH8 RACH3 Luvakis Shirley’s Thorin Eikinskjaldi UD PUTD BN VER RM9 RAE8 FDC SC MXS3 PDS MJB3 PJD MFC TQX T2B6 THD RATN CGCA CGCU TKE), being independent-minded, Hart was really able to hone in on his talents. The 10th annual AKC Obedience Classic takes place as part of the AKC National Championship Week on Dec. 16 and 17 in Orlando, FL.

Watching Obedience From an Early Age

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Hart was first introduced to the world of obedience when she was seven years old and her family got Pippin. “Pippin was my dad’s Novice A dog,” says Hart. “I accompanied my dad to obedience training classes with Pippin and also saw them compete in Novice and Open obedience.” When her family later got a second Golden, Hart got more involved in the sport and did a bit of training for obedience herself. But when she left home to go to college, her involvement dwindled.

Several years passed, and in 2015, Hart decided she had the time and capability to get her own dog. She says she was looking for a larger dog, ideally one in the hound group. The Ridgeback seemed like a perfect fit. “I wanted to do some training and that I also lived by myself. Thorin’s temperament was what [made] the breeder sort of select him for me, due to his sort of old soul nature,” Hart says. “When she would do some training with him, he always had a look of, ‘Yes, I’ve done this before.'”

At the time, Hart told the breeder that while she was very interested in training for obedience, she was unsure if she’d ever compete in dog sports with Thorin. “Looking back on those comments now, it’s rather ironic given how many sports and how much competition at high levels we did end up doing,” says Hart.

Building a Foundation for Competition

Hart started obedience training with Thorin right away, eventually working up to doing two different obedience classes. It was at this point that she was working towards possible competition. They started doing Novice AKC Rally in September 2015, and qualified one year later at the same trial for the same club.

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In the years since, Hart says they’ve accomplished many firsts in the Ridgeback breed in AKC Rally and Agility. But she believes it was obedience created the building blocks to everything they’ve achieved. “It was very helpful having a foundation in obedience when I started exploring other sports like agility for the very first time,” says Hart. “I had no experience [in] agility, but having an obedience foundation just made those initial steps in starting out a completely brand-new sport, much more streamlined, much more straightforward.”

Competing With an Independent Dog

While Hart and Thorin have now competed in many sports, she says obedience is the one she’ll always come back to. “It’s a sport that demands a lot of the handler and dog team. And even more so when you’re so when you’re working with a breed that is not typically known for being a high-performing obedience breed, such as a Ridgeback,” says Hart. While obedience may be a challenging sport, she says that it’s also the one she has gained the most respect for over the years.

Thorin may be the only Ridgeback competing at the 2023 AKC Obedience Classic, but Hart says that the breed is incredibly adaptable and a better fit for the sport than some would expect. “[They won’t] always be in tune to the owner and be ready to do whatever the owner asks,” says Hart. “But they do develop a very close bond with their owners. They are absolutely a versatile hound breed.”

For Hart, it’s not a question of whether Ridgebacks can succeed in dog sports, but a question of figuring out the best way to help them succeed. “They definitely have the capability of doing all the sports that AKC offers,” says Hart. “Sometimes it’s just a question of figuring out the best way to work with them.”

Balancing the AKC Obedience Classic with the AKC Agility Invitational

1374 16" Rhodesian Ridgeback TC AGCH MACH7 RACH3 Luvakis Shirley's Thorin Eikinskjaldi UD BN RM8 RAE7 FDC SC MXB3 PAD MJC2 PJD MFG TQX T2B5 THD RATN CGCA CGCU TKE HP48604303 11/30/2014 Alexandra Hart/Teresa M West‐Holmes
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Hart has competed at the AKC Obedience Classic twice before, in 2019 and 2021. For those competitions, Thorin was also the only Ridgeback entered. Usually Thorin does Novice, but 2023 will mark the first time the duo has been invited to the Utility class. This is a milestone not just for Hart and Thorin, but also for her family. “It’s very exciting to have reached this level with Thorin, with my Novice A dog, especially since I consider this following in my dad’s footsteps,” says Hart. “He received his CD and CDX with our first family dog, I’ve been able to follow and continue on to the next level in Utility with Thorin.”

The 2023 AKC National Championship will be a busy one for the dog-handler team, as they’re also simultaneously competing in the AKC Agility Invitational. Still, Hart believes it will be a fun week nonetheless. “I’m hoping that we are able to live up to the stresses and challenges that the environment at the Classic offers, and that we’ll be able to have some fun and get that fun captured in some nice photos for the posterity and memories,” says Hart.