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Marsha Smith and her dog Laars compete in Freestyle Obedience at the 2018 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Marsha showed her first obedience dog in 1979 — a Scottish Terrier who went on to earn her Utility title. It didn’t take long for her to get hooked on the sport, and she soon started training Shetland Sheepdogs (one of which went on to earn an OTCH.)

In 1993, Marsha was showing a Shetland Sheepdog but became intrigued by the Chinese Crested. “I thought it would be a challenge and a novelty breed for obedience,” she says.

That’s when she got her first Chinese Crested, Jack.

Breaking Obedience Expectations

Marsha was right both about the breed being a challenge and a novelty in the sport of obedience. In 2000, Jack became the first Chinese Crested to earn his OTCH. In the same year at the AKC National Obedience Championship (NOC), Jack earned a gold medal for the Toy group.

“That is a possession I will always treasure,” Marsha says.

This year, Marsha received her ninth invite to the AKC National Obedience Championship with a Chinese Crested. This time, it’s her 12.5-year-old dog Laars (OTCH Gingery’s Dramatic Mojo UDX7 OGM VER RATO CGC TKN) in the spotlight.

“He is a poster child for the National Obedience Championship,” Marsha says. “He’s gotten a 1st, a 2nd, and a 3rd in the Toy group and has run clean in every NOC.”

Marsha’s husband Marty Zarge has competed in the event with his Schnauzers and Golden Retrievers.

“We are definitely a NOC family!” Marsha says.

Laars at the AKC National Obedience Championship in 2018.

Elite Chinese Cresteds

As one of the top 200 obedience dogs in the nation in 2017, Laars and Marsha were invited to compete at Westminster.  “It was quite an experience,” Marsha says. “I’m glad we went, but I’m sticking with the AKC National Obedience Championship as my favorite.”

That same year, Laars followed in Jack’s footsteps and became the second Chinese Crested to earn his OTCH and the following year, he made history by becoming the first (and only) Chinese Crested to earn his Grand Master (OGM). Jack and Laars are the only two Chinese Cresteds to ever reach this elite level.

At nearly 13, Laars is the oldest dog to compete at this December’s National Obedience Championship and the only Chinese Crested. Given the pandemic, Marsha and Marty are hopeful they can still make the journey to Florida.

Despite his age, Laars still loves competing and is even mistaken for a puppy — an Afghan Hound puppy! “I take it as a compliment,” Marsha says.

“He looks forward to his practice sessions and treats every one of them like he’s getting ready for the NOC.”

Marsha and Laars compete in Freestyle Obedience at the 2018 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Age is Just a Number

Marsha is a huge advocate for teaching sports to older dogs. She owns an obedience school in Pennsylvania, Canine Workout, where many of her dogs (and their owners) are seniors.

“Our oldest dog is 15 and our oldest client is 90 — I seriously never allow anyone to quit!” she says.

Since the facility opened in 1986, they have produced hundreds of obedience and Rally titles and nine OTCH dogs.

Marsha currently has two other Chinese Cresteds — one named Jody, who prefers taking classes rather than performing in public, and her newest Crested, Leo, who Marsha says is following in Jack and Laars’s footsteps to earn his OTCH.

Laars has been many places in his 12.5 years, but Marsha says the AKC National Obedience Championship will always be his favorite venue.

The 2020 AKC National Championships presented by Royal Canin will take place Saturday and Sunday, December 12 and 13, 2020, in Orlando, Florida. Tune in to AKC.TV, or download the AKC.TV app on Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV to catch the live stream of all events, including the National Obedience Championship.

Related article: 10 Things Ive Learned From AKC Sports
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