They’re all elite athletes, but one of the entrants in the 8th Annual Masters Agility Championship at Westminster on June 11 is certain to attract more puzzled looks than the 349 others.
That would be Caper (Paradox Capricious), a 5-year-old Danish-Swedish Farmdog owned and handled by Kelly Ansaldo, of Northhampton, Massachusetts. For you just don’t see this plucky breed around every corner or open sidewalk.
And don’t let the breed name fool you, either. It’s safe to say that most are home companions rather than farm dogs, as many farms in their homeland have closed and owners have moved to towns nearby.
An Unexpected Match
Team Caper wasn’t a planned bonding in 2015, more a matter of destiny. Ansaldo was working in a daycare/boarding facility owned by Alison Smith, of Westhampton, Massachusetts, who also breeds Australian Shepherds.
Smith had recently returned from a visit to Sweden to bring back select Danish-Swedish Farmdog breeding stock. Turns out one of the traveling party – Caper’s mother – was a month pregnant. And Caper has been flying high since.
“I would frequently take puppies home to socialize,” Ansaldo recalls. “The day I chose to bring Caper home was just for a play date for my 14-year-old daughter, who was home sick from school. I selected Caper because she was sweet and calm. She stayed for a couple of days then went back to Alison.
“I brought her home a few more times to play around my agility equipment and engage in shaping games, all based around positive reinforcement.”
This included basic training and establishing a comfort zone on different surfaces, namely things that move and tip, the hallmarks of Agility. “The most important thing for an agility dog is confidence,” says Ansaldo.
Within months, a strong bond was shaped and Team Caper became a reality. “She learned quickly, was incredibly loyal, and reminded me of my Border Collies in that she was highly obsessive once she learned something.”
Getting to Know the Rare Breed
The DSF has been in the American Kennel Club’s Foundation Stock Services category since 2011 and will join the Miscellaneous Class July 1, where recorded breeds compete in the registry’s companion and performance events, as well as traditional dog shows (without the opportunity to earn championship points). When fully recognized, it will be assigned to the Working Group.
Smith, who has been involved in the breed for a decade, estimates there are only about 160 nationwide.
She says, “I was looking for a small, smooth-coated dog without exaggerated features. No short legs, long backs, nor pushed-in noses but was social with other dogs since we own a boarding/daycare kennel. I also wanted a breed that could be off-leash with me in our fields, pond, and woods. The Farmdog fit the bill.” Today she has eight.
She cites several of its plusses: fast, intuitive, friendly, loyal, self-sufficient, and a “blast to teach.” While they will cuddle on the couch, they never say no to adventure, including walks, hikes, and even snowshoeing. “Another huge plus,” adds Smith, “is they have that all-important off-switch when it’s time to take a break.”
Once known as “circus dogs” in their homeland, Smith says the breed is well-suited for other AKC sports, including Trick Dog, Flyball, Herding, Scent Work, Rally, Obedience, and Barn Hunt.
The circus connection dates back a century when the breed, noted for its ability to quickly learn and perform cute tricks, performed in the Circus Benneweis, the largest stationary and traveling circus in Denmark.
Originally known as a Danish Pinscher, it boasts a long history in Europe, and was without a standard until 1987 when the Danish Kennel Club and Swedish Kennel Club collaborated when its dwindling numbers left it near extinction.
Competing at Westminster
The Masters Agility Championship at Westminster will be a premier showcase for this breed in the United States.
While others will be traveling a considerable distance and adjusting to new surroundings, Team Caper is about 3½ hours away, allowing Ansaldo to drive to the site the night before, stay overnight and return home following the trial.
“We will be competing with some of the best teams in the country,” she says. “It will be a nice test for both of us and an opportunity to put this breed on a national platform.”
From her strong points (weave poles) to her weakness (jumps, she jumps too high, wasting time in the air), Caper is always laser-focused, Ansaldo says. To correct the latter, she works with the dog on jump grids to
“teach her the muscle memory needed to jump more efficiently.”
Weekly training with Bonnie Henderson at Showcase for Dogs in East Windsor, Connecticut, along with short sessions at home a couple of times a week keep the pair fine-tuned.
This union of teammates is built on trust and a tight, frisky camaraderie from field (home setting of 16 wooded acres) to floor (agility venues). Living in a farm-like environment means there’s room for plenty of other four-legged friends. Right at the top of the list is Marvin, a big black cat and Caper’s best four-legged friend. The pair chase and wrestle nonstop through the house. “It’s invigorating and fun to watch,” Ansaldo laughs.
A dervish of energy and ambition, Caper isn’t top dog with her three older household mates, Taffy, 10, a terrier mix; Charlotte, 15½, and Scout, 13, both Border Collies.
Charlotte has long been at the top of the ruling chain of command; Scout is the peacemaker, and Taffy would like to rule things, Ansaldo adds. “Caper just goes with the flow as long as she has a place on my lap.”