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Nimble-footed Border Collies or Papillons frequently compete in Agility, but at the 2023 AKC National Agility Championship, held in Tulsa, Oklahoma from March 16 through 19, spectators will see other breeds excelling at the top levels of Agility competition, such as the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen. This member of the Hound Group can be a fierce competitor, and owner/handler Megan Esherick and her 7-year-old PBGV Spice are making the case for increased awareness of the breed and its versatility at this year’s Championship.

Love at First Leash-Train

Esherick grew up with Golden Retrievers, which she showed as a Junior Handler. That is, until she met her first PBGV while she was in high school. It was the 1990s, and Esherick was working in a grooming shop where a client asked to send their PBGV home with her to leash train. She fell in love with the breed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, Esherick breeds PBGVs in Pennsylvania. She works to emphasize the breed’s “natural intelligence, athleticism, and working ability” for the next generations. Esherick has over 30 years of experience training dogs in sports like Conformation, Obedience, AKC Rally, Tracking, AKC Scent Work, Hunt Tests, and of course, Agility. She entered her first PBGV, Teddy, into an agility competition in 1994 when the sport was just starting to become more mainstream. Over the years, she’s seen the development of the Preferred Class, as well as more conducive jump heights for different dogs.

“PBGVs are pretty athletic,” Esherick says. “I think it’s a better sport for them than something like Obedience, because it’s a little faster-paced, and they get to run and chase, which does really fit what they were bred for.”

Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen on a bench on hind legs
Megan Esherick
PBGVs are in the bottom quarter of most-registered AKC breeds

Esherick notes that people often have misconceptions about the breed because of “Basset” in the name. As a result, people think they’re an extremely long and low breed, but they really should just be slightly longer than they are tall. “Their build is really closer to a Beagle than a Basset Hound, if you think about their proportions, so as far as doing sports like agility, it’s really not such a big stretch for them,” she shares.

Originally bred to hunt rabbits in France, PBGVs may not be as fast as some other dogs because of their low-slung bodies and short, strong legs. But what they lack in speed they make up for in the drive to chase, which is instinctual to the breed.

Spice Up Your Life

Owned by Esherick and her husband David, Spice definitely isn’t Esherick’s first PBGV to do agility, but she is the best agility competitor they’ve owned so far. While Spice loves agility, she also loves hunt tests, having earned the title of master hunter, along with many others. Her name now reads “CH MACH5 Clancy’s Pumpkin Spice Ale VCD1 BN RAE MXB2 PDS MJS2 PJS MFB TQX T2B4 BCAT ACT2 SWA SCE SHDE PCMH THDN RATN CGCA TKP.”

Woman and dog at agility competition
Megan Esherick
Spice and Megan after an agility win

This will be Spice’s third AKC National Agility Championship, and she competed in the AKC Agility Invitational in between championships. In prior years, Esherick ran multiple PBGVs, but this year, only Spice. “I know that we’re not necessarily fast enough to be competitive,” Esherick says, “but we go to kind of represent the breed and have clean rounds.”

Spice gets to represent the breed’s versatility in other ways outside of competition. Spice’s mother Muse, whom Esherick also bred, is her primary therapy dog, but if they have multiple visits in the week, Spice often gets to go too. “Schools and colleges are her favorite. She likes to play with kids and she’s pretty gentle,” Esherick says.

Dwindling Numbers

Most of Esherick’s dogs finish their conformation Breed Championships first, something which she says is expected, and is important to the future of the breed. In 2021, PBGVs ranked 161 out of 199 in overall popularity, putting them in the bottom quarter of recognized breeds. Out of her 11 dogs, eight are PBGVs, so after Tulsa, they’ll be making their way down to Texas for the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen National Specialty. The number of PBGVs present will be a welcome change.

“A lot of times at these events, we are the only one of our breed, and sometimes agility competitors will be like, ‘Oh, I have a student who has one of those; they are going to be so excited to hear that one got to this level,’ and I definitely think it gets the breed out to people who wouldn’t see them otherwise,” she says. Esherick notes that even at a lot of conformation shows, there may not be many PBGVs.

A Good Breed Ambassador

Esherick believes that there may not be enough new PBGV breeders out there, which means total numbers of PBGVs are dwindling. “As a lot of older breeders are retiring, especially in these lower-number breeds, [it’s] not that there aren’t enough people out there who want PBGVs; there aren’t PBGVs out there for people who want them,” she observes.

Close up of a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen
Megan Esherick
Spice is Megan’s most decorated agility dog

She hopes that by bringing Spice out to competitions, more people will get acquainted with the breed, especially given Spice’s friendly manner and magnitude of titles. “Agility is one of those sports where there are definitely certain breeds that are at the highest level and I understand why,” Esherick says, “It is something you can choose to do, the sport you love with the breed you love.”

The 2024 AKC National Agility Championship will air on ESPN2 on May 5 at 9am ET. Watch these fast, agile teams to see the winners crowned in each height division!