West Highland White Terrier Club of America

WHWTCA Spotlight on Performance - Winter 2006

Chris Gates' MACH George! A CHAMPION OF A DIFFERENT KIND

The Tale of the First Westie Agility Champion

I was so relieved to see George's tail disappear into the tunnel that I stopped running. I had been sure that he would take the off-course jump and not make the 180 degree turn into the tunnel. It suddenly occurred to me that we were not done with the course and I ran to meet him at the end of the tunnel. Reminding myself to breathe, I smiled at George and directed him to the next jump. I watched him land, big grin on his face, and sent him out to the chute. I really had to fight to control my urge to run for the finish. As George and I ran to the finish line together, I was momentarily distracted by the sparkling MACH sticker on the last jump bar. Pushing the thought from my mind, I sent George over the last jump. He made it! He turned and bounced back to me for his post-run hug. Arms around him, I turned and looked at the scribe and timer. The scribe was nodding her head. We were clean! The Timer stood up, faced the crowd and held up her thumb. We were fast enough! Everyone began to applaud. George and I went back to the last jump and picked up the bar with that sparkling MACH sticker. We ran our victory lap as the judge announced that George was the first Westie to earn a MACH! A few weeks later, the AKC confirmed that he was also the first dog from the State of Delaware to earn a MACH.

To earn a MACH title (Master Agility Champion) a dog must work his way up through the Novice, Open, and Excellent classes. Once he has gotten to the Master Excellent level he can begin accumulating points and double Q's toward his MACH. To earn a qualifying score (Q), there can be no mistakes. No dropped bars, no missed contacts and he must run fast enough to make or beat the standard course time which is based on the total yards. Courses have between 18 and 20 obstacles arranged in different sequences, presenting unique challenges every time. One point is awarded for each full second that a dog runs under standard course time in a qualifying run. He must accumulate 750 points. A double Q means that the dog must qualify in both the Standard run (that's the one with the A-frame and the Dog-walk) and in his JWW (Jumpers With Weaves) run on the same day. In addition to the 750 points, the dog must have 20 Double Q's. It only took five years and hundreds of runs for George to earn his MACH! His official name is now MACH Jebob's Curious George.

As an agility instructor at Wilmington (DE) Kennel Club, I am often asked how you get a dog to do agility. My answer is "Lots of cookies." As Westie owners, we know that a Westie isn't going to do something just because we ask. A sense of humor and having a dog who likes to play games also helps. I've been very lucky with George. He loves to play games and he really knows how to test my sense of humor. One time at a trial, I thought I could get him to go to the tunnel faster by telling him there were rats in it. Not only did he go to the tunnel quickly, he went back in it four more times looking for the rats. At a trial in Florida, he refused to come down off the A-frame. At that height, he had a good view of the Spanish moss hanging in a nearby tree. I think he was sure that the tree was full of squirrels with really big tails. George also has some rules that I must follow when we do agility. He must get to the weave poles and the last jump ahead of me. If I get there first, he'll skip a couple of poles or drop the last jump. I am not allowed to lead-out past the first jump. Either we start the course together, or he will just sit on the start line and I can do the course by myself.

I first saw agility about six years ago. I loved seeing how happy and excited the dogs were during their run. It looked like they were having so much fun. I also thought agility would be a great way to tire George out. Doing agility, we've met many wonderful people and seen many fabulous dogs. The Montgomery Terrier Cluster is always our favorite trial for seeing friends and trying other events. We had the thrill of going to the AKC Agility Nationals in Tampa (part of the Eukanuba Classic) in January '05. George was the only Westie entered. We have qualified to go again in January '06. I'm hoping this year George has as much fun on the courses as he did riding the elevator last year.

Along the way, we've run into a few people who thought that Westies can't do agility. We just had to prove they were wrong. Agility is a game we play with our dogs. It's about the fun we have, and the time we spend together. Everyone who plays the game wins.