Greenwich dog competes in prestigious Westminster show

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the nation’s premier canine event, celebrated for 138 years and viewed by dog enthusiasts worldwide as the pinnacle of canine culture. This year it will also have some local flavor.

The popular event has even been immortalized in pop culture by such movies as Best in Show and is a time-honored tradition that draws top show dogs from all over the world. This year, a local Greenwich dog will be among those competing in the show’s First Masters Agility Championship, a complicated obstacle course that judges both speed and finesse.

Sandy, a 7-year-old West Highland terrier, and his owner, Karen Shinoda, of Greenwich, have been training for an opportunity like this from the time Sandy was only a 6-month-old puppy. His father and mother, who were both show champions, were specifically chosen based on their substantial abilities and accomplishments. Ms. Shinoda hoped that one day Sandy would follow in their paths by also running agility and becoming a masters champion. Now, with his entry in the Westminster, he finally has the chance.

Sandy and Ms. Shinoda have been training dutifully over the past seven years. Ms. Shinoda stresses that she treats Sandy as a bona fide athlete, and focuses on getting him in peak shape. His regimen includes a nutritious diet, private lessons, physical therapy, monthly time trials competitions, and running outdoors and even on an indoor treadmill. She says that shows are a rewarding and fun activity to do with Sandy, but admits that training does present its challenges for both of them.

“It was fun and I loved watching him run around, but it was work. We had to learn to jump, jump correctly, practice, and practice,” said Ms. Shinoda. “This is really a team effort. It is usually the handler that makes the mistakes and misses cues or directions. I really enjoy agility, and Sandy loves to run, plus he loves treats.”

Ms. Shinoda admits that training is most certainly work and a large time commitment. Being a top-notch show dog requires dedication, practice and motivation from trainer and dog alike. She is careful to keep training both happy and fun for Sandy and her other show dogs, which include Sandy’s sister, Orangie, and mother, Callie.

“It has to be fun for the dog to want to do it and there has to be a connection. Sandy is very connected to me and he is a really good boy. He wants to please and be happy,” said Ms. Shinoda.

Despite the rigors of training, it’s evident that the countless hours of hard work have reaped their benefits over the years. Sandy has won a handful of other competitions, most recently at the West Highland White Terrier Club last October, where he was deemed the Most Versatile Westie of the Specialty category and also the Best in Veteran Sweepstakes. His sister also competes in shows, and while his mother has retired from agility competitions, she continues to keep the family legacy alive by participating in barn hunts.

Sandy and Orangie mark the third generation of Westies Ms. Shinoda has trained. Along with their mother, Callie, Ms. Shinoda also had a Westie named Laphie, with whom she first began agility training. This marked the start of her foray into dog training, and today she considers the sport an activity that has become an essential part of her lifestyle.

“It’s kind of an addiction; once you start doing it, you keep doing it. There’s no prize money; if you qualify you get a ribbon. My first dog got all of his master’s titles and he probably ran for seven years, and then I ran Sandy’s mother. Sandy started training from birth and he’s been running for five years now,” said Ms. Shinoda.

She acknowledges that there are certain innate issues that accompany the breed, saying that Westies can be stubborn. Terriers as a whole like to hunt and dig but possess keen intellect.

“It takes terriers a while to really get focused, because they are terriers, so it’s been a work in progress, but he’s doing well. I thought I’d enter Westminsters and see what happened,” said Ms. Shinoda.

She counts Sandy’s discipline and positive temperament as the key qualities of his success in agility. It’s clear that despite her role as trainer, she remains very much a proud owner and the two enjoy a close relationship.

“Sandy is the sweetest, happiest little boy. He is very protective of me. He likes to have fun: He likes to play with his little blue ball, he likes his treats, he’s just a happy, happy boy,” said Ms. Shinoda. “He’s the sweetest little boy, everybody likes him.”

Happy-go-lucky nature aside, Sandy’s a seasoned agility pro, and the duo is looking forward to the Masters Agility Championship this Saturday, Feb. 8. Ms. Shinoda says that to date this marks the biggest trial Sandy has ever participated in, and the extended family is getting together to celebrate. From Ms. Shinoda’s own mother to Sandy’s co-owner, Susan Chapman, and even Sandy’s showdog father, her team is gathering to support Sandy.

The competition, which takes place at Madison Square Garden, draws legions of national and international fans and sells out year after year. The agility portion will be broadcast on live TV on Saturday on the Fox Sports channel. Supporters can tune in to see Sandy run.


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