Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Going for the Title San Marco Duo Aim for Championship

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Going for the Title San Marco Duo Aim for Championship

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Scanlan, Staff writer

Joni's bright eyes looked deep into Nancy Kleinhans', ears erect and mouth open and ever aware of the tiny chunk of string cheese hidden in her master's hand.

As soon as the command came, the 2-year-old Shetland sheepdog heard her master's voice and executed a precision twist and turn on their San Marco living room floor.

This is a dog that will work for food or play time.

"Get back, get back," Kleinhans said as the dog backed up five paces and laid down. "Yes, good girl!"

It's taken months of daily work to teach Joni to follow the Kleinhans' commands and wind her way over, under and around competitive obstacle courses around the country, testing jumping ability, speed and agility. Now the duo is headed to the 2002 World Championships in Dortmund, Germany, in early October as part of a 13-dog U.S. team, ready to pit Joni's agility against 25 to 30 teams from Europe, South America, South Africa, Japan and elsewhere.

Joni always looks ready, but Kleinhans said she is, too.

"I am so excited I can't stand it. I feel very responsible for our performances yet to come," she said. "I think we will do well, and I believe in us."

Kleinhans is a former nurse whose interest in dog agility competitions began in 1995, when she attended a puppy obedience class with Daisy, her now 7-year-old poodle. Daisy still competes, but Kleinhans said she wanted to try a more agile dog. So she found a black, white and tan Shetland sheepdog and began coaching her a year ago.

Starting at the novice level, they now compete in the advanced excellent level. That means the dog has to clear a greater number of obstacles in a shorter amount of time, jumping, jiving and jigging around 18 to 20 tunnels, jumps and poles, and obstacles to climb, cross or traverse such as seesaws at up to two competitions a month. …

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