UMass sophomore’s border collie wins dog show

By Rose Gottlieb

Courtesy of Westminster Kennel Club
Courtesy of Westminster Kennel Club

University of Massachusetts sophomore Delaney Ratner and her 7-year-old border collie, Kelso, became the first winners of the Westminster Kennel Club’s Masters Agility Championship in New York City on Saturday, Feb. 8. This was the first year the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club hosted an agility competition.

Ratner entered Kelso, along with some of her family’s other dogs, into a draw containing a few thousand other hopefuls. Between 225 and 250 competitors were selected from this pool, including the Ratner family’s dogs.

Once entered into the competition, Kelso ran two qualifying runs on Saturday morning. In both of these runs, Kelso needed to place in the top three scoring dogs in order to continue to the final round.

Although Ratner has entered many dogs into agility trials in the past, she said that the Westminster competition was a very different experience. Ratner described most competitions as smaller events, attended mostly by competitors and maybe a couple of spectators. The Westminster competition, however, was very crowded.

Ratner said that both spectators and members of the press attend the competition in large numbers. She said that having press everywhere and having people take her and Kelso’s picture was a “really cool” experience.

Ratner felt that televising the competition nationally provides an opportunity to attract spectators to the sport. Winning the competition was just the “icing on the cake.”

Although Ratner was excited to compete in Westminster, Kelso did not seem to feel the same way. According to Ratner, Kelso “could care less about running in my backyard or national finals.”

Nonetheless, Ratner said “I hope that I get to go back next year”.

Both Ratner and Kelso have worked hard for many years in order to reach such a high level of skill in agility. Ratner’s mother has been training dogs for agility since the mid-eighties. At the age of six, Ratner herself began learning to train.

The goal of an agility dog’s trainer is to successfully guide them through an obstacle course as quickly as possible with minimal errors. Trainers guide their dog through the course using a “combination of emotion and verbal cues,” as well as body movements.

According to Ratner, it is important that dogs beginning agility training have “good foundation skills.” She describes agility training as a process where “you’re learning how to train and your dog is learning how to learn.”

Ratner adopted Kelso when he was two years old, and has been training him ever since. Ratner also frequently works with some of her family’s other dogs including Jonsey, a miniature schnauzer, Zepp, a shetland sheepdog, and Bam, another border collie. Ratner also works with the dogs of agility students. Despite having so much experience with so many dogs, Ratner said that Kelso is the only dog she has trained “all the way through.”

Ratner said that, as Kelso’s trainer, it is important to keep him fit and provide him with exercise. Although more intense training was required when he was younger, Ratner said that now she tries to work with Kelso two or three times a week for periods of 15 minutes at a time. Kelso also competes in an average of 25-30 different competitions a year.

Outside of training, Kelso is “the cuddliest dog” who thinks he is still a puppy, Ratner said.

Although Kelso already won Westminster, the Ratners will continue entering their dogs in prestigious agility competitions. According to Ratner, Jonsey will enter the American Kennel Club nationals at the end of the month, and Zepp will be trying out for an international team in May and also for a regional competition this summer.

Rose Gottlieb can be reached at [email protected]