Cave Spring agility team competing in Purina Incredible Dog Challenge

CAVE SPRING–Every year, six small dogs and six large dogs are invited to the Eastern regional Purina Incredible Dog Challenge for an agility competition. Those dogs and their handlers are deemed some of the best on the East Coast: the fastest, the fittest, and the most accurate. They have to be truly incredible, since the competition is broadcast on television stations throughout the Eastern United States. Those 12 dogs represent the sport of dog agility, introducing spectators to the event, and inspiring other competitors to greatness as well.

The Purina competition, held in Atlanta this year, is by invitation only, and it’s a huge honor just to be asked to take part. This year, Cave Spring resident Linda Anderson and her chocolate Labrador Retriever Jadzia Dax—who goes by Zia—are one of the dog and handler teams who will be competing. While the event is broadcast live on www.barknetwork.com, the competition will be televised at a later date all over the East Coast. That means Zia and Anderson will be entering thousands of people’s homes, giving them a look at what the sport of dog agility is all about.

Zia the chocolate Labrador Retriever will compete in standard agility and the 30 weave pole up-and-back course at the regional Purina Incredible Dog Challenge on April 2 in Atlanta. Photo by Kristin Adams
Zia the chocolate Labrador Retriever will compete in standard agility and the 30 weave pole up-and-back course at the regional Purina Incredible Dog Challenge on April 2 in Atlanta. Photo by Kristin Adams

While they will compete in the large dog agility event—racing through an obstacle course filled with an A-frame, a teeter, a dog walk, jumps, a set of 12 weave poles, and tunnels—Zia will also be racing head-to-head against seven other dogs in the 60 weave pole up and back challenge. Two dogs will race side-by-side, weaving through 30 poles, racing through a U-shaped tunnel, and turning around to weave back through the poles to the beginning. The dog who finishes first moves on until the fastest dog qualifies for the national Purina Incredible Dog Challenge Championship in St. Louis in October. There, the dogs will compete against the very best in the country.

Anderson hopes she’ll be making that trip in October, but first she and Zia have to come out ahead of some of the best dogs on the East Coast. Yet that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the experienced team. Anderson has been competing in agility trials for the past 10 years, and four-year-old Zia has been competing since she was 18 months old.  While Zia is still relatively young, she is a very intense agility dog, completely focused on the task at hand.

“I tell everyone she’s a Border Collie in a Lab suit,” Anderson said about Zia’s drive on the agility course.

According to Anderson, relax isn’t in Zia’s vocabulary. Whether she’s playing with her favorite toy, a tennis ball, or staring down a set of weave poles, she’s all about focus. That may be why the team has done so well in competitions, winning ribbon after ribbon. Yet the success is also the result of Anderson’s dedication. This spring, she has spent virtually every weekend out of town at an agility trial.

“Some people play golf, I do agility,” Anderson said.

Cave Spring resident Linda Anderson and her dog Zia will participate in the regional Purina Incredible Dog Challenge in Atlanta on April 2. Photo by Kristin Adams
Cave Spring resident Linda Anderson and her dog Zia will participate in the regional Purina Incredible Dog Challenge in Atlanta on April 2. Photo by Kristin Adams

While she grew up with dogs, Anderson was decidedly a cat person until little more than a decade ago, when she decided get a dog. When that dog, Ezri, became destructive while Anderson was at work as a teacher, her friend and colleague Barbara Carper—who is an agility competitor herself—said that Ezri needed a job. Anderson started taking classes with local agility teacher Kaffa Shank; joined the Star City Canine Training Club; and, as so many do, she became addicted to the sport, both for her dog’s sake and because it was so much fun for herself. 

“It’s hard work, I won’t deny that,” Anderson said. “The dogs really like it. And the people who do it are just the nicest people you’d ever meet.”

Today, Anderson guesses she has spent thousands of dollars on her three dogs—Ezri, Dax, and Zia—all of whom are still participating in agility. She also teaches agility classes at the Star City Canine Training Club, and hopes to soon become a judge for the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC). Her biggest thrill, though, is getting out there and competing herself, whether it’s at a trial, at the NADAC Championships in the fall, or by helping Zia become one of Purina’s incredible dogs.

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