Mojo leaps through the air. (Photo courtesy of Mary Holt)
La Cañada High School

La Cañada P.E. teacher Mary Holt’s dogs stole the show at Westminster

It’s very, very difficult to get to the finals for the Westminster Dog Show. But La Cañada P.E. teacher Mary Holt, who entered her dogs into the competition, was able to send both of her Shiba Inus to the qualifying rounds. Even though Holt’s dogs Mojo and Kaze didn’t make it to the finals, (which are broadcasted on TV) it was still a great experience for all three of them, Holt said.

Mojo has been involved in agility for six years, and Kaze for 4 1/2 years, Holt said. There are two qualifying rounds the dogs compete for, Jumpers and Standard in which clean runs, or runs with no mistakes, must be made in at least one of those two rounds in order to qualify for the finals, Holt said. To get into the finals, Mojo and Kaze had to complete a number of challenges that showcased their abilities, she said.

For example, running through tunnels and jumping over bars were two of the challenges they needed to complete to demonstrate their agility. Finally, before they can enter the show, the dogs needed to be at the Master’s Excellent level, which is the highest agility level in the show.

Holt described what it is like to work with the Shiba Inu dog breed.

“Shibas are very willful, so they’re not bred for [competing in these kind of competitions]. They do things on their own times,” she noted. “Shibas will show you ‘I can do it one or two times, and if you ask me the third time, that might be too much.’”

Every year, hundreds of people pay to come and watch the Westminster show. With as many as 200 to 300 people watching at any given time, that can be nerve-racking for the dogs and their handlers. Holt does not handle her dogs, but she does receive help with some of their training, she said.

She usually practices with her dogs at home, and takes them to train with their handler as well. She also gives some advice to the handler in case a problem arises, because she knows her dogs best, she explained.

“This year, [Mojo and Kaze] weren’t as distracted by the crowds as they were two years ago,” said Holt. “The energy in the facility is just outrageous. Particularly with Kaze, she feels everything you feel. If you’re anxious or upset, she feels that. The first year we went, [there] was a mistake that was made, and then she finished beautifully. Because of that mistake earlier in the event, she thought that [we] weren’t going to be happy with her.”

If Mojo had run faster, Holt added, she would have made it to the finals round and been on TV. Kaze made a mistake in one of the rings, and the handler also happened to make a mistake in the ring.

“You realize how a little something can cause you not to get there,” Holt said. “But, on the other hand, you know you can compete there and that’s the awesome part.”

Holt also explained how intense these agility competitions can be at times.

“It’s very, very political. It’s cutthroat. In agility, the confirmation people are very jealous of the relationships we have with each other,” she noted. “We’re like extended family. You put your dogs first and you’re there competing with your dog trying to beat [their past records]. It’s more expensive than putting any kid through club soccer.”

Mojo is the first Shiba to receive the agility Grand Championship title, which is the achievement of a lifetime and an amazing award. In order to win this award, Mojo had to score at least 100 qualifying scores in Master Standard and Master Jumper with Weaves, 75 qualifying scores in Master Fast and Time 2 Beat, and 50 qualifying scores in Premier Standard and Premier JWW. Coincidentally, she also won this award right before her eighth birthday.

Next week, Holt, Mojo, and Kaze are going to compete at Nationals in Oklahoma. She and her dogs will also be attending invitationals this December in Florida.

Agility has its own challenges and fantastic moments. But despite the difficulties, nothing will stop Holt, Mojo, and Kaze from trying their best.

kaze westminister La Cañada P.E. teacher Mary Holts dogs stole the show at Westminster
Kaze jumps on the dog walk. (Photo courtesy of Mary Holt)

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