On May 6, CH MACH6 Clancy’s Pumpkin Spice Ale VCD1 BN RAE MXS2 PADS MJG2 PJDS MFS T2B5 SWA SBE SHDE RATN BCAT PCMH CGCA TKP THDN became the first PBGV to compete at the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge. Spice was one of 5 dogs invited to compete in the Small Dog Agility Competition at the Central Regional in Fort Worth, Texas.
I was first approached about this event at Westminster in 2022, when a Purina trainer came to talk to me after watching Spice’s brother Gromit run. She was looking for small dogs with good speed and skills who were not traditional agility breeds. When asked if I would consider traveling to attend this event, I said that I would, but also that I thought Spice would be the better representative. Gromit is cute and funny (and always a crowd favorite), but Spice is the more reliable and faster agility dog. I was asked to send photos and videos as well as some information about myself and my dogs, but nothing was promised.
At the time I knew very little about Incredible Dog Challenge, other than the fact that it was a long standing televised event that features a variety of dog sports. Purina has sponsored IDC for more than 26 years. It’s a stand alone event and runs don’t count toward titles in AKC or any other organization. The regional competition that we attended featured agility, dock diving, disc dog, and Jack Russell racing. It was held at the Texas Motor Speedway on sod that was installed in the middle of a sea of blacktop, in conjunction with a Ducks Unlimited Outdoor Expo.
In February I received an official invitation to compete. I was disappointed to realize that it was the same day at Westminster agility, which is two hours from home, and that attending would mean driving to Texas just a month after being there for PBGV National. I had a couple weeks to make a decision, but when several very high level agility competitors told me that this was a bucket-list item for them and that I should definitely go, I figured out how to arrange my schedule for another 1500 mile drive.
Leading up to the event, there was somewhat limited communication and all of it came from a production company. When Spice and I set out for Texas, I still didn’t entirely know what to expect other than when and where we were expected to be. The drive went pretty smoothly, turns out you can make better time when you aren’t in an RV with 11 dogs. I saw a couple dogs at our hotel on Thursday night and was able to find someone to follow in the morning to the tunnel for infield parking where we were instructed to enter the track. Getting in was a little confusing and involved driving into spaces where it didn’t seem like we would be allowed, but eventually I parked and figured out where the crating tent was located. The forecasted temperatures for the weekend were in the high 90s and everything was outdoors. For perspective, it had been 45 degrees when we left Pennsylvania and we almost never trial outside, so the conditions alone were going to be a test. The crating tent had big fans and there were pools for cooling dogs, so everything possible was done to keep dogs safe and comfortable. A Purina staff veterinarian was available if anyone felt their dog needed assistance. I was prepared with battery operated fans and a cooling coat.
When we proceeded to check in, we first had to pose for head shots and then picked up our competitor credentials and shirts. I was surprised at this point to be handed a check to help cover travel expenses, which was an unexpected bonus. During check in, I was asked if I would do an interview later in the day about Spice’s work as a therapy dog.
We had some time to hang out before the lunch and handler briefing. Because of the heat, I mostly stayed in the tent with Spice. Anyone who thinks PBGVs are noisy and energetic should really spend a weekend with dock diving and disc dogs- I can assure you that Spice was the calmest and quietest dog in the whole tent. At lunch, they explained a little more about the event and gave very specific instructions about how to share our experiences on social media. This was all becoming pretty intimidating, especially since I didn’t really know anyone and appeared to be the only person who hadn’t brought a guest/ helper.
After lunch, we had the chance to walk the agility course and they explained that we would have 2 practice runs on Friday. Yes, practice runs of the same course we would be running the next day, which was definitely a different experience. We were told that the first practice run could be a training run with toys and sequences repeated if needed, but the second time we should try to run the course. All of the cameras were in place on Friday, which was a good opportunity to let the dogs get used to them. Spice looked twice at a photographer who was moving through the ring as we ran, but wasn’t bothered by the stationary or overhead cameras, although I think a lot of dogs could have been.
I feel silly saying this, but it wasn’t until the walkthrough that I realized just how small and exclusive this event was. I knew it was hard to get invited, but not that there were only 15 dogs total from all jump heights. Looking around, I also realized that I was probably the only one there who had not competed internationally on one of the World Teams. That said, everyone was extremely nice and supportive. I had no trouble finding people to help video my runs and the other exhibitors were really complimentary of Spice’s skills. Since Spice doesn’t care much about toys and I didn’t feel the need to train any obstacles, I just ran the course straight through on both practice runs. We were the first dog to run clean on the first try, so it was cool to see we could get it right the first time. One the second run on Friday, I got caught behind on the slippery sod and Spice had a run out but I was feeling good about her willingness to run all out in really tough conditions. Afterwards I did an interview with the production crew about PBGVs and therapy dogs, so hopefully some of that will make it onto TV.
On Saturday, we ran at 11:30 am, so it was a little cooler than Friday but not by much. I was wearing shoes with more tread in the hopes of not slipping on the sod. The format on Saturday was that everyone ran twice, with only the better run counting. Scoring was time plus faults and the other dogs were a lot faster than us, so I knew a podium spot was a long shot. My goal was a clean run, and we did manage that on the second run. The winning small dog was a Border Collie- Papillon cross, purpose bred for agility. Spice is not as tall and weighs more than twice as much, so the laws of physics are not on our side, but she ran as fast as she could and handled the course well. I know were there as the token untraditional breed (“off breed” to use the common term, but I hate that phrase). That’s fine- it was a huge honor to represent not only PBGVs, but everyone who is out there running their breed of choice in agility.
The style of the course used was much more like a European agility course than what we normally run in AKC. There were 4 tunnel passes, huge distances between obstacles, and areas where you couldn’t be close by to support the dog. I’ve been training (and whining about) distance work a lot lately because it’s something we need for another important agility goal. I have to say that this helped us get through the course clean, because I had to trust in my ability to send Spice to an obstacle and take off running or I wouldn’t have been where I needed later in the course. In hindsight, we could probably have prepared better by running some international courses at local trials, but this isn’t something I usually do. The heat, the cameras, open ring gates, and the announcer (who declared Spice to be “the cutest dog here”) all added some challenges also, but Spice has done big events before and she held up like the Rockstar that she is.
In the end, Spice placed 5th in the small dog division. I’m so glad that I had this opportunity to show off my awesome girl and to run her among some of the best agility dogs in the country. Incredible Dog Challenge will be televised in syndication in June 2023.