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Good Sports

Who says Molossers don’t have what it takes to excel in everything from agility to flyball? Meet these supersized movers and shakers!
It’s no secret Molossers love to lounge. Most would rather lie on the couch than run an obstacle course – but there are the exceptions. From a Dogue de Bordeaux who zips around Agility courses to a Bullmastiff who’s Flyball champion, these big dogs thrive on the competition and athleticism of sports traditionally dominated by Border Collies, Aussies and the like. 
Whether they’re zipping through weave poles (OK, maybe not exactly zipping), or doing a smart off-lead heel, here are four Molossers – and their proud owner-handlers – who have more than made the grade.


Ch. Mount Sinai's Bela Jade, CD, RE, MXP, MJP, CGC, TT
Dogue de Bordeaux
Wadsworth, Ohio
At 8½ years old, “Jade” has the distinction of being the first and only Dogue de Bordeaux ever to trial in AKC Agility. Jade, who lives with Jennifer Doyle and her husband Tim, has 24 titles in Rally, Obedience and Agility, including, most recently, her Masters Jumpers title. In December 2009, Jade became the first Dogue de Bordeaux to compete at the invitation-only AKC/Eukanuba Agility Invitational in Long Beach, Calif. It was Jade’s first time on an airplane. “I’ve trained dogs since I was 13 years old, but I’d never titled a dog,” says Jennifer. “I had competition fear and was afraid to show a dog. It wasn’t until Jade that other people said I had to get her in a ring.”
Absolute must-have: “Extreme patience. If I told you how many times I wanted to quit … I nearly gave up a number of times. It took a lot of time and patience … and always positive reinforcement.” 
On and off: “When we started, it was at least two nights a week for an hour of class each time. It would be 10 to 15 minutes of training, then we’d rest for a few minutes. Another five to 10 minutes of training, then rest for 10 minutes. That was class. In the evenings, we’d work five to 10 minutes at home – just little fun exercises to fix details.” 
Natural athlete: “Bordeaux are supposed to be athletic and agile dogs. They are supposed to be able to run and guard the vineyards and hunt boar. Yes, they are large in size, and that certainly creates certain considerations when it comes to training them for Agility, but there’s no reason they can’t do this work.”
Start low: “I kept all the jumps under 12 inches until she was 2. I wanted to make sure she didn’t have undue stress on her joints. You have to keep your dog safe, and you have to know the limitations of the breed.”
Wide load: “Bordeaux are significantly wider than the dog walk. They have to heel-toe it, if you will – they have to place one foot in front of the other and learn where their butt is and where all four of their feet are. We had many a fall off a low dog walk.”
Maiden voyage: “Her first trial was disastrous. Jade was almost 4 years old, and I’d been training her since she was 9 months. At the first trial, she did one or two obstacles and wanted to leave the ring – and that was after three and a half years of training. I had to put her on the leash to finish the rest of the obstacles. But I was encouraged by people who said, ‘She can do this. You’re anxious, and you need to calm down and enter again.’ And that’s what we did.” 

Touchy: “Bordeaux, I found, are very sensitive, the females more so than the males. Early on in our career we were out competing and she went in the wrong end of a tunnel. I said, ‘No, Jade!’ She came out, looked at me with disdain and promptly left the ring, leaving me standing there all by myself with the judge. So, I’ve had to learn. I don’t ever say ‘no’ to her.” 
Get smart: “I’ve seen an attitude by many people in our breed that this breed can’t accomplish high-level competitions. I don’t know if people think they’re not fast enough, smart enough, or are too difficult to train. But I’ve had German Shepherds, I’ve had Collies and other high-level working dogs, and this breed is smarter than any I’ve trained – by far.”
Memorable comment: “A woman came up to me after the results of an Agility trial had been posted and said, ‘I can’t believe that thing beat my Border Collie.’”



Valida, RN, CGC, TDI
Neapolitan Mastiff
Beacon, New York
A longtime Neapolitan Mastiff fancier, Joe Steinfeld competed in Rally with his rescue Neo, “Valida,” who he adopted at 22 months of age through Neo rescue. At 122 pounds, Valida was on the smaller side for the breed. “She was a fairly active Neapolitan, and I felt she could do more, and I got interested in Rally,” says Joe. “We started working on it, and she exceeded my expectations.”
Sadly, Valida passed away a year ago at age 7½ from hepatocutaneous syndrome, a rare liver disease. While she was alive, Valida attained her Rally Novice title. “To the best of my knowledge, there have only been two Neos that have competed to any great degree in Rally, so I was very proud of her,” says Joe.
Moving parts: “Neos are capable of abrupt movement – what they’re bred to do is to react suddenly to a threat, but it’s not going to look the same as a tight turn that a herding breed might make. They are slightly longer than tall, so their movement is like a tractor-trailer truck with two separate parts going.” 
Need for speed: “It’s a disadvantage because Neos don’t move as quickly. As one of the judges told me, the sport is designed to be done with the dog moving briskly. [Laughs] Now, Neos don’t really like to move briskly over any long period of time. Neos are known for their slow, lumbering gait. But if you keep talking to them and keep them motivated and keep a connection with them, they will do it.” 
Attention-getter: “I was always the only one there [at Rally trials] with a Neo. It would definitely draw some interest. I enjoyed the challenge of doing something different with the dog. I wasn’t winning these things, but I thought I was taking my dog as far as I could take her.”  
Proudest moment: “Getting a score of 95 [out of 100] at the National Specialty. It was just her second trial. It’s like any athletic event when you’re in the zone and things just happen correctly. She was paying attention to me and responding, so it was a flow state. It’s just a neat feeling of feeling very bonded with your dog.” 
E for effort: “You always have to let the dog know you’re proud of what they’re trying to do for you. For this breed, it is an effort. It’s sort of like asking a sumo wrestler to run a race. It’s not what they’re designed to do. They’re big and heavy and don’t have a lot of endurance. It was humbling for me that my dog made that effort for me.” 
Keep it brief: “Once they get it right the first time, end on a positive note. I would practice every day at home, but I would practice for literally five minutes … sometimes less than that.”
Don’t hit rewind: “Absolutely don’t make the dog keep repeating different things.  They’re not up for the same sort of repetition that other dogs do.  Generally, they learn something pretty quickly and if they do it and you ask them to do it a second time they’ll want to know why.”
Stay positive: “If you start trying to get harsh and use corrections, they can literally start sulking. Valida would get to a point where she was tired and fed up and would start moving more slowly and would stop responding. If at any point it becomes frustrating for you or the dog, you need to stop. They will sit down or lie down and not move. Once that happens, you’re done.  You can go home.”


Hampton, Virginia
Nine-year-old “Morgan” is the most titled Mastiff in the world. She is owned by Kay Routten, who does Obedience and Rally with her. Kay’s daughter Kathy handles Morgan in Agility. Last year, Morgan competed in the AKC/Eukanuba Agility Invitational. “There’s been no other Mastiff who’s ever qualified to go,” says Kay. “I don’t think in my lifetime I’ll see another.”
Getting started: “My club started doing some Agility, but they wouldn’t let me on the equipment [with my first Mastiff, Darby], so I went over to another town and took lessons.” 
Still growing: “I started running Morgan in Agility when she was 12 or 13 months old – just putting the little jumps out and letting her go with it, but not doing the A-frame or anything with her. Their growth plates don’t close until they’re about 18 months, so I did very little jumping very high.  But we were working up to it.”  
Sweet and low: “Start off really low. Put everything low – even your dog walk. I would not jump a Mastiff very much.  I see that ruin so many dogs. I think once a week, maybe twice, if you jump them a little bit.  I see so many dogs that just don’t want to do it anymore. They’ve just been pushed so hard to do it.”  
Big girl: “We’ve got pictures of her going through the weave poles. Most dogs are in one weave pole at a time; they just scoot around them.Her body is in three weave poles at one time, she’s so big.”
Hole in one: “She has to hit that tire [hanging 20 inches off the ground] perfectly, because as big as Morgan is, she has no room to spare going through the middle of the tire. I’ve seen other breeds come through the tire wrong and pull the tire down. Morgan has never done that.” 
Training tip: “Keep the dog thin. I tried to keep Morgan between 140 to 150 pounds. Keep your dog in the best shape you can, because you want to give them every chance to be able to do this.” 
Some don’t like it hot: “In May, I would stop because of the summer heat. I didn’t want to run her when it was too hot. She would do five or six [Agility trials] in the spring, and five or six in the fall, and that was it.”
Proud moment: “The dogs at the AKC Agility invitational in Long Beach had 31 seconds to do a course, and one little white terrier did it in 21 seconds. That dog was magnificent. I’d never seen anything run that fast. There was no way on this earth Morgan was going to make that time – there were 20-something jumps! Morgan did it in 43 seconds, and she could not have done any better. She got a standing ovation from the crowd. She ran clean, and that’s all I ever could have asked her to do.”


Ch. Knatchbull’s Moneypenny, CD, RA, RN-MCL, CA, FDX, CGN
Burlington, Ontario, Canada
Marsha Almond and her husband Mike both have day jobs, but they are also trainers at a dog school where their 4-year-old Bullmastiff, “Penny,” gives Flyball demonstrations once a month to a crowd of shocked onlookers.
“Obedience trials became lackluster, and we got into Agility because Penny loves to jump,” says Marsha. This year, Penny made it onto a Flyball team called Made in Canada, running on one of their two teams with Border Collies. In July she became the first Bullmastiff ever to title in the sport. She’s logged another first, too: Penny was the first Bullmastiff to pass the United Kennel Club’s Coursing Aptitude Test, which involved changing a fake plastic-bag “bunny” around a field – an activity usually reserved for sighthounds.
Need for speed: “Penny is actually quite fast. She likes to jump and has quite a lot of speed. We’re going to have her timed for Flyball. You want to have the top dogs do it in just under four seconds, or about 3.8 seconds. I’m hoping she runs about five seconds.” 
Lying low: “We don’t jump her very high. It depends on the organization, but if other dogs are jumping 20 inches in competition, we’ll jump her at 16 inches. She is a big, heavy dog, so we don’t want to do much pounding on her joints.”
Mistaken identity: “A lot of people think she’s a pit bull. They’re just not aware of the breed. Their first concern was whether she was going to go after other dogs. But as soon as they see what she can do and that she’s not going after their dogs, then they’re fine. She’s probably a crowd favorite because she’s unusual looking.” 
First impressions: “ ‘She’s going to be pathetically slow,’ is what most people thought – that it was going to take her forever to get over these jumps and come back. And people are quite surprised because she’ll move quicker than they think.”  
Signature style: “Penny’s kind of a bull in a china shop when she does Flyball. She’ll clip her feet on every jump and she gets to the box and hits it with one foot, which is different than other dogs, because she’s a heavy breed. There’s definitely no style award coming for her; she certainly isn’t graceful.”
Proper technique: “They’re supposed to do a swimmer’s turn, so they hit the box with their front paws and push off with their back feet, like a swimmer underwater. Because she’s so heavy, that’s not really do-able because the person standing on the back of the box will probably go flying.” 
Not so fetching: “Penny had no interest in tennis balls whatsoever. Ninety percent of Bullmastiffs have no retrieving thought at all. They just think that’s ridiculous. Even now, if I throw a ball in the yard, she won’t go after it. I could leave one on the floor all day and she will never go near it.” 
Most challenging: “The hardest thing was to teach her to physically pick up a tennis ball and bring it back. It took my husband a month to train her to do it. He shaped it. He put the tennis ball on the floor and she knew she had to do something different with it. So eventually she put it in her mouth, and he rewarded it. And then it was just step by step by step.”
Raring to go: “That’s what she loves about the sport – it’s not the ball or anything – it’s the jumping and running against other dogs. The first time she tried it, she was the fastest dog in the class.” 





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