The First MACH Shar Pei
By Brenna Fender, photo by Marcy Mantell Photography
American agility has come a long way since it made its debut in the US in the late 1980s. In the 90s, handlers were scrambling to see if their dogs could earn a “first.” They wanted to earn a spot in the record books as the first dog, or the first of their breed, to finish a certain title. Despite agility’s growth over the years, there are still a few firsts left to claim.
On February 21, 2014, one of those few remaining firsts was obtained. Marla Marlow and Kobe earned the AKC’s Master Agility Championship title, making six-year-old Kobe the first Shar Pei in the history of the sport to earn the MACH. The pair finished the title under judge Kim Reeher in Santa Rosa, California. Kobe’s registered name is now CH MACH Mikobi’s Got Beef? BN, RE, CDX, MXB, MXJB, OAP, OAJP, XF, T2B, CA, CGC.
Marla has trained with Kobe at Jump’n Java, Fetch Sam, and Morgan Hill Dog Sports. Kobe started competing in Preferred agility in September 2011. He qualified in both JWW and Standard his first two times in the ring. Later, Kobe moved into the Championship program. He went into the trial weekend in February needing six points to complete his Championship. He finished the MACH by earning 16 points and his 25th QQ.
How did Marla’s Kobe reach such a big accomplishment? We asked her about her experiences in agility on her own and with Kobe.
Brenna Fender (BF): Have you trained other dogs in dog sports?
Marla Marlow (MM): I have been training dogs since 1988 when I got my first “show dog,” a Chinese Shar-Pei (CSP). Bubba was a breed champion, the first UDX Shar-Pei and he also had an OA title. He was a big boy that had to jump 24" (jump height requirements were different then) and was retired due to a back injury long before JWW or the MACH program even existed. I have trained and shown seven Shar-Pei and two Toy Poodles. My oldest poodle (Rio) is a seven pound superstar that is a very quick learner, a joy to train, and very fun to show. He was very consistent earning 13 MACHs over 10 years of trialing. I got him at 15 months old, put him in the ring at 20 months, where he went from novice to his first MACH points in 10 trials. I had gotten very spoiled, so when I started training Kobe, it was quite a drastic change for me. Even though I’d trained and shown CSP in agility before, I now had a taste of agility success, my methods had radically changed, and now I had much more ambitious goals in mind for Kobe than for any of my prior Shar-Pei. Rio is now retired but he and Kobe are complete opposites in every way.
Here are the highest titles I’ve attained with my dogs—
MACH13 - Toy Poodle (Rio)
MACH - Shar-Pei (Kobe)
ADCH - Toy Poodle (Rio)
UDX - Shar-Pei (Bubba)
UD - 4 Shar-Pei (Bubba, Stacey, Daisy, Kong), 1 Toy Poodle (Rio)
RE - 2 Shar-Pei (Kong, Kobe); 2 Toy Poodles (Rio, Rocket)
CH - 4 Shar-Pei (Bubba, Stacey, Daisy, Kobe)
CA - 1 Shar-Pei (Kobe); 1 Toy Poodle (Rocket)
BF: When did you start training Kobe for agility?
MM: I started training Kobe when I got him at 10 weeks old. Unfortunately, he got pneumonia at 12 weeks, and then broke his leg at 14 weeks and had to be crated until he was six months old. So his early training was extremely limited. When he was finally released from the confines of his crate, he was a wild animal. He also needed conditioning as his leg was badly atrophied. So we began with walking, then jogging, and progressed to biking. I had him entered in conformation about three weeks later where he earned his first points the very first time in the ring. He went on to get his breed championship by 14 months of age.
BF: What were your expectations for his agility career?
MM: Initially I thought I should try for a PACH [AKC’s Preferred Championship]. At that time, no Chinese Shar Pei had a PACH, let alone a MACH. I also knew that Paula Perry in Texas had two CSPs and was trying for both a PACH and MACH.
It was Marcy Mantell who believed Kobe could do so much more and encouraged me to put him in the regular classes and try to become the first MACH CSP. So after several conversations and some helpful advice, I decided I would try.
After getting his OAP and OAJP, I started over in the regular classes; that was Feb 2012. He made it into Master Standard in September 2012 and Master JWW in November 2012. Kobe got his first QQ in December 2012 and completed his MACH fourteen months later.
BF: What kinds of agility skills came easily for Kobe?
MM: Kobe likes to run and loves tunnels, which act as an accelerator for him. So sending to tunnels is the only thing that came easily for him. He has 6 MXF legs and 3TQX legs which all involved sending to tunnels.
BF: What kinds of challenges did you and Kobe encounter and how did you overcome those challenges?
MM: Kobe has a lot of energy that needs to be properly channeled. He also had difficulty focusing on me; he was very easily distracted, often finding dirt extremely interesting. Kobe had difficulty in agility class situations as he got so amped up that he would just run wildly, especially after coming out of a tunnel, sometimes charging other dogs or just generally zooming around wildly until he tired himself out. So I pulled him from class and did some private lessons. I also began training him in various other dog sports (obedience, rally, herding, tracking) to help him improve his handler focus and to assess each of our interest and aptitude in other areas. While my ultimate goal was a good agility dog, I was concerned that he did not seem focused enough or interested enough in agility so I was also trialing him in other dog sports where he showed an interest. [That also helped us to] gain ring experience as a team. I had to restart him in agility classes three times until he was finally able to work around other dogs without being a nuisance.
It took years of patience and persistence. It also helped that I retired in May 2010 and could devote more time to properly exercising (we hike hills and/or walk 15-20 miles a week) and training him (formally in various performance classes three times a week). In the beginning, I had my doubts that I’d ever get him into an agility ring and then years later, that if I did he would be too old to have much of an agility career. When friends asked when Kobe would be showing in agility, my answer was, “hopefully by age 5.” But my tenacity paid off and I got him into the ring about one month after his 4th birthday. Lots of exercise, finding a good motivator/reward (he loves bully sticks) and teaching him to really tug were key components to his success. Kobe has a thick, square body that doesn’t turn easily and needs information early, so 180s, 270s, wraps, backsides, and even tight pinwheels can be very challenging and often result in him running around a jump. Cuing him early, shaping his path, and lots of practice and rewards have helped but this will continue to be our biggest challenge to achieving accuracy and fast course times, especially in JWW.
BF: Do you have any advice or suggestions for other Shar Pei owners who are doing agility?
MM: There are so few Chinese Shar Peis doing agility that I hope Kobe’s accomplishments help to inspire other CSP owners to try agility. Find what really motivates your dog and then exploit that in making your training fun and rewarding. The road to success may be long but the joy is in the journey and the rewards that you will get along the way will amaze and delight you.