You can actually teach an old dog new tricks — and the Westminster Kennel Club canine spectacular provides four-legged proof.
Case in point: Fifi, a 10½-year-old doberman pinscher who was a finalist in 2012 in the overall show. She returns to Madison Square Garden on Saturday as an agility competitor.
“It’s really thrilling to go for the agility prize,” says owner Jocelyn Mullins, who lives in Ohio. “Fifi has proven she’s got top form. Can she do more than stand and look pretty?”
To win in the agility championship, now in its sixth year, she’ll need to. The event is a race for dogs alongside owners around an obstacle course of tunnels, jumps, seesaws and other hurdles against time.
Michelle Rifkin-Mamaradlo, of Staten Island, and her four cocker spaniels — Andy Boy, Chyna, Amber and Mr. CC — have been practicing for the contest, which groups dogs by height. The winner will be decided Saturday night.
“We’ve been putting in the hours,” the school social worker tells amNewYork. The secret to success? “Having a good relationship with your dog,” she says.
That’s essential for the WKC Dog Show’s main event on Monday and Tuesday in which 203 breeds — the most ever in the show’s 143-year history, says a press rep — will be narrowed down to top dog in seven groups. And then one champ will be crowned.
Adam Kozikowski, a nurse practitioner in Williamsburg, is among the exhibitors with eyes on the prize with his 1-year-old basenji, Oak.
In addition to “being calm and relying on the strong bond” with his pup, he and his pooch will look their best for the contest. That means having nails trimmed, tail touched up and a bath for Oak — and a new pinstripe Prada suit for Kozikowski. Looking sharp can’t hurt.
Ask Donald Sturz of Brooklyn, a psychologist and die-hard dog person who’ll be judging various breeds, including dachshunds.
“When it’s not just the best in the country, but from 16 or 17 other countries,” he tells amNewYork, “it can come down to splitting hairs.”
And there’s plenty of dog hair with 2,800 canine contestants. Among them are two breeds — the Nederlandse kooikerhondje and the grand basset griffon Vendeen — competing in the show for the first time. And don’t rule out a couple of dobermans with a strong bloodline — 2-and-half year-old Sparkle and 3-year-old Bravo. They’re Fifi’s pups.
At the WKC show, doggy diversity is mirrored by owners, trainers, handlers and spectators — some eccentric enough to recall people the big-screen satire “Best in Show.”
“We have lots of characters,” said Sturz. “But the great thing about the sport of dogs is that it’s one where amateur and pro handlers compete together. They come from all walks of life.”
If you don’t go to MSG, you can still see the action. Agility contests will air on Fox on Sunday from 2-4:30 p.m. Breed and Best in Show competitions air on FS1 Monday and Tuesday from 7-11 p.m.