Dogs That Compete

Local Dog Handlers Share Their Competition Stories 


Dogs are more than just pets. They are complex, intelligent animals and – when trained appropriately – reliable workers. Depending on factors like breed and size, they come with instincts that make them highly valuable to humans. Whether it’s herding cattle or assisting first responders, canines are up for the task. 

Hard work and training can also be utilized for competition. Here, six locals who show dogs in competition share their experience, stories, and advice – and their dogs!


By Lindsey June / Photography by Emily Lester

Kitty Quinn & Wink

Breed: Australian Shepherd


How long have you been working with Wink?

KQ: Wink came home with us from the breeder on February 20, 2021, when he was about eight weeks old, and I have worked with him since that day. His registered name is Vesper’s Godwink because he was born at the same time our other dog Stella crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

How did you first get involved with competitions? 

KQ: We quickly fell in love with Australian Shepherds after getting our first due to their work ethic, intensity, and intelligence. However, we weren’t introduced to competitive sports until we got Stella. She was wild but extremely smart, and I needed to harness and direct her energy. 


Photo by Mark Baer, MLBaer Photography & Design


What type of competition is Wink involved in? 

KQ: Wink is just getting started. He has already attended three six-week puppy training classes, as well as barn hunt and dock diving classes. He has also started basic agility foundation training. He already earned his TKN (Novice Trick Dog) title at five months. He also received his American Kennel Club (AKC) S.T.A.R. Puppy certification this October. He’s shown a real interest in Fast CAT (Coursing Ability Test), loves Frisbee, and is an extreme jumper. We will try a lot of things and see what he likes best! 

What is one of your favorite memories from competition?

KQ: Stella and I only competed for a short time, but we fell in love with it. When we received her diagnosis last July, I immediately started searching for a reputable breeder to find a puppy to continue competing. Even though I would be losing her, I did not want to lose the wonderful community she had introduced me to. At her last agility trial – on her last run of the day and the last run of her life – all of the other competitors ran onto the field behind me and ran with her. Everyone on that field knew our pain because they had all been there, too. The love and support were unreal, and I will never forget it.

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Brielle Leary & Titus

Breed: Rottweiler 


How long have you been working with Titus? 

BL: Since he was five months old. I started working with him in my parents’ pool, and then we started dock diving this past May to see if he could actually jump off the dock where he participates in PSA (Protection Sports Association) training. Sure enough, he jumped! He went from five feet to 23 feet and six inches, which he jumped in July. He even got an invite to regionals!

How did you first get involved with competitions?

BL: I’ve always thought it was amazing to watch the obedience, training, and patience put into dog competitions. Through his training, Titus and I fully moved into the working dog world. I participate in activities that he seems to enjoy most.


Photo by Janine R. Pearman


What titles have you won with Titus?

BL: Titus has won Dock Novice (DN), Dock Junior (DJ), Dock Senior (DS), and Dock Master (DM) titles in dock diving. His next title will be the elite division, and he has to reach 24 feet to get it! 

What is one of your favorite memories from competition?

BL: I enjoy Titus’s excitement when he’s watching the other dogs before it’s his turn to jump. It’s a proud mama moment when the other dog owners share how shocked they are at how far Titus can actually jump being as large as he is. Meeting the other owners and their pups and seeing the connections they have is a rewarding experience for me. Traveling to regionals with five other members of our club with shirts made of each of our dogs is another memory that I will cherish. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in dog competitions? 

BL: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Call your nearest club or someone who participates and ask questions. Also, go to your nearest club and try it out for a day to see if your dog enjoys it. Never force your dog to do anything they don’t enjoy. Exposing them to a variety of experiences allows a dog owner to see what their dog enjoys the most. 

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Angie Jennings & Nada

Breed: Australian Cattle Dog


How long have you been working with Nada?

AJ: I am the breeder, owner, and handler of Nada. I also own her daddy, Jeckyl, who we bred to a female dog in Michigan, so Nada was born there. I flew up and had to decide which puppy was coming home with us when she was eight weeks old. She was evaluated on structure, temperament, and her interest in working stock. She met ducks at eight weeks of age! Her training began immediately, and she showed for the first time at 12 weeks.

How did you first get involved with competitions?

AJ: When I was a vet tech, a client gave me a Westie puppy as a gift of appreciation. It was everything I never wanted! The puppy was so bad that I got her into obedience training when she was only six pounds. One year later, we were competing in rally obedience, and I was hooked. That one dog changed the course of my life and career forever. I quit a perfectly good job to pursue a career that allowed me to focus on my dogs and prepare them for competition.


Photo Courtesy of Angie Jennings


What type of competition is Nada involved in?

AJ: Her versatility career is just beginning due to her conformation ring obligations, but she is titled in herding on sheep, ducks, and cattle; dock diving both distance and air retrieve; Trick Dog; Fast CAT lure coursing; Barn Hunt; and is farm dog certified, temperament tested, and a silver Grand Champion in the conformation ring. Her favorite thing is working cows!

What is one of your favorite memories from competition?

AJ: Her recent Best Opposite Sex at Westminster Breeder-Owner-Handler was a biggie! We knew she was special from the start, and she put it all on the line that day. The road to Westminster is long and hard, so to stand at that huge venue as a winner as a Breeder-Owner-Handler is an amazing feeling. Nada has also qualified and competed at the North American Diving Dog National Championship twice and ended up in the top 20 her first year. She also has multiple Owner-Handled best in show titles. She is an amazing girl with an amazing work ethic and will continue to make grand memories.

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Ginny Kincer & Titch the golden retriever


Ginny Kincer & Titch

Breed: Golden Retriever


How long have you been working with Titch?

GK: Titch was bred and is owned by my dear friend and client, Elaine Kandzari. I’ve been working with him since he was a puppy.

How did you first get involved with training dogs for competitions?

GK: My grandparents started breeding and showing dogs in 1960 with basset hounds. This has always been a family hobby, and we enjoyed going to dog shows on the weekends together. As I grew up, my mom carried on the tradition, and so have my sister and I. My first dog show was at three years old. I was born into it and still have a great passion for it. 


Photo Courtesy of Ginny Kincer


What titles have you won with Titch?

GK: I primarily compete in AKC-licensed events. Titch has won best in show from Sporting Group, multiple specialty dog shows, Show Dog Hall of Fame, Canine Good Citizen, and is a top 10 golden retriever for the all-breed ranking system, a top 20 golden retriever for the breed ranking system, and an AKC Grand Champion. Titch also just competed at the Golden Retriever Club of America national specialty in Ocala, Florida. He was honored with a judge’s award of merit. This is a huge honor considering, out of 300-plus champion golden retrievers competing in his class, only 24 received honors. There were a total of over 2,000 golden retrievers competing at this event.

Do you show other dogs besides Titch?

GK: Yes, it is a real honor to work with so many quality dogs. I am a very scheduled and meticulous person, so every dog has its training time, exercise time, and grooming time. There aren’t too many minutes in the day that aren’t scheduled for work. But when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. 

What is one of your favorite memories from competition?

GK: There are so many fond memories that it’s hard to narrow it down to one. Each dog that I work with has an amazing talent that shines when we work together. There have been milestones in my professional career that stand out. For instance, with Titch, he finished his AKC championship at 11 months old. We let him grow up for two-and-a-half years. Then, the first day he was out as a champion, he won best in show. It was an incredible experience and very unexpected, as it usually takes months or years for a dog to win such an honor.

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Tom Cawood & Argo

Breed: German Shepherd


How long have you been working with Argo?

TC: I’m a breeder of German shepherds, and Argo was born in the living room of my house. I have raised him since birth. He’ll be nine next March.

How did you first get involved with training dogs for competitions?

TC: I was invited to a weekend demonstration and seminar with Working Dogs of America. After watching how well-trained these dogs were and what they were capable of doing, I joined the organization and soon started training for their titles.


Photo Courtesy of Tom Cawood


What titles have you won with Argo?

TC: I generally train for police dog (K9) titles, as I find them to be the most challenging and difficult titles to obtain. They are very realistic and require a special type of dog to be able to compete. Argo earned his Family Obedience, Police Dog 1, Police Dog 2, and Police Dog 3 titles at the age of five. Once Argo earned the last title, I retired him from competition. Currently, I have Argo’s son Yoschy, who is a puppy. I hope to train and obtain the Police Dog 3 title with him as well.

What is one of your favorite memories from competition?

TC: My favorite memory was when Argo and I earned the Police Dog 3 title. Just realizing all the training and time put toward preparing for this title and achieving it was very satisfying.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in dog competitions?

TC: My advice would be to pick a dog from a breed that has the genetic traits to perform the tasks that are needed in the competition venue that you are interested in. Then, find a trainer who has experience in that venue – someone who has titled dogs in that venue.   

How long do you see yourself doing this?

TC: Hopefully, as long as my health holds out. I’m a firm believer you need to set goals and stay busy doing things that bring you enjoyment.

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Haley Shealy & Gunner

Breed: Black Labrador 


How long have you been working with Gunner?

HS: I have had Gunner since she was approximately six months old. I adopted her from a dear friend, Sharon Tucker, before she passed away.

How did you first get involved with training dogs for competitions?

HS: A few years after I started general obedience training, I heard about hunt tests and field trials. These competitions sounded interesting, so I asked two friends, Tony and Trudie Kuka, if I could go watch them compete and train their dogs. I watched lots of videos and read tons of material to practice for my first hunt test in 2014. I’ve attended two seminars with nationally known trainers, worked with a local trainer, and went to countless training days with the East Tennessee Retriever Club to learn all that I can about the sport.   

What type of competition is Gunner involved in?

HS: Gunner does hunt tests and holds junior and senior titles. Hunt test training helps keep you and your dog working together throughout the year and prepares you both for duck hunting. Hunt tests are a team sport that requires you and your dog to work together in order to retrieve ducks. There are three levels: junior, senior, and master. When you complete a level, you earn the title.


Photo by Bri Wright


What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in dog competitions? 

HS: Be prepared for obstacles that keep you and your teammate from finishing a particular test, but never give up. Dogs have good and bad days just like we do, and there are a lot of factors that can influence a test: Weather, terrain, judges, and more impact the performance of the dog. There are some great trainers out there who will let you come work with them and help you get involved. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get involved. Starting out, I would sometimes be the only female at the test, but I stuck with it and learned to not be so nervous when running a dog in front of crowds of men.

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