by Kim Boatman

You won't find Zippy the dog marching with the parade of nations at the Olympics this summer, but the perky little Jack Russell terrier is still a proud member of Team USA, representing the United States at the World Agility Open Championships for the second consecutive year.

Zippy is among a select group of four-legged athletes that race, leap and perform at elite levels. These dogs and their owners dedicate hours to training, then pack their bags and food bowls for competitions throughout the United States.

What separates your pet from these elite dog athletes? Not as much as you might think, say two owners of champion athletic dogs that had humble beginnings.

Zippy the Agility Star

Ivette White was sitting on the board of the Talbot County, Md., Humane Society in 2007 when she came across a stray that tugged at her heartstrings. While White had experience with dogs competing in agility, she saw no real spark in the dog she would name Zippy. "He'd been at the shelter 26 days, and he wasn't super-playful," says White.

The 1-year-old dog, however, blossomed after a couple of weeks in White's home. As it turned out, Zippy had just what it takes to compete at a high level in agility. "He has incredibly tight turns," says White. "He's able to shave time off because he's fast and turns very efficiently. And he basically does exactly what I tell him to do."

Zippy and White's other Jack Russells, Dasher and Zorro, compete primarily in United States Dog Agility Association events. Zip has received a bronze lifetime achievement award for accomplishments in competition. You can follow White and her agility dogs on her blog, Agility Girl, which includes videos of the dogs in action.

Training includes a group class once a week and some one-on-one time almost every day during the competition season, says White, whose work as a personal assistant for a family allows her flexibility.

When Zippy, Dasher and Zorro see White grab her clicker and treats, "they basically bounce off the walls," she says. White hits the gym five days a week to keep up with her athletic dogs.

Ace P.I. the Mondioring Star

Ace P.I., a Belgian Malinois, competes in mondioring, which takes dogs through a series of exercises to demonstrate how they protect their handler and themselves. But Ace's story bears similarities to Zip's saga. Ace was rescued after being abandoned in a foreclosure, says owner Rich D'Amico, a Las Vegas dog trainer.

Ace was returned to his breeder after a chip scan, and D'Amico happened to meet the breeder that weekend in California. "When I first saw Ace, he was running through tunnels and jumps with a ball in his mouth," says D'Amico. "He was just a hyper puppy and didn't know what the tunnels and jumps were, but I knew he'd see these again in competition."

D'Amico loves spending time training and competing with Ace. They run in the park an hour a day and work on protection training two to four days a week for an hour or two. Since obedience under distraction is crucial to mondioring, Ace joins D'Amico on outings every day to stores and other places.

"He has fun doing obedience, agility and protection. His favorite activity is protection work," says D'Amico. Their work paid off in a third-place finish at the recent U.S. Mondioring National Trial in Costa Mesa, Calif.

While awards and trophies are welcomed, both owners say the best reward is the relationship they've developed with their dogs through these competitions. "It tightens that bond," says White.








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Pets | Dogs: Elite Dog Athletes