Niskayuna's Lili Ann Wins Westminster Kennel Club Agility, Paws Down
Niskayuna resident Thomas Gooding and his Australian Shepherd Lili Ann shocked the canine loving community with their upset at the Westminster Kennel Club‘s Agility win last week.
Competing against more than 100 dogs in the 20 inches and under category, and up against last year’s champion, Gooding came into the contest with a goal of simply making it to the finals.
Lili Ann, though, clearly had other plans.
The eight and half year old Australian Shepherd loves to run and is crazy fast. She’s been training since coming home to live with Mr. Gooding and his wife, Nancy, in their home in Niskayuna as a small puppy.
Gooding explained, “We started training right from the start, four to five times a week for up to five minutes at a time. We don’t overdo it because we want the dogs to really love it.”
And it appears Lili Ann really does love running agility. In her free time, Lili Ann’s favorite activities include taking a morning run with fur-sisters Grace, a senior dog and expert agility talent on her own, and younger pup Ruby, who is 9 months old. The Goodings live with all three dogs in their home and openly adore them. They start each morning with a run on a nearby underpopulated area where the dogs can run safely off leash. They also have an agility training area that Gooding built in the back yard for the dogs.
“I don’t have to worry about Lili Ann’s conditioning; she loves running so much with Ruby that she does it for herself!” he beamed.
Lili Ann is more motivated by movement and food drive than the other dogs, and obviously loves being athletic. Even during the interview, Lili Ann’s expressive long tail would wag a bit when her name, beauty, and athleticism were mentioned.
Gooding noted Lili Ann is his first dog not to have her tail docked, and he’s glad for it. “You see how she wags the tip of her tail? I’m so glad she has her full tail. I’ll never dock a dog’s tail again,” he shared.
Gooding’s initial foray into agility was with his dog Bella, a Rottweiler. Because of her breed, Bella’s career was shorter. But she, too, loved running the agility trials, and although she was one of the first Rottweilers to run the agility races, Bella also did very well.
Gooding decided to move to Australian Shepherds with an eye toward training a dog who could have a longer career in agility. Their first dog, Jet, was a wonderful addition to his family. Grace also did very well, but hurt her leg and had to stop training. Lili Ann has really impressed the family — as well as the world — with her speed and agility.
When asked about Lili Ann’s favorite part of the course, he smiled. “I don’t know what she loves the most, but I love watching her fly over the A-frames, and it’s a rarity if she misses the contact” as required.
Gooding explained that the dogs train at a Greenwich school called High Goal Farm. That training facility also produced the first winner of the Westminster Agility Trials when they first opened up agility in 2014. “That tells you something about High Goal Farm,” Gooding stated, humbly giving the training facility and owner Wendy equal credit for his recent victory.
Gooding explained he has been wearing the same hat while training all his dogs, beginning with Bella years ago in 1999. He isn’t sure if the dogs key on his hands, feet, or the hat. Once at a competition with Grace, Gooding noted a judge was wearing the same hat, and this briefly confused Grace.
“You never know really what the dog is keying on,” he smiled.
Lili Ann’s mother also advanced to the finals in Westminster, making her part of the only mother-pup duo to advance to finals at Westminster.
Lili Ann herself was quietly understated during our interview, allowing for some well deserved scratches and love from the writer but also snoozing a bit through some of the people talk.
Her deep love for her people, though, was apparent in how she looked at Gooding.
And the feeling is mutual. The connection between dog and human transcends the sporting arena.
Lili Ann and Gooding head to the American Kennel Club Nationals in March. Nipper is paw-sitive they will do well, and wish them ongoing success!