Resident to compete in dog contest

Reaching the 2015 American Kennel Club National Obedience Championship has been five years in the making for Front Royal resident Patrice Leipham and Tubbs, her 5-year-old Rottweiler.

On Saturday, Leipham and Tubbs will compete against some of the top dogs and owners in the country in a series of rigorous obedience exercise trials.

This year’s contest is being held a Purina Mills Farm in St. Louis, Missouri on March 14-15, with the top 10 dog-handler teams announced on Sunday.

Leipham said that Tubbs is not only the nationally top-ranked obedience Rottweiler, but also one of only three Rottweilers in the country attending the competition.

“I get a lump in my throat thinking about it,” she said, “Because the people out there with Rottweilers are wonderful, they’re family. That’s who I am representing.”

Leipham received Tubbs as an 8-month-old puppy from Cathleen Rubens, of Silverhill Rottweilers in Raleigh, North Carolina, five years ago.

“Tubbs was actually put together for me by the breeders from previous Rottweilers,” Leipham said, elaborating that Tubbs “was chosen and given” to her as a gift “to represent the breed.”

Leipham said that, for herself, Tubbs and her husband Neil, this year’s National Obedience Championship will be a first.

“Getting an obedience championship is incredibly difficult, so this is in celebration for all of these people who have done it,” she said.

Leipham explained that obedience trials are “more stressful for the dogs, because in agility … you can talk to them, it’s fast and it’s fun.”

In obedience trials, Leipham added, owners are not allowed to vocally guide their dogs through some of the advanced advanced exercises as in any of the eight rings — or fields of play.

“As you go from one ring to the next, there might be two or three exercises that you have to do … and the next ring is a different set of exercises,” Leipham explained.

As an example, Leipham pointed to one aspect of the contest where dogs have to locate “scent articles” of the owner “out of a pile of scent dumbbells.”

“Obedience is all about precision and a mental bond between the handler and the dog,” Leipham said.

Essentially, receiving the top prize means a pitch-perfect trial. To reach this level of performance, Leipham said that it takes years of training. For the most part, the top competitors in obedience are owners of border collies and golden retrievers.

“They are able to take the constant repetition over and over and over, in order to achieve perfection,” Leipham said.

Achieving this kind of performance from working group dogs — such as Rottweilers — is “very, very difficult,” according to Leipham.

In order to train Tubbs for obedience contests, Leipham said she worked on obedience exercises twice a day.

“The only time he eats is when we’re training. So he has learned that … this kind of effort earns reward,” Leipham said. “That’s been every day of his life for years.”

That kind of training, Leipham said, “Builds a lot of drive in the dog to do these exercises.”

While the National Obedience Championship will be a novel experience for Leipham and Tubbs, she noted that their experience at the 2014 AKC Obedience Classic in Orlando, Florida, will certainly help.

However, Leipham also noted, the classic is different in that any dog and owner, regardless for class or ranking, can attend and compete.

“That kind of gave us a taste for the tournament atmosphere,” she said. “The day-of is kind of a whirlwind.”

For the owners, the day begins early when the facility opens at 7 a.m. for registration. The actual trials begin an hour later.

“From then on, you’re running from one ring to the next and trying to stay up on the exercises and the order of exercises,” Leipham added.

Leipham went on to say that this constant running does not cease — save for a few breaks — for owners until late in the evening. “Last year, I know the competitors did not get back to the hotel until 9 at night.”

And yet, despite all of the difficulty and stress involved, Leipham said this trip to Missouri and a chance to compete the national level is something that was on her bucket list.

Leipham said that everyone enters these contests “as a warrior, wanting to win,” but she expressed that attending this event is not merely about winning.

“In reality, you’re not going to win with a Rottweiler, so you’re going into it to represent the breed as well as you can … and just have a good time,” she said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or