Westford resident and dog fetch award at Westminster


Laura Dolan and her dog, Pre, in action running through the agility course

Josh Rosenstein, Staff Writer

When most people think of dogs, they picture cute, fluffy, lovable animals that are intimately part of a human family. Though this description fits Pre, the dog of the Dolan family, she is also an extremely talented puppy with skills that the majority of canines don’t have.

Pre, a miniature poodle, recently participated in the Westminster Kennel Club Agility Championship on Saturday, February 10. The two-year-old puppy not only participated, but took home first place in the 12-inch agility class, which is determined based on the dog’s height.

Winning the award is very exciting for Laura Dolan, who is a Westford resident as well as the trainer of Pre. Even though Pre is only two years old, an impressive amount of training goes into the process to make sure that she is ready for the competition.

“We start training very young […]. They learn to walk on different surfaces and be in different places. You do a lot of relationship building with play and with teaching tricks. When they’re about one year old […] they tend to be physically ready to do a little more challenging things, including jumping because that’s kind of hard on them,” Dolan said.

By now, Dolan is an expert in agility dog training, as she has been in the sport since 1995 and Pre is her fifth dog over that time span. She has earned the title of master jumper in American Kennel Club (AKC) agility, yet this was only her second year at Westminster due to the popularity of the competition.

“You have to make it into the masters level […], so you have to achieve that title to even be able to submit your entry. And then it’s just first come first serve. […] It’s not an invitational thing, it’s more if you can get lucky to get in,” Dolan said.

In order to win the division she was in, Pre needed to perform several difficult skills at a quick pace with almost no mistakes. Many of these tricks may look easy, but they can cause a dog extreme difficulty in an intense race.

“They have to be comfortable with running over the contact obstacles. The seesaw will drop from underneath them. […] She had to be comfortable with running on planks, things moving, making noise, and the weave poles […]. She has to learn how to follow my cues,” Dolan said.

Though taking home an award from the Westminster Agility Championship is incredible, it is not Dolan’s first time winning a competition.

“I’ve been [a] multiple national champion with the AKC. In 2012, [one of my dogs] was the AKC 12-inch national champion. […] He was a national champion in what they call a biathlon and a steeplechase in 2014. […] In 2011, I believe he was the speed jumping champion, as well as the grand-pre champion,” Dolan said.

Dolan praised Pre for her willingness to take some obstacles a bit slower but with accuracy, rather than rush through and make a mistake. She also commended her pup for her ability to adapt to different environments with ease, and not let the large Westminster crowd distract her.

“I don’t believe she even realized they were there. And that’s pretty special right there, for a young dog to be able to be that focused,” Dolan said.

A victory at Westminster is definitely not the last stop for Dolan and Pre, as Dolan expressed her hopes that the two of them can attend the AKC nationals in March. Also, Pre was selected to a team that will be sent to the European Open in Austria in July. Dolan also strives to keep improving so they can qualify for the AKC World Championship in October.

“We try to push for everything we can out there because of the times. We want to put up the best time that we can,” Dolan said.

The Westminster Agility Championship provided an opportunity for the competitors to show what the sport is all about and how exciting it is, thanks to Fox Broadcasting Company, who televised the event nationally.

“Fox did a really nice job, and Westminster did a really nice job of presenting our sport and showing everybody what we can do,” Dolan said.