The chips were stacked against Niskayuna resident Thomas Gooding and his Australian Shepherd Lili Ann at the Westminster Kennel Club Masters Agility competition on Saturday.
They were up against more than 100 dogs, including last year’s champion, and, at 8 1/2 years old, Lili Ann is technically past her prime agility years.
“I wasn’t nervous because I didn’t expect to win. My goal was to go and make the finals,” Gooding said.
He and Lili Ann not only made it to the finals but won first place in the 20-inch division, with 0 faults and a time of 35.04 seconds..
“The number one dog that we had to compete against in this final, [a border collie named Verb] was the one that won it all last year. So I didn’t expect that we would beat them. Lili had a tremendous run and I just stayed focused on her run,” Gooding said.
The Masters Agility portion of the competition at Piet 94 was televised on Sunday. The competition continued on Monday at Madison Square Garden and runs through Tuesday. Now in its 144th year, it is one of the largest and most prestigious dog competitions in the United States.
Saturday’s Masters Agility win was a surprising one for Lili Ann, though it was far from Gooding’s first competition.
He started participating in agility competitions in 2000, after training with his rottweiler Bella at High Goal Farm in Greenwich. Since then, he’s competed with several other dogs, mostly Australian shepherds like Lili Ann.
They train mainly on the course set up on Gooding’s 1.6-acre property in Niskayuna during the summer. During the winter months, they head up to the agility course at High Goal Farm.
Gooding tries to keep training sessions short, running through the obstacles a few times a day so the dog won’t get bored.
“When you look at the agility course, there’s a number of different obstacles that they have to perfect, like the dog walk, the A-frame, the weave poles, [etc]. . . It takes a lot of training and a lot of time but it’s paid off for us,” Gooding said.
Nearly every other weekend, in between running Latham’s Gooding Skin Systems with his wife Nancye, Gooding and Lili Ann travel to shows around the country and Canada.
Last year, they also competed in the Westminster Kennel Club Masters Agility competition, though they didn’t make it to the finals. The second time around, Gooding said: “It was our night.”
After doing well in two qualifying rounds on Saturday, they placed 6th in their division against 10 other dogs. On the final run, they took first place.
While this was Lili Ann’s first big win at the competition, Gooding mentioned that her mother, Deuce, won Best in Breed and the Herding Group competition in 2008.
“So it’s kind of a family thing. Her mother won the Best in Breed conformation, which is very unusual to have mother-daughter champions at Westminster,” Gooding said.
The Westminster Kennel Club competition continues Tuesday on Fox Sports.