Paris, a 6-year-old Papillon dog, can process voice commands in the time it takes Edina’s Wayne Carlson to deliver them.
This speedy little dog can cover six yards per second and can conquer an obstacle once every 1.5 seconds. Obstacles include A-frames, jumps, pole weaves, teeter-totters and tables. “She can run a 20-obstacle course in about 30 seconds,” Carlson says.
For those not up on dog speed and agility—those numbers aren’t average. In fact, they’re award-winning, as proven by the fact that Paris is the reigning champion of the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC). In October 2021, the Paris/Carlson team won the Elite Veteran Handler, Miniature Division title in Springfield, Ohio. The competition involves six rounds of courses, with an emphasis on different skills. Each one includes a distance challenge where the dog performs across a line the handler cannot cross. Last year, Paris won all six rounds in her division and finished 450 points ahead of her nearest competitor.
This wasn’t Paris’ first rodeo. “She finished third at Nationals when she was 2.5, second when she was 3.5 and first when she was 5.5. COVID-19 canceled the competition when she was 4.5,” Carlson says.
Together, Paris and Carlson run in 30–40 competitions per year. “We usually go three weekends per month,” says Carlson, who is about to turn 80 years old. “And yes, some might say I’m addicted.” And it’s not just a commitment of time. “NADAC runs are about $10 each, American Kennel Club [AKC] runs are $25 each. Throw in driving, motels and your time, and you can see why these competitions aren’t for the faint of heart,” Carlson says.
At these many competitions, Paris’ reputation precedes her; when Paris runs, people watch. “Paris is a dog that wants to be watched,” says Carlson. “When she runs, the whole stadium goes quiet.”
Carlson, who also handles two younger Papillons, practices three to four times per week with Paris. Practice mostly takes place at the Twin Cities Obedience Training Club in northeast Minneapolis. But Carlson also has a weave set up in his Edina kitchen, which involves a series of 12 poles set up in holders that the dogs must weave in and out of—much like downhill slalom skiing. “The dogs have to do the weave after they come in from going to the bathroom,” Carlson says.
Carlson’s rule is to reinforce Paris’ success three times after each run. “She gets kisses and affection, but the big thing is the little balls she plays fetch with,” he says. “I’ll throw one, and she’ll bring it back, drop it and wait for the other. She goes crazy when those balls come out. It’s amazing what she’ll do for such a little payment.” He says she knows that “if she gets the weaves, she gets to play.”
And what does a national champion do for an encore act? Carlson says Paris will defend her title in Gillette, Wyoming, in October. “What can be better than being number one in the country? How about being number one in the country twice or maybe three times?” Carlson says.
Paris is sure to enjoy a few more rounds of competition, as long as Carlson rewards her with a ball to chase, retrieve, chase and then retrieve again.