A Crosslake man and his dog are in the rarefied air of being in the top obedience teams in the nation and they'll compete for top honors in December in California.
Roger Peterson and his black Labrador retriever, Kihei, are among the contenders who will take part in the competition in Long Beach as judges determine the most well behaved and highly trained dogs in the country for the American Kennel Club National Obedience Invitational.
"Just to be in the top 100 in the United States is an honor," Peterson said from his Crosslake home. "We have competed all over the Midwest but we've never gone that far. We started out just wanting a good pet and the training went to this level."
Peterson, 66, is a Brainerd native. He graduated from Brainerd High School in the Class of 1962. He always loved dogs and had them as pets. But he may never have anticipated a trip to a training class would lead to all this.
Roger Peterson and his 5-year-old black Labrador retriever, Kihei, of Crosslake are among the top obedience dog teams in the nation and will compete for the top honor in California in December.
Peterson got his black Lab as a pup. He said Kihei qualified for the invitational when he was 4 years old, which was remarkable for the dog's young age. But Peterson had an idea of how good his young dog even earlier.
"We all think we have the best dog in the world," Peterson said. "Everybody feels that way, but until you go out and compete with the best you don't know where you stand. By the time he was 2 years old, I knew I had a really good dog."
Peterson was director for St. Paul Dog Training for a number of years and when he came back to the lakes area to retire in Crosslake, he became a trainer for Northland Pet Lodge in Crosslake where he has been for about five years.
Peterson estimates he and Kihei competed in more than 100 shows, mostly across the Midwest. Competitions have taken them across the nation from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Mississippi and now from Cape Cod to a first time in California.
While the weather change is making California appealing, the anticipated traffic change from Crosslake to southern California is somewhat less appealing. But the honor of the invitation was worth the headache of massive traffic.
"He only competed for nine months out of the qualifying year to be invited with the top 100 dogs in the country," Peterson said of Kihei, adding to be invited to the competition "was a big surprise and a tremendous honor for us.
"I'm so honored I can't say enough about that."
As for the obedience title, Peterson said it's definitely a team competition.
"You spend a lot of time together becoming a team," he said. "That's how you should train your dog as a team."
Kihei got his name from one of the Petersons' favorite spots in Hawaii.
Peterson said he does a lot of dog sports and is a field judge. He works with field training, agility and tracking, but obedience is the main hobby.
The trick to finding a good, obedient dog? Peterson said it's about finding a quality dog with a good temperament who responds well to training. "And a lot of it is the training," he said. "There can't be enough said for the training."
And finding a good dog owner and handler comes from an ability to read a dog.
"I tell people in my classes there are 100 ways to train a dog," Peterson said, adding the best method is the one the dog responds to and the human partner has to be able to recognize what will work.
For the competition, teams will have the same routines and exercises with the goal of demonstrating the dog's ability to follow specified routines and to allow for comparison and scoring of performances.
The competition is Dec. 4-5. According to the organizers, the top 25 dogs are invited to the invitational based on Obedience Trial Championship points earned from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010. The top three dogs of each breed ranked by points are invited and if the number of dogs within a specific breed exceeds 30 dogs, then a ratio of that breed is invited.
This year's competition is the eighth consecutive year the AKC National Obedience Invitational will be hosted in conjunction with the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. For more information, go to www.akc.org/aenc/.
Viewers will be able to get a glimpse at the competition after the fact as the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship airs Jan. 23 on ABC TV.
In his working life, Peterson was a machinist for Burlington Northern Railroad. After getting a big dog, the first large one for his wife, they decided to go to dog training class, opening a whole new avenue of activity. Peterson attended seminars and worked with top trainers in obedience and field work across the nation.
"That's how you learn a lot," he said. "Now I'm just the dog guy. I kinda like that."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@ brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.
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