There are good puppies, and then there’s good Puppy, a six-year-old, 43-pound, flat-coated retriever who earned so many points at American Kennel Club agility competitions last year that she won a coveted spot at the AKC Agility Invitational in Long Beach, Calif., in December as one of the top five dogs in her breed in the nation. Puppy’s proud owner, Mote Marine nautical archeologist Coz Cozzi, went, too.
Cozzi and his wife, Hera Konstaninou, have been training dogs in agility for seven years, ever since they got their first Labrador retriever while he was working as a nautical archeologist at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. (He’s been with Mote since 2003, conducting a shipwreck survey in Charlotte Harbor and working with the Cortez Maritime Museum to search for abandoned vessels in the Manatee River.) Four of their six dogs currently compete.
Cozzi runs Puppy through her paces at the Sarasota Obedience Training Club (SOTC) agility ring, and works with private trainer Karen Holik, a North Port resident who’s competed on the AKC’s world team. He and Hera also have, “to the horror of our neighbors, a few jumps and a teeter and a tunnel in our front yard.”
Agility courses include “contact obstacles”—a dog walk, A-frame, seesaw and paws table—and bar jumps, tire jumps, panel jumps, double and triple spread jumps. The dogs that dominate the sport, Cozzi says, are border collies and shelties. “When you’re first training, it takes some serious time commitment,” he says. “Now, we spend a little time each day.”
As the fates conspired, Puppy got injured the first day in Long Beach and couldn’t compete. “I was heartbroken because we were faster than almost every dog out there,” says Cozzi, “but it happens.”
He and Puppy are next off to the AKC Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., in March.