Updated: Feb 4, 2020
No berries but plenty of goodies!
Lakeland, Florida 2019 Strawberry Cluster
The Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace center in Lakeland, Florida had all four on the ground as the large facility was taken over by the 2019 Strawberry Cluster dog show. The February weather in C. Florida was especially kind for the four-day indoor and outdoor competitions that brought dogs from all corners of the world to play or show off in events from conformation and obedience to dock diving and the newer and extremely popular Barn Hunt and Fast CAT races that has nothing to do with cats ironically.
Conformation / Obedience / Barn Hunt / Fast CAT / Dock Diving
These “cluster” style of dog shows has gained popularity over the years with combining dog competitions for a much broader audience and greater access to more dogs of every breed. With a continued effort by the American Kennel Club (AKC) to broaden the appeal and pursue a commitment to being N. America’s dominant organization is dog sports, these events continue to grow and become more the standard for larger dog shows across the country.
No Strawberries anywhere?
Though I never saw a single Strawberry, I was not going without a sweet time of witnessing why dogs are so special to so many and each has a story. If you talked to a thousand different people with their own Bad Azz Dogz at these events, you will hear a thousand different stories. For many, it is the shear joy of being surrounded by others who love their pups the same way and do not think they are odd at all to put their furry friends first in their lives.
No pay and all the responsibility
The yearly event takes a large amount of planning and logistics, plus coordinating various clubs and dog spots organizations. The responsibility falls to two dof clubs. Lakeland Winter Haven Kennel Club for the first two days and the Greater Fort Myers Dog Club Sunday and Monday. The clubs provide volunteers and management every year to manage the event and does so as part of it's mission to support Florida's dog communities. Each years assistant becomes the following years main event secretary, and next year Amy Rutherford takes the hot seat for the Lakeland Winter Haven Kennel Club , but was already a great help in 2019 answering questions before the show on Facebook.
No cats either?
The relatively new AKC Sport of racing a single hundred yard drag race after a lure is called Fast CAT. The name may seem a little odd, but it derives from the AKC’s sports programs of Coursing Ability Test (CAT). Unlike many older AKC activities, Fast CAT allows mixed-breed dogs to compete who register through their AKC Partners program.
Throughout the four days, the Fast CAT track was non-stop and members Marion Alachua Dog Training Association (MADTA) volunteered to steer the hundreds of eager racers through the game with good spirit and truly a lot of heart. Even helping those new to the sport or needing a helping hand to launch or retrieve their dogs at the end of the course.
Fast CAT races provide a safe and fun way for your dog of most any breed and a need for speed to burn off some of that energy and join a massive community of fans from around the country. There are many events around Florida and our events page here has many, witch an even larger expanded calendar on our Facebook events page. Come to an event and meet some of the organizers, ask questions and you will be on your way to joining into a truly fun game with your own Bad Azz Dogz.
Fast CAT is especially of interest for those with disabilities as their is a single "release" point and retrieve, with so many folks (in my experience) willing to help if needed. Furthermore, it is the only mainstream dog racing game that includes mixed breeds.
Where it all begins
Obedience is probably the most misunderstood of the games for your dog. Often a rudimentary and self-taught sit or walking on the leash while not dragging you into a busy road is enough for many. However, it really makes a massive difference to how happy your doggy life can be. The Imperial Polk Obedience Club (IPOC) and Greater Fort Myers Dog Club (GFMDC) split the hosting of the four-day event between them. I spoke to both and the honest take-away is that you should invest some time with one of these or a more local club in your area for the Obedience training of your own Bad Azz Dogz.
The rewards are many
You will greatly strengthen the bond with your pup, find your every day life together gets a whole lot easier and it truly is very rewarding to have the pup that sets the example in public more than the other options.
At a show like the Strawberry Cluster, owners come to take on the challenge of both exhibiting the level of their own teamwork but to learn and enjoy the company of a dedicated community that is very focused on a healthy relationship with our dogs.
The AKC standards provide a series of tests for various experience levels and even added a newer game of “Rally”. Like obedience but with a series of ten to twenty signs at various points around the arena they handler reads to discover the next challenge. The game provides a level of excitement without the physical exertion of Agility trials but is also a favorite among families and younger competitors as they build that essential teamwork for a healthy experience with your dogs.
Get dat' dirty rat!
Jill Wallace from Das Hund Haus and her happy gang of volunteers were a highlight of the visit. The sense of a fun and friendly group was evident immediately and with plenty of dogs ready to show off their snouts in two arenas for the weekend, it was surprisingly smooth as team after team took on the task of finding those sneaky (though I suspect, mostly sleeping) rats.
I am always struck by the immense popularity of the Barn Hunt events. They have exploded across the country and in Florida we have numerous places to learn, train and play. This weekends event at the Strawberry Cluster was hosted by local Barn Hunt club Das Hund Haus and the rats were provided by Lorri Griffon of the G2 Barn Hunt club from Morriston, FL. We have chatted with Lorri before and can say with complete confidence, the rats are in good hands. Lorri’s rats are as precious as children and the sport that founder of the Barn Hunt Association, Robin Nutall created is safe for both dog and rat alike.
Barn Hunt is of special interest to me and this is one of the most accessible sports for those with special needs and especially with mobility limitations. The clubs like Das Hund Haus and G2, and founder of Barn Hunt Association have all been very vocal that this sport is committed to being open to all to come play.
How dock may travel
North America Diving Dogs Mobile Dock The first visible event when arriving past the rows of RVs and trailers camped for the weekend as the North America Diving Dogs (NADD) mobile dock. NADD has multiple docks around N. America and teams that travel from event to event. Some events are local fairs or shows and yet others more formal dog shows as here at the Strawberry Cluster. At the AKC Nationals in Orlando last year, two of these behemoths were used for a week-long marathon of over one hundred teams competing.
They never stop running either. The docks arrive a day early to setup and fill, run through the events dates, then break down, load up and must be at the next event a day early too. The same night of this events last day, the team had to pack up and be hundreds of miles north for another event near the Florida panhandle.
Dock diving has been a steadily growing sport since the late 80s, through the 90’s and in the last decade it has become a really professional enterprise with more than one large league traveling the country throughout the year and thousands hooked into coming to play.
There are local docks that provide training or just fun experience across Florida and regular events. It is a truly fun game for dogs who love to fetch and swim, but its best if you come to an event with people who know all the pitfalls to make sure it is both fun and a safe experience for you and your dog.
The old dog show is hanging on. Both good and bad. The American Kennel Club (AKC) started as a group dedicated to the breeding of specific traits and “conformation” standards for “recognized” breeds. It still maintains this as their corner.
Personally, I am totally okay with this and think it is important to acknowledge mistakes made in the past and see this mission evolve and improve for the health and welfare of the dogs. I don’t have any interest beyond the welfare of all dogs and hold no issue with those who wish to have a AKC show dog and only hope to direct all to do your research and only do business with reputable breeders. Good breeders are good people in my experience, and a group often wrongly maligned.
In the last twenty years the AKC at the top has been working hard to open the doors to ever more dog owners of every stripe. As covered at the AKC Nationals and in interviews with senior AKC directors, this desire to present an open community to all dog fans is a priority. However, rarely but honestly we have met the classic “Dog Show” of the past, and the old school country club attitudes. There is good news though.
Time’s a changing
Many hundreds of people compete in conformation and beckon from all walks of life. I have been very fortunate to meet many and can truly say it is a far more diverse group than may appear.
That appearance can be dissuading to many and therefore it must become a natural instinct of Conformation hosts to welcome all who show interest in the sport. I have been satisfied by many people that nationally, the diversity of those competing in Conformation is very clear and the turf war mentality of some organizers and their usual band of cohorts are in decline as more people break that kennel door and enter the new AKC of today. The upper organization wants them to, and if you are hesitant to try because of that nose ring, color of your skin, religious attire, etc.? Don’t be. The big dogs at the top make the rules and they say the park is open. You will find that most of our Florida clubs are on board with this and are waiting for you to take the first step and come to a show!
Very few states offer so many large dog shows every year and with far more things to do every week than you can shake a dog bone at in Florida, we are very fortunate. It is all possible because of volunteers though. The overwhelming majority of people you see at each club, show, event running around, taking applicants, keeping score, and emptying the trash are volunteers. A large event means more responsibility, more pressure and less rest for all of them, so please take a moment to thank one at the next show I hope you do go attend.
Do attend! You can see and learn so much. You may be surprised by the things you did not know and definitely be entertained by the things dogs do that no one saw coming. Keep an eye on our events calendar and I hope to see you at the next Florida dog show.
Rob Robinson Bad Azz Dogz
Bad Azz Dogz
By Dogz 4 Dogz
entertain, educate and encourage
Strawberry Cluster Organizer Lakeland Winter Haven Kennel Club
Fast CAT Marion Alachua Dog Training Assoc.
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