Kinze Williams is a unique young athlete whose success depends not just on herself, but on her partner Voo.
Voo is short for Vou-lez-Voo, a seven-year-old Belgian Tervuren that will run the world-class course when the pair competes in Finland this month at the Junior Open Agility World Championship (JOAWC) competition.
The 17-year-old from North Pole is a member of the only junior agility team in the United States. Agility is not included in the Olympics, so this is considered elite competition. The event is sponsored by the American Kennel Club.
Kinze is one of 23 junior handlers, along with K-9 companions, who will represent the United States. At the event itself, 281 junior competitors will represent 20 different countries.
The North Pole High Schooler was a member of last year’s team too, but that competition was canceled due to Covid-19.
“It was pretty gut wrenching,” said her mother Sarah Williams. “We weren’t prepared for that. But it gave us more goals, more training experiences and more drive because this is Kinze’s last year as a junior.”
Kinze is already thinking ahead, training a dog that will join her team as an adult next year.
Dog agility is a dog sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Dogs run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles. The sport requires balance, coordination, strength, speed and endurance. The dogs run, jump and dart about gracefully. The trainer runs right alongside, using hand signals to direct the dog through the obstacles.
For Kinze, this is a labor of love.
“I’ve always been associated with dogs, ever since I was young,” she said. “I’d dress them up, teach them to do tricks. I’m also very competitive.”
Being able to combine dogs and competition together was a perfect mix for the young trainer. Her favorite dog activity is training young puppies.
“That’s the foundation work and then piecing it all together and having fun with your dogs,” she said.
Many handlers prefer to work with a specific breed of dog.
Kinze likes to work with a variety of breeds.
“I haven’t been able to set on just one breed,” she said. “I like to switch it up every time. Every different breed has taught me something different.”
They all have different personalities. From one dog, she learned patience. From a stubborn dog, she learned perserverance. A dog she is training now is very fast.
“I call him my easy dog,” she said “I can see why people like Border Collies so much. They have to have a job. If he’s not entertained he can get into trouble. He’s so smart, I can teach him so much.”
“I like working with harder breeds because it shows our effort,” she said and judges notice that.
One of the dogs she trained is a Dalmation. She has also trained an All American breed, a Belgian Malemute, a Belgian Tervuren and a Border Collie. Each breed requires different handling.
“Even though I’m running the same course five times, I’m running it in a different version because they all have different speeds,” she said. “They all have little special quirks and personalities.”
Photographs of Kinze’s agility careers are proudly displayed at Alaska K-9 Center, on Badger Road in North Pole, which hosted a fundraising dog walk at the end of last month. Participants donated $25 apiece and joined Kinze and her canine companions on a short walk through the neighborhood. Specially-made stickers were handed out to celebrate the pending competition.
Kinze would love to see more young people enter the sport.
“There’s not a lot of kids in it,” she said.
She pointed out that some adults have junior handlers, so not owning a dog personally should not keep interested young people away from the sport.
“You don’t have to have your own dog to be able to compete,” she said.
Her personal commitment to the sport is total.
“I’ve dedicated my whole life to this training, almost every day of the week, going to classes, teaching classes,” she said.
She looked fondly at her canine partners over the years.
“It does make it easier that we do it together,” she said.