National champions

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Kori Bevis and her black lab, Cedar, won the American Kennel Club National Obedience Championship last month in Georgia. (Photo by John Gessner)

Black lab and handler win it all in obedience competition

Cedar, a black labrador retriever, is friendly and affectionate once he gets past his wariness of new people.

Cedar’s owner and handler, Kori Bevis, wasn’t sure her “quirky” 7-year-old partner would take to the high-stress environment of the American Kennel Club National Obedience Championship March 25 and 26 in Perry, Georgia.

“There were times when he was younger I didn’t know if I’d be able to show him at all, even at the lowest level, because he was so scared of things,” said Bevis, who lives in Farmington and owns Tails Up Dog Training in Burnsville.

But after two days of eliminations at the elite invitational competition, Cedar stood tallest among the 120 dogs from 35 states, edging the runner-up by a score of 495 points to 493.5.

“It was crazy,” Bevis said, growing a bit teary at the memory and the work that went into it. “Unbelievable.”

It’s the 10th time Bevis has been invited to compete in the AKC National Obedience Championship. She and Cedar trained constantly for last month’s event, she said.

“It’s really technical,” Bevis said of the competition. “There’s a lot of gotchas. They have to do everything the first time you tell them. You can’t tell them multiple times. That’s a big no-no — you lose a lot of points.”

Bevis wasn’t necessarily destined to become an elite obedience trainer. Growing up in Burnsville, she showed Arabian horses kept on a farm in Lakeville, but her parents didn’t want a dog in the house.

“I always wanted one,” said Bevis, who graduated from Burnsville High School in 1998. “I played with my little stuffed animals all the time and pretended they were real dogs.”

She studied industrial psychology at the University of South Dakota and earned a master’s degree in human-computer interaction from Georgia Tech.

Bevis then worked for IBM as a usability engineer. With husband Chris, she got her first dog, a female black lab named Harley, when she was 22.

“Right after we got married that was like my first order of business,” Bevis said.

Harley died of cancer two years ago, but Bevis — starting as a novice trainer with a novice dog — trained Harley to become an American Kennel Club Obedience Trial Champion.

She earned the same honor with her second dog, Teego, a 13-year-old male golden retriever, and with Cedar. (A third dog in the stable is Baker, a 2-year-old golden retriever.)

Dogs competing in the National Obedience Championship are pulled from the ranks of Obedience Trial Champions. The national championship showcases the top 10 percent of dogs in every breed based on points accumulated in competitions leading up to the event, Bevis said.

Cedar excelled on both days of the championship, finishing Saturday tied for second place.

“They had to do eight different routines,” Bevis said. “And then at the end of the day, they tallied all the scores, and the top 50 dogs got to move on to Sunday.”

The routines are set by judges, and handlers instruct their dogs by voice commands and hand signals.

“It’s a lot about accuracy,” Bevis said. “The dog has to heel next to you in a certain position. They have to retrieve objects when you tell them to. There’s one exercise where there’s a bunch of identical objects and you touch one so it smells like you, and they have to smell and find the one that you touched based on smell.”

Cedar did his best work in the directed jumping competition, Bevis said.

“You tell them to run in a straight line, so they run for about 50 feet, and as they’re running you tell them to stop and sit right away,” she explained. “If they don’t do it right when you tell them, or they take too long, this is point deductions. And then when they sit, there’s two jumps, and the judge tells you either to jump this one or jump the other one, so you have to tell them which one to do.

“And then they come and sit in front of you really accurately, and then they have to come and sit in the heel position really accurately. And then you do it all over again.”

At the national championship level, “basically any mistakes and you’re done,” Bevis said. “I haven’t counted, but there’s probably thousands of things that have to go right.”

As a trainer, Bevis has won 40 various obedience titles. As a business owner, she’s equally committed to her calling.

While working at IBM Bevis trained Harley at Tails Up Dog Training, which was started in Rosemount in the 1990s and wound up in a Highway 13 location in Burnsville. She became friends with the owner, Lois Ornat.

“And then I started to realize I would rather do this than work for IBM,” Bevis said.

Six years ago she bought Tails Up from Ornat, who wanted to retire. Five years ago she moved the business to 8,600 square feet of warehouse space on the south side of Highway 13 at 680 E. Travelers Trail.

The business employs about 10 instructors and sees roughly 180 dogs a week, most in obedience training and some in competitive fields such as conformation, Bevis said.

“I think my parents thought I was crazy to buy this dog-training business,” she said. “I was maybe a little nervous about it, but never really that nervous. It seemed like the right thing to do.”