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Off the bucket list

Local trainer heading to second-largest dog judging competition in the U.S.
by:  Riley is a Shetland Sheepdog who measures 15-and-a-half inches long and weighs 28 pounds.

After 30 years of dog training, Deanne Snedeker, 53, faced the opportunity of a lifetime.

For the first time, she and her dog were invited to the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. The only problem was that the show is in Orlando, Fla., and at the moment, finances are tight.

However, that wasn't going to stop her.

'This is just one of those bucket list things, and even though I know I probably can't afford it, it's just too special,' she said.

Dog competitions

Snedeker has spent her life training Shetland sheepdogs (shelties) for competitions across the United States. The way dog competitions work is that in each show dogs have the opportunity to earn points. By accumulating these points throughout the life of the dog, it can move up the various rankings. One such ranking is that of 'champion,' which requires a total of 15 points, including two wins at a 'major' show (classified based on the number of dogs in competition).

The next level up is 'grand champion,' which requires an additional 25 points, three more 'major' wins and three victories over another champion.

To be invited to the AENC, dogs must have reached the classification of 'grand champion,' which Snedeker and her dog, Riley, did in 2010, just one year after becoming a 'champion' in 2009.

The judging in these competitions is based on how close each dog is to the standard that is established for the breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC). These guidelines include what each dog should look like, how they behave and how they perform running around the ring and standing on the table.

Background

For any dog to reach the AENC is an accomplishment in the world of dog competitions. However, how Riley got to this point is far more impressive.

Four years ago, Riley, whose full name is Arenray's Rialto, was on the verge of being retired at the age of 2 because his owners didn't believe he had what it took. Sensing the potential he contained, Snedeker purchased him from the breeders and added him to the stable of dogs she trained in hopes that the pair could find some success.

'He had six or seven points when I bought him, and through working out some issues, he was able to keep going,' she said. 'I have three other champions, but he is the first one to be a grand champion. It's the first time in 30 years that I've been invited to (AENC).'

The AENC is the second biggest dog show around, second only to Westminster, which has become a popular television event in recent years.

While Snedeker says no dog trainers are in these competitions for the money, AENC offers $225,000 in cash and prizes.

'It's one of those hobbies that you just fall in love with,' she said. 'It's almost like if you're making money than you're doing something wrong.

'There are several money prizes here, but we just go in with the hope that our dog will do well.'

To pay for that hobby, Snedeker works as a paralegal in downtown Portland, but she has lived in Estacada for the past eight years. In fact, it was dog training that brought her out to the country in the first place.

'We needed more land for my dogs, so now we have a 5-acre spread,' she said.

Snedeker lives with her husband, Seon, along with her kennel of shelties.

As for how her relationship with Riley differs from those with her other dogs, she insists that every relationship is different.

'Riley and I have always had a good connection, and he's one of those dogs that just loves to show,' she said. 'He eats it up and loves to have people looking at him.'

Fortunately for him there will be plenty of eyes watching once he gets to Orlando. The show begins Sunday, Dec. 18, and will air on the ABC family of networks Feb. 4.