Barney Google Squarepants is one of the top dogs in the nation when it comes to agility, the ability to race through an obstacle course without making a single mistake.


He and his owner, Jill Van Dieren, Pittsburg, both worked like dogs to earn Barney the honor at the American Kennel Club Agility Invitational, held Dec. 4 and 5 in Long Beach, Calif.

Barney Google Squarepants is one of the top dogs in the nation when it comes to agility, the ability to race through an obstacle course without making a single mistake.

He and his owner, Jill Van Dieren, Pittsburg, both worked like dogs to earn Barney the honor at the American Kennel Club Agility Invitational, held Dec. 4 and 5 in Long Beach, Calif.

Van Dieren, Ron Lowe and Barney, their Norfolk terrier, headed for California the day after Thanksgiving.
“I’m just the driver,” Lowe said.

“I was so shocked when we were invited to the AKC trials in California,” Van Dieren said. “It’s quite an honor, because only the top five dogs in each breed in the nation get invited.”

She hadn’t been keeping track and didn’t realize that Barney was ranked the No. 4 Norfolk terrier in the United States. By the time the challenging competition was over, he was No. 1 Norfolk terrier, and finished in third place in the country for all 126 dog breeds at the trial who were in his jump height category of eight inches.

Van Dieren explained that she and Barney compete at ability trials throughout the year at Tulsa, Okla., Springfield, Mo., Nebraska, Arkansas and other areas.

“We’re members of the Tri-State Kennel Club in Joplin, and it sponsors two trials a year at the Lucky J Arena in Carthage, Mo.,” she said. “We have one coming up the second weekend in March, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and spectators are welcome to watch free of charge.”

All the points accumulated throughout the year and the qualifying runs are recorded by the AKC.

Barney is now 6, and Van Dieren began training him when he was only 16 weeks old.

“We had to drive to Detroit to get Barney,” she said.

“There are not that many breeders of Norfolk terriers in the United States, and they don’t have that many puppies to a litter,” Lowe added. “Some breeders import them from Switzerland.”

Norfolks are the smallest of the working terriers, and Van Dieren said they were bred to follow Gypsy trailers.
Good natural hunters, they were also prized for their ability to catch and dispose of mice and rats.

“Barney has a tremendous amount of energy,” Van Dieren said. “We walk him four to five miles a day. When I first got him and realized how much energy he had, I trained him to run on a treadmill. Then I decided I should walk, too, so we sold the treadmill.”

She said that she has done some dog obedience training in the past, but Barney is the first dog that she’s trained in agility.

“This is a sport for handler and dog,” Van Dieren said. “The dog has to be able to do the obstacles on a course, like tunnels, A-frames, dog walk, weave poles and jumps, in a certain amount of time, and make no mistakes. One mistake, and you do not have a qualifying run. Most courses have 20 obstacles.”

The handler has a total of eight minutes to walk the course before the competition begins and decide how to run the dog.

Van Dieren said that training involves almost daily work. She started out with Donna Pashia, who teaches dog classes in Pittsburg and has a training and boarding facility in Lamar, Mo.

“I go to Lamar about three times a week, for classes, private lessons and just working with Barney on certain things we need to work on,” she said. “Donna is so good and she has helped me so much. I could not have done this without her help. We went to a seminar last summer in Wyoming, and we’ve got another one at the end of this month. We’re also trying to get a spot in Wisconsin with a handler that we like, and we are going back to Wyoming next summer.”

She also has some equipment at home and does some training in her yard and inside her house.

“Agility training also requires quite a lot of obedience training to begin with, so your dog knows simple commands,” Van Dieren said. “It requires socializing your dog from the time it’s a puppy.”

She stressed that all training is done through positive reinforcement, using treats and toys, so the dog never gets a negative response from the handler.

Van Dieren is very careful about what Barney eats, and makes many of his treats herself, using ingredients such as sweet potatoes, apples, whole wheat flour and liver.

“I have a big garden and grow a lot of my vegetables,” she said. “Most of Barney’s dog food is organic.”

“If I get up at night and go to the refrigerator for something to eat, I have to be very careful,” Lowe said.

But he and Van Dieren believe their top terrier is worth it, and not just because of the numerous honors Barney has won.

“Norfolk terriers are extraordinarily loyal to their owners and really adhere to them,” Lowe said. “Barney goes with us to 98 percent of the places we go, like the bank and the post office. He loves to shop at Home Depot.”

“I couldn’t put him in a kennel and leave him alone all day,” Van Dieren said. “He’d die of loneliness.”

Besides which, training, traveling and competing with Barney is fun.

“I can’t tell you how much fun this is,” Van Dieren said. “Knowing what I know now, I would certainly love to train another dog. It is definitely a challenge and every dog is different.”