Sophomore and Her Dog Win Westminster Championship

Delaney Ratner and her dog Kelso
Jack Grassa/The Westminster Kennel Club
Thursday, February 20, 2014

By Taylor Gilmore '15

On February 8 in New York City Delaney Ratner ’16 (resource economics) took the ring with her border collie, Kelso, to compete in—and win—the first ever agility competition at the prestigious 138th annual Westminster Dog Show.

As they streaked the obstacles, Ratner says she didn’t hear the oohs and aahs emanating from the crowd “I try to focus on my dogs and run them like I would in my backyard,” Ratner says. “It’s really about centering yourself and doing what you need to do for your dog.”

Still, Ratner couldn’t help but sense the difference between Westminster and the many other competitions she’s attended, noting, “It’s louder and there are cameras in your face!” Certainly after she won, she became the media darling. When we spoke with Ratner a week after she and Kelso cinched the championship, the interview requests were still flooding in! A quick Google search will show that media from around the world ran the story of their outstanding win.

Ratner began competing at age six, but started agility training and showing in regional and national competitions with Kelso in 2010. Her mom, Cindy Ratner, who has been involved with competitive obedience since the late 80s and started doing agility a few years before Ratner did, helped her get involved.

“I have yet to compete internationally,” says Ratner, “but in 2012 Jonesy, my 9-year-old miniature schnauzer—who won the 12" Championship at Westminster this year—was named an alternate to the World Agility Open team, and in 2013 Kelso was an alternate for the World Agility Open team.”

“A commonly used philosophy in agility training is to train your weaknesses and compete to your strengths…it’s really just a balancing act,” says Ratner . “My whole life has been a balancing act.”

In high school, Ratner played sports, was involved in many extracurricular activities, and took on a difficult course load, all while competing, training, and instructing dogs. Not much has changed since then, as Ratner continues her active lifestyle at UMass.

When Ratner first came to UMass she thought accounting would be her course of study, but then found resource economics particularly interesting. Because it is applied economics, Ratner found the concepts straightforward and understandable.

On the extracurricular front, Ratner is the treasurer for the Cannabis Reform Coalition and in the midst of planning for the 23rd annual Extravaganja political rally and music festival on Amherst Town Common. “I also try to help out with the Divest UMass movement as much as possible,” said Ratner. Divest UMass is a student organization that wants administrators to take charge of how UMass’ endowment hedge fund is being managed by freezing and phasing out investments in fossil fuel industries. “I think the cause is incredibly important to the future of our school and our society.”

One of the main reasons Ratner, who is from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, chose to attend UMass is because of Amherst’s proximity to Westfield, Springfield, and Greenfield, where many agility events take place. She also found UMass appealing because it is a big, out-of-state school offering a broad assortment of majors and opportunities. “You have to be willing to seek out resources and opportunities, but UMass provides something for everyone. So far it has been an amazing experience,” says Ratner.

“My biggest difficulty has been exams vs. agility,” Ratner reflects. “Since competitions are not a ‘university sanctioned’ excuse, if my professors aren't particularly understanding of my circumstances, I end up studying at big events, which is really unfortunate. International Team Tryouts, for example, fall the first weekend in May, right before finals week. Last year I flew into Bradley Sunday night, getting back at 1:00 a.m., and then took an 8:00 a.m. final that my professor wouldn't let me take earlier or later.”

Kelso has been in Ratner’s life since she was 16 and they’ve been training together ever since. When she came to Amherst, Kelso did too, though he does go home to Maine during crunch times to keep up training with Ratner’s mom.

When Kelso is in Amherst, Ratner works mostly to keep him in shape, focusing on cross training and core strengthening exercises. They hike Mount Norwottuck and Bare Mountain often, and Ratner uses stretching and training tricks to keep Kelso learning.

“I want to compete internationally and win a world championship. It's the highest award in dog agility to win AWC [Agility World Championship],” says Ratner. She hopes to take her mom’s sheltie, Zep, to the world stage next. “I plan on trying to get the best out of my dogs and keeping them and myself as fit as possible,” she says.

“My favorite part of training is watching my dogs learn and seeing their skills slowly start to develop into complex behavioral chains. It creates such a strong bond between trainer and dog. I love it,” said Ratner. “It’s been an incredible ride so far and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

To watch a video of Kelso's agility performance, click here.

Taylor Gilmore '15 (communication/journalism) is communication assistant in the Dean's Office of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.