Pet Tales: At 12, he's ready to compete with the young pups

A Belgian Tervuren named Merlin is heading to Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 14-15 to compete in the AKC National Agility Championship. Only the top 550 dogs in the country get to compete, so it's an honor just to be nominated (kind of like the Academy Awards).

Although Merlin is the No. 2 Belgian Tervuren in agility competition, his owner, Marti Wiseman of McCandless, doesn't expect him to win a top award.

"Not at 12 years old," she said.

Twelve is a venerable age for agility competition, which involves running, climbing and jumping over hurdles. It's also an advanced age for a larger breed; Merlin weighs 52 pounds and is about 25 inches tall at the shoulder.

He will be the oldest dog competing at the 24-inch jump height at the nationals. He's also the only Belgian Tervuren in the history of the American Kennel Club agility contests to reach what they call a level 10 championship, "and I am very proud of him for that," Ms. Wiseman said.

"His face is silver but his heart is gold, and his charm wins over every single person he meets," she said.

Merlin has other accomplishments. He's made hundreds of therapy dog visits at nursing homes.

"He has a special affinity for older people," Ms. Wiseman said. "The way he makes people smile warms my heart."

And that's not all.

Merlin also "works" part time as a corporate trainer for Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, where Ms. Wiseman is director of onsite brands training and development. Two or three times a month, Merlin accompanies her to the company headquarters at the Waterfront. He helps her teach "the power of positive feedback" to corporate managers and demonstrates how frequent rewards build enthusiasm.

"It's probably the most popular class I teach," Ms. Wiseman said.

She uses her dog to teach goal setting, positive coaching, teaching to the learner's ability level and providing the right rewards at the right times. She does this by teaching Merlin new tricks in front of the corporate audience.

I'd think she would have run out of new things to teach a 12-year-old dog, but Ms. Wiseman sent me a recent photo of Merlin learning to kneel on a stool.

Merlin's most important role is being a personal pet of Ms. Wiseman and her husband, Ray. She calls Merlin "a magical presence in our lives."

Ms. Wiseman has taught training classes for years to people who want their dogs to compete. But she says there is a much more important step in training for dog sports. "I am truly passionate about the need to first develop a positive relationship with one's dog."

Originally bred by farmers to herd and guard livestock, Belgian Tervurens are known as intelligent dogs, need daily exercise and enjoy having a job to do, according to the AKC website. They often work as K-9 officers with police departments.

Many people think they've never seen a Tervuren. When they see Merlin, they often ask if he's a collie-shepherd mix, Ms. Wiseman said.

Merlin shares his home with Treena, 15, a mixed breed who looks as if she has some herding dog in her lineage, and Callie, 5, a Belgian Tervuren who retired from agility competition after winning two championships.

"Callie was very good, but the travel and competition stressed her, so she's retired," Ms. Wiseman said. "Sharing our lives with pets is really about the love, not the ribbons."

Holiday craft fair

The Animal Friends shelter in Ohio Township will be decked out for the holidays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Saturday for a Holidays With Heart Craft and Vendor Fair. Local vendors will have handmade items, pottery, jewelry, photography, Avon, Tastefully Simple and more. Information:

Greyhound bazaar

Going Home Greyhounds is holding its annual Holiday Bazaar and Bake Sale from noon to 4 p.m. next Saturday at the Home Economics Building, 2050 Buffalo Drive, South Park (15129). The building is across from the fairgrounds and behind the police station.

Photos with Santa ($5), auctions, vendors and baked goods will be available along with retired racing greyhounds looking for new homes. Greyhounds and large and medium-sized dogs are welcome, but greys don't always get along with little dogs, so leave them at home. Information:

Shop small and local

Wedged between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, today is Small Business Saturday. This is our chance to support locally owned businesses that often offer merchandise and services not offered by national chains. Some have "deals" and specials today. If we want small, locally owned shops to stay in business, we need to spend money there.

Here are some of the stores that have been in Pet Tales: Smiley's Pet Pad in Shadyside, Woody's Dog Wash & Pet Boutique in South Park, Animal Nature in Regent Square, Larry's Laundromutt in Edgeworth and Petagogy in Shadyside.

I'm not shopping this weekend -- I'd rather undergo a root canal without pain killers -- but I can shop small and local throughout the holiday season and throughout the year.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.