One of the world’s largest and most prestigious dog shows, the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin, returns to Animal Planet as a four-hour special on January 1. The AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin will feature more than 5,000 dogs from 49 states and 21 countries competing for various titles across multiple events and more than $150,000 in prize money. Audiences will see highlights from each competition category, including agility and dock diving, and the show will culminate with the highly anticipated Best in Show.
New this year, a roster of dog-loving celebrities has been assembled to captain their respective #TeamDog groups and rally dog owners to share which team they’re on and who they think will take top honors at this year’s AKC National Championship. One member of the celebrity #TeamDog lineup is 33-year-old actor/model Kellan Lutz and his Australian Shepherd named Koda, who will be representing the Herding Group and #TeamAussie.
Dogs have always had a special place in Lutz’s heart. He was born in Dickinson, North Dakota, and that’s where he was introduced to man’s best friend.
“My first dog was a cocker spaniel named Brandy,” Lutz recalled. “And then my parents separated, and I went with my mom to the farm [in Iowa] while my dad took the dog. At the farm, we had golden retrievers and labs. My fondest memory was of my golden retriever named Rocky. We named him Rocky because he loved rocks. He’d walk around with these giant rocks in his mouth. We’d play fetch with five pound rocks. He didn’t care for balls or branches, but rocks – he just loved having these rocks in his mouth. That dog was so special and loving.”
Lutz gained his appreciation for dogs from growing up alongside Rocky and the other dogs on the Iowa farm.
“It was a bunch of dogs with no fences,” Lutz said. “There was something wild yet protecting about it. We had a bunch of labs and golden retrievers – oh man, they were my best friends. I was always outside playing. I would jump in the silos and play in the corn, and my dogs would jump in. We’d play tag and chase each other around the farm.”
After moving to Arizona, Lutz moved to Los Angeles, where he pursued a career as a model and actor. Following several TV appearances and a film debut in the 2006 movie “Stick It,” Lutz became a household name when he portrayed Emmett Cullen in the blockbuster movie “Twilight” in 2008. He’s also played the character in all four sequels; “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” (2009), “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” (2010) and the two-part finale “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn.”
Lutz is clearly fond of dogs, and he admits it’s his number one choice for a pet he would want to own.
“I don’t know if that is partly due to the fact that I’m allergic to cats,” Lutz laughed. “The bond between man and dog – it truly is man’s best friend. I’ve experienced it firsthand with all the dogs that I’ve had. I just naturally love them. I used to ride my golden retrievers as a horse when I was super tiny.”
When discussing Koda, his current dog, Lutz explains why the Australian Shepherd was the natural choice for the breed he would own. In addition to the fact that he’s visited Australia several times for movie shoots, Lutz was taken by the sheer beauty of the breed.
“When I first saw a blue merle Aussie Shepherd, I was really blown away by its markings,” he explained. “At the time, I was single, and I really wanted a companion dog – one that matched my active lifestyle and would encourage me to run more. I’m very active but I’m not a big runner. I needed the dog to get outside more. I saw how loyal and smart and loving they are, I just had a pull for an Aussie Shepherd.”
Lutz searched for an AKC certified breeder and found an Aussie Shepherd puppy that he felt was the perfect match for him.
“At that point, I had met my wife [Brittany] – she wasn’t my wife at that time – and she fell in love with it,” Lutz recalled. “We got ourselves a little kiddo. She’s so happy when we get home that she does this little wiggle butt. It’s so endearing to have a pet that loves you so unconditionally.”
“I was born in North Dakota, and I always loved the name ‘Dakota,’ ” said Lutz, who added that he realized it was not a smooth name to say when calling for a pet, plus it lacked a soft feminine quality. “It just sounded like a hard name. ‘Koda’ rolled off the tongue and [in the Sioux language] it means ‘friend.’ ”
Lutz has no regrets about bringing Koda into his family. In fact, Koda sort of fills a need that he’s had since he’s become a household name.
“I was more bored without a dog, especially during the Twilight years when the paparazzi were really prevalent,” Lutz reminisced. “I remember [when the paparazzi] would sit outside my house, it would just be me in the house. I didn’t have a dog at that time. It would have made those times more enjoyable having a best friend, where I could be like, ‘Screw you paparazzi, I don’t have to go out. You can’t chase me because I’m having fun in here with my dog.’ ”
Like other pet owners, Lutz enjoys sharing photos and videos of Koda with other dog owners and Aussie aficionados. A glance at his official Instagram account, which has more than 740,000 followers, reveals that Koda appears in many of his 1,500 posts. In fact, Koda even has her own Instagram account.
“I have so many fond memories of that little nugget,” he said. “Thanks to social media, we are able to capture it and keep it as a living diary. Every two weeks my wife and I will go on there and look at the posts. Koda’s such a poser. She stretches her legs like frog legs. And now to this day, she’s the best companion for me. I’m super active and my wife is more the softy…
“Koda and I go to Zoom Room [Dog Training],” he continued. “I’m huge into agility training. I feel like a proud dad when I see how smart she is, at how quick she learns and understands to do the agility courses. She’ll jump through hoops and tires and go through tunnels and go on A-Frames. She’s pretty fearless.”
Lutz says he and his wife admit they got lucky with Koda, who appears to be the perfect pup. The couple is contemplating getting another Aussie Shepherd, and Lutz confesses that he dreams of “one day having a bunch of Aussies on a farm.”
In terms of the entries at the AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin, Lutz is confident that the Australian Shepherd will have little trouble in winning.
“[The Aussies] will be the top dog,” he said without skipping a beat. “Herding dogs rock. They love what they do. They were born to do it. I’m #TeamAussie all the way, and I’m really excited about it. If you follow me on social media, you’ll see I’m rooting for #TeamAussie all the way.
Shawn [Johnson and her golden retriever Nash] will be my best competition, but I think our Aussies are going to take it.”
Dog lovers are invited to show their #TeamDog spirit by posting a photo of their dog to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, tag Royal Canin and share which #TeamDog they’re backing for a chance to have their dog’s photo featured in this year’s TV special.