HALF MOON BAY -- When Snitch was a puppy, her breeders envisioned the adorable Saint Bernard one day competing in elite dog shows like the one hosted by the Westminster Kennel Club. But it turned out Snitch wasn't the beauty-queen type.

She's strictly a tomboy who qualified for this weekend's American Kennel Club Agility Invitational in Orlando, Fla.

And no, we're not yanking your chain -- dog or otherwise. A fluffy, 105-pound Saint Bernard will lope through a challenging course of jumps, tunnels, seesaws and other tricky obstacles in the race to be top dog.

"Sometimes I wonder if she even knows that she's a Saint Bernard," said Jann Hayes, her owner. "She's more like a border collie or golden retriever. But people usually don't believe me when I tell them that my Saint Bernard does agility contests."

Five-year-old Snitch is so unusual that she's one of just three Saint Bernards -- those stately dogs known for heroic Alpine rescues and silly "Beethoven" films -- to be invited to the nationals, where she'll defy stereotypes competing against more nimble breeds.

"The smaller dogs get all the glamour, but the glory goes to the Saint Bernards," said Carrie DeYoung, the AKC's director of agility. "That's a whole lotta dog going over a jump and filling up a tunnel. The crowd always loves Saint Bernards."

Snitch looks like a typical Saint Bernard, with her facial mask of black, brown and white, and she has a sweet-tempered disposition. She loves to roll over and have her wide tummy rubbed.

"Saint Bernards are just big marshmallows, so they're not very good guard dogs despite their size," Hayes said. "The only way a Saint Bernard will protect a house is if someone breaks a leg tripping over the sleeping dog."

Hayes, 54, a Half Moon Bay resident who works in Silicon Valley, has been enamored with the shaggy dogs for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Marin County, she received a pup on her 10th birthday, and they've been part of her life ever since.

She and husband Prentice had a male Saint Bernard, Onni, who didn't like to be left alone. That's how they ended up visiting Oregon breeders and looking at 8-month-old Snitch.

Named for the flying golden ball in the "Harry Potter" game of Quidditch, Snitch was bred to be a show dog. But then she went through the Saint Bernard version of the awkward teenage years. She became too lean and her head wasn't shaped quite right for the best-in-show world.

"If she had been a good-looking dog, we wouldn't have been able to get her," Hayes said.

But Snitch, who eats 2 pounds of raw meat a day, was an athlete. She loved chasing birds and squirrels, and endlessly fetching tennis balls. At obedience training one day, Snitch wandered over to the agility equipment and explored an A-frame obstacle.

Jann Hayes leads her 5-year-old female St. Bernard named Snitch through a jump on an agility course at Fetch Sam! in San Jose on Dec. 10, 2012.
Jann Hayes leads her 5-year-old female St. Bernard named Snitch through a jump on an agility course at Fetch Sam! in San Jose on Dec. 10, 2012. (Nhat V. Meyer/Staff)

"She chose this herself," Hayes said. "She actually looks like she's smiling when she runs. She's also not terribly slobbery. It's not like slobber is flying behind her when she runs."

While it's not clear if sleeker dogs make fun of Snitch, she's a hit with the humans.

"When we first started, nobody took us very seriously," Hayes said. "But now Snitch has a huge following in the agility community. Everyone knows her."

Competitions consist of navigating a course with 18 to 20 obstacles as fast as possible. It's a tandem effort between dog and handler. Snitch goes exactly where Hayes tells her with a combination of verbal and hand commands, which they've perfected at a San Jose training center.

There are 631 agility dogs competing in Orlando, including more than 100 in the largest animal category, where the three Saint Bernards will line up against breeds such as greyhounds and larger retrievers.

"Saint Bernards definitely are not common when it comes to agility, but they work hard and like working with people," the AKC's DeYoung said. "Why do you think they went into the mountains looking for lost people?"

But Snitch won't be wearing a little cask around her neck like the popularized image of the rescue Saint Bernards galloping through the snow.

The agility event is in an air-conditioned arena, which is a good thing because "Snitch thinks anything above 68 degrees is just ridiculous," Hayes said.

In fact, there is something else her dog enjoys as much as tummy scratches and contests, Hayes said: "She does love the snow."

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.

Local dog, national event

What: AKC Agility Invitational, part of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, where 5,000 dogs representing 175 breeds compete in a dog show and obedience and agility events.
Where: Orlando, Fla.
When: The main competitions are Saturday and Sunday.
Details: www.akc.org/aenc
Local dog: Snitch, a 5-year-old Saint Bernard from Half Moon Bay, will compete in agility.
Saint Bernards' history: Monks in the Alps originally bred the dog to help them traverse isolated footpaths and save trapped travelers beginning about 1700, according to the Saint Bernard Club of America.
The cask myth: There is no historical record of Saint Bernards having little barrels of liquor strapped around the necks during rescues.
Famous Saint Bernards: Barry (1800-1814) was credited with saving 40 lives. Fictional dogs include Hollywood's Beethoven, Cujo and Nana (in Peter Pan).