Spot Be Nimble, Spot Be Quick

CULTURE-Agility-_MG_8226The WNC Agriculture Center is going to the dogs May 27-29 as more than 400 purebred canines from throughout the Southeast will compete as part of the local American Kennel Club Dog Agility Trials.

At first glance, the competition may seem similar to the popular Westminster Dog Show, but instead of showing poise these pooches will be there with their handlers to showcase how well they can navigate a timed obstacle course without making any mistakes.

“The first word in defining agility is speed,” says Maureen Robinson of Zirconia, who has been involved with dog agility trials since 1990. “Agility is a sport and most who compete want to show that their dog can complete the course the fastest and without any misteps. The sport has become very athletic, both for the dogs and their handlers, and it’s also become more competitive as people learn better ways of training.”

Each agility course is comprised of jumps, weave poles, tunnels and climbing stations, but at all times these obstacles are designed to focus on the safety of the dog.

“The events are not at all subjective like other dog shows,” Robinson adds. “Every aspect is controlled and measured with an automatic timer. The fastest and most obedient dog wins.”

Peggy Franklin of Hendersonville knows a few things about winning. Since 1995, five of her prized papillons have competed in the trials and earned ample recognition for their efforts.

“It’s a fun thing for pet owners to do with their dogs, because you really get the sense that they enjoy it,” Franklin says, adding that two of her pets are retired from active competition but two young pups are still training. “The trials are designed for a dog with lots of energy that wants to play. A good agility dog handler will have patience, good reflexes and good communication with their dog, and that’s both verbal and mental.”

Photo by Brent Fleury

Robinson has turned her passion for dog agility competition into a business called Dog Works where she trains dogs, including at least seven of her own, for the trials. The competitions are open to all breeds and Robinson hopes that one day the event will achieve even higher recognition.

“I hope that in my lifetime this will become an Olympic sport,” she says. “It would tickle me one day for dogs and their handlers to compete in the Olympics.”

Think your pooch has what it takes to compete? Visit www.dogworksagility.com to learn more about agility training. Dog Works also offers puppy socialization and standard obedience training.

AKC Dog Agility Trials explained

• Agility is a sport that appeals to all dog lovers designed to demonstrate a dog’s willingness to work with its handler in a variety of situations. It is an athletic event that requires conditioning, concentration, training and teamwork. Dog and handlers negotiate an obstacle course racing against the clock.

• A trial is a competition. Clubs hold practice matches and then apply to be licensed to hold official trials. At a licensed trial, handlers and dogs can earn scores toward agility titles.

• Agility is one of the fastest growing dog sports in the United States and is the fastest growing event at the American Kennel Club.

• In the first year of AKC agility competition (1994) there were approximately 2,000 entries at a total of 23 trials agility trials. In 2003, there were 1,379 trials. The number of trials held in 2007 was 2,014.

Photo by Brent Fleury

• The AKC offers three types of agility classes. The standard class includes contact objects such as the dog walk, the A-frame and seesaw. Each of the contact obstacles has a “safety zone” painted on the object and the dog must place at least one paw in that area to complete the obstacle. The second is jumpers with weaves. It has only jumps, tunnels and weave poles with no contact objects to slow the pace. The third is FAST, which stands for Fifteen and Send Time, designed to test handler and dog teams’ strategy skill, accuracy, speed and distance handling.

• All classes offer increasing levels of difficulty to earn novice, open, excellent and master titles. After completing both an excellent standard title and an excellent jumpers title, handler and dog teams can compete for the MACH (Master Agility Championship) title.

• AKC agility is available to every registerable breed, the dogs run the same course with adjustments in the expected time and jump height.

• The classes are divided by jump heights in order to make the competition equal between the different sizes of dogs.

From the American Kennel Club website, www.akc.org.

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