Dogs have run of the park during Agility Trial weekend

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It’s quite common to see dogs running through a park during a summer weekend, but this past weekend the Speedy Dog Club in Swift Current turned that idea on it’s head.

From July 18-20 Swift Current’s Riverside Park became home to a more high-flying breed of canine, as agility dogs and their handlers arrived in the area for the Speedy Dog Working Group Agility Trial.

The club hosts the event once a year in July, drawing handlers and their dogs from across the prairies.  

The competition has dogs run, jump, weave and even occasionally pause in four different events designed around a mobile obstacle course. The goal depends on the event. Sometimes it’s about speed, sometimes it’s about accumulating points by overcoming specific obstacles, but mostly, it’s about enjoyment.

“My dog loves it, my sister’s dog loves it (and) our older dog loved it,” said club member Danielle Yuzik, who’s been running dogs since she was in elementary school. “There aren’t a lot of dogs you’ll meet out here that don’t have fun while they’re running.”

Even though Yuzik and her dog have won trials before (she was the 2006 Regional Champion) she’s more concerned about getting some exercise, meeting new people these days. Although trials can be competitive events, that seems to be the common attitude here, even for national champions, like Prince Albert’s Kim Anderson.

“It still really comes down to the people,” said Anderson, a three time national champion.  “I have three dogs here, so I’m going to be in that ring for about 15 minutes this weekend, the whole weekend, so (it’s) the visiting with everybody. That said, I honestly adore running my dogs.”

The dogs enjoy running too. On Friday Anderson’s first dog, a Jack Russell Terrier, enjoyed it so much she decided to blaze her own trail around the obstacle course, ignoring Anderson’s directions.

“What can you do,” Anderson said with a smile at the end of the night. “You just kind of have to laugh it off.”

There is plenty of laughing, but the competition does have a serious side. Most people assume the dogs need an incredible amount of practice to do what they do. What most people don’t realize is, so do the handlers.

“You have to take a lot of classes,” said Lori Langen, a Speedy Dog Club member and the trial secretary for the weekend’s event. “It’s not like you can just bring your dog out and all of a sudden be able to do this, and most of the time it is training the handler, not training the dog.”

The dogs provide the speed and agility, but the handlers provide the direction and support needed before the canine’s can compete. Training for the obstacle course can actually scare the dogs forever if not done with proper care and attention.

“The weave poles are really hard to do and the teeter’s a tough one to do also,” Langen explained, as she pointed to a blue teeter-totter the dogs have to walk across during the trail. “When we teach it in our classes we tell people ‘don’t ever do that by yourself.’  You always make sure you have someone with you when you’re first starting to learn how to use it, because it can scare the dog and then it’s hard to get them back on.”

Handling an agility dog is more of a partnership than anything. The dogs rely on their handlers to not only point them in the right direction, but to also call out which type of obstacle is next so they can prepare to slow down or speed up as necessary.

“You have to train with your dog, so both of you guys have to know what you’re doing,” said Yuzik, who was the youngest handler in her competition when she won her 2006 title.  “You can’t expect the dog to know everything. You could screw up and then blame it on the dog, but it’s not actually the dog’s fault.”

“Understand the dog you’re running, because everyone of them is different,” said Anderson.

Of Anderson’s three dogs, two of her Border Collies have enough points to compete at nationals. However, she guarantees the younger of the two won’t make the trip. The dog gets overwhelmed at large events, and Anderson doesn’t want to put any pressure on her.

“To put her in that pressure situation is just not fair. It’s not. It’s like asking a seven year old to go drive a car.”

Surprisingly, there is no single dominant breed. Even dogs not known for their speed and agility, like basset hounds, occasionally compete.

Age isn’t a factor either, since different divisions are created for different levels of competition. If the dog wants to run, there’s a place for it at the trial, and if this one is any indicator, there are plenty of dogs who want to do just that.

Organizations: Speedy Dog Club

Geographic location: Swift Current, Riverside Park

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