Looking to Build That Bond with Your Dog? Consider Agility
My Raja doesn’t do agility, but his furry friends do. In fact, I didn’t know about agility until 2009, when Raja met some awesome athletes. Regular dogs on their days off, these amazing little furballs of energy are lightning-fast and professionally focused -- when not hanging about sniffing trees.
Agility, for those who don't know, is a human-canine team sport. The team navigates an obstacle course. The dog takes all route signals from the handler, who runs beside him all the way. While Raja says he prefers blogging and traveling, he likes to support his friends, and a good day at competition is a win for all who come out. Raja even flew to Minnesota once to cheer his pals.
Here's a recent video of Raja, who, as you can see, is determined to run the course his own way instead of how his friends do it.
Canine Performance Events Inc. started in 1998 as a competition sport for dogs and their handlers. The goal is fun and community amongst people and their dogs, and Canine Performance Events is not restricted to pure-breed or sporting classification animals. Age is not a factor, although junior handlers are nurtured.
There are various game classes, which means that different courses present different challenges and require different skills. The team faces challenges such as tunnels to run into, jumps to hop over, narrow planks to tiptoe across, poles to weave through, and A-frames to trundle up and over while the handler uses hand, body, and vocal signals to tell the dog which object to confront in succession. Competitors jump at size- and ability-appropriate heights, so tall and small dogs can each have their day.
Teams accumulate qualifications (Qs), and the really persistent and accomplished can compete in national events, although to become a Champion you don't have to attend nationals, just accumulate enough Qs to earn the Title C-ATCH (Canine Performance Event -- Agility Trial Champion) and be famous forever!
This is the story of two friends and five dogs whose friendships grew through their interest in Canine Performance Events.
Carolyn enrolled her Shih Tzus, Tasha and Cy, in obedience class to help them be calm and attentive therapists when visiting hospitals and nursing homes. At the classes, she met her best pal, Rhea, who also was interested in helping her Mini Aussie, Gizzy, get ready to share warm fuzziness with others. This was the beginning of a great friendship that has supported each as they help their dogs be the very best they can be as athletes, canine citizens, and ultimate lifestyle companions.
In agility, Cy showed lots of promise, and Carolyn got so much encouragement from her agility club that she hired a private trainer, Laura Hauss-Maulbetsch, whom she met through a fortuitous Barkapalooza event at Laura’s facility, Borderhauss Kennels. Carolyn was beginning to dream big for Cy already.
Gizzy was in fragile health, but agility was fun for her and kept her active as long as possible. When Gizzy passed on, Rhea’s Mini Aussie puppy, Skamp, drew all Rhea’s attention -- attention she needed since Skamp was feisty and full of fun. Rhea thought obedience and agility would help the little flying furball calm down and socialize with other dogs.
Meanwhile, Carolyn went all out for therapy work. She sewed cute costumes for her dogs to make them even more accessible to people who felt shy or fragile. Shih Tzus parading down the hall in Western gear pretty much put any inhibitions aside, and little doggy kisses from the cute couple put a smile on the saddest face. Tasha was in her glory dressed for visits. And, in fact, with Tasha’s modeling help, Carolyn started Carolyn’s Originals, a doggy clothing and costume company.
Cy began to work harder in his trials to qualify for a national event! Dogs need lots of Q’s to participate in a Canine Performance Events national competition, and even then enrollment is limited. So it’s lots of hard work, and then the luck of the draw factors in.
Skamp began to find her stride, although her idea of success wasn’t always the same as Rhea’s. For her first trial, Skamp cleared the first jump like a pro and then ignored all other obstacles to run a premature victory lap. Rhea had to endure her being nicknamed the “Wild Dog” with a smile. At one trial, Rhea even forgot the route and just stopped and admitted, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” Now it’s a cute story, but at the time it took a good-hearted and loving owner to hang onto the idea of fun and not get discouraged. Win or lose, Canine Performance Events teaches patience, acceptance, and stick-to-it-ness on all sides.
Carolyn and Rhea set goals for Cy and Skamp to qualify to participate in a national event, and they were all ready at the same time. Each drew a coveted spot in the 2011 Canine Performance Events Nationals in Lake Elmo, Minn.
Each team goes through years of training and trailing, and it invests substantially -- energy, mind, heart, and dollars. Carolyn’s Originals has helped support Tasha and Cy’s career, and it has made private lessons and travel possible. As Rhea says, “Nationals is the top event that everyone from the United States can attend and qualifiers can compete. It is so much fun to be able to see other dogs participate from all over and see so many different breeds doing agility.”
Accompanying Cy and Skamp was CT, Carolyn’s mellow red Shih Tzu. CT is younger than Cy and is trailing him in points, but it will soon be his turn to shine. My Raja joined them to record all the highlights and to see and be seen at the festive doggy Olympiad.
National events offer lots of opportunities for learning and creativity. Carolyn says, “[Canine Performance Events] is a friendly venue ... People still love qualifying with their dogs, but the emphasis is on having fun.” Scheduled at a county fairgrounds in Lake Elmo, the Minnesota nationals gave competitors the chance to decorate a showhorse stall as a home base and compete for prizes. So Skamp, Cy, CT, and Raja became the Fisherdogs, outfitted in custom fishing shirts, vests, and hats. The stall is a place where the teams can relax and store their gear between trials. Vendors set up in another barn, and everyone loved getting their theme portrait done. At nationals, in the supportive, information-sharing environment, attendees meet up with old friends and make new ones.
Rhea decided that Skamp had met her goals and it was time to focus on therapy work. The Therapy Dogs International qualifying test isn’t easy, but agility work made Skamp obedient, sociable, and calm enough to pass her big test. As Rhea so rightly says, “She is a blessing to all that she comes in contact with, but most of all we come home blessed and bonded again in our new adventure.” Party boy CT wants to become a champion, too, and Carolyn says he will, “After he’s made friends with every single judge and bar setter in the organization,” that is.
Cy might easily have championed in the Altamont nationals last June if he had not pinched a nerve in his neck right before the event. Carolyn had to make a hard decision: Go and take the 50/50 chance Cy would be okay, or to bail on the fun and potential fame in 2012. She made the best dog-loving decision possible. Cy recovered at home, came through therapy stronger than ever, and in spring of 2013 will attain his goal.
So this is where we leave them:
Tasha has become a fashion model. Cy and CT will become agility champions. Skamp, the former wild child, hardly ever needs to stay behind in her dog mom’s active, busy life. As for the humans, Carolyn looks forward to being a dog mom of champions and fashion designer to the dog stars. Rhea’s dream of living and working with her pet is fulfilled as Skamp helps her support her community with kindness and charity.
As for Raja, he’s got his paws all over these keys, prancing away and telling his friends’ stories.
If you are interested in agility at any level, check out obedience classes locally, see how you and your dog respond, and then paws up for the stars. See you at nationals!