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Agility-trained dogs keep their eyes on the prize

By: Kim Palaferri, Journal correspondent
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Most dogs like to run free at the park, chase balls, meet new furry or human friends, or play tug-of-war with their owner. But for a select few, going to the park means keeping their eyes on the prize. The sport of dog agility has seen a rise in the number of competitors over the past few years, with its popularity, putting dogs to the test and making their handlers proud. Auburn resident Vicky Meyer became interested in the sport when a friend introduced her to the sport of agility dog competitions 12 years ago. So she took her dog, Nipper, who was 3 at the time, to some training classes and hit the course. According to Meyer, dogs that enter the sport need a good two years of solid training before entering competition. And the competitive span depends on the dog’s physical stamina, and the average career can last up to 10 years. The obstacle course consists of three mandatory yellow contacts, staggered through the course where the dog must make contact while running the course. These include a teeter-totter, an A-frame platform and a dog walk. Along with the contacts, dogs will rip through other obstacle challenges, such as tunnels, chutes, jumping over bars, through hoops and the crowd favorite, weave poles. It takes dogs an average of 30 to 40 seconds to run the course and they are motivated by either a well-earned treat or a toy. Meyer now trains with her dog, Stella, a 7-year-old Rat Terrier, who already has quite a track record with two American Kennel Club MACH championships. This year Stella is working on number three. “It’s a year-long training process, beginning on December First ending on Nov. 30th, and as of right now, Stella has met half of the qualifying points for next year,” Meyer said. “We are well on our way in points to be qualified for next year’s AKC championship point requirement for an invitation, and it looks good for Stella to collect her third championship.” The recent championship held in Reno had 900 competitors. Next year’s AKC Agility Dog will be held the first week of April in Tulsa, Okla. The agility competition mostly draws women who have taken their passion for dogs to a new level. Meyers and Stella work out with her friend, Christine Johnson, at her home in Auburn. Johnson’s dog, Spy, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, is a master level. Over the years Johnson has seen the competition expand with handlers using rescue dogs. “In this sport, you see a tremendous number of herding breeds, but any dogs can do it. We have even seen Chihuahuas and Great Danes, too. Any well-bred dog with good structure can do this sport. They just need to be evaluated for structure,” Johnson said. Meyer said that entering these competitions is more about creating a different bond and relationship with your dog. “The whole process is more about competing with your dog, because there is little cash prize to be awarded, the real prize is the title,” Meyer said. She started her passion by working with a trainer in a non-competitive nature for two years and moved into competition. Meyer’s husband is very supportive of her hobby, but leaves her and Stella to the agility. ----- To get involved in dog agility training, contact local organizations like Performance Dogs In Action Where:?P.O. Box 668 Pleasant Grove, CA 95668 Call:?(916) 655-1558