If you have never before seen a dog-agility competition, you’re in for a pleasant and exciting surprise this weekend.
You can watch dogs of all breeds and sizes zip through obstacles at the Old Spanish Trail Arena for the Rock Star Agility Network Dog Agility Competition.
Hosted by Zippity Do Dogs, you can watch the competition beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, as canines run an obstacle course aiming for speed and accuracy. Each dog’s trainer will run alongside the dogs through the course using spoken commands and gestures to encourage and guide their four-legged companions through obstacles like weaving poles, open tunnels and A-frames.
It’s obvious to the spectators in attendance that these canines and their trainers are having a great time, even when the canines do something unexpected.
“[There are things] you really don’t want your agility dog to do while running the course,” said Cathy Stampe, trial chairman for Zippity Do Dogs, “but you can’t help but smile, laugh and enjoy the run.”
This year, Stampe will compete with Groovy, a border collie she adopted two years ago. “I have been training her and this will be her first big event.”
Stampe is up against competitors like Julie Price and her Welsh corgi, Bianca, who have become a little bit more seasoned by the competition’s obstacles.
“The first time we ran a course with lots of tunnels, Bianca started out sort of slow on a tunnel,” Price said. “but on the third tunnel, she all of a sudden got this look that said, ‘Hey! There are lots of tunnels out here!’”
In competition, dogs face a variety of challenging obstacles that may appear to be simple to spectators but have nuanced rules, such as the open tunnels. A dog must enter an assigned tunnel at one end and exit at the other end, but a dog completing the wrong tunnel receives no points for the challenge.
When a dog completes a weaving poles challenge, the dog must quickly snake through a vertical series of poles spaced 2-feet apart, without skipping any as they alternate from left to right. The poles are flexible, allowing the dog to push up against them to create a straight (and quick) path through the obstacle, but if the dog does not enter the first pole with its left shoulder, it earns no points.
An A-frame obstacle consists of the dog running up a platform and down the other side. This task is difficult for canines because a dog’s instinct is to jump off the A-frame onto the ground.
Dogs face a similar challenge on the teeter totter where they must slow down at the halfway point to tip it forward to touch the ground before running to the other end.
“Many times, beginner dogs will do a rocket launch,” Stampe said. “They make it to the center and jump straight into the air … they should not ‘fly off.’”
As always, the ultimate goal of the competition has nothing to do with prizes.
“There is never money to be won — just beautiful ribbons and the joy of a perfect run with your dog,” Stampe said. “There is an agility saying: ‘The best handler is the one who is having the most fun with their dog.’”