Monday, December 15, 2008

A Day for the Dogs

“Kerrville to host Dog Agility Show” read the headline of a story in the Kerrville Daily Times.

We had seen snippets of agility competition during the various dog shows on the Animal Planet network but knew very little about the rules of competition. Fortunately, we met Caroline Hanson early in the first day of the competition. She and her husband Dave were the hosts of the competition, and Dave was going to be working with his own dogs in the various events over the three days of competition.

The judge designs the pattern and supervises the set-up of the course. The course includes jumps (hurdlers and a tire), chutes (tunnels open at one end and a collapsed fabric tube at the other), weave poles (zig-zag through a row of poles), tunnels (long tubes

open at both ends) and “contact obstacles” (an A-frame, the raised dogwalk, and the see-saw).

The handlers have no advance notice about the course layout until the “judge’s briefing,” in which the judge goes over the course and summarizes how the class will be judged.

The handlers then have the opportunity for a “walk through.” Here they walk the course in order to plan the sequence they will follow as they lead their dogs through the obstacles. As they planned the route through the obstacles, some handlers ran the course, some used all the hand signals they would use, some used the verbal commands they would eventually use, and some used the entire combination of pacing, gestures, and commands

The Standard Class requires a specific sequence to be followed as the dog completes the course. In the Gamblers Class, the handler maneuvers the dog among the obstacles in any order.

The combination of low lighting in the arena, the ban on flash photography, and the speed of the dogs results in fuzzy pictures as evidenced by the photo at the right of one of the dogs going through the weave poles and the handler racing alongside (red and tan blur on the right).

The competition we attended was the Gamblers Class. The handlers ran the course with their dogs, giving verbal and hand signals indicating the route for the dogs. At a signal from one of the judges, the dogs had to complete a final sequence, working independently of their handlers, who must stay behind a designated line. This last sequence had to be completed in a certain amount of time to earn the bonus points. We soon began to understand the scoring--both points and penalties.

This was serious competition for the nearly 150 dogs and their handlers. Competitors will vie for qualifying scores to earn the right to enter the World Championship competition.

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