A little bit of rain couldn’t stop the border collies, Australian shepherds, poodles and other dogs gathered at Turlock’s Nunes Agility Field over the weekend, who hurdled, weaved and balanced through obstacles not just for a prize, but to have some fun.
Hosted by Valley Agility Sports Team, a nonprofit dog agility club in Turlock, the trials held at what can best be described as an obstacle course for dogs off of Golden State Boulevard were a chance for each canine and its handler to earn recognition as the top in their sport.
“The dogs really do enjoy this...it’s fun for them to go out and run and be with their human,” VAST Trial Chair Toni Duralski said. “It’s just for the fun of it. It’s not a big money competition — dogs can get qualifying ribbons for other big championships that they can earn.”
Dog agility, most recently seen on television at the Westminster Masters Agility Championship, is a sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. The handler’s controls are limited to voice, movement and various body signals with no treats or food as incentive during the trial, and the handler can touch neither the dog nor the obstacles.
To be at the top of their game requires exceptional training and coordination from both the dog and handler.
“It takes a good year to prepare for a trial like this,” Duralski said. “Everybody trains for this, then we have different levels where they come in and compete.”
Some courses are smaller and only contain hurdles for dogs to jump over, while more advanced courses contain contact equipment like A-frames the dog must climb and seesaws to maneuver. Tunnels, weave poles and tire jumps frequent courses as well.
No matter what the obstacle course looks like, each dog was eager to run during Saturday’s trials, putting some impressive times up on the leader board.
“You can have some of the dogs complete just jumping course in 30 to 40 seconds, and on a larger course, 37, 36 seconds,” VAST President Rene Meyers said. “It’s very fast, and you can have them even faster than that depending on the dog and the handler.”
While dogs that fall under the herding category tend to be the most agile, like Aussies and border collies, dog agility can suit any dog, Duralski said, no matter their shape, size or age.
“Any breed can compete as long as the dog’s healthy,” she said. “Some of the breeds you don’t expect, like a bulldog...you’ll see them out here running, and they run fast and have a good time.”
Woodland resident Rosalie Ball and her pit bull Ticket competed over the weekend, and she hopes that her dog’s impressive performances on the agility field coupled with his well-trained, docile demeanor can help shed a positive light on his breed.
“When I first started, I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t see any (pit bulls) and this breed doesn’t have the best reputation. A lot of people just sat back and watched, and my dogs have been welcomed,” Ball said. “What I hope we’re doing is that we’re improving this breed, and demonstrating what a good relationship and what a responsible owner can do.”
Ticket did well during the weekend’s competition, Ball added, and she explained that although pit bulls aren’t the conventional agility competition dog, they have plenty of characteristics that qualify them as such.
“They have a lot of drive, they love to work and they like to please,” she said. “Between all three of those, it’s just a recipe for success.”
Stevinson resident Sara Rhodes said she knew her corgi, Lucy, would be a great fit for dog agility due to the breed’s ability to take direction and their love of fun. Lucy’s career in dog agility just began, and she’s still learning to follow Rhodes throughout the obstacle course in a timely manner, occasionally leaving the run for an interesting smell or distracting sight on Saturday.
No matter the score, however, Rhodes and Lucy had a blast over the weekend.
“The dog has fun and you have fun,” Rhodes said. “It’s a nice way to meet a lot of different people.”
Both VAST and Nunes Agility Field host friendly competitions and time trials frequently, with the next approaching event set to take place at the fields May 3-5. The events are free and open to the public, though it is asked that non-competing dogs remain at home.
Duralski hopes that by exposing more people to the sport, be it via television or in person, more spectators will take it upon themselves to get out and train with their dog, potentially picking up a new hobby.
“It’s all about having fun with your dogs, so for it to get seen on TV and for other people to see it, it starts building an energy around it,” she said. “A lot of people have pets at home and they might not want to compete, but they might just want to come out and have fun and run with their dogs.”