Nimble dogs become masters of the agility course

October 12, 2010

By Elizabeth DeVos

Sisters compete with pet Shetlands in popular obstacle course competition

Once her leash is removed, 7-year-old Mandy is off, jumping over obstacles, running in between poles and flying through hoops as the Shetland sheepdog’s owner, Carol Carlisle, tells her what to do next.

Carol Carlisle runs beside he dog Mandy, on a course of jumps and weaves last month during an AKC Agility Trial at the Argus Ranch in Auburn. By Greg Farrar

Carlisle has always had shelties. While living in The Dalles, Ore., she was looking to train dogs for obedience when she took her dog to a friend who had shelties as well, and introduced Carlisle to agility. Carlisle trained with her sheltie, Grace Jo, until she was hit by a car.

Carlisle obtained Mandy through Barb Aulbach, of Caledon Kennel, in Scappoose, Ore.

The pair has been training together for five years and competed in the National Agility Championships in Tulsa, Okla., in March this year, placing about 200th out of 300 overall, according to Carol.

“It was our first National Agility Competition,” she said. “We were both pretty nervous.”

Mandy is the first sheltie from Caledon Kennel to earn a Master Agility Championship (mach). In order to achieve her mach, Mandy exhibited superior performance on the agility course.

Her speed and agility are the main factors in the ranking, and are the basis for the mach program. To qualify for the rating, Mandy and other dogs of the same status must achieve a minimum of 750 championship points and 20 double-qualifying points from two different categories.

“Mandy already has two mach ribbons,” Carlisle said. “She is halfway to receiving her third.”

Carol’s sister Laurie Carlisle also competes with 2-year-old Truitt. Laurie began competing because Carol got her into it.

“According to my sister and other people in the dog world, they say that Truitt is one of the, if not the, fastest sheltie they’ve ever seen.” Laurie said. “My goal is to go to world team trials and get on the world team with Truitt.”

Laurie believes it will take her two more years to achieve that goal. Truitt and Laurie take classes for about two and a half hours per week at Argus Ranch in Auburn, and goes to friends’ houses that have equipment. Laurie and Carol only have a few pieces of training equipment to call their own.

“Truitt is absolutely obsessed with agility,” Laurie said. “When he sees the equipment he goes insane.”

Dog agility began in 1970 in the United Kingdom as entertainment during intermissions for events; it is similar to horse jumping. Since then, it has become a worldwide event. Laurie and Carol spend 20 weekends per year at competitions throughout the state with their dogs.

“I wish I had known about agility in the ‘80s,” Laurie said. “I can’t imagine not doing agility.”

Agility competition is a dog sport where the dogs run through obstacles in a set order, the dogs are judged on their accuracy and how long it takes them to complete an obstacle course. Owners are not allowed to use food or toy incentives to get their four-legged friends to perform better.

Dogs listen to their owners’ voices, and watch for body movements and signals in order to complete 17 or 18 obstacles in a course. Owners hope that their performance is a clean run without any faults, including going over the allotted maximum time, the dog missing an obstacle or refusing to do the correct obstacle.

There are three different levels of agility competition. Novice is for beginners — after three qualifying scores in this level, dogs are then advanced to the next level. The second level is excellent A, in which three more qualifying scores are needed to move to the third and final level, excellent B.

The Carlisle sisters recommend that anyone interested in dog agility should attend a competition to get a feel for it. If dogs are not your pet of choice, Laurie said, they also have cat agility and mouse agility.

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