Agility dogs reflect owners’ feelings, bodies

By Jeff Labine
Published: July 4, 2016.

American Linda Heaton, along with her husband and three dogs, spent her Independence Day long weekend in Canada.

They made the five-hour drive from their home in Cambridge, Minn., to Thunder Bay to participate in the first Summer Sizzle Agility Trials, which was being held at Tucker Creek Farm off Highway 61.

Heaton said she wanted to participate in the agility contest not only because one of her dogs was bred at the farm but because they also enjoy it.

Having participated in agility contests for the past decade, Heaton said the interest started during obedience classes where she noticed her dogs were enjoying leaping over bars and going through tunnels. She said the next thing she knew, they were entering into contests.

Attending competitions has taken Heaton across the country from Salt Lake City, Utah, to California and Texas.

“It’s fun,” the 67-year-old said on Sunday.

“We have been all over. We go to a lot of places. We like to travel.”

Heaton believes the best way to ensure success at an agility competition is to be relaxed and have a strong bond with their dog. She explained that the dog reflects how their owner feels so if they are stressed, the dog will be too.

“You have to be there to support your dog because you have to tell them where to go,” she said. “I think being connected with your dog and just having fun and not taking it too seriously” will lead to success.

“If you are happy, they are happy,” she added.

Heaton’s dogs were among 27 who participated in the competition this long weekend, which started on Friday. The first day of the competition had 60 runs for the dogs to do while on Saturday there were 85 followed by 75 on Sunday.

Heather Trudell, another participant at the competition, was running the course alongside her two-year-old dog named Reba. Trudell, who is from Thunder Bay, said they both enjoy the chance to test themselves at agility competitions.

“(Reba’s) really fast at it and I find it occupies her mind and gives her something to think about,” Trudell said. “If (she doesn’t have an occupied mind) she gets way too destructive at home. It challenges her.”

She explained that when they started training, they took it slowly going over each obstacle before figuring out the more finer points such as how to turn. She said the training is more about how the owner positions their body.

“Your body affects their body,” she said.

“They read off of you. You definitely learn in class that if your dog makes a mistake it’s because of you. (Reba) enjoys it but we’re just learning to mesh as a team. It’s definitely fun if you are looking for an activity to do.”

Trial chair Tammy Williams said there have been competitions in the past but there hasn’t been an Australian Shepherd Club of America sanctioned trial for a few years. She explained many dog owners in Thunder Bay have to go to the United States to compete in agility contests since it’s closer to travel across the border than to southern Ontario.

With the weak Canadian dollar, Williams said they thought it was a good time to have a trial event in Thunder Bay for dog owners to enjoy and added she was pleased with the turnout.

“It actually builds interest here in town so more and more events can happen,” she said.

“As long as our local dogs have a place to play we are happy and anyone else we can bring in is just an extra special bonus.”

She added that since the event is sanctioned, participants can accumulate points to go onto bigger competitions and trials.