February 19, 2012

Dog trials focus on agility, not discipline

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- Fiona, a wiggly, black, 7-year-old pug from Kittery, had a mind of her own at Eastern Maine Agility Club trials on Saturday.

The shin-high canine never made it over the first hurdle, making a bee-line for the finish line instead, where she sat barking as her owner, Betsy McFadden, fetched her leash.

The unpredictability of how each dog will perform is part of the excitement of canine agility, club members said.

"It is not a competition so much as a fun with your dog," said club president Bob Hamlyn, of Newcastle.

Fiona was one of 113 dogs registered to perform -- but 119 did so -- Saturday in the two-day agility trials, which continue today at Happy Tails at 119 Bishop St. The wildly popular sport involves dogs, directed by their owners, running an obstacle course with speed and accuracy and without any treats or toys as inducements. Dogs of all sizes, ages and breeds, including mutts, and a similarly diverse mix of owners, take part in the sport, Hamlyn said.

The Eastern Maine Agility Club hosts five events around the state that draw participants from throughout New England and Canada.

"The circle just keeps growing," said Dan Brackett, club vice president.

The sport can be addictive. Todd and Denise Corley of Dover, N.H., traveled to 42 trials around the Northeast last year with their mutts, Duncan, Duffy, Doolin, Dory, Deacon and Devon.

"We don't have any kids, so this is where our free time and money goes," said Corley.

Many get involved in the sport through obedience classes, including Valancy Harlow of Saco. She and her yellow Labrador retriever, Samson, 6, raced through the course on Saturday, only their second time at a trial.

"He lives for agility," Harlow said.

Penny Cary, owner of Petiquette Canine Education in Saco, said people and dogs like agility training because it strengthens the bond between them.

"Instead of dog owners saying 'no, no, no,' they are saying 'go, go, go,'" Cary said.

The dog owners pay $13 to $14 per run, which goes toward paying for judges and the venue, said Valerie Markgren, trial committee member.

"It also takes a whole fleet of volunteers to make it run," Markgren said.

Markgren said one of the year's highlights is the summer trials in Skowhegan, where people camp out and socialize and the dogs are treated to a misting room to keep their temperatures down.

More information about the club is available on line at www.emacdogsports.com.

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