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Canine Capers agility trials test dogs skills
Four-legged athletes compete this weekend at Chicopee Ag Center
Julie Evans coaxes her dog, Greta, through the obstacle course Saturday at the Canine Capers event at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. - photo by Tom Reed

Canine Capers

What: Dog show, agility trials for all breeds

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. today

Where: Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center, 1855 Calvary Church Road, Gainesville

Admission: Free

Contact: 770-531-6855

Spot and Tick may have waggly tails and wet noses, but these two black Labradors mean business.

The four-legged friends were ready to compete on Saturday at the Canine Capers USDAA trials at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville. Of course, winning a ribbon wasn't the first thing on their minds.

Owner Richard Wallace said while Spot enjoys dog treats, Tick's big reward is getting to play with a ball.

Many dogs were looking forward to their rewards as they performed in agility obstacle courses. The trials continue today and spectators are welcome, though all are encouraged to leave their dogs at home.

Chris Danielly, the trial secretary, said that the sport is divided into three levels based on experience. A dog starts out in starters, works its way up to advanced and then competes in master's. To advance, a dog must earn a qualifying score in a certain class.

When a dog begins in the starters level, there are fewer obstacles and more time availability. In advanced and masters, the obstacles increase and the amount of time allowed is shortened.

"Every obstacle here a dog can pretty much see out in the woods except the weave polls, which is why they are the most difficult thing to train - there is nothing natural about weaving," Danielly said.

Unlike other dog competitions, the USDAA trials offer a variety of breeds of dogs as well as a casual environment.

"It is not a formal confirmation or show - it is something that is very understandable," Danielly said. "If you sit outside the ring and you watch a couple of dogs, you are going to figure out what they are doing and where they are supposed to go."

Kirstie Dean, a USDAA starters advanced judge from Rochester Hills, Mich., was on the lookout Saturday for dogs who slide outside of the safety zones and go in an incorrect direction. But what she was really hoping to see was owner and dog having fun even if they weren't doing well on the course.

"It is more important to me that they are having fun out there than being totally competitive," Dean said.

Although there was no formal awards presentation, winners were able to pick up their ribbons. To win a ribbon, competitor Dan Weiss of Newnan realizes that time is of the essence.

"Everyone is pushing for time and the dogs are very fired up, so you don't have much time for decision," he said. "A typical course time could be 40 to 50 seconds, so you have to hustle."

Weiss said that to build a strong bond with your dog, you have to work together.

"The sport is primarily a visual thing," he said. "You talking to the dog once in a while is OK. But the problem is that the dog is moving so fast that by the time the voice gets to the dog, whatever you were saying probably doesn't apply anymore."

Weiss said that people have to keep in mind that every dog is different — there are no two alike.

"If you keep working with them, while you figure out what they're doing, they are figuring out what you're doing," he said. "As the dog gains more confidence, it will go faster."

Weiss said that when the dog starts going faster, it is then up to the owner to get the verbal information to the dog faster.

"It is very dynamic, and it is also a good physical sport for you and the dog," he said.

Of course, at the end of the day, Wallace said that all owners still feel as if their dog is the best dog in the world, regardless of whether or not they have a ribbon to show for it.

"It is really more about your relationship with the dog than the competition," Wallace said. "What it really comes down to is just having fun with your dog."