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Dogs show off their skills at Southeastern Agility Dog Show
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Karin Kinnan directs Balto, a miniature schnauzer, to the next obstacle during the second day of the Southeastern Agility Dog Show at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Dogs of all shapes and sizes gathered at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center on Saturday, Feb. 23 to compete in the Southeastern Agility Dog Show.

Their four legs trekked through the dirt, over hurdles and ramps, through tunnels and tires and between poles, each led by their handler trying to make the best time on the course.

“Dog agility is a team sport,” said Riley Allen, trial chair for the United States Dog Agility Association event. “And we always say it’s a lot more about training the handlers than it is the dogs. The people half of the equation is important. And one of the very important tenets of the sport is if anything goes wrong, it’s not the dog’s fault, it’s the peoples’ fault.”

There’s a lot of training that goes into the sport — for the handlers and their dogs — but most of the handlers at the event said they got into it simply because it was fun.

Kim Blodgett brought along Fina, a 1-year-old Jack Russell terrier, to the show. Fina is new to the sport, so she was in the starter’s ring, competing against other dogs new to the sport. Blodgett said she had seen agility dog shows before, and once she got Fina, she wanted to give it a shot.

“It’s just a way that we can play together,” Blodgett said, holding Fina’s leash as the dog barked, trying to get Blodgett’s attention. “And I used to be a cyclocross racer, and you actually do this kind of thing on a bike, so it kind of reminds me of that. But now I do it with my dog. Like any good parent, I live vicariously through my child.”

Fina trains with a professional trainer once each week and at home most other days. Since Blodgett and Fina are so new to the sport — the event in Gainesville was only their third event — they don’t have anything at home set up to train. They make whatever they find around the house work.

“I use the dining room chairs as weave poles because she’s so tiny,” Blodgett said, laughing. “So I pull the chairs out, line them up and she does it. And that’s how she’s learned weave poles.”

Southeastern Agility Dog Show

Tonic, a border collie led by Jen Denereaz, races through an agility course at the Southeastern Agility Dog Show Saturday, Feb. 23., in Gainesville. Dogs of all shapes and sizes showed up for the event, hoping to make the best time on the course.
By: Layne Saliba

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At the show Saturday, they did OK, but Blodgett knew she messed things up toward the end of their run. She didn’t direct Fina at the right angle on the last jump, so Fina knocked the pole off the rack. Neither one of them were upset, though, as they jogged out of the ring to grab a treat for Fina.

Over in the master’s ring, meant for more experienced dogs, Candace Atchison and Pressa, a 6-year-old Border Collie, finished their run and caught their breath by the fence. Atchison has been doing agility shows for 18 years. She doesn’t have children, so like many others at the show, she treats Pressa like her child.

“I’ve always loved animals,” Atchison said. “It’s just a good, fun thing to do with your dogs, as opposed to human people dragging their kids to sporting events to just sit and watch, I get to play with them.”

For Atchison, it’s about being active and going on adventures with her dog. She said they often train by jogging on trails and going hiking.

“It’s you and them together as a team,” Atchison said. “You start building that relationship and teamwork and everything.”

Agility is a sport that seems to draw people in and never let them go. Once they try it once, they can’t stop. Allen said it’s good for the owner and the dogs.

“You can just come out here and have fun with the dog that you live with and have a good time,” Allen said. “One of the things that’s kind of nice about it is once you start training, it can give the dogs confidence that bleeds over to other areas of their life and enhances their overall quality of life.”

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