Canines compete in agility course

NILES – Athletes of all shapes and sizes obediently filed in to the Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center on Saturday, occasionally sizing up the competition with a sharp glance or intimidating growl.

There is one thing these finely trained challengers all had in common, though – four legs.

This weekend, the center is playing host to the Youngstown All-Breed Training Club’s dog agility trials. The American Kennel Club-sanctioned trials began Saturday and finish up today.

The contests included 290 exhibitors or handlers and 329 dogs. Maryanne Coates, trial secretary for the event, said the trials were completely full.

“We actually had a waiting list to get in,” Coates said.

Trials consist of dog and handler teams competing for qualifying runs on different courses, including the standard course, the jumpers with weaves course, and the FAST course.

The standard course includes obstacles such as the teeter, the dog walk, the A-frame, weaves and jumps. As dog / handler teams earn qualifying runs, they advance from novice, to open, to excellent and then onto advanced titles.

Debbie Harper, trial chairwoman and event organizer, said the awards are given according to predetermined classifications.

“You have to complete the course to be able to qualify,” Harper said. “Each winner gets a rosette with different colors, and obviously everyone wants the blue for first place.”

Champion resident Lotta Shafer and her beloved Belgian Tervuren, Gibbs, won his first class of the day. Gibbs is a bronze grand champion, which means the 3-year-old has already accrued 100 grand championship points in his career.

“He did very well,” Shafer said.

Still, she said there are things at every event Gibbs finds that he must improve upon. This year, it was the contact zones, an area a dog must touch during completion of the event.

“He didn’t know that, but I know in the next trial, he will be perfect in that,” Shafer laughed.

Cortland resident Don Harper was pleased his Shetland sheepdog, Miley, qualified in a run early in the day.

“My wife ran them through that, so all I know is he qualified,” Harper said. “He’s got one more run a little later.”

According to Shafer, it can often be the surroundings at agility trials which throw newcomers off, as opposed to the events themselves.

“That’s something a lot of people don’t think about,” Shafer said. “The new dogs will react to everything that’s going on around it. There are so many smells and the lights and, a lot of times, trainers or judges will get down on a knee and the natural reaction for the dog is to go over and say hi.

“Once you have the dog comfortable, you can focus on all of the different skills,” she said.

The agility trials will come to a close at 6 p.m. today. Officials said there are already plans to return to the area in August, October and Thanksgiving weekend.

“We will definitely be back,” Debbie Harper said. “We have our judges all ready to go.”