Dogs strut stuff at agility trials

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Teresa Jansen of Shallowater, Texas, runs the course with her miniature Schnauzer Radar during Saturday’s American Kennel Club Stars and Stripes Agility Trial at the Curry County Events Center.

Kevin Wilson

After spending the last few weekends on big rodeos, the Curry County Events Center has gone decidedly smaller this weekend.

Instead of calves and steers, there are collies and Schnauzers. Instead of giant horse trailers outside, there are kennels inside with blankets, food and water.

While the American Kennel Club Stars and Stripes Agility Trials aren’t the giant event the center usually gets — in terms of crowds, participants or gate receipts — all parties are perfectly happy with the three-day event that concludes today.

There are about 600 entrants for the event, Clovis Portales Kennel Club President Dee Durland said, with some handlers entering on multiple days with multiple dogs. With a $22 entry fee, the club makes enough to pay judges, pay for use of the events center and keep enough money on hand to justify keeping the event free to the public.

The event starts with workers setting up an obstacle course of tubes, see-saws, poles and hurdles for dogs to jump, run or weave through.

The handler gets a map of the course the morning of the event, and gets a walk-through of about five minutes. The dog doesn’t see the course until it’s time for their run, and they rely on the handler to show them the course.

“It’s a combination of the skill of the handler to train the dog, and of the dog to follow directions,” Durland said.

The trials are an expo for all kinds of dog breeds, including mixed breeds, and a ringing endorsement for obedience training. Dog handlers are, with little exception, customers or owners of dog obedience schools. In addition to her duties with the kennel club, Durland owns Rewards Obedience School in Clovis.

A dog must make a perfect run — no missed obstacles, beating the standard course time — to earn a qualifying mark. They do it on two different courses in the same day, they earn what’s called a “double qualifier.” A dog who gets 20 consecutive double qualifiers is referred to as a “MACH” — a Master Agility CHampion.

Depending on the frequency of trials — a small number enter 90 to 100 a year — a dog can earn a mach in a matter of months. But the average amount of time is a year.

Linda Kipp of Los Lunas was working on a run with her border collie, Picassa. She first got into agility trials when she was having a tough time with obedience on one dog, and a friend told her to enter an agility trial as a way to take a break.

That was 16 years ago, and she’s won two national championships each in the United States Dog Agility Association and the AKC, and also toured with a national team abroad.

Kipp prefers border collies — her previous national championship dog, Jessie, was one — but there’s no reason a handler can’t succeed with other dogs.

“There are some individual animals that I’d never dream of handling, but I think every breed has some talented individuals,” Kipp said. “Great agility dogs can be found in all breeds.”

While Kipp has been around the world for dog agility trials, she said Clovis’ event center is one of the best in the country for its surface, its space for kennels and equipment on the side and its air conditioning — a huge factor with 100-degree days, since dogs are more sensitive to extreme temperatures.

Mike Rowley, vice president of the kennel club, said the event couldn’t have happened before the event center, and it is a boon for Clovis because hundreds of people eat at local restaurants and stay at hotels — often with a small premium for pet-friendly rooms.

“The hotels are super; they set a lot of rooms aside,” Durland said. “The events center people are super; we need something, they get it done.”