Dog classes breed agility

Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 11:15 p.m.


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Joann Hammock of Williston cuddles with her Doberman, Rudy, during a class at the Trained Dog Happy Dog agility course.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun


FYI: Agility competitions for dogs

Some organizations that conduct or sanction canine agility competitions:

American Kennel Club,, (919) 233-9767

American Mixed Breed Obedience Registration,, (805) 226-9275

Australian Shepherd Club of America,, (409) 778-1082

Canine Performance Events,

Just For Fun,, (740) 666-2018

North American Dog Agility Council,, (208) 689-3803

North American Dog Racing Association,, (810) 629-3314

United Kennel Club,, (616) 343-9020

United States Dog Agility Association,, (972) 231-9700

Paxton was so distracted during his first day of class that he jumped a 4-foot-tall fence to chase something that caught his eye next door.

His teacher, Lilianne Merida, administered her sternest punishment once Paxton was brought back to class. He got a timeout and was not allowed to interact with the other students for many minutes.

Paxton, a Jack Russell terrier with an extremely high energy level, apparently learned his lesson. He quickly advanced from a 15-minute attention span to a 55-minute attention span during his agility classes with Merida and now rarely receives timeouts.

Paxton, owned by Bill and Claudia Parkhurst of Williston, is one of thousands of dogs around the world participating in agility training and competition to help them gain the kinds of things children gain in their physical education classes - focus, self-confidence and muscle tone.

Some day, Paxton may even be ready to compete in the growing sport of canine agility competitions, where he will be timed on how quickly he can make his way through an obstacle course.

"Agility is so much fun for the dogs and for their handlers," said Merida, who opened Trained Dog, Happy Dog in Morriston three years ago after operating a kennel in Venezuela for 10 years.

"In agility, everyone can see how long it takes a dog to run a course and whether or not they knocked down a bar when they took a jump," Merida said. "It's a very objective event, and it has immense spectator appeal. The goal is to be able to control your dog at a distance, not while it is on a leash at your heels."

Dog agility is a competitive sport in which handlers direct their dogs over a timed obstacle course. Dogs race against the clock as they jump hurdles, scale ramps, burst through tunnels, traverse a seesaw and weave through a line of poles. It has become an exciting spectator event since it was born in London in 1977 during the Crufts Dog Show.

Agility competitions in North America did not begin until 1986 but has already become the fastest growing dog sport in the United States, according to Heather Smith, a spokesperson for the Texas-based United States Dog Agility Association.

"We're seeing about a 40 percent growth increase in this sport each year," Smith said. "It's amazing how many people have gotten into it. We register anywhere from 75 to 100 dogs each week."

The sport attracts a wide variety of dog breeds, although some do better than others.

"The herding breeds seem to do the best," she said. "Border collies, shelties and Australian shepherds rate very high."

She said many people attend the competitions just for the entertainment. But just what draws people to this sport?

"It's amazing, really," said Smith, who has entered her dogs in many competitions. "To see two different creatures working together like that, it's just incredible. There's a lot more to it than just getting your dog to jump through a hoop or over a hurdle. And really, it's just a lot of fun."

While Paxton was enrolled in Merida's class to help him focus his energy and attention, her other canine students arrive to work on other characteristics.

Joanne and Phil Hammock of Williston rescued a Doberman named Rudy, but struggled to help the lanky brown dog overcome his extreme shyness. At first, he would prefer to hang his head and avoid human contact. Now he can look strangers in the eye and play with other dogs between his own runs through the obstacle course.

"You can see that agility is for all kinds of dogs," said Joanne Hammock as she gestured at the height difference between her Doberman and the Parkhursts' tiny terrier.

Jane Lenobel said the time she puts in with her 3-year-old Afghan hound, Celine, is far more fun than the time she spends working on conformation and obedience.

"This is something we enjoy doing together," Lenobel said. "We do some repetitions for 15 minutes every morning and 15 minutes in the evening."

The repetitions give the dogs a chance to practice making jumps and scooting through tunnels and performing other feats, but they can never be certain of what they will be expected to do in a competition.

Each course is designed slightly differently, Merida said. Most involve 15 to 20 obstacles set in varying configurations that require a dog to make jumps, cross seesaws, weave through pols like slalom skiers and even jump through a tire.

"The more important thing that we teach is that this is a fun event," Merida said. "We want the enthusiasm, the speed, and we don't want to crush that, so we never scold our dogs. That is why they go to timeout and then they want to come right back because they see the other dogs having so much fun."

Helen Ferguson, a part-time Morriston area residents from Toronto, said what she and her nearly 6-year-old pit bull Zee have noticed during competitions is that if something goes wrong, the owners are still enjoying themselves and more likely to blame themselves than their animals.

"This is just fun, whether you compete or not and no matter what kind of dog you have," Ferguson said. "It's just fun to work with your dog."

Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@ Douglas Jordan can be reached at 374-5036 or

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