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Dog days of summer come down to 60 seconds

Mon., Aug. 29, 2005

Twistee, a Belgian malinois, jumped into her owner’s arms in sheer elation. She’d just run the agility course and received some dog treats in reward.

Despite the hours, days and months of training and the weekend competitions that eat up all available spare time, the payback comes during those 60 seconds when dog and owner become one. It turns dog lovers into fanatics.

“You look at their faces, and they love it,” dog owner Caroline Baines said. “There is absolute pure joy.”

Jealousy got the better of Twistee, and she whined and fought her leash as she watched her owner, Barb Benner, run another owner’s dog through the agility course Sunday at the American Kennel Club Agility Trials at University Elementary School – the last in the Spokane area for the year.

But the two quickly were reunited.

“Yes, I love you, too,” said Benner, who works as a botanist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management when she’s not training dogs.

“Twistee is really a dog who wants to please,” Benner said, looking at the 6-year-old pooch. “She has fun when she knows I’m having fun.”

The two-day event included the agility course, in which dog owners must run with their dogs and guide them up and over an A-frame, over several jumps, through a hoop, up and then down a teeter-totter, through two kinds of tubes and on a slalom run of plastic poles. The course must be completed at a set time, and the handlers are assessed time penalties for mistakes.

Tanya Ward, 34, of Otis Orchards, had competed earlier with her 3-year-old rough collie, Ranger.

Ward and her mother, Linda Ward, travel to 15 to 20 shows a year. Linda Ward also is president of the Spokane Dog Training Club.

“I have been in a home with a collie since 1973. I have never known a home without one,” Tanya Ward said. “It’s pure enjoyment working with him.

“Sometimes they have much more fun than we do,” she continued. “They are still dogs. They never give you a clue when they do something unexpected. In that regard, it’s always new. It’s very refreshing.”

The dogs are trained to perform several tasks, including running the agility course, jumping, herding, obedience and tracking, Tanya Ward said.

“A dog would not naturally run the slalom. We are asking them to do things they wouldn’t choose to do by themselves,” she said. “It’s certainly gratifying to see a dog has learned that skill.”

Linda Ward said the dogs that competed Sunday ranged from tiny Chihuahuas to as big as an Irish wolfhound.

“We have people competing from their preteens to their 80s,” she said. “We love the contact with our dogs. And it obviously can be a challenging sport. But it also can be a very rewarding sport.”

Benner has been running dogs through trials since 1989. When she’s not spending nearly every weekend at trials, she also trains dogs for the Spokane Dog Training Club.

“It’s good physical exercise and mental exercise. The dogs like it. You are asking the dogs to do something at speed,” she said.

“You get an adrenaline rush during the race, and you have to handle it in a way that your dog understands you. When you are out there running and the dog is responding to your requests, you work as a team. It’s addicting.”

Benner continued: “Sometimes you and your dog are such in tune that you may knock down a pole, but it doesn’t matter.”


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