Dog agility is not just about a dog’s ability to race through an obstacle course; it’s also about the canine’s willingness to work with his handler, said Andy Hartman, captain for the 2009 AKC Agility World Team.
“It’s about teamwork between handler and dog,” said Hartman, who is also American Kennel Club director of agility.
This year the AKC World Team will vie against more than 30 other nations in the FCI (World Canine Organization) Dog Agility World Championships from Sept. 18-20 in Dornbirn, Austria. i Love Dogs, Inc. is a proud sponsor of the AKC 2009 World Team.
This year’s World Team is strong, with a mix with nine returning human/dog pairs from last year and three new ones, Hartman said. “It’s always good to get new people involved. It sends a positive message to others: ‘Come out and try next year.’”
Among the veterans are Marcy Mantell and her Sheltie, Wave and Marcus Topps and his Border Collie, Juice, who both won gold medals last year. Team Coach Nancy Gyes said that because they are world champions, they were invited to Dornbirn, providing the team two extra dogs to compete with.
The team will have its first practice on the weekend of June 19 in Wisconsin. Until then, team members call and email each other. Gyes looked forward to the the practice.
“They no longer have to compete against each other,” Gyes said. “They get to work together as a team. This is a great team with a good attitude.”
Hartman compared the dog agility world championships to the Olympics because both events have opening and closing ceremonies. FIC delegates march in the opening ceremony, followed by teams from different countries flying their flags.
Team members will also face the challenge of adjusting to a different time zone and the rigors of traveling while memorizing the courses, Gyes said.
Judges lay out the course on a 100-by-100 foot area that consists of hurdles, teeter-totters, tunnels, slaloms, A-frames, tables and other obstacles. Numbers on the obstacles indicate the order in which the dog must clear the obstacles.
Canine athletes aim to run the course without faults and as fast as possible. Their handlers direct the dogs through the course using voice commands, movement and body signals, but cannot touch the dogs or obstacles.
The dogs can compete alone or in teams, and will whisk through standard or jumper courses. On a standard course, dogs must touch a certain point on the obstacles. Dogs on a jumper course run and leap straight through. Canines are grouped into large, medium and small teams.
European courses usually differ from American ones, Gyes said. European courses are often in venues such as soccer stadiums, so they are long and narrow, and judges may also place extra challenges on the track.
One judge might place two obstacles so close together that it may not be apparent to the dog which obstacle to clear first. Gyes said the dog would need to be attuned to his handler’s body language and verbal cues while sprinting at a dead run to complete the course correctly.
The connection between dog and handler is essential, Hartman said, and that bond is built over time. Juice was around 9 years old when the dog won gold, which may be considered fairly old, but spectators must remember how many years Topps and Juice worked together.
“The left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing,” Hartman said.
Gyes described what it’s like to guide a racing dog through an agility course.
“It’s very fleeting,” she said. “Some runs are 30 to 35 seconds. You have 18 to 20 obstacles, and 30 seconds is your usual time out there. You don’t have time to reflect …That’s why it’s such a rush. It happens so quickly.”
The following are the members of the 2009 Agility World Team:
Large: Channan Fosty and Icon; Geri Hernandez and Focus; Denise Thomas and Zippity; and Marcus Topps and Juice.
Medium: Jennifer Crank and Blaster; Ashley Deacon and Luka; Karen Holik and Sizzle; and Paulette Swartzendruber and Rush.
Small: Katie Conn and Twix; Melanie Del Villaggio and Dara; Dee Anna Gamel and Kelsi; and Marcy Mantell and Wave.