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Why my dogs and I practice Dog Agility!

“Dog agility is a dog sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Dogs run off leash with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler can touch neither dog nor obstacles.” ~Wikipedia

I’ve been familiar with agility training for dogs through a good friend and Skidmore Grad, Wendy Cerilli. Wendy and her husband Dave moved back to the area and opened High Goal Farm, a wonderful facility for agility training in Greenwich, New York!  Wendy has been an avid agility competitor and trainer for over 20 years winning multiple Agility Championships with her Aussie (Australian Shepherds) pack of 12 (at this time!). She is the owner and handler of Holster. Together they won the Westminster Master Agility Championship on February 13th, 2016 in New York City. I guess you could say they a pretty darn talented!

Wendy has been trying to get me to bring our dogs out for years but I never seemed to have enough time between work, home, and horses.  Then we got Cookie, an English Springer Spaniel bred for hunting (referred to a field bred). Needless to say she was one energetic puppy who needed a job to keep out of trouble! I decided to take her up to High Goal to a puppy class in an attempt to teach her to mind and also use up some of her excess energy. Cookie and I absolutely loved it and three years later we’re still at it.

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Last year I started our newest dog Pupa, also a Springer (more of what they call bench type, bred for looks) in a puppy class when she reached a year in age. Maddy brought her two youngest dogs, Smalls and Smitty (both red American dogs).  Pupa is a very different dog than Cookie, more laid back and relaxed. To train Pupa I need to get her revved up to run a course while with Cookie I need to be calm to counter balance her excess enthusiasm. Smalls a little nervous about other dogs while Smitty is a jokster!  We’ve really learned a lot of self-discipline from this sport. Maddy and I each having two opposite types of dogs has been IMG_2633challenging but fun. It is really interesting to see how different techniques work with different dogs. Now it is the Impressions Agility Team of 4 dogs and 2 humans!

Wendy has made this learning adventure truly rewarding for me. Her training is both supportive and honest. She lets us know where we are doing well but also tactfully points out our weaknesses with suggestions on how to do better. Wendy really understands each dogs’ personality and the best way to teach each individual dog/human team in a positive way. I am learning how to understand why my dogs do certain things and how my actions affect their reactions. These are skills that come into play every day since they also apply to us humans in many ways!

Agility training is a really fun sport in so many ways. It gives us both a lot of exercise (my dog and I must run as a team) and has created a wonderful bond between us. It has created well socialized dogs with good manners (for the most part!). We’ve met a lot of really nice people who share a love of dogs and have discovered how much fun competing in an agility trial can be. Our group of classmates and many new friends are mutually supportive and positive.

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My goal for competing is to see how good our skills and communications are coming along. There is a big difference running an agility course in a class setting and running in a trial (competition) with the distraction of lots of people and dogs. I’ve learned that as with competing horses, you will probably not perform at the same level that you are training because of these distractions. There is a lot more energy and stress in the air that we and our dogs feed off of. It is exhilarating when you both perform well but can also be a bit humbling to see where you need to work harder. It is definitely a journey that we are all just at the beginning of. I am certainly enjoying the sport, my dogs, and the people.