Monday, May 26, 2008
5 Questions With An Agility Trainer
South Coast Agility Training (SCAT) is a dog agility training group in Southern California. They welcome members of all levels and host competitions throughout the year. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Estelle Robinson, VP and AKC Trial Chairperson of SCAT, who competes with her Papillon, Razr. In addition to dog agility, Estelle and her family are very involved in the world of sports. Her children actively play basketball, lacrosse, softball, and volleyball. I caught the group at a recent halftime show of a Southern California Breakers game and Estelle was kind enough to answer five questions:
1. How did you get into agility training? How long have you been involved? What awards/honors/accomplishments have you won?
I started training dogs when I was 12. I didn't have a dog of my own so I would train the neighbor’s dogs in the recreation dept. classes. These were just obedience classes. I rescued an Australian Shepherd from the pound about seven years ago. Australian Shepherds are very high energy and need a job to do or they will be destructive (in other words, find their own job). I enrolled in an agility class with the recreation department. I was hooked. I knew I wanted to get involved in this sport. It took a few years to understand the relationship between me and my dogs and how I would communicate how we would "dance" around the agility course with my dance partner. I'm on my third agility dog now. I am working on a MACH, or Master of Agility Championship, title with my Papillon, Razr. He has earned his Novice title, Open (or intermediate) title, and his Excellent (or advanced) title. Once you reach this level with your dog you compete with other Excellent level dogs to earn points and qualifying legs towards your MACH. Dogs can continue to earn multiple MACHs in their careers which are notated by MACH 1, MACH 2, etc.
2. Are there certain breeds of dog that are better suited for this type of activity? Are there any breeds that should not be involved in competitions?
I don't know if I would say that there are dogs that are better suited for this sport because the object is to have fun excelling in different games with your dog. The bond created when working this intensely with your dog is like no other. There are dogs that are more competitive in the sport mostly because of their physical build and their mental drive. These tend to be Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Shelties, Jack Russells, Papillons, and those types of dogs. But really, the sky's the limit and many breeds are involved. No breed is excluded from agility. Everyone should have a chance to play, right? (smile)
3. Is this something the animals truly enjoy? How can one be sure that involving their dog in this won't be exploiting or otherwise harming them?
If you sat in my car with my dog and me as we turned the corner to go to our agility class, you would know how much he likes to participate! Wow, the songs he starts singing! He howls, cries, and wines as he dances around in anticipation of getting out of the car and playing. He can hardly wait for his release word to get out of the car and he shivers in anticipation as I put the leash on. I don't think you could ever say they are exploited when they enjoy the teamwork so much. This is truly a team sport. It couldn't be done if either partner wasn't enthralled. This sport is done off leash. So the dog is continuously choosing to do the sport. Unfortunately, like any athlete, the dogs and handlers sometimes get injured. It's just a matter of fact when your in any sport. I think I can honestly say that most handlers spend more time trying to cross train, strengthen, and warm-up their dogs more than themselves. I see more injured handlers than I do dogs.
4. Is there a special diet that a dog must be on to be a competitor? What other requirements exist for a dog to be able to take part in agility training and competition?
Well, anybody is going to perform better if they eat healthy and aren't overweight. There is no magical diet. Any healthy dog can train in agility. Organizations have different requirements for registration. For example, some will register mixed breeds and some will only register the breeds they recognize (like AKC).
5. How long has SCAT been around? How can someone in the area get involved with SCAT? What events are upcoming?
I know SCAT has been together at least 10+ years. SCAT is an agility club that allows members to practice and be involved in the sport at their own pace. Membership is a bargain at $20 a year. SCAT is completely run by volunteers. To become a member you must first take a beginning agility class. This could be through your local Parks and Recreation Department or through a trainer. When your dog is able to perform the agility obstacles safely, you can apply for membership. We have a trial all weekend on June 14-15, August 9-10, and October 11-12 at TeWinkle Park in Costa Mesa.