Dog agility training more work for owners than pups

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Dog agility competitions are a fast-growing sport in this country.

“I’ve never found anything like it,” said Kristina Durocher, who’s trained dogs in the sport since 2002.

The competitions, like the RUFF! Agility trials in Bowling Green this weekend, are just as much fun for trainers as it is for the dogs.

“My dog always thinks whatever they did is right because this is fun for them,” said Durocher. “It should always be fun for them.”

Many of the trainers at this weekend’s trials at the Western Kentucky University Ag Expo Center have different amounts of experience when it comes to the sport, and they each got involved for their own unique reason.

“My dog had a little bit of a behavioral issue,” said Erika Kohler, a trainer for the past five years. “I know German Shepherds need a job, so tried out agility one day and she loved it. We’ve been doing it ever since.”

For the most part, these quick canines learn how to navigate the ins-and-outs of these obstacle courses relatively quickly.

“It really just depends on the dogs and how fast they learn,” Durocher said.

For trainers, though, learning the commands and maneuvers is no walk in the park.

“The trainers need training for than the dogs,” said Nick Sparks, judge at the trials. “You’ve got a dance partner that’s not hearing the music. You have to not only direct them, but you have to give them the musical cues.”

The cues, or commands, are the key element in ensuring the dog quickly makes it through the hoops and tunnels.

When the dogs learn them, they don’t forget them.

It’s the trainers who need to buff up on their training more often.

“My dogs don’t get rusty, I get rusty,” added Durocher. “I forget how to train something or how to cue something.”

If a trainer does mess up, it can lead to a very confused canine, one that’s less likely to follow the instruction of its trainer.

“The dogs understand certain things,” said Sparks. “They understand those commands. Stick with those commands.”

Owning a dog is one thing, but being able to train and compete with them forms a bond between the dog and its owner that most trainers say is their favorite part about being involved in this sport.

“There’s just nothing like it to walk off the course having done that,” said Durocher. “You’ve overcome this challenge as a team.”