Dog On It

Dog agility competitions at Woodley Park offer an exciting weekend spectator sport and, for the athletic duo inside the ring, so much more.

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    People
  • Written by
    Pauline Adamek

       

It’s a drizzling, winter Saturday morning—the kind of day that has most Valley dwellers canceling outdoor plans. But scores of rugged dog lovers and their well-groomed pooches couldn’t care less. They’ve already made camp in Woodley Park in Van Nuys. Huddled under tents with pets ensconced in portable soft “crates,” the enthusiastic group is here to compete in dog AKC sanctioned agility trials sponsored by the Valley Hills Obedience Club. 

"They are challenged to work independently of owners—yet stay on task. The only rule: No touching between owner and animal.”

The duos, from beginners to the more advanced, come to this sprawling park outside The Japanese Garden every few months to run their dogs through the rigorous course—a test of agility, speed and concentration. For some, it’s the thrill of the game—a chance to excel and earn an AKC certificate. For others, it’s a way to teach canines discipline or bond build. 

On this occasion, there are five different competition rings for agility, obedience and “rally,” which offers a less traditional stage to showing off skills. Handler Lisa Hampton is coaxing her Australian cattle dog through an obedience trial. She says it is ideal for teaching her grand champion, Bulldozer, how to behave. Calm and obedient, Bulldozer has a grizzled yet sweet appearance. 

“Herding is our prime event, so this is our fun day,” Lisa explains. 

Words of encouragement are offered as dogs race through the course. They are challenged to work independently of owners—yet stay on task. The only rule: no touching between owner and animal. Other than that, it is all pretty much “free form,” as competitor and agility trainer (flyingdogagility.com) Terry Simons puts it.

Patti Rovtar has a talented and skilled female rottweiler named Chili. “Utility is all done with your body. They have to learn what your signals mean, which takes a long time. It’s actually pretty hard,” she allows, before adding, “Chili does enjoy it, yes. I wouldn’t be doing this if she didn’t have fun.”

"For some, it’s the thrill of the game—a chance to excel and earn an AKC certificate. For others, it’s a way to teach canines discipline or bond build.” 

It’s also fun for spectators, who get to witness dogs exhibiting athleticism something akin to that of a college football player. With a stopwatch running and judges presiding, the animals hustle through the course, showing off moves that include clearing a three-foot hurdle, scurrying through a long tunnel, negotiating a seesaw and fancy footwork to weave through tightly spaced poles. 

Noriko Aso’s dog, Sonic, is a border collie—apparently the “thoroughbred” breed of dog agility. Sonic is enthusi-astically tugging on her leash as she approaches the starting gate. After her impressive run, Noriko pauses by the ring exit gushing, “Sonic loves it. She did good. I did some handling mistakes, oh well, but that happens.” 

Indeed, any owner fault is lost on Sonic. The young collie seems to revel in the applause before trotting off to get her treat.

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