By Dale Cory
Dogs in general have always been lauded for their keen sense of understanding and their ability to follow instructions — at least, those canines that have undergone training to improve their learning skills.
That was clearly evident during the four agility dog demonstrations at the Ponoka County Fair, last weekend at the Ponoka Stampede Grounds.
The annual fair, staged by the Ponoka Ag Society, offered a variety of events for children, teenagers and adults, from sheep shearing, to the ranch rodeo, to the bouncy castle to — the agility dogs.
It wasn’t easy for the dogs taking part, or for that matter the owners running the course alongside their canines, considering the hot summer temperature approaching 30 degrees Celsius.
The agility dog demo was hosted by the Hot Diggity Dogs Agility Club. Twenty dog owners, and 25 dogs were in Ponoka to show off the successes they had accomplished in training their dogs to do even the most simple task.
“We started as a demo club. The primary deal was to have fun with our dogs, and we started doing demos at different towns all over Alberta,” explained Carol Allinson, president of the club.
“As the years went by, we decided to have made up trials — one in May and one in October, and all the club comes out. We have classes for novice and elite competitors, depending on the dogs, the titles and how they grow.”
Allinson, who took part in all stages of the demonstration, required a few minutes to catch her breath after being on the course non-stop during a relay race that saw her switching from her two dogs, Diva to Fancy, winning heats, and eventually capturing first place in the event.
One of the competitors Allinson faced was dog owner and trainer Glenna Spelrem of Rimbey, who ran the course with Solas, whose Gaelic handle means ‘joy and comfort’.
Talking with Spelrem after the competition, it quickly became obvious she and Solas, her five-year-old golden retriever/black lab cross, have an unbreakable bond.
“The connection the training gives between you and your dog is so much more than the dog that’s at home on the couch and you don’t do anything with them. You have to be focussed on each other. In order to work in an atmosphere such as an agility trial, the bond has to be strong enough that they want to be focussed on you. That, and the rewarding aspect of being successful in your training is self-satisfying,” said Spelrem.
“Their confidence is boosted by being successful. Through training, you set it up so they are successful, which gives them more confidence, they’re happy to be with you. I think Solas and I have a pretty strong bond.”
“He’s a pretty social fella. You’re always working through distractions in the environment. The more dogs are exposed to, the easier it is for them to focus on you.”
Saturday’s demonstration featured many individual contests, each involving a series of tunnels, both straight, and with curvature, small jumps, and poles forcing dogs to contort their bodies in such a manner as to keep consistent speed without missing a turn.
“A demo is really not a good example of what an agility trial is like. A lot of the equipment is very similar, but the atmosphere is quite different. The energy level here is typically a lot higher. When the announcer asks the crowd to cheer because the dogs will go faster, that’s very true for Solas. The cheering really does make a difference,” said Spelrem, who is required to train her dogs to be successful with a variety of agility elements.
“Tunnels are fairly straight forward from the standpoint of getting dogs used to them. Probably the most-difficult piece of equipment is the weave poles. You saw they were a set of six. As you advance, that becomes a set of 12, and multiple sets on the course. It’s a very difficult thing to teach the dogs to do. It takes probably a year to get them good and self-confident so they can execute that piece of equipment independently.
“It’s a lot of work,” summarized Spelrem. “But I wouldn’t call it work. It’s a lot of play.”