By: Eileen Qian
Dogs are considered man’s best friend for a reason—they are loyal and provide unconditional love. In return, owners spend quality time with their pets, such as taking them out on a stroll through the park or giving them a tummy rub. However, Registrar Tracy Douglas participates in agility training with her dog, an activity that requires dogs to complete a specified obstacle course within a certain time limit.
Douglas’s interest in agility training began in 1997, when she vacationed with her family to Hollister. While the rest of her family was dirt biking, Douglas’ love of dogs brought her to a dog show, where she saw her first agility trial. When she saw owners and their dogs run through the obstacle courses, she knew that the sport would be suitable for her and her Australian Sheppard, Smudgie. “It just looked like so much fun,” Douglas said. “I could tell that there was so much joy in the ring for both the handlers and the dogs.” Shortly after returning from her trip, Douglas enrolled in agility training classes in Los Altos with Smudgie.
Although Smudgie was already obedient and disciplined at the time, Douglas still found it hard to communicate with him. “My biggest difficulty was staying upbeat and encouraging him,” she said. “It is not intuitive for a beginner dog to know how to navigate agility obstacles, and if you have a sensitive dog and show any kind of disappointment in his ability, your dog can shut down.”
Despite these difficulties, Douglas enjoys the activity as it allows her to bond and spend time with her dog in a way that no one else in her family can. “I admit it can be very frustrating at times, but the friendship and bonding that result from us doing agility together is a wonderful thing,” she said. Fortunately, all of Douglas’ hard work and perseverance paid off in 1999, when Smudgie received first place at the Cal-State Hayward Dog Agility Trial.
Although Smudgie would go on to win many more ribbons, his agility career came to an end in 2001 when Douglas decided that Smudgie was getting too old to compete. After Smudgie passed away, Douglas decided to train another Australian Sheppard, Lucy. This time, Douglas was able to use some of the techniques that she learned from training Smudgie to keep Lucy motivated.
Though Douglas has not participated in a trial since 2001, she still hopes to grow as a handler. Main Office Secretary Martha Elderon, who shares Douglas’s love of dogs, has attended several agility training lessons alongside Douglas. She notices Douglas’s desire to improve. “Douglas often observes how the dog and owner interact [during dog agility races] so she can learn some tips,” Elderon said.
Currently, Douglas and Lucy attend weekly agility training classes to improve Douglas’s handling skills. Although Douglas has competed in many agility competitions with her former dog, Smudgie, she is unsure as to whether she wants to do the same with Lucy as Douglas found it nerve-wrecking. “Because we were beginners, we had to show up early morning to sign up, but competed in the afternoon,” Douglas said. “There was a lot of tension building up throughout the day as we waited for our turn but our turn finally came, those few minutes that I spent in the ring were an incredible thrill. The jury is still out on whether I will compete with Lucy.”