Two dozen dogs demonstrated their form Saturday in Cope Park in Juneau's first agility trials.
There were dogs everywhere -- some straining at leashes to meet new friends; others eating orange muffins, wrappers and all; some marking territory; others inhaling the perfumes of marked territory.
Some folks came just to watch, including Virginia Ray and her Welsh Pembroke corgi, Indy. Ray was wearing mittens and a headband, both made from dog hair, for the occasion. Indy was jumping on anyone who ventured close enough.
``Indy is here hopefully to absorb the aura of good dogs,'' Ray said, pushing her gently down.
Seven dog fanciers came from Ketchikan, accompanied by their agility instructor from Bellingham, Wash. Jacki Dodson entered her pug, Angel.
``We started the Ketchikan Dog Training Club in September,'' Dodson said. ``We came for the thrill of the game,'' she added.
Ketchikan's Anita Moran escorted Buck, a border terrier. Despite the snow falling early Saturday, Moran was upbeat. ``Even when we don't have a good run, we are ever optimistic because there is always another run,'' she said.
Roxanne Bash of Juneau relaxed under an awning, cuddling her white bichon frise, Zoe, after Zoe competed in the gambler.
Three things interested Bash in agility training: building a closer bond with Zoe, finding an activity they could do together and getting exercise together.
As a member of the Capital Kennel Club, Bash has been training Zoe on Sunday mornings at an agility course set up inside the barn at Swampy Acres horse farm. Both beginning and advanced classes are held there.
At Cope Park, a 100-foot-square course was enclosed with a white fence. Equipment included jumps; a teeter-totter; open tunnels of fabric on wire frames; a chute (a fabric tunnel collapsed in on itself at one end); an A-frame shape about 8 feet tall; and a raised dog walk with ramps at either end.
Judging competitors involved a combination of timing and seeing who skipped which obstacles or didn't make contact with approach areas (painted yellow). This was the first time Sandra Katzen, a judge from Washington state, had judged in snow, said organizer Jill Grose.
Saturday's competition started with gamblers, went on to standards and concluded with jumpers. The order will be reversed today, Grose said as she walked her two Westies. Dogs compete in classes assigned by height, starting with the smaller dogs (8 inches) and ending with the big 24-inchers.
Agility is one of the most interesting kinds of dog shows for the spectator, said Gabrielle La Roche of the Capital Kennel Club.
LaRoche had pre-registered her 4-year-old dog Bonaparte, a briard, a type of French herding dog. But because he was not accustomed to Cope Park, she wasn't sure if he would perform. At a practice or ``fun'' match held there a week ago, Bonaparte was ``not one of the more stellar performers,'' LaRoche admitted.
``When you are training for any exercise, most of (the dog's obedience) comes from your relationship and his focus. He should be able to focus in any environment. It's a good idea to play fetch or exercise him ahead of time'' at the site of the exercise, LaRoche said, so during the actual trials he won't be as interested in exploring.
After Tobie, her 8-year-old golden retriever, went around the course, Lisa Barnard of Whitehorse retreated to a park dugout to give Tobie a homemade biscuit. ``These are Easter treats with carrot, parsley and garlic,'' Barnard said, as Tobie waited attentively.
As he conquered each obstacle on the course, Tobie barked. ``He's gotta tell me all about it,'' Barnard, a payroll clerk, said with a grin. Tobie recently earned his obedience certificate and also visits Whitehorse nursing home residents as a ``therapy dog.''
Chris Stockard of Juneau, a captain with the Alaska State Troopers, was handling Kira at the trials. Kira is a Portuguese water dog, curly like a poodle, but definitely a working breed.
Portuguese water dogs worked on fishing boats. They retrieved lines, carried messages between boats before citizen band radios, and chased fish into the nets if the cork lines sank, Stockard said. ``They were so valuable that they got a half crew share.''
On Saturday, Kira won first place in the novice gamblers class as well as a qualifying score. Last spring she attended water camp in Connecticut, where she practiced water trials and underwater retrieving.
Accomplished dogs like Kira are a sign things are changing in the world of dog shows. Perfumed pets with pink ribbons in their pompadours are giving way to performance dogs or ``working dogs,'' as they're called. It's as if Miss America contestants were now required to show their stuff on an obstacle course as part of the bathing suit competition.
Juneau's first official dog agility trials this weekend are part of a national trend for getting pups off the rug and onto the teeter-totter. In 1986, America could count dog agility groups on one hand. Now there are 300 groups embracing 20,000 dogs.
The dog agility trial continues today from 9:30 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m. at Cope Park. Admission is free for spectators.