Four-day dog trials beat the heat

Posted: Monday, August 15, 2005

It was a big weekend for the Capital Kennel Club, and a big coming-out party for Biko - biologist Kim Hastings' 2½-year-old border collie.

Sunday afternoon, the CKC concluded its first four-day trial of obedience, rally-obedience and dog agility competitions. Though popular in the Lower 48, it was the first "combined trial" of its kind in Southeast Alaska.

It attracted dogs and handlers from Juneau and Whitehorse, as well as Hastings and Biko, from Petersburg.

"The big difference for us is that most of these dogs know each other and practice together," Hastings said. "Not only does (Biko) not know them, but she's never been around a bunch of dogs. It's always the two of us, and maybe one or two other people."

Biko had a good day in Thursday's Rally-obedience trial at Glacier Valley Elementary school, and that carried over into Friday's obedience trial at the school, and Saturday and Sunday's agility trials at Melvin Park in the Mendenhall Valley.

Dogs did not compete against each other in the Rally-O and agility trials. Rather, they tried to perform consistently in front of a judge in order to gain titles, or higher rankings.

Rally-O is a combination of obedience and agility, in which handlers guide their dogs through a numbered course and are asked to follow a series of commands.

In Friday's obedience trial, Julius - Gina Vose's 4-year-old German shepherd - earned High in Trial (highest score) honors. Enzo - Vose's 512-year-old golden retriever - also had a good meet in the obedience trials.

"We were just trying to have a good time and have a good attitude while he was working," Vose said of Julius' obedience performance. "Everything he does is good in my book. I'm really happy with his performance."

The soaring temperatures didn't seem to be a problem for the dogs over the four-day event. There was a small wading pool for dogs under a set of bleachers. The Juneau Parks and Recreation department also supplied a hose for handlers to douse their dogs.

"It really wasn't as bad as everyone expected it to be," said Patti Kalbaugh, a Capital Transit employee who entered agility with Frosty, her 212-year-old sheltie. "It cooled off yesterday, and it was overcast yesterday morning. All this haze has kept it cool."

Saturday and Sunday's agility trails were sanctioned by the North American Dog Agility Council. The Capital Kennel Club holds agility training nine months a year and has been practicing since 1999.

Kalbaugh has been training dogs with Capital Kennel Club since 1989.

"These venues are built for speed and fun, and the courses are not too technical," she said. "These are more flowing courses where the dog can get out and rip," she said. "That can cause some problems on its own, but pretty much everybody here has a really good time."

With 22 members, Whitehorse has a dog training scene comparable to the one in Juneau. Three of those handlers made it down to the Juneau meet.

One of them, Lora-Lea Pitzel, has three Australian shepherds. She made this trip with Bart, a 4-year-old. This was her second appearance in a Juneau trial. Bart earned his regular novice title, as well as titles in tunnelers, jumpers and touch-and-go. He also earned a few points toward his open level title.

"We had a good meet," Pitzel said. "We only have one trial a year (in Whitehorse), so it's hard to get anywhere."

Whitehorse handler Lisa Barnard's 4-year-old golden retriever, Kenai, entered all four days of the trial. Her retired 1312-year-old golden retriever, Toby, looked on.

"Overall, I was pleased with how he's done," Barnard said. "He's just a young dog, but he's got lots of potential and we're working on tweaking things. Sometimes he does the course really well, and I screw up. Sometimes he screws up, and I do it right. It's really a team effort."

Barnard has been training dogs for 10 years. Both her dogs are also therapy dogs - they visit senior homes to cheer up the residents.

"Typically if you have a golden, they like people, they like other dogs and they want to be a part of the whole activity," Barnard said. "They're reasonably well-behaved, so they can participate in lots of activities. That's what I like to see happening. I want my dogs to go everywhere with me."

Hastings found Biko in a shelter and soon realized the dog was smarter and had more energy than she expected. About a year ago, she found an interactive agility class on the Internet and began training Biko at home. Hastings also studies magazines and a dog-agility DVD called "Agility in Motion." She's attended a practice and a seminar in Juneau and a few seminars in the Lower 48 and constructs most of her own equipment. There's no dog agility scene in Petersburg, but Hastings hopes to start a club one day if Biko excels.

"The thing I really like about it is that it's teamwork between a human and another species, and that's an opportunity you just don't have," Hastings said.

"I'm not into sports," she said. "I'd rather be off backpacking. But backpacking was not intellectually stimulating enough for her. We had to do something that challenged her mind. It's pretty addicting. She takes to it pretty well, but part of the job of the handler is to make it fun for the dog."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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