The fur was flying Saturday as some of the region’s top athletes showed off their skills at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. These athletes just happen to have four legs and were competing at the Portland Agility Club trials.
The club hosts four American Kennel Club agility trials at the event center in Ridgefield each year. The trials are an opportunity to see how fast the dogs – and their two-legged handlers – can accurately run, dash, bound, prance or saunter their way through the series of jumps, weave-poles, seesaws and tunnels that make up an obstacle course.
While competition is an important element of the agility trials, club president Debi Runyen said it’s not the most important part.
“It’s the challenge of doing well with your dog. It’s just a way to have a relationship with your dog,” Runyen said. “You have to have that connection.”
Flora Steffan drove from the Milwaukie area in Oregon to compete Saturday. Steffan, who is the executive director for Herd U Needed a Home dog rescue, said she got interested in agility training after seeing the connection handlers had with their dogs.
“I wanted to do agility to especially show people rescue dogs can do it as well as purebreds,” she said.
She said she typically competes twice a month, often with more than one dog. Steffan competed with three dogs on Saturday.
“They love the game. It’s not about just going fast, but about being accurate. They have a blast. That’s the most important thing, to have fun with your dog,” Steffan said.
Runyen said most dog owners will train at home, often with a trainer, then come to the events to compete. But rather than competing against other dogs and handlers, she said participants are really competing against themselves.
While dogs of all breeds and backgrounds can participate, from the tiniest Yorkshire terrier to the giant St. Bernard, herding breeds like border collies, Shetland sheepdogs and miniature American shepherds (formerly called mini Aussies) tend to do best at the courses.
“Any breed can do it. I have a pug and an Aussie mix, … all breeds and mixes are welcome even though we’re an AKC event,” Runyen said.
Steffan not only competes but now trains other dogs. Two of Steffan’s students came to watch their first agility trial on Saturday.
“For me, it’s the connection you get with your dog. It is amazing,” said Tammy Cederstam of Hood River, Ore.
Fellow student Janis Pegg, of Rainier, Ore., said agility training helps her border collie work off its boundless energy.
“Border collies, especially, are high energy. It’s a way to contain it a little bit, give them some focus,” Pegg said. “It has taught my dog so much discipline.”
It’s not just physical exercise, but also mental exercise Cederstam added.
Getting involved in agility training doesn’t require hours and hours of work every day. Cederstam and Pegg said they typically do 5-10 minutes of training at home each morning and sometimes in evening depending on the weather.
“Where he gets the most training is when we go once a week for a one- to two-hour lesson,” Pegg said.
Anyone interested in beginning agility training or competing in trials should start with a good trainer, Steffan said, and suggested attending agility trials and asking for trainer recommendations.
For more information about the Portland Agility Club, go to https://portlandagilityclub.org.