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No time for doggin' it

November 07, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTONCOUNTY

erinc@herald-mail.com

Mattie's fluffy white fur was her only recognizable feature as the 2-year-old bichon frise whisked in and out, and over and under, several agility obstacles Sunday afternoon.

The dog's owner, K.C. Combs of Hagerstown, said Mattie lacked confidence when challenged by her first obstacle.

"She was timid," Combs said. "She had a hard time learning to be away from me on the course."

For the first part of her life, Combs said Mattie was abused mentally, until Combs adopted her. Now, loved and happy, Mattie has grown comfortable with the agility course she completed Sunday at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

The praise she receives after success helped Mattie become confident, on and off the course, Combs said.

"She's just become a little superstar," Combs said.

Mattie was one of about a dozen dogs at the course set up by Rene Nappier, training director for Mason & Dixon Kennel Club.

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Most dogs practicing on the course also compete.

"People don't necessarily have this set up in their backyard," Nappier said.

Alyssia Black, 16, recently moved to Warfordsburg, Pa., with her family, where she has a large backyard and has set up some obstacles for her golden retriever, Rio.

"Everything I have there I built myself," she said.

That includes jumps, tunnels, a small walkway and poles to weave through, she said. Alyssia said she would like to have an "A-frame" - two long boards that lean together at the top that the dog walks up and then down - and a 20-foot tunnel.

"But those can get expensive," she said.

Rio started agility training about three years ago, but had more fun running wild than completing obstacles. Now, Rio has won many titles and competes about twice a month, Alyssia said.

After Rio successfully completes an obstacle on the course, Alyssia rewards Rio with praise, treats and toys.

While an experienced dog and owner can make running the course look easy, Rebecca Lawson, Nappier's assistant, said agility training, and especially competition, is "hard work."

The dogs not only follow voice commands, smaller dogs also follow the owners' feet, while larger dogs look at shoulders.

"You really have to turn your whole body while running the course, so it takes some training," Lawson said.

Alyssia said dog owners put in as much time as the dogs.

Nappier said all dogs, no matter the breed, can be trained to successfully complete the agility obstacles.

"It's like kids going to school," she said. "Some dogs do it a few times and figure it out. Others can take years of training."

Nappier will offer obedience and agility training Nov. 14, 21 and 28, and Dec. 12. For details, send e-mail to Nappier at shaldra@starpower.net or call Lawson at 301-432-4347.

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