Rebecca McDiarmid and her dog Keyley are agile.
The pair is on the way to the regional competition for agility, a sport in which the owner verbally and with hand gestures leads their dog through an obstacle course with the fastest time deciding exactly who the top dog is.
The 13-year-old from Midale explains it as “a competitive sport for both the handler and the dog. You train them to go through obstacles and follow commands.”
There are about 18 obstacles in each course, and a run often takes between 35 and 60 seconds depending on the course. Faults occur when a dog gets too close to an obstacle or wrong jump, as is straying from the path or knocking down a bar. A fault disqualifies the dog and owner from the run.
When it’s time for the competition, Rebecca said Keyley definitely knows it’s time to perform.
“She definitely knows it’s a competition. Usually I have to give her a good walk or else she’ll run around a whole course. She kind of does her own thing, but I try to get a little more focused. She handles it quite well though.”
At her first regionals, Rebecca and Keyley, a miniature poodle, will be vying for a spot in the national competition. The regionals, which covers Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nunavut, are May 26 and 27 at the Golden Mile Arena in Moose Jaw.
Almost 100 dogs will compete at regionals, with 76 handlers, and about 30 move on to the national competition, which is in Nanaimo this August.
The regional competition includes two jumper courses, two standard and gamble courses.
Rebecca got into the sport when they decided to take a couple of classes with a man near Weyburn.
She then decided to continue, going to classes with her grandma and her dog.
“I really like spending time with (Keyley). It’s one of those sports that’s just a lot of fun. It’s kind of like a big family at agility, so you know everyone and they know you. She enjoys it a lot.”
Shortly after beginning to train they started going to competitions in places like Saskatoon and Moose Jaw. She’s now been part of agility for going on three years and competing for two. They started when Keyley was 15 months old.
“You kind of get hooked and can’t really stop,” said Rebecca about falling into the agility world.
It starts with puppy classes so that owners can train their dogs to go through obstacles. Rebecca’s mother, Kyla, noted the family, who have two other dogs, have been building a practice facility at home as well, so Rebecca and Keyley can practise whenever they please.
“You train them to obstacles so when you say ‘tunnel’ they go to a tunnel or ‘weave pulls’ so they go to weave pulls. So you kind of train them to go to the obstacles you want with words. After puppy classes, you work more with them focusing on your commands and your body adjusters. It’s more for you than the dog after that.”
Rebecca said Keyley has taken to the sport very well, shouldering most of the blame for the faults the pair accrues at the competitions. They now train about one and a half hours each week in Moose Jaw at the Band City Kennel and Obedience Club. They train in groups of between eight and 10 dogs.
Kyla explained it can be a precise art, showing your dog where to go next.
“The dog will even watch your feet to see which way they’re pointing,” said Kyla. “Sometimes it’s as simple as if you turn your feet the dog will go where you want.”
The little things were easy enough to learn, said Rebecca, but putting it together came only with time.
“It was hard at first, but then you kind of catch on,” she added. “You just keep learning things. You never really can stop learning things in agility. They’re always adding on. People will come along and tell you ‘try this,’ and you’ll do that and it’ll make your dog learn new things.”