May 2005

Rover by nimble, Sparky be quick

Dog agility popular in Cortez

By Kelly Fox

Each week, a group of dog lovers from throughout the county gathers for an evening of running, jumping, weaving and climbing. Although the dogs do much of the work, the human members of Montezuma Agility Dogs — MAD Dogs — also get a pretty good workout too.

“It’s really a neat thing to do with your dog,” said Kathy Nickell, coleader of the group. “I think it really builds teamwork and builds the relationship with your dog.”

The sport of dog agility began in England in 1978. This fast-paced, canine activity demonstrates a dog’s agile nature and versatility. Dogs follow cues from their handler as they maneuver their way through a course composed of jumps, tunnels, weave poles and other obstacles.

The American Kennel Club calls dog agility “the ultimate game” for dog owners and their canine companions. The AKC began holding agility trials in 1994, and the first year, 23 events took place. By 2004, the sport’s popularity had grown so much that there were more than 1,600 trials held nationwide.

According to the AKC Web site, agility is the fastest-growing dog sport in the United States. Not only are more dog owners discovering the excitement of agility, many spectators enjoy watching the exciting action as teams race against the clock.

The atmosphere, however, is more relaxed when MAD Dogs get together — no stopwatches are running. — Members arrive and set up the obstacles, then take turns running the course with their dogs. Participants help each other with training and tips to improve their dogs’ performance. The agility club was loosely formed about five years ago by Barb Headley of Cortez. She had moved to the area from Michigan, where she’d been exposed to the excitement of dog agility.

“I got out here and there wasn’t any agility around,” she said.

After traveling on a regular basis to participate with the Durango Kennel Club, Headley found other dog lovers in the Cortez area interested in doing agility.

“I just wanted to do it for fun,” Headley said. So she crafted her own jumps and obstacles and the unofficial agility club was created.

Word spread about how much fun the group was having and the numbers of participants grew, Headley said.

After meeting at different locations throughout the years, Montezuma Agility Dogs found a permanent home in a spacious, indoor arena near McPhee Reservoir. Bobbi Atwater, co-leader and a member of the club since its beginnings, offered to host the agility meetings, and the indoor setting makes it possible for the club to meet year-round.

“You don’t even want to walk your dog (in the winter) because it’s cold,” Atwater said, “but you can get inside out of the wind and do things, so it keeps the dog and the people active all winter. It’s a win-win situation.”

About a year ago when her German shepherd became too old to participate, Headley handed over leadership of the club to Atwater and Nickell.

“We started just for fun,” Atwater said. “We did it just to have a good time and build a better bond with our dogs.” However, some members were getting serious and wanted to improve their skills, start showing their dogs and competing, she said.

“A few folks are there to just have fun with their dogs and do something with their dogs that’s really fun and build that companionship,” Nickell said. “Some of us are doing that and looking towards competing too.”

But that doesn’t mean that all of the people that come have that competitive drive, Atwater said. “There are some just there for a good time.” Besides being an enjoyable activity for humans, agility is a great training opportunity for dogs.

“(Agility) builds a better bond with your pet,” Atwater said. “It’s great for dogs that are shy or lack confidence or haven’t really been socialized a lot.”

Agility attracts a wide range of people, as well. Atwater said their members include men and women of all ages and from various backgrounds: an activity director, wildlife biologist and retirees from all walks of life. “ The nice thing is there is no generation gap,” she added.

The types of dogs vary as well — from stately poodles to mixed mutts, and everything in between. “We see all breeds … it doesn’t matter, and all ages too,” Atwater said.

In addition to agility, the club also offers basic obedience training each week. And plans are in the works to add other events and education opportunities for club members, such as puppy classes, tracking seminars and lectures by local veterinarians. MAD Dogs has no membership requirements, other than a love of dogs and desire to have fun. The group meets every Monday at 6 p.m. at Atwater’s home north of Cortez.

“Everyone is welcome,” Atwater said, but she’d appreciate a telephone call in advance to know who will be attending.

For more information about club activities, call her at 882-5404.