2006-09-14 / Pets
Building the bond between dog and person
Most people participate for fun, Netzer said. Others go on to compete, but the activity and the camaraderie that goes along with the sport are its main attractions.
Agility training strengthens the bond between a person and his or her dog. Once in tune, the pair works as a team, Netzer said. The animal learns to respond to minimal verbal and physical cues, eagerly waiting for the next move or sound.
That was evident on a recent Monday when Netzer brought out a pair of award-winning border collies to demonstrate the sport. Jubilee and Dabbie couldn't wait for their cue to perform on the grassy field dotted with obstacles in the Tierra Rejada Valley.
Most dogs will jump through hoops to please their owners and to receive a small treat. Netzer's collies do it for a rope and a brief game of tug of war.
"It's a great mental stimulus for the dogs and they tend to be happier and more relaxed at home," Netzer said.
The local woman realized her love of dogs when she was 13. She began working as a groomer's assistant and earned enough money to purchase her own dog, a golden retriever named Calypso. The pair hit the dog obedience circuit, and Netzer said when she attended the first-ever national agility seminar in Southern California in 1989, she was hooked.
Netzer is a founding member of the first United States Dog Agility Associations club of Southern California.
She began teaching agility classes in 1996 and opened her own training school shortly afterward. She named it Happy Dog Agility to convey the message that the sport is positive for both the owner and the dog.
Since then, Netzer has been hosting seminars, trials, workshops and classes.
Netzer and Calypso were one of the first teams in California to earn titles in the sport. More of Netzer's dogs followed suit. Her beloved dog Zippity, who placed in the top 10 in gamblers' and jumpers' classes two years in a row, is now retired, but she still likes to come to classes for moral support.
Jubilee competed in the association's finals in 2001 and has been in the semifinals at the last five national events. Dabbie, her youngest border collie, has qualified and competed in two similar events.
Netzer also owns a papillon, Shazaam, who will start competing later this year.
The canines know how to navigate through obstacles such as the A frame and the dog walk. They slalom through weave poles and go through tunnels without hesitation. Agility training began in
England as a spectator event during traditional dog shows. The sport evolved, became a separate event and was introduced in the U.S. in the late 1980s.
"To be a winner you have to have a great working relationship with your dog," said Netzer, who has about 210 students and offers 27 different classes at her Moorpark facility.
Netzer said she particularly likes working with people who have physical limitations. Her oldest student is 80 years old. "I kind of specialize in teaching them to handle the dog from a distance," she said. "It's a bit more difficult to do but requires less physical activity from the human."
Before they can take part in agility programs, dogs must be obedient and responsive to their owners.
Like border collies, Australian shepherds are inclined to participate in the sport, but all dogs will do the agility course because they love to play and work with their owners, said Elina Heine, a physical therapist who also teaches some of the classes at Happy Dog Agility.
Heine began to take agility classes with Netzer in the late '90s. She's now an instructor who has a great instinct with the dogs, Netzer said. Heine teaches the gamble classes, where handlers lead their dogs from a distance.
Not all dogs are created equal. All can do agility as long as they're physically fit, but Great Danes and basset hounds are more challenged because of their body build.
Agility requires commitment, Netzer said, and is rewarding for everyone-those who compete in the sport as well as those who come simply to spend time outdoors with their dogs and meet other people.
Agility classes cost $15 for an hourlong session. Before dogs can join the agility program, they must f i r s t go through an eight-week preagility class that costs $120.
For more information about Netzer and her programs, visit www.happydogagility.com.