PERRY — The spectacle might seem odd to the uninitiated; a line of people walking through an obstacle course of tunnels, ramps and seesaws. They’re not traversing the obstacles, they’re just waving their arms over them with expressions of intense concentration.
The obstacle course isn’t for the people. It’s for their dogs. The people are doing a walk-through, planning their strategy for a dog agility contest. Soon they will take turns leading their dogs through the course — leading with voice and gesture only. Handlers are not allowed to use leashes, food or toys to guide their dogs. They’re not allowed to touch the obstacles.
The sport of dog agility is relatively new. It was invented in Great Britain in the late ’70s and came to these shores in the ’80s. Its growth in popularity is evidenced locally by two annual competitions held at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter.
Sunday saw the conclusion of a four-day competition at the fairgrounds co-sponsored by the Atlanta Kennel Club and the Chattahoochee Weimaraner Club.
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The event drew about 400 people and 650 dogs from across the Southeast.
Auburn University student Lauren Duckworth, 19, brought her border collie, Adrenalyn, from Alabama. She said she has been active in dog agility competitions since she was 6.
“The best part is that you’re a team,” Duckworth said. “A lot of people watch and don’t realize that. They think the dog is doing everything. But it’s you and your dog. It’s your teamwork, and that progresses over the years. It’s fun to work on it and watch it progress.”
Jane Simmons-Moake, 54, drove from Houston, Texas, to compete with her golden retriever, Joni.
After a vigorous run through the obstacle course that included lots of jumps over bars, Simmons-Moake pronounced the performance “pretty good.” “She kept the bars up, which is hard for a high-drive dog.”
Simmons-Moake, who runs a dog agility training center, praised the fairgrounds for its convenience, its air conditioning and its friendly atmosphere. “I love it,” she said. “That’s why I drove 14 hours to get here.”
The competition took place in Reaves Arena. Several vendors set up shop there during the competition. Patrons could buy organic chicken dog treats, T-shirts printed with their dog’s photo, glycogen energy shake mix for dogs and socks with paw prints embroidered on them. There were two booths where dogs could get massages.
Chris Danielly of Loganville helped keep score during Sunday’s competition. She traveled to Perry in an RV with her two Shetland sheepdogs, Diva and Echo. Danielly has been doing dog agility since 1991 and is a director of a nonprofit called Canine Capers Agility Club, which rents a warehouse in Norcross for agility training.
“I love dogs, but I never knew how to go about training them,” Danielly said. “One day my husband showed me a newspaper and it had a picture of a little dog coming out of a tunnel and I got hooked. My husband said it was the most expensive newspaper he ever bought.”