It’s tradition for Kelly Rossi to give her 3-year-old border collie Nitro a kiss on the head before the pair navigate their way through a dog agility course.
“That’s our Zen,” she said.
Rossi, of Clearwater, Fla., was one of about 130 dog handlers gathered this weekend at the Georgia National Fairgrounds’ Reaves Arena for an agility show where nearly 200 dogs of varying breeds have been sprinting their way through timed obstacle courses.
The object is to “qualify” for different proficiency levels by running courses in certain time constraints and abiding by regulations. Some dogs go on to participate in national events, said Meryl Sheard, of Stone Mountain. Sheard is owner of Sirius Dog Agility Training Center in Scottdale, which is sponsoring the event in Perry.
Most of the dog owners traveled from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and other areas of Georgia to participate in the event, Sheard said.
Handlers ran with their dogs through multiple courses Saturday, guiding them through tunnels and over A-frame ladders and hurdles using verbal commands and hand signals.
The sound of four canine siblings barking inside a nearby pen didn’t phase Sheard’s 5-year-old border collie Ditto as the pair completed a course that included Ditto running across a teeter-totter.
Suzanne Wesley, of Pensacola, Fla., ran two of her three miniature poodles -- Sonic, 8, and Raya, 4 -- through a course Saturday afternoon just minutes apart. Her third dog, 2-year-old Scorch, also is participating this weekend.
Wesley, a native of Australia, said she first saw dogs running agility courses on TV about 20 years ago while living in Japan.
She bought a toy poodle after arriving in the United States years later and started participating in trials about 13 years ago.
At the end of each run, the dogs got different rewards from their handlers. Some jumped into their owners’ open arms while others got hugs, back scratches or words of encouragements.
After finishing one course Saturday, Nitro eagerly chewed on a favorite toy -- a piece of plastic tubing used for milking cows -- until Rossi could get back to his kennel where a single-serve cup of peanut butter was waiting.
While Nitro looks forward to the creamy, nutty treat at the end of each course, Rossi said he also enjoys running the courses.
“It’s fun and athletic and he loves it,” Rossi said.
Sheard said training dogs to participate in agility course events often starts from the time dogs are puppies. Owners reward their furry friends with treats for obeying commands or while playing games.
“You play with them a lot,” she said.
Full agility training then follows when dogs are about a year old, Sheard said.
“If you teach them to learn early, they can learn anything,” she said.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.