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Dogs compete in agility trials at Shipley Arena

Most people wait until the new year to exercise and work off all of the extra treats they had during the holiday season. The participants of the American Kennel Club's Agility Trials took a different tact this weekend, working out so they can earn a treat.

The Carroll County Ag Center's Shipley Arena is hosting 400 dogs from around the country during the Agility Trials, which began Friday evening and conclude Sunday evening. Invited dogs participated in one of two agility courses, the standard course with jumps, a teeter-totter and tunnels; or the jumper course, which focused exclusively on the pooches' leaping abilities.

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After a run on the standard course, Odyssey, an otterhound belonging to Joellen Gregory, of Sandy Spring, got to relax with a treat of string cheese. Gregory said that for Odyssey, the treats are the best part.

"She's 10, and has been running for eight years," Gregory said. "It's good exercise for her and just a great time in general."

According to scorekeeper and judge Blair Kelly, the trials are primarily a fun way for dogs to get some exercise and learn obedience. Although each run is scored based on speed and accuracy, he said, most people compete to beat their own best times rather than a dog-to-dog face-off.

"It's a silly sport. We do this all for a little green ribbon. There's no cash money," Kelly said. "That's why you'll see people who clap and support each other when the runs are good and groan when the dogs don't do well."

On Saturday, 327 dogs competed at the arena, completing a total of 830 runs, with many dogs running multiple courses. Kelly said people bring, on average, between one and two dogs to run the agility trials. Kelly, who entered his own terriers into the trials, said a lot of times the humans get as much out of a run as the animals do.

"It's all about letting your inner child out to run with your dog. This is the only sport where you can do that," Kelly said. "When you step there at the starting line, the adrenaline just jumps into your body."

Trudy Harlow, of Arlington, Virginia, and her dog Paddy, a goldendoodle, have participated in the trials for about three years. She said she came to the trials as a way to keep Paddy entertained.

"He's a smart dog, and I wanted to occupy him, since he's part poodle," Harlow said. "This gave us something to do at home, and got him out and active, and this was something we could do together because it's a team sport."

Harlow said she travels to about 30 shows a year, hitting up trials about every other weekend. She said she loves bringing Paddy to new places. According to Kelly, a majority of the participants go to shows on a weekly or biweekly basis. Last weekend, he judged at an agility trial in Michigan before taking the trip to Maryland. He said he's judged competitions in 34 states over the past several years.

In each course, the dogs had to navigate a series of obstacles numbered for their human trainers, while being timed and judged on how well they accomplished each step. As the dogs ran, owners used a combination of hand, foot and verbal signals to ensure they made their way through the obstacles in the correct order.

Kathy Smith, of Towson, ran the course with her dog Sizzle, an Australian shepherd. She said she's been running dogs in the agility trials for more than seven years, with the 5-year-old Sizzle starting when she was 2.

"We had tried a standard obedience class, and we weren't having much fun," Smith said. "Somebody mentioned we should try agility classes, and it was just so much fun to learn and participate together."

Members of the community are invited to come watch the runs but are asked not to bring their dogs, unless they are signed up for the competition.

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If you go:

When: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 6

Where: Shipley Arena, Carroll County Agriculture Center, 706 Agriculture Center Drive, Westminster

Cost: Free

For more information: Visit www.orioledogclub.org.

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