Anyone who has spent a few hours glued to the televised broadcast of the Westminster Dog Show, watching highly skilled dogs jump and hop their way to national recognition, can imagine just how much training and practice are required to get to the national stage.
At 4 Paws Spa and Training Center in Forest Hill, local dogs can learn some of those impressive skills in agility training classes that are fun and great exercise — for both the pups and their owners.
"Agility is like an obstacle course for dogs," explains 4 Paws instructor Laura Winstead. At 4 Paws, Winstead teaches three levels of classes: beginner, intermediate and advanced.
In beginner classes, the dogs and handlers learn basic commands and obstacles, like how to navigate tunnels and teeters (similar to seesaws).
Intermediate and advanced classes build on that knowledge with additional techniques and tools, including how to do a series of jumps, where the handler should stand during certain obstacles, and how to "cross," or change handling sides.
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Churchville resident Sandra Thomson and her springer spaniels Glory and Bodie (short for Bodacious Babe) have been attending 4 Paws classes since the dogs, now 2 and 4 years old, were puppies. Thomson started her dogs in obedience classes for socialization and general lessons prior to agility training.
Now, Thomson competes in American Kennel Club agility competitions with her pups, who love the sport. "It's exciting," she says. "There's variety to it. They get so excited going over jumps and tunnels."
Her dogs aren't the only ones who love 4 Paws. "I really like going to classes — I get to meet people," Thomson enthuses.
Plus, agility keeps Thomson on top of her game, both physically and mentally. "It's good exercise and helps me with arthritis and a replaced knee. You can do it at all ages, from teenagers up to retirees like me. And you have to stay intellectually sharp, knowing where you're going next in the course."
Agility is appropriate for a variety of breeds and temperaments, says Winstead, and for owners who want to compete or who just want to have fun. But no matter the breed, before signing up for an agility class, Winstead suggests making sure your dog is healthy and discussing your plans with a veterinarian.
"Sometimes it can be hard on a dog's bones or muscles, so you want a sound structure," she says. "Just like for us."
4 Paws Spa and Training Center