More than a thousand of the world’s top athletes from 11 countries descended Thursday on the grass fields of Scottsdale’s WestWorld to begin their quest for medals, prize money and gourmet jerky treats.
Mostly though, just the jerky treats.
Canine comforts or not, every dog had his day to shine athletically at the Cynosport World Games, the “Olympics” of competitive agility events. Trainers from such far reaches as Japan and Canada coached their pets over jumps and through obstacle courses, hoping to advance to the team relay finals and individual steeplechase world championships on Sunday.
The goal for participants is to complete the course in the fastest time without making a mistake, going over the gates out of order or not fully clearing a jump. Other events are scored, such as “snooker,” where trainers navigate their dogs through the toughest of obstacles for the most points.
As is the case with any sport, there are injuries.
Gail Chadwick, a trainer from Mesa, had to pull her dog, Tessa, out of a performance run due to an injury sustained during a practice jump. The 7-year-old black-and-white border collie with light blue eyes rested in the afternoon sun while Chadwick explained her motivations for getting involved in dog agility competition.
When she was just a puppy, Tessa was attacked by a neighbor’s dog and became fearful of being around her own kind. In order to get her over the fear, Chadwick took Tessa to agility classes.
“I never thought about competition,” Chadwick said. “I was just trying to fix my dog’s problem. I guess we got addicted.”
Most of the participants in dog agility competitions are herding dogs such as collies, shelties and German shepherds. Chadwick volunteers for a border collie rescue group and said she occasionally sees dogs that she’s helped get adopted participate in agility events. She said the sport is beneficial for dogs that have been previously abandoned.
“That’s exactly what they needed,” she said. “A more active lifestyle and training, that’s what they get with agility.”
There is $10,000 in prize money awarded for the steeplechase championships, but dog handlers claim it’s not about the awards.
“The dogs don’t care too much about the ribbons,” Chadwick said.
While the dogs may not have a competitive drive, a few of their handlers certainly do.
“For some people it goes beyond the fun, let’s play on the weekend,” said Jim Schneider, who traveled from Bend, Oregon with his wife Sandy and sheltie, Breeze.
“You could call it serious fun,” he added with a laugh.
For the most part though, the Schneiders said they enjoy the camaraderie they share with other members of the “agility community” all over the country.
One of those members, Claudette Barker, brought her Jack Russell terrier Chaps all the way from Florida for the event. She said she participates for the pure enjoyment of being with her pet.
“It’s just a pleasure when you’re competing with your dog,” Barker said. “There’s no yelling, no reprimanding. You have to have fun to want to do it.”