Shelter dogs learn new tricks for agility |

Shelter dogs learn new tricks for agility

Will Grandbois

Your dog doesn’t have to be a border collie to compete in agility. In fact, as the western half of the Dogs On Course in North America (DOCNA) National Dog Agility Championships convenes in Carbondale this weekend, many participants will be mutts and rescues.

The competition takes place Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at North Face Park, 305 Meadowood Drive. It’s open to spectators and free to watch.

“Hopefully we’ll get lots of people to come and see it,” said DOCNA owner Jim Mills. “You’re seeing some of the top dogs in North America compete. They will do a course that’s 21 obstacles in less than 20 seconds.”

It’s the third year in a row the organization’s main event has taken place in Carbondale, with a simultaneous competition on an identical course back east. In challenges inspired by equestrian jumping, the dogs are handled through a series of timed obstacle courses with an array of challenges. Dogs and trainers come from as far away as Alaska, though nearly a quarter of them are from the Western Slope.

Many of the local competitors find camaraderie and training through High Mountain Agility, a Snowmass based club spearheaded by Bev Beck.

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“We’re finding that it is a growing sport in the valley,” said Beck. “Our membership has probably doubled in a year.”

The club is open to anyone who has completed an introductory lesson with a trainer. It comes with a practice space and occasional workshops with trainers from the front range.

The group also does demonstrations to help the general public understand the sport.

“It gets you both to think and really helps you bond with your four-legged friends,” Beck observed. “There are dogs of almost every breed and trainers in every age group.”

Many trainers make a special point of adopting their dogs from a shelter. One such is Bill Lukes of Carbondale, who will be competing this weekend with 8-year-old Jackson, a Colorado Animal Rescue dog.

“The first dog I rescued turned out to be an absolutely wonderful dog, and it exposed me to the fact that there are millions of adoptable animals all over the country,” Lukes explained. “Once I saw the kind of animals you would find at a shelter, I wondered why you’d go anywhere else.”

It doesn’t seem to hurt his performance.

“At all levels of the sport, there are lots of rescues and mutts that compete very strongly,” he noted.

“We love for people to come out and watch and ask questions,” he added. “I think it’s a cool thing to bring to Carbondale, and I hope they stay for awhile.”

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