Agile canines compete in Carbondale |

Agile canines compete in Carbondale

It’s far from your average Carbondale event, but somehow the Dogs on Course in North America (DOCNA) National Dog Agility Championships fits with the town’s laid-back character.

Taking place simultaneously on an identical course in New York, the event, which is free to watch, takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Carbondale’s North Face Park. Drawing around 85 dogs from all over the West, it sets itself apart from other agility trials with its inclusiveness.

“We started with the idea that all dogs should have the opportunity to compete on their own level,” said Jim Mills, owner of DOCNA and organizer of the championships.

So, in each of a variety of events, dogs can compete against their peers of both size and age. A wide array of breeds and a smattering of mutts take the field under the twin summits of Sopris.

It’s the second year Carbondale has hosted the western half of the championship, which were previously held in Grand Junction and Denver. In 2014, a local competitor suggested Carbondale and Mills agreed to check it out.

“I looked at this site and that mountain and I fell in love with it,” he said. Right now, it looks like the 2016 competition will be here as well.

The competitors aren’t complaining.

“The higher altitude can be a challenge, but we all commented last time on how beautiful it was and said we wanted to come back,” said Jenn Woelke of Phoenix.

The seeds of competition were sown in Woelke when she was a little girl. Following horse jumping as a kid, she decided to put her dog through the paces in her backyard. When, a few years ago, her obedience class suggested agility as a method for boosting a dog’s confidence, she decided to give it a try.

“He seemed to like it and I knew then that I wanted to play the game,” she recalled.

While the obstacles in a standard course present some physical challenges, Woelke finds that the mental game can make the real difference. Her dogs aren’t the fastest, but they rarely make mistakes and they’re not fooled by false trails. It all comes down to training, with positive reinforcement proving perfectly effective.

“It’s all reward-based,” Woelke said. “Most of the time, you don’t even use a harsh word if you can help it.”

Ginger Erdman, also of Phoenix, has a similarly upbeat philosophy.

“Almost all of us are out here because we want to have fun,” she said. “It’s a sport that anyone and everyone can do.”

Erdman discovered the sport when she happened to drive by a show. She sat down for a bit and ended up staying for hours.

“I was enthralled,” she recalled.

Now, she competes in various events and helps instruct teens, seniors and everyone in between in the art.

“It doesn’t take as long as you think it does,” she said. “It’s really about building a relationship with your dogs.”

In DOCNA competitions, there’s also a great deal of camaraderie among the competitors. “Everybody’s cheering for you,” Erdman observed.

Indeed, on Friday, most of the onlookers had dogs of their own, but a few locals came out to see the spectacle.

Diana Gillanders owns a home in Snowmass Village and, after hearing about the event in the paper, came out with her grandson to watch.

“I just love dogs,” she said. “We’re learning a lot, and people have been very welcoming.”

“I think this is a very positive thing for the dogs,” she added. “This is paradise for the animals.”

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