COLUMBIA — The sound of barking dogs broke the silence of an early Sunday morning, signaling that the final day of the American Kennel Club agility trials had begun.
It may be cliche to say dogs are pampered pooches, but sometimes there’s no denying the obvious.
This weekend, dog tents, kennels of all sizes and fold-up chairs for man, woman and man’s best friend lined the perimeter of the Columbia Canine Sports Center.
The Show-Me Agility Club of Central Missouri was hosting the AKC agility trials.
What started in England during the mid-'90s as halftime entertainment at horse-jumper trials has grown to become a huge sport, said Deborah Hale, owner and exhibitor of two corgis, Tary and Bobbie.
“It’s the fastest growing AKC sport,” she said.
There are three levels of classes: novice, open and excellent. Dogs, who rely on their owners to lead them through the course, and owners alike are challenged to complete two different courses with no mistakes.
Depending on class level, a team may only make so many errors. Those in the highest class, for example, must be perfect.
Kathy Echols, instructor at and part-owner of Columbia Canine Sports Center, showed two dogs, JJ, a whippet at the novice level, and Kip, a border terrier at the excellent level. Echols, Ginger Huxley and Andrea Meinhart are owners of the center, a side business they started in 2003 to offer training in obedience and agility, Echols said.
Bonnie Drabek, the sole judge for the weekend, designed both the jumps-and-weaves course and the standard course. Every trial requires a new course, which the judge must create.
Drabek began judging in 1997 and has been asked to referee trials throughout the country.
“I’ve had (Great) Danes for 33 years, and I decided I’d like to judge,” Drabek said. The job started off slowly, but after awhile, word started to spread. She currently works by referral.
Drabek explained that every trail requires a new course that she must create. It’s possible to use an existing course, but it must be tweaked because exhibitors travel all over the country.
For the team of Nancy Lauermann and Pilot, her bi-blue Shetland sheepdog, it’s all about having fun and fine-tuning the nitpicky things.
“It’s a matter of what you want,” Lauermann said. “Because he’s so fast, I like to lead out, so I can send and get to the next spot so he knows where I’m going.”
Lauermann, who has been competing for 14 years, brought Pilot home when he was 7 weeks old. She began working with him immediately.
She would come home from work during lunch, train Pilot, return to her job and resume training at night.
Pilot and Lauermann had just completed a perfect run, and the sheepdog was celebrating by tugging on a green toy.
“You can see how much he loves it,” she said. “He came ... to run as fast as he can. He loves to run it with me. He loves it to high heaven.”
After a long morning, Lauermann collected her ribbons, packed up Pilot’s things and got ready to head back home to St. Louis, satisfied with how the dog performed.
Exhibitors such as Lauermann came from around the state and all over the country to compete. There is no No. 1 dog, said Diana Rupprecht, an exhibitor from St. Louis. “Everyone is rooting for each other.”
She started training her dog in hopes of distracting it from chewing up her home. “He needed a job,” she said.
For many, it’s a chance to spend quality time with a friend and meet with other owners. AKC stages events for purebred dogs, but there are venues where all dogs can compete.
The rule book is thick and complex, but Drabek sums it up: “Traveling from one end of the country to the other, we all have something in common: the love of our dogs.”
For more information on the AKC, go to akc.org.