By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
If the dogs at the Curry County Special Events Center don’t know they’re the main attraction immediately, Heather Partain said, they figure it out pretty quick.
“They pick up the nerves and everything,” from their owners, Partain, a pet photographer and dog handler, said at Friday’s American Kennel Club Stars and Stripes agility trial. “That all goes right down the leash.”
With nerves, head scratches and hugs from their handlers, hundreds of dogs leaped and weaved their way through obstacle courses on the first day of the three-day event — a first for Clovis.
The seats at the events center were filled with spectators, while the perimeter of the arena floor was lined with kennels and blankets for dogs awaiting their runs.
Alongside were tables with raffles for dog toys and accessories, and two containers of water — one marked “for handlers” and one marked “for dogs.”
Tommy Partain, who forms the Amarillo-based Ever Shots pet photography company with his wife Heather, said the events are good for his business. But his business isn’t the only one that benefits.
“You bring in people from all across a five-state region,” said Tommy Partain, who expected to shoot up to 4,000 pictures Friday. “Those are good tourism dollars.”
Every dog is assigned a five-digit number. The first two numbers represent the dog’s shoulder height in inches. The number is printed on a sticker given to the dog’s handler, who must have the sticker prominently displayed as they give verbal and physical cues to their dogs.
Judy Flagle of Lubbock has been a handler at agility events for 23 years, and a judge for 15.
To reach judge level, Flagle said a handler must reach championship levels with a dog, attend seminars, pass a written test, and complete numerous practice shows and provisional periods.
Despite her long climb to reach judge level, Flagle said she concentrates most of her energy to the people who are just starting in dog agility. Those handlers, and their canines, represent the future of the sport.
When judging, Flagle said she looked for well-trained, happy dogs, with handlers who don’t overreact when things go wrong.
Meisha, Flagle’s miniature poodle, missed a jump earlier in the day. But Flagle said she sent Meisha the wrong way.
“One of my biggest pet peeves is when a handler gets upset with their dog. Agility is supposed to be fun,” she said. “Most of the errors are the fault of the handler; and it won’t help to get mad at (the dogs).”
The highest rank a dog can achieve is MACH, short for Master Agility Championship, by 20 perfect runs on both the standard and jumpers courses and acquiring 750 points — with one point earned for every second the dog finishes under every courses standard course time (SCT).
Tag, a golden retriever owned by Norman Nelson of Canyon, Texas, earned his second MACH on Friday.
Tag, contestant No. 24102, was allowed a victory lap in front of a standing ovation from the events center crowd.
Dick Bruni, getting set to run his black Labrador Bro through the course, said when you watch the dog shows at Westminster, the dogs being inspected don’t seem to be enjoying themselves. In agility, it’s different.
“It’s so much fun to be with your buddy, go out and experience the (courses). They’re happy, they have fun.”