Step foot inside Horizon’s Edge Sports Campus on any given day of the week, and you’ll find athletes of all ages competing in various sports, getting a quick workout in, and showcasing their abilities.
But the facility takes on a different athlete several times throughout the year, including last month.
The Shenandoah Valley Kennel Club has made The Edge one of its homes for its agility trials.
“We were so happy when they opened Horizons Edge because the competitions have gotten more and more popular,” SVKC president Marcie Smith said. “People have gotten more concerned with the safety of their dogs and the footing and the comfort, and the people at Horizons Edge have been wonderful.”
The event is unique because it provides an athletic avenue for the dog and the handler as the duos run through various obstacles in search of clocking the club’s fastest time.
The sport is quickly growing in the United States, with over one million entries to the American Kennel Club’s program each year. It provides a fast-paced, rewarding experience for everyone involved.
“It was originally part of a big dog show in England and originally a demonstration sport,” Smith said. “Then they sort of pulled the elements from the training they did for the military dogs, and it quickly became very popular, and everybody said, ‘Oh, wow. This looks really fun.’ … It’s pretty popular now.”
Agility is one of the fastest-growing dog sports in the country and has developed a reputation for building a deeper relationship between the handler and their dog while also providing entertainment.
Crawling through tunnels, swerving around poles, and leaping through tires, the sports provides a pre-set course with approximately 14-20 specific obstacles throughout the challenge that could include weave poles, tunnels, tire jumps, seesaws, pause tables, and more to be finished in a set time limit.
“It’s fun to have all these different breeds of dogs that were bred to do different things and to use what they’re bred to do,” Smith said. “Agility is super fun because there’s a couple of national competitions and it’s just based on all the times that go the fastest and can win the most.”
Each trial is done with the dog relying strictly on the cues and body language of its handler, and all breeds of dogs — including mixed breeds and small to large dogs — can participate in the event.
Typically, dogs that best fit the mold for this type of event are energetic dogs who enjoy running, respond to instruction well, and get along with others well, but the handler is also a key aspect.
While one doesn’t need to be a top-notch athlete to participate in the event, the communication aspect with the dog becomes a primary key to how successful a duo can be in the sport of agility.
“It’s a great way to bond with your dog,” Smith said. “It gives the dog a lot of confidence and an outlet for energy. It’s a little bit difficult to train for because it’s got a lot of training involved, but there are some other new sports now that take less training. We call these the gateway sports.”
Folks are able to sign up for a course to learn the sport, but practicing at home is also key. Setting up various obstacles, whether it be tunnels, weave poles, or other at-home equipment, is pivotal.
In order to master the sport, spending at least 15-20 minutes per day practicing is crucial, according to the American Kennel Club, and using incentives such as treats or toys to entice the dog is helpful.
Once the sports is mastered, many take it to the next level with competition and get their dog tested at an AKC Agility Course Test before preparing for one of three competitions, including an all-breed agility trial like the ones held at The Edge, specialty trials for dogs of a specific breed or varieties of one breed, and group trials for dogs of a specific breed group such as herding, working, etc.
To be eligible to compete in agility, a dog must be at least 15 months old and registered with the American Kennel Club or listed with the AKC Indefinite Listing Privilege Program. Dogs also must be in sound health and up-to-date on vaccinations. Spayed or neutered dogs are eligible to compete.
The Shenandoah Valley Kennel Club also hosts agility trials at Walnut Hill Farm in Reva throughout the year and has other entertaining monthly events at different locations around the state.
The SVKC agility trials are set to return to Harrisonburg on July 21-23 at Horizons Edge.
To get involved with the sport of agility or other dog shows, go to shenandoahvalleykc.org.