BELTON — Most of the dogs seemed to have a good time Sunday afternoon as the Bell County Kennel Club ended four days of American Kennel Club agility trials at the Bell County Expo Center.
Judges, scorers and helpers watched as handlers guided the dogs over two courses set up in the dirt arena of the old livestock building. The jumpers course included weaves but had no contact obstacles and is more about speed, said Ricky Penn of Mesquite, a longtime dog owner.
The other course, called standard agility, included a few jumps but had a lot of contact obstacles such as tunnels, weaves and teeters. In both cases, the handlers get eight minutes to walk a course they’ve never seen before, Penn said.
“You try to figure out how to run the course the fastest and the cleanest,” he said. “No bar and no error and the fastest wins. We go out there and we try to do our best and not mess our dogs up. It’s the humans, not the dogs, who make mistakes.”
A lot of handlers call the next obstacle for the dog, he said, but he uses more body language and hand signals. The only words he uses might be “table,” “right” or “left.”
“Being lung impaired takes away my energy to use words,” he said. “I’ve only got about 20 to 30 seconds of run in me.”
Since he is a two-time lung cancer survivor, his giant schnauzer Jazz is his bucket list dog, he said.
When he got Jazz, he said, his wife told him he couldn’t have a large breed dog unless he trained it.
“I had no idea she’d be this good,” Penn said. “So we’ve had a blast. She’s good. One thing led to another and here we are.”
Jazz, 8 years old, is the AKC number two ranked giant schnauzer in the nation for 2020, he said.
“We’ve traveled the country, from one side of the nation to the other,” Penn said. “In two weeks we’re going to the Orlando, Fla., invitational. They invite the top five of each breed.”
Penn ran another giant schnauzer in the agility trials, named Q. He’s three years old “with no brain yet,” Penn said, and shows his exhilaration with the course by barking.
“You can tell he likes it,” he said.
Q has an AKC master’s level in the jumpers course and an excellent level in standard agility, Penn said.
Mary MacCallum of Austin brought Anna, her yellow Labrador retriever, who is 10 years old. Anna competed in the masters standard course and jumped bars 16 inches high. Anna has qualified for the AKC nationals in March 2021 in Tulsa, Okla.
“Mostly she knows the obstacles,” MacCallum said. “I kind of try to guide her.”
This is MacCallum’s second generation of agility dogs, she said, and she started out “playing this game” with her sister.
“I think that it’s a great way to work as team with your dog,” she said. “And the most fun thing is you stand up at the start line and you never know what’s going to happen. They may see things totally different than you do.”
Trevor and Malari Smith of Cedar Park brought eight dogs to the show. Trevor was working with Daisy, 13, a border collie, who is an AKC masters agility championship dog.
He watched Malari run Jade, 2, another border collie, in the standard agility course.
“This is her first run in the excellent class,” he said as Jade raced through the obstacles.
“She’s got a clean one,” he said after the run. “She didn’t make any mistakes!”
Trevor is a dog trainer and has been training dogs since he was six years old, he said.
“Whatever you want your dog to do, you have got to find out how to reward them for it,” he said. “That’s the big mistake a lot of people make. They stop rewarding the dog for good behavior.”