KINGSTON — Shelley Malan is helping local dogs “go places” and she doesn’t mean house-breaking them.
Four Dognite Agility Training is Malan’s business is that is taking off faster than a dog that can hop through a hoop.
Recently retiring from the medical and teaching field in Albany, NY, the certified agility instructor decided to pursue her hobby of dog agility training by making it a business when she and her husband returned to live in the West Sound area.
Agility isn’t obedience, she said. It’s much more fun than that.
“Dog agility is a competitive sport,” Malan explained. “It’s teaching a dog to do an obstacle course.”
It’s like a running game, she said, where the dog learns to go through chutes, a closed tunnel (the dog goes through a 55-gallon drum and pushes a roll of fabric with its nose to the other end. “It’s a trust thing,” Malan said) and jump through tire hoops, to name just a few activities.
Canines also learn how to use “contact equipment,” she said.
The equipment may be something like a see-saw, where the dog has to run on it, tip it to the other side and come off the other end or an A-frame structure, which the dog must climb up and come down. In competitions, the apex of the frame can be 5’6” or 6’3” high.
Another activity, she mentioned, was a “dog walk,” where the dog has to walk up, across and then back down 12-inch wide boards that are 12 feet long, and four feet off the ground, while maintaining a certain speed.
All courses are timed and the judge determines the maximum time using a mathematic formula based on the length of the course and other factors. The canine not only has to meet speed times, but correctly complete the course as well.
“What dog is the most accurate at the fastest speed is the dog that will win,” Malan said, adding that the average course will have 20 obstacles for the dog to finish in 45 seconds.
By industry standards, she said the obstacles cannot take longer than 68 seconds and the courses depend on whether a dog’s competition level is novice, intermediate or advanced.
“What I’m doing in the class is training people to do the obstacle course, teach them individual obstacles and then teach them how to teach their dog,” she said. “It’s a lot less regimented than obedience.”
She added that the dogs love the activity, regardless if they compete in a trial or not.
“I have people who may never compete, but are there to develop a better relationship with their dog,” she said, noting there are people who do it for fun and there are those who get hooked right from the beginning who may want to contend in the future or attend a trial.
While there aren’t any agility trials held in this area, there are several in Seattle and on the Olympic Peninsula.
Malan, who still competes and holds classes, conducts six-week long sessions. On Oct. 22, she will start a new session of groups, ranging from introductory to competition levels.