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EWC offers dogs and their owners agility course training

June 1, 2018 GMT

TORRINGTON — For the second summer, dogs and their owners are learning to run an agility course at Eastern Wyoming College.

The course is set up in EWC’s gym, before the floor is resealed for next year. It’s all free-standing structures and tunnels, marked with cones and numbers, for dogs to leap and climb and run through.

Penny Hutchison, a local dog breeder, teaches the class with Dave Reynolds in addition to general obedience classes. She’s been involved in training on-and-off for about 20 years and says her dogs love to do it. One of the dogs she’s currently agility training with is Frankie, a young Australian Shepherd pup, who is particularly eager.

“When they see that the back of my car is open, they all go crazy,” she said. “When I let (Frankie) out, he is loaded up and ready to go.”

All the dogs who run the course are required to pass obedience classes before they can run the course. The dogs learn to start on the owner’s left side, to follow their owner, and how to stay put. It’s especially important that dogs learn to obey verbal commands for some of the obstacles, like the teeter-totter.

“When they get up to just where it’s about to tip, we give them the wait command,” Hutchison said. “‘Wait’ means they can’t keep going until they get their next command, then they can walk down.”

The dogs are judged on how quickly they can pass through each piece of the course. Errors add to their time, meaning that it’s sometimes better for the dogs to take their time.

The dogs range in size from full grown German and Australian shepherds to miniature Schnauzers and Cocker Spaniels. They go over a course that alternates between barriers that have to be jumped — puppies get to skip the more difficult jumps, tunnels the dogs must go through unassisted, a teeter-totter and a-frame ramp the dogs must go up and down. The course ends with a platform, where the owner must keep his or her dog sitting still for five consecutive seconds to stop the timer.

Most of the dogs and owners taking the course will not participate in competitions. Locally, the only group that hosts regular agility competitions are 4-H groups. Most of the animals and people who come to the class do it for fun and exercise.

Reynolds, who teaches the class with Hutchison, said the course helps hone a dog’s skills, particularly the course’s two tunnels. One tunnel is open the whole way through but has a curve, preventing dogs from seeing one end from the other. The other tunnel requires the dogs to push through fabric to escape.

“It challenges their mental capabilities,” he said.

“Sometimes you have to crawl through the tunnel with your dog,” Hutchison said. “We start with somebody holding your dog at one end and you go to the end of the tunnel and call them to get them comfortable.”