Dog agility competitors brave rain

Anchorage resident Krystin Chester, 21, ran with her border collie Spell on Saturday at the Kenai Softball Complex. Spell is 4. Chester got Spell her senior year in high school. She said she is still adjusting to Spell, a much larger and faster dog than she used to compete with.

A border collie bounded over a gate, splashing down in the grass as her handler ran beside her.


The two darted around in the fenced off obstacle course for about a minute. The collie vaulting gates, dashing through nylon tubes, weaving a slalom course of poles. The handler splashing alongside her, dripping in her raincoat.

Pop-ups and family sized tents ringed the Kenai Softball Complex course — temporary homes for the 137 dogs competing in the Kenai Kennel Club’s annual dog agility trial Saturday.

Despite the rain, Ronda Oglesby, the trial secretary, said 304 runs were planned for the first day of the three-day trial. Organizers were sticking to the schedule, so nearly every handler came with rain gear.

“They’re pretty die-hard,” Oglesby, of Soldotna, said. 

Most of the dogs competing Saturday were family dogs, Oglesby said, not purebred competitors. She said a lot of the handlers start out that way. Then, when they get more serious, they often add a puppy to train from infancy.

That was the progression for 18-year-old Lindsey Pabst. 

“I’ve been around dogs my whole life,” she said.

The Kenai resident grew up with dogs and parents that competed, and eventually she started herself.

Now she competes with two 8-inch-tall Chihuahuas, the smaller end in the competition categories.

The categories are determined by the shoulder height of the dogs. The tallest category in agility is 24 inches. The categories then decline in increments of 4 inches to include dogs like Pabst’s 8-inch Chihuahuas.

To guide their dogs, the handlers use a combination of their feet, shoulders and hands — but it’s mostly from the orchestral sweeps of their hands, Pabst said.

She said the hand motions are “like drawing in sand.”

“And it really depends on the dog’s mood,” she said. “If they’re hyper, you’re going to move much faster.”

Another factor that influences the dogs is the weather. 

With Saturday’s gray skies, she said competing was hard, and even dangerous.

One year in strong winds she was guiding her Chihuahua along a dog walk — an thin gangway shoulder-height in the air.

She had seen dogs blown off the ramp before, so she had her hands beneath her dog as they ran through the course.

She was concerned for her dog’s safety then, but Saturday’s rain was less of a concern for her.

“I’m not too joyous about the rain,” she said, “but it’s better than (it being) too hot or too windy.”

Other handlers struggled in the rain as their dogs slipped off boxes and scampered up the head-high A-frame.

Pabst was even wearing cleats to counter the wet grass.

She had competed earlier in the day but her dog fumbled on an obstacle, disqualifying the two of them.

“It’s all good,” she said. “He was having fun and that’s main part of this, being out, having fun with your dog, keeping their minds sharp.”


Dan Schwartz can be reached at