Agility competition wins gold for strengthening family bond

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2002

It was a year and a half ago that I sat down to write a column about my dog Bailey.

She and I were just about to compete in our first agility competition, and I was reveling in pride about how far she had come to get to that point.

Agility is where the dog maneuvers through a series of obstacles -- jumps, tunnels, A-frames and such -- guided by a handler within a limited amount of time.

One of the biggest accomplishments for Bailey and I was mastering the weave poles.

Weaves are a straight line of poles with a slight gap between them that the dog must weave through. They also are the hardest part of learning agility, in my opinion.

Getting Bailey to be able to do them on her own took some work, but with a lot of practice, she became Bailey the weave-o-matic dog. And I, in turn, became Dori Lynn, the proud owner of Bailey the weave-o-matic dog.

In the column, I also related the fact that when Bailey started agility, she was Bailey the horrified, afraid of even her own shadow. But, again, with practice -- and some obedience -- she grew more confident, and after nine months, we were ready to show our stuff.

And it was good stuff.

I am so into agility that I consider my job at the Clarion a hobby to pay for my obsession. I have spent seven weekends since this whole thing started immersed in the incredible camaraderie that can only be shared by agility enthusiasts.

We understand each other -- how hard it is and how long it takes to train a dog to do these moves, not to mention the frustration and embarrassment involved when the dog ignores you in front of the crowd.

But at some point, we've all been there.

My husband, Mark, has been a part of that crowd. He has been my support team from day one.

What's neat about that is that he's been there even though he didn't have a dog of his own to compete with.

Eventually, he competed with a friend's dog. It helped him learn a lot, but he still couldn't understand what I meant when I talked about the indescribable bond between Bailey and me.

Then he got Tucker.

Tucker has been perfect for Mark. They started bonding from the moment they set eyes on each other. Tucker was just 7 weeks old, and Mark was, well, never mind how old he was.

Over the months, they taught each other a great deal. Mark taught him to face the obstacles, and Tucker taught him to play more. And if there is one thing Tucker does well, it's play.

My early memories of his puppyhood are of him running down the hallway with plants in his mouth. In fact, anything in his mouth still causes his rear end to wiggle from side to side at 90 mph.

This was a good sign when it came to learning the weave poles. He mastered them easily. Actually, he's mastered everything fairly easily. Perhaps it's his teacher.

Last summer the Kenai Kennel Club announced it would hold an agility trial in February in Wasilla. Tucker would be old enough to compete, but Mark was uncertain if they would be ready.

It took some coaxing from classmates and teachers, but he finally put the pen to paper and filled out an entry form.

As the weeks grew closer, I was amazed at how calm he was. He didn't get nervous like me -- I get real nervous. Days before the trial, I start talking fast and forget to breathe. He was cool -- on the outside, anyway.

Last weekend the trial finally arrived, and Tucker made his debut into the agility world in style: four runs, four qualifications. What a pair.

Bailey and I did well, too. It was a great weekend for the Andersons.

After the dust cleared, Mark and I sat in a crowded Wasilla restaurant glowing, hardly saying a word. We didn't need to. I could see in his eyes that he finally knew what I had been talking about. He felt the bond, and it showed.

I'm very proud of my husband.

I think what happened last weekend has welded a strong bond between not only him and Tucker, but between the two of us. I think we're lucky to have found an interest we share and enjoy, and I hope it lasts a long time. And it will -- as long as his dog doesn't ever beat my dog.

If he does, I'm taking up curling.

Dori Lynn Anderson is the copy and features editor at the Peninsula Clarion.

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