Most people are probably familiar with dog shows that highlight the physical characteristics of a specific breed or category of dog, like the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship or the National Dog Show. However, a less known type of dog competition might be even more entertaining and is making a stop at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond from Friday, June 7-Sunday, June 9.
The Canine Performance Events Dog Agility Nationals is free to attendees and will feature the agility events as well as vendors selling dog-related items. Agility events start around 8 a.m. and get done around 3:30 p.m. each day at the speedway, which is located at 2275 County Road CC in New Richmond. The event is being hosted by the Minnesota Host Club.
"They will get pretty much every kind of dog running throughout the weekend, because we have everything from itty-bitty little dogs to great big guys running, and everything in between," said dog trainer and competitor in this weekend's nationals, Cathy Diaz of North Hudson. "It is just a really fun event that might be something to check out for a family looking for something fun to do for a day. It takes quite the team to pull off nationals, so it is pretty cool that it is back here."
Diaz has been training service dogs for Helping Paws for 16 years and has been competing in agility events on and off for the last eight years. Diaz first got involved in dog agility events after the first service dog she trained came back to her following the unexpected death of the dog's owner. The dog had been with the owner for six years, which Diaz says is very unusual.
"She was missing her job, missing her person and was just grieving. So we needed to find something for her to do to get her excited and engaged again. Given that she was a very well trained dog, and the fact that I put a lot of time and effort into training her as a service, we needed something totally different for both of us," Diaz said. "Although we got her into agility much later in her life, which is a little unusual, she absolutely adored it. Then I became addicted to the sport."
For this weekend's nationals Diaz will be running two dogs: Bungee, a 5-year-old rescue dog with "a lot of Bull Terrier in him;" and Summit, a 5-year-old Black Lab. This is both dogs' second time competing at nationals, with Bungee competing in the 16-inch jump height category and Summit competing in the 20-inch jump height category. To qualify for nationals, a dog must secure a certain amount of qualifying runs throughout the calendar year.
"To get ready for events, you need a lot of practice. Personally, I go to class every single week with each one of my dogs. But a lot of people have their own equipment and practice on their own. I have a few pieces of equipment myself, but some people have everything," Diaz said. "It is just a lot of processing and repetition. My two dogs just love, love, love it, so a lot of it is just that they are excited to do it. So it is a lot of fun."
Agility events are different depending on who is hosting them, Diaz said. The CPE Nationals will feature a standard course every single day. A standard course includes jumps, tunnels, weave poles and teeter totters. Dogs will also see two different "games" each day, which vary depending on which organization is putting on the event. Games include strategy for the handler and dog to see how many points they can rack up, as well as set courses where the objective varies depending on what game you're playing.
"My black lab is super fast, so he can get a really fast time. But he is still fairly new to agility, so sometimes when you go that fast, things can go wrong really fast as well. The bull terrier has an amazing skill set, but being a rescue he wasn't socialized when he was a puppy. That means, sometimes, the stuff outside the ring can get him a little overwhelmed. It just depends on how he is doing that day if he will be focused and consistent or not," Diaz said.
According to Diaz, the location of nationals rotates around the country each year. The Minnesota Host Club, the dog agility organization Diaz belongs to, is hosting the event this year. The club, which has hosted nationals twice before, is made up of eight different dog agility clubs from across the state of Minnesota. Although the Minnesota Host Club is mostly made up of Minnesota trainers/competitors, this year's nationals will be hosted at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond.
"The last time we hosted nationals we were at the Washington County Fairgrounds and we were at the whims and mercy of Mother Nature. Mother Nature was kind enough to show all the people visiting from all the states what Minnesota weather can do in a three-day time period," Diaz said. "They saw absolutely everything. So that made it challenging. When it was coming back this direction they started looking around and found the Cedar Lake Speedway's indoor facility."
The speedway's facilities allow all event rings to be inside, keeping weather from becoming a factor.
"Having everything inside makes things more consistent with the dogs since one dog could see the course at 8 a.m. and another could see the exact same course at 4 p.m. Being outside means that the dogs could see very different weather conditions and that factors into how the dogs do," Diaz said.
For more information about the CPE Dog Agility Nationals or the Minnesota Host Club, visit mnhostclub.com.