For guaranteed smiles and a doggone good time, check out the dog agility competition Friday through Sunday at Parque de Vida in Cortez.
The event is put on by the Durango Agility Dog Club and is sanctioned by the American Kennel Club.
In agility trials, individual dogs run off-leash through various obstacle courses guided by gestures and commands from their handlers.
The dogs fly over jumps, weave through poles, climb up and down ramps, run through a tunnel and negotiate a see saw. Performance through the course is scored by judges.
A variety of breeds, and mixed breeds compete. Herding dogs, such as border collies and Australian shepherds, are especially popular for the sport because of their intelligence, athleticism and trainability.
Other dog breeds seen running the course were a dachshund, Chihuahua, Labrador retriever, whippet, toy poodle, affenpinscher, papillon,and Jack Russell terrier.
Dogs compete against other dogs their size and skill level. As dogs succeed at competitions, they move up the ranks.
About 130 dogs and 92 handlers attended the Cortez agility trial, said Paula Scott, president of the Durango Agility Dog Club.
“People having fun with their dogs is what it is all about,” Scott said. “You and your dog form a team.”
Watching experienced dogs perform well on the course is impressive. Seeing the novice dogs go through with all of their mistakes and unchecked energy is also entertaining, said club member Andrea Faucette, who competes with her dogs at the national level.
It takes two to four months to train a dog to go through the basic course, but it takes years of training to produce the perfect run at the higher competition levels.
More than 100 people affiliated with the event set up shade tents around the courses, and had RVs parked nearby.
Passerby stopped to watch the excitement, and learn about the sport.
Competitors came from the Four Corners area, New Mexico, Denver, Arizona and Las Vegas.
Sheri Williams, a veterinarian from Albuquerque, competes at the masters level with her red and white border collie, Beckon.
She attends agility trials to “have fun with my dog and relieve stress.”
Marie Whickhorst, arrived from Tucson, Arizona, with her papillons Trax and Fargo.
“I like the challenge. I’ve been involved in dog sports since I was a kid,” she said.
The sport of dog agility originates from sheepherders who wanted something for their border collies to do in the winter, Faucette says.
“For a small town, this is a big-city park, without the big city crowds, it is lovely,” she said of Parque de Vida.