Running through hoops
The owners put their dogs through the hoops. But when it's all said and done, dog and trainer have mastered one another.
All Gracie has to do is roll on her back, and Beth Edmonds, with tender eyes and sweet smile, kneels on the sawdust covered floor and scratches her dog's belly.
Gracie has just finished a routine of running through a tube of hula hoops, jumping through a canvas window frame and making a teeter totter take her for a downward ride.
She's in a pack with five other dogs and their owners and every one means business. Nearby Dylan Thomas, a Welsh Corgi named after the poet, scrambles for his turn on the teeter totter. Then, it's off to the poles where he obediently, with the guidance of Sarah Smith, weaves between them.
Dog agility is much more than an exercise session for pets -- it's a rapidly growing and popular 4-H competition. In Kansas 4-H, the dog agility section is in its third year.
Zach Buddish, who is 18, has worked with his part border collie, Bessie, for most of her eight years in other 4-H dog projects. This is his third year in agility.
"This takes a lot of time," said Buddish, who won grand champion in obedience A and a reserve in agility at the 2002 Kansas State Fair. "I've been trying to do qualifying this year. I spend a lot of time working in obedience."
Zach said Bessie is in the utility division, which is the highest class for obedience.
Camille Schmierer, 18, is competing in the agility division with two of her dogs, a golden retriever named Hope, and an English spaniel named Zoe. For Camille, this marks her second year of participating in dog agility.
Like the other youths in the project, Camille practices at the fairgrounds every Thursday night. And, she works with her dogs at home every day.
Part of the challenge of setting up a dog agility program is that it calls for specific equipment, such as hurdles, the teeter totter and the tunnels.
To cut expenses, the group made some of their own equipment.
"We built our dog walk, the teeter totter and jumps, except for two of them," Camille said. "We built 99 percent of everything up here, because to buy the things would be really expensive."
The project is worthwhile, she added.
"It's lots of fun," Camille said. "It tries your patience, but it's a great experience."
And, youths who work in dog agility want to show off what their dogs can do.
Usually, Camille said, nobody comes to watch them work. But at last year's state fair when rains drew a crowd inside, the dogs and their trainers found a captive audience.
"We had a full audience and they loved it," Camille said.
The group's adult leaders, Vickie Smith, Debbie Buddish and Valynn Schmierer work at the project alongside their children.
Members of the dog agility program who will be showing at the fair are: Nicole Allen, Anna Buddish, Zach Buddish, Beth Edmonds, Rita Edmonds, Camille Schmierer, Sarah Smith and Shannon Smith.
Camille said one of her goals is to have fun with the dogs, especially when they're hesitant to try a new trick.
"When you first put them on the teeter totter they don't like it ... it's off the ground and they're moving," Camille said.
"You have to take it really slow and make sure the dog is never scared. You want the dog to have fun -- the more fun they have the faster they learn."