Com­pet­ing Ca­nines in Hat­ley

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Hat­ley

When Hat­ley’s Suzanne Kohl vis­ited Toronto’s Royal Win­ter Fair about ten years ago, she didn’t ex­pect to come home with a new found pas­sion, but she did. “My daugh­ter Erica and I were at the Royal Win­ter Fair to see the horses when we came upon a room full of dogs

jump­ing on com­mand, go­ing through tun­nels, jump­ing through hoops. We watched some more, right then and there, and when we left I said: I’m get­ting a dog!”

As soon as Suzanne got home she went keen, mak­ing a list of the at­tributes she wanted in a dog and re­search­ing dog breeds. “I was so ex­cited. I wanted a dog that was ac­tive out­side, quiet in­side, with soft fur… Then I heard about French Spaniels,” ex­plained Suzanne about the breed she de­cided upon. “I picked up “Moss” when he was seven weeks old and started train­ing him right away; I had a goal!”

The Haskell Free Li­brary proved a won­der­ful re­source for Suzanne as she was just get­ting started, pro­vid­ing some ex­cel­lent read­ing ma­te­rial on dog train­ing. “I got a lot from The Art of Rais­ing a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete, a book I took out of the Haskell three times.”

“You have to be es­pe­cially care­ful when train­ing an Agility dog, but any dog needs to lis­ten. When you train them well it’s like avoid­ing prob­lems in the first place. It’s very easy to get mad at a dog when you’re train­ing it, but if you want your dogs to work with you…” said Suzanne who now has two French Spaniels who have not only col­lected hun­dreds of prize rib­bons by run­ning through tun­nels and weav­ing through poles at break­neck speed, but who are mod­els in ca­nine be­hav­ior, at­ten­tive of their master and will­ing to please.

Be­sides train­ing her dogs in agility at home, us­ing the cir­cus-like equip­ment in­stalled on her spa­cious lawn, “Moss” and “Wil­low”, the sec­ond French Spaniel that Suzanne bought six years ago, train weekly at the Sher­brooke Agility Club. Al­though at ten years of age Moss is now re­tired, this reg­u­lar train­ing is cru­cial for Wil­low if she hopes to con­tinue win­ning rib­bons in this highly com­pet­i­tive sport. She re­cently lost a Steeple­chase event by just 77/100ths of a sec­ond! “Some of the Club’s mem­bers just want to train their dogs to do tricks, oth­ers like to prac­tice and then go to ‘tri­als’. When I started about eight years ago, there was just a smat­ter­ing of tri­als (the com­pe­ti­tions) around Que­bec. Now they have them ev­ery week­end, and all win­ter too,” ex­plained the dog trainer who trav­els reg­u­larly to Que­bec City, Montreal, Rouge­mont, Ter­re­bonne, Laval, and St. Au­gustin, to name just a few of her des­ti­na­tions, to com­pete. “I do drive a lot, some­times three hours one way to get to a com­pe­ti­tion. I usu­ally get home at ten at night, af­ter get­ting up at 3:00 in the morn­ing to go. It’s all part of the fun.”

“There’s a whole at­mos­phere at the tri­als. When you ar­rive you set up your tents, warm up the dog. You have to learn the course, there will be eigh­teen to twenty ob­sta­cles, and then they set it up. Then you have seven min­utes to walk the course and fig­ure out your strat­egy. It’s a real men­tal ex­er­cise and, at the Master level, it’s very in­tri­cate. We must learn six or seven cour­ses like this but as the day wears on you some­times stop in the mid­dle of a course and think: where am I?”

At the tri­als, the dogs can also com­pete in what’s known as ‘games’ like Jumpers and Gam­blers. “At the end of Gam­blers, you have to try to get your dog to do the ob­sta­cle course from a dis­tance, and if she does, you dou­ble your points.”

“In Agility, you don’t just have lev­els of abil­ity to work through, there are also dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories for huge dogs and teeny dogs. The sport re­ally adapts to dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties: the ‘spe­cial’ cat­e­gory is a lit­tle eas­ier than ‘reg­u­lar’; and the ‘vet­eran’ cat­e­gory gives a lit­tle more time and is eas­ier. That’s nice be­cause the dogs can still play when they’re older – it’s a very cool sport!”

What was most im­pres­sive when Suzanne did an agility demon­stra­tion with Wil­low in her front yard dur­ing the in­ter­view was how strong the com­mu­ni­ca­tion was be­tween dog and master. In the sport of agility, the trainer must get their dog to run the ob­sta­cle course in the pre-de­ter­mined se­quence, as fast as the dog can, by us­ing only their voice, move­ment and body sig­nals. They are not al­lowed to ei­ther touch their dog or the equip­ment. The men­tal con­nec­tion be­tween Suzanne and her dog Wil­low, while Wil­low dashed, weaved, jumped and tun­nelled around the home course show­ing off, was al­most tan­gi­ble.

Al­though it cer­tainly looked like Wil­low was hav­ing fun, I asked Suzanne if the dogs en­joyed all the com­pet­ing. “If they didn’t en­joy the com­pe­ti­tions, you’d never be able to get them to do it.”

Hat­ley’s Suzanne Kohl has won over one hun­dred prize rib­bons for ‘Agility’ with her

French Spaniels Wil­low and Moss.

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