There were plenty of wagging tails, tongues hanging in glee to go along with plenty of smiles sometimes straightened by a dose of reality.
In the end, Kim Collins, dog agility expert and owner of Pawsitive Steps, in Prince George had dogs and their handlers working on the same page.
Collins, who has been teaching dog agility clinics for close to 20 years, was in Quesnel, at Robert’s Roost, for three days of clinics for dog owners hoping to improve their skills in handling their pets going through an agility obstacle course.
Watching Collins, who was recently named coach of a Canadian agility team for an upcoming competition in France, showing owners the subtle shifts in body posture that will help them lead their dogs, it’s obvious she has a background in dance.
The background in dancing and teaching dancing has been quite useful in her pursuit in agility competitions and teaching others dog agility, Collins said.
“Moving and knowing where your body is in space is helpful,” she said.
“The teaching component is also helpful in the clinics.”
In addition to her experience as a dance teacher, Collins brings with her a U.S. National Dog Agility championship and three Canadian National Dog Agility championships.
The wins put Collins’ name out there and she started getting calls asking for help and soon she had to set aside the dance classes and focus on the dog training.
So impressive are Collin’s credentials that she regularly travels to Kelowna, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, in addition to leading clinics in Prince George and elsewhere across B.C.
“She’s a huge help,” Linda Kikkert said of Collins whom she visits once a week in Prince George for additional training.
Kikkert, a dog owner from Quesnel, has been training with Collins for 12 years, most recently with her four-year-old Australian Shephard.
The most important part of the training, Kikkert said, is establishing a relationship with the dog.
“Play with your dog,” Kikkert said was the most important piece of advice she would give to new dog owners hoping to establish a relationship with their dog.
Victoria VanWyk, one of several participants at Robert’s Roost from the Vancouver Island, agreed with Kikkert.
Owner of two dogs, a Rough Collie and a Kelpie, VanWyk said the toughest part of getting her dogs through the agility course was staying connected with the dog, making sure her dogs maintain their focus on her.
VanWyk, a veterinarian who travelled from Campbell River to attend the agility clinic, said the easiest way to ensure a dog stays connected, is to teach it tricks and reinforce success with treats and tugging games.
“The dog thinks you’re the most fun in the world,” VanWyk said.
“Who cares about that other dog. That’s the idea anyway, the theory,” she added with a chuckle to emphasize she had not yet mastered the theory.
VanWyk, who first took up agility training in the hopes of getting a handle on a dog she described as, “full of beans,” has seen an improvement in her abilities as a dog trainer, but admitted there was still much she could learn.
“I still have a long way to go,” VanWyk said with a laugh.
“It’s very frustrating for the dog if the trainer doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
Collins agreed and was straightforward in her assessment of the easiest part of her job.
“Teaching the dogs,” she said with a knowing smile.
The most difficult part about teaching dog owners, is getting them to stop trying to help their dogs, to encourage their dogs at the inappropriate time.
“Often when they [owner] think they are helping, they are actually reinforcing the wrong behaviour,” she said.
“It’s tough getting people to understand the science behind dog training and still letting the owner and the dog have fun.”
In addition to benefitting the health and wellness of her dogs, VanWyk said the agility training clinics have also helped in her practice as a veterinarian, particularly signals used to calm dogs, make them feel comfortable and using positive reinforcement so dogs are not afraid to come into the clinic.
Her experience at the agility clinics has also provided VanWyk with knowledge she can share with dog owners who visit her clinic.
“I get a lot of behaviour questions,” VanWyk said.
“These clinics have helped provide me with knowledge to answer those questions.”
Kikkert had her own list of benefits accrued as a result of her experience with dog agility training, including exercise and travel to various agility trials.
“So much enjoyment,” Kikkert said with a big smile.
“A bond with your dog that is unbreakable.”