Dinah the Belgian Malinois enjoys long walks with her owner as much as the next dog. But given a choice, the 7-year-old black-and-tan would rather weave through an obstacle course of colorful poles at lightning speed — something she can do faster than most any dog around.
Constant practice with her owner, Debra Willey of Coconut Grove, led Dinah to a second-place national title in the 30-weave competition of the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge last October, which aired on NBC on Jan 12.
Dinah and Willey make up just one of many teams of South Florida dogs and owners who participate in competitive agility, an activity they say strengthens the bond between the pair — as well as being a lot of fun.
This weekend, the Miami Obedience Club will host the American Kennel Club All-Breed Agility Trials, a four-day event beginning on Thursday at Tropical Park.
Willey, 50, has trained Dinah since she was 4 months old.
“Dinah’s always been very energetic,” Willey said. “Training ends up being a lot of fun for her since she gets to let off steam.”
Tracy Hanna, owner of the 4,500-square-foot dog training facility Paws in Motion in southeast Miami-Dade, has been working with dogs for more than 20 years. With large plastic tunnels and balance beams on the matted floor of the indoor gym, Hanna’s warehouse is the training center for more than 100 dogs, from puppies learning the basics of obedience to athletic champions.
“Any dog can come with us and train in agility,” said Hanna, who owns a border collie and a Belgian Malinois. “Though it’s the rare breeds that will be able to get more titles and really excel.”
Dogs can be challenged in several activities like racing, tracking, herding, dock-jumping and flying disc. Many owners take classes to better connect with their four-legged friend.
“It’s impossible to be grumpy when you start to spend time with your dog. Being able to build that relationship with them is therapeutic, for both you and your dog.” said Elizabeth Erban, a marriage and family therapist and employee at Paws in Motion.
A majority of the handlers who receive lessons, said Hanna, are retirees like Carol Clark from Redland.
“I’ve never felt so bonded with any dog than when I started training,” said Clark, 60, a retired police dispatcher who owns two Weimaraners. “The dog feels the energy you give off when you’re out there competing. So if you’re confident, then he’s confident.”
According to Hanna, the dog-training community in Miami has grown since she first began working with canines. Many owners who compete at the higher levels – even though they are competing for the same titles – end up becoming friends.
“It’s become a culture to us,” Hanna said. “You’re always meeting people who you never would have met otherwise.”