When properly trained, a dog can be man's best friend. When pets and owners are trained, they win races.
That was the goal for people and canines Friday at the fourth annual North American Dog Agility Council trials at Maybell Park. Organizers said 50 to 60 trainers run their pets at the four-day competition, which continues through Monday.
There's no rhyme or reason to which dog wins or loses.
Dogs are placed in divisions by height. Those with the fastest times navigating a maze of plastic tunnels, teeter-totters and other obstacles earn points.
If they earn enough points, they land a spot in the national trials in September in Gillette, Wyo.
Canine competitors come in all shapes and sizes.
There are sleek, angular dogs. When they run, they look like bottle rockets wrapped in fur, and they bolt through the course as if a pork chop is waiting for them at the finish line.
Then, there are their polar opposites: the small, squatty dogs. They stand eight to 10 inches off the ground and look like polish sausages with stubby legs.
But, don't let size fool you -- these hounds have serious game. They're cerebral, feisty and possessed by enough pluck to be competitive.
And then there are dogs that stand out from the pack.
Panda, a 3-year-old Australian shepherd, is one of those dogs.
He's a combination of speed, quickness, cunning and guile. He's also been deaf since he was a pup, said owner Shannon McCormick of Colorado Springs.
McCormick and Panda have been competing in agility trials for a year.
Instead of using verbal commands to direct Panda, McCormick directs the dog with her hands. They don't have many problems understanding each other, she said.
Panda cut up the course during one of his runs Friday.
"All you do is switch to the hand signals," she said. "That's really the only difference. I don't say much to him. I don't need to. He's just an awesome, amazing agility dog."
Not all competitors moved so seamlessly.
Communication was a problem for Steam--boat Springs resident Cathy Shryock and her pooch, Poudre, during a morning run. Shryock said she steered Poudre the wrong way by accident.
"I made a bad cue and he took it," said Shryock, who had her partner by her side. "That's OK, though. He did good."
The Maybell competition is the second event Shryock has entered with Poudre. He ran hard Friday, so she treated him with a cool dip in a nearby water tub.
"I think he's having fun," she said. "He would like it more if we could run in the snow."
Pamela Wiltgen of Grand Junction and her dog, Harley, have qualified for nationals. They used the Maybell trials to fine-tune their course work.
Harley, a 4-year-old Corgi, could care less whether they win or lose, Wiltgen said. To him, these contests are fun in the sun, she said.
"They don't know they're competing," she said. "They just know they're having fun. It's just like they're playing in the backyard."
Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or email@example.com.