Dr Rich & Pres Chris
               Dr Rich & MACH Darling Hill Princess Zaeta Eclipse
Our guest Monday evening was Dr. Rich Willner of the Stonington Veterinary Hospital and Past President of the Rotary Club of the Stoningtons.  He and his black lab, Zaeta, compete in Agility dog obstacle events sponsored by the American Kennel Club.  This is a growing dog sport across the United States.
A handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy.  Because the dog must be off leash, the handler's controls are limited to voice, movement and body signals.  The courses are complicated enough that a dog could not complete them correctly without human direction.  Both dog and handler have to move at a full out run or lose points in the speed category of the competition.  The dogs climb an A-frame, seesaw, weave through poles, jump hurdles, crawl through tunnels and even pause on a platform for at least five seconds.  The whole course typically takes 45-55 seconds, unless your dog is a border collie.  Apparently they are insanely fast.
Rich showed some videos of competition that demonstrated the speed of the event, the signals he uses with Zaeta, and her agility - which earned her a "Master Agility Champion" (MACH) title.  Rich said that Zaeta's weakness was that she always paused at the top of the A-frame - it seemed as though she was admiring the view from the top.  He said that he does not use verbal commands because he gets confused in the excitement of the race and he added that the handler makes 95% of the mistakes during competition.
Officials at the events constantly monitor the obstacles to protect the health of the dogs.  A blind tunnel was eliminated because smaller dogs were hurt when they did not have the strength to get through the tubes.  The space between the weaving poles was expanded to prevent back injuries.  This is a team sport that benefits the health of both the animal and its handler/owner.
Zaeta has earned, in her varied competitions, the following titles:  Master Agility Champion, Canine Good Citizen, Rally Excellent, Junior Hunter, Companion Dog Excellent, Master Bronze Agility, Masters Bronze Jumpers with Weaves, Excellent FAST, Time to Beat, Master Agility Excellent Preferred, Master Excellent Jumpers with Weaves Preferred and Trick Dog Intermediate and she has earned titles in Obedience, Rally and Hunt.