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Active Dogs Are Healthy Dogs: An Interview With Agility Expert Cheryl Carter

Dog Agility

We recently had the opportunity to talk with agility expert and dog trainer, Cheryl Carter, owner of Candy’s Canines in Antioch, Illinois. Since 1996, Cheryl Carter and her excellent staff of instructors have been teaching and competing in the exciting sport of Canine Agility.

PupLife.com: Hi Cheryl. Thank you for participating in PupLife.com’s Annual Dog Health Awareness Month 2006. We are very excited to talk with you about canine health, the growing sport of dog agility and the importance of diet and exercise in your dog’s routine. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about the history of canine agility.

Cheryl: The sport of agility started in England in the 1970s and was purely done as a demonstration. It came over from England back in the 1980s. I started agility training around 1990 when there were only 2 venues to choose from. One was NCDA (now UKC) which usually held events indoors and the other was USDAA one of the first venues here in the United States to hold events outdoors.

In the sport of agility, the handler has a limited amount of time to get their dog to safely navigate a set of obstacles in a predetermined order. The obstacles can include jumps, tunnels, a chute, weave poles, an A-frame, a dog walk, a teeter-totter and more! The dog must safely complete the obstacles in a specific order and within a time limit.

PupLife.com: How did you get started in agility sports?

Cheryl: I started with my mixed breed, Wishes, back in 1991. At that time agility was probably the only sport that would allow mixed breed dogs, and I wanted to prove that my “All American” mutt was just as good as the purebreds. Wishes was a once in a lifetime dog. He loved agility sports but he loved me more!

PupLife.com: With dog obesity and complications from obesity on the rise, what are your thoughts on the importance of exercising your dog.

Cheryl: I believe in keeping your dog in optimum physical shape whether or not you and your dog participate in agility.

PupLife.com: How do you begin training your dog for agility?

Cheryl: As with any athletic regimen, proper warm-up and exercise is of the utmost importance. With an obese dog, we start by formulating a proper diet, and then move on to stretching and flexing exercises. Initially, a lot of work is done on flat ground until the dog has dropped weight. Only then can we begin adding in agility equipment like jumps and tunnels.

Most of our students realize the importance of creating a solid foundation and stick to a regiment that conditions their dog and allows them to gradually increase endurance and activity. I encourage spouses and children to come and observe our agility classes so they, too, can learn the importance of getting and keeping their dogs in shape.

PupLife.com: What do you consider the health benefits of canine agility sports?

Cheryl: Training on a daily basis with my current competition dog, Pandy, has greatly strengthened our relationship, on and off the field. I always say, “A happy dog is a healthy dog.” Agility has kept my dogs in optimum physical condition, even my retired agility dogs who are 11 and 9 years old. Every time I take my dogs to the vet for check-ups, he says, “They have the heart of an athlete, strong and steady!” I do believe the fresh air and activity has promoted my dogs’ health – mentally and physically.

Agility has also contributed to a great awareness of healthy supplements like glucosamine MSM which helps keep the bones and joints in top condition. In addition to the exercise component of agility, we also do chiropractic work with our agility dogs. I myself get adjusted on a monthly basis, and the dogs are doing a lot more work than me, so they need it, too!

PupLife.com: Is agility right for every dog?

Cheryl: Not always, but it can be. It largely depends on the owner. I do have a few dogs that are not interested in agility but they have learned it. I don’t compete with those dogs but rather use agility to exercise their minds and bodies. I do not like to force the dogs into doing something that they really don’t want to do. If a dog is running fast, tail wagging and smiling, I’d say he likes agility. If a dog trots around a course with his tail down, I’d say the owner either has to find a better motivator, or that the dog might be better off doing something else. A few of my dogs prefer herding, some prefer obedience and some prefer flyball, but they all do agility in one form or another.

When we start training a new agility dog, we start by building attitude and drive using games. So even if the owner and dog don’t want to go into competition, they’ve at least learned something new and have created a bond that they can utilize in other arenas. Dogs love to learn new things. It makes them feel good, gives them confidence and a generally well-rounded personality. My students continue to attend classes whether or not they are actively competing because they know it’s good for them and their relationship with their dogs.

PupLife.com: Please tell us about your organization, Fundog Agility.

Cheryl: Fundog Agility was a started back in 2000 as a sub-group of my training school, Candy’s Canines, Inc. Fundog Agility focuses strictly on agility sports. Since my school also offers obedience and flyball, I wanted to keep agility events separate. Fundog people train with Candy’s Canines. Basically if you train with Candy’s you are automatically a Fundog member, no fees or rules – just lots of perks. On April 1, 2006, my training school, Candy’s Canines, celebrated its 10th year anniversary!

At Fundog Agility, we host 4 NADAC/AMBOR trials and 3 CPE trials each year. We also work with our local park district offering “Try It” classes. Additionally, we just started a Rescue Dog class for those dogs that are having trouble fitting into their new homes. This is a very specialized class and limited to 4 dogs.

PupLife.com: How much does it cost to participate in agility sports?

Cheryl: Costs vary from venue to venue and club to club. I really never think about how much it costs to enter an agility trial. I always find a way! Costs at Candy’s Canines and Fundog Agility are extremely reasonable. You get a very high quality of training from our instructors for a very reasonable price. With everything being so expensive these days, I don’t want the dogs to miss out. I don’t want it to be financially hard on an owner to train their dog. Owners get a reasonable break on multiple dogs and classes. And, they don’t lose anything by missing a week here or there: we just carry it over.

PupLife.com: Thanks so much for talking with us today, Cheryl! Please let our readers know how they can get in touch with you at Candy’s Canine’s and Fundog Agility.

Cheryl: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure! Visit us online at Candy's Canines or your can give us a call at 847-838-4820.