Practice is the key for dogs to successfully show their agility and obedience skills. Those skills were on display this weekend at a two-day American Kennel Club agility trials at the Ralph Infante Wellness Center in Niles.
Sandy Irish, a member of the Youngstown All-Breed Training Club in North Jackson and an event organizer, said between 400 and 450 dogs participated - both purebreds and mixed breeds.
''It's nice to be able to see a variety of different dogs. Most of the dogs have been training for a year,'' Irish said.
Yukon, a chocolate Labrador, gets a visit from Brandon Moran, 9, of Mentor, during the event.
In the trials, the dog and handler teams compete for qualifying runs on different courses, including the Standard course, the Jumpers with Weaves course and the Fast course. The Standard course includes obstacles such as the teeter, the dog walk, the A-frame, weaves and jumps. As dog/handler teams earn qualifying runs, they advance from novice, to open, to excellent, and then onto advanced titles.
They run though timed obstacle courses in which they must successfully complete a series of jumps, weaves and other activities at a fairly rapid pace.
Irish said while there is no overall winner from the trials, the weekend scores are sent to AKC for tabulation. Those scores, in turn, accumulate from event to event and go toward earning titles.
Two AKC qualified judges from Texas and West Virginia judged the dogs.
Irish said most people at the trials are participants, but many attend to see whether they want to take part in future events.
Lotta Shafer and her daughter, Hannah, a junior at Champion High School, brought four dogs to the trials.
The elder Shafer trains two larger dogs, Belgian Tervuren, which she said are herding dogs and a breed that assists police. Hannah Shafer brought smaller dogs, a Jack Russell terrier and Shetland sheepdog.
"If you spend a lot of time working with your dogs practicing with them and teaching them new skills, when you come to the shows you are ready to test those skills," Lotta Shafer said. "You see what works and what doesn't work and then go back and work on that skill.''
Hannah Shafer said she likes to get the dogs out and running.
''It's fun just to see the dogs get to run and jump. I've been doing this since I was 4 and got my first dog when I was 5,'' she said.
Debbie Harper of Cortland said she started competing with her Shetland sheepdog in 1999 after attending an agility show in Pennsylvania.
''I go to the shows in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I practice with the dogs in my backyard although I don't have the big equipment,'' Harper said.
She said the practice and positive reinforcement with the dog really helps.
Harper said she enjoys the shows and has noticed the Shetland sheepdogs are among the common breeds that attend.
Pam Oney of Hartford brought her golden retriever, Breaker, who received a first place ribbon. When not competing, the dog visits residents at Cortland at Lake Vista retirement homes. Oney has taken Breaker to nursing homes since she got him as a puppy from San Jose, Calif.
''I have a boarding kennel in Hartford and have always enjoyed working with dogs,'' she said.
She said many of the golden retrievers, border collies and spaniels are very intelligent and good to work with.
''Many of the sporting breeds and herding breeds are great to work with. Many dogs have an athletic body,'' Oney said.