Updated 6 hours ago
In an arena filled with nearly 200 dogs, the loudest noise youâll hear is the humans.
Running alongside their canine counterparts, handlers shout commands â âtunnel, push, weaveâ â as the pooches climb walls, scoot through tunnels or leap over barriers, all over 12 inches tall, racing the clock to the end of an obstacle course before leaping into the arms of their owners for a treat and a hug.
With that, the arena erupts with cheers and applause.
Pups and their humans from across the country gathered at the B&D Creekside Activity Center in Latrobe on Saturday to compete for a spot on the United Statesâ American Kennel Club 2019 European Open Agility Team. Top dogs will go on to compete in an international agility and obstacle competition in the Netherlands in July.
The tryouts continue Sunday.
All 186 entrants must try out in order to qualify for one of the 32 spots on the team, even if they competed overseas last year, Team USA Coach Ann Braue said.
Half the spots will go to small and medium dogs, while the remaining 16 will go to large dogs.
Dogs are judged based on their time and number of faults as they complete the course.
Mixed breeds are allowed to compete, though border collies, shelties and poodles make up most of the field, Braue said.
âThe sport is definitely evolving,â said Braue, who has been competing since 2002 and coaching since 2013. Even as the course designs become more difficult, the dogs are getting faster and training at a higher level.
But that doesnât mean your pet doesnât have a shot, she said. Many people who are now competitive in the sport started off just by playing with their dog in the backyard or watching their pup run laps around the living room.
Thatâs how Judy Kolva, of the Harrisburg area, started training her dogs nearly 18 years ago. She saw an agility competition on television, bought a book and built some obstacles in her backyard. She later signed up for lessons and now practices with her dog a few times per week.
âIt just looked fun,â said Kolva, who competed with her 3-year-old cocker spaniel, Vette â short for Corvette â Saturday.
Cocker spaniels like Vette, a squirmy, chocolate brown pup with a long, shiny coat, come from working lines of dogs that are bred for herding or hunting, she said.
âItâs great exercise for you and the dog; itâs mentally challenging,â she said.
Donna Rohaus, of New Alexandria has been competing for 20 years. She never imagined she would get into the sport. She first got a dog to walk in the woods.
Now, she also teaches agility courses at the B&D Creekside Activity Center.
âThe bond with your dogâ is what keeps her coming back year after year, she said, stooping to tie her shoe and pet Captain, her 3-year-old border collie who came to watch the competition. Though Captain isnât ready for the ring yet, Rohaus competed with her other two border collies, 7-year-old Norm and 5-year-old Lainey, this weekend.
Rohaus is a competitive trainer â sheâs recognized at the national and international levels â but the community and camaraderie is what makes the sport special, she said.
âItâs fun because everyone cheers for each other,â she said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, email@example.com or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.