Teaching canine friends to be more agile

By Rose Schneider

Jocelyn Baker found a way 1 1/2 years ago to connect her love of dogs and her desire to stay busy by opening up her own agility training facility in Manhattan.

In February 2012, Baker, who has been teaching agility for 12 years, built a 60 x 80 foot arena on her land, complete with a wide variety of agility equipment. Her business, which is called Deep Creek Agility, allows individuals to work with their dogs for an hour, once a week, for six weeks, as part of the agility program. The classes are held Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays with a maximum of five dogs per class. She teaches a range of agility from beginning to competition level for her students.

“I always had dogs and when my kids graduated from high school I had more time,” Baker said. “I started with showing golden retrievers and Labradors in competitions.”

In addition to competitions before Baker found agility, she taught obedience.

“Agility is a lot more exciting; there is an adrenaline rush you can get hooked on,” she said.

Baker taught two dogs, a havanese and corgi, who went to the 17th annual American Kennel Club National Agility Championship in Tulsa, Okla., one of many agility competitions in the United States. Other competitions include the United States Dog Agility Association and North America Dog Agility Council. Baker prefers American Kennel Club competitions the most because they are most available in this region with frequent competitions in Lincoln, Neb.; Tulsa, Okla.; Omaha, Neb.; and St. Louis, Mo.

Agility winners in most competitions get ribbons. However, some competitions, like the United States Dog Agility Association, award cash prizes.

Although she has trained dogs for agility competitions she says, “there are a lot of reasons why people take the classes – not everyone wants to end up in competitions – some do it to improve the relationship with their dogs.”

Baker works with a wide variety of dogs big and small and enjoys helping owners build better bonds with their dogs.

“I enjoy working with students who love working with their dogs because both the owners and their dogs have a lot of fun,” she said. “I like the dogs that have some drive; it is no fun if you have to beg the dog to do something.”

Baker emphasized how critical the union between the owner and the dog is because it makes the experience so much better for the both of them. However, she has seen dogs come in without a relationship with their owner or in some cases a dog without confidence and has been able to turn the relationship around.

“I’ve had people come in with really nervous dogs and have the dog learn a lot of confidence,” Baker said. “Patience of the owner makes it fun for the dog.”

She tells her clients “no is not a word used in agility” and that if a dog makes a mistake, it is the owner’s mistake, not the dogs.

“You have to be more fun than the distractions; you have to love to play and run with the dog because you’re a team together,” she said.

Baker acknowledged that it can take time to learn how to work together for some owners and their dogs but that most dogs enjoy and look forward to doing activities with their owners.

She has never had problems with student’s dogs not getting along but keeps them separately crated when a dog is running the agility course.

Her course is made of American Kennel Club equipment and includes a frame, teeter-totter, dog walk, table, tires, double and triple jumps, panels, tunnels and weave poles – which are the hardest to get a dog to run, in Baker’s opinion.

“I don’t believe you can train a dog by just coming to class,” Baker said. “The student has to be serious about training them and work with their dog at home by doing things like giving the dog’s dinner as a reward.”

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