Saturday, November 14, 2009

These doggies jump, climb and leap

Agility field right side: The right side of th...Image via Wikipedia
LAGUNA WOODS- Linda Samson has trained her dogs to jump, climb and leap through obstacles, all with lots of coaching, love and of course the occasional treat.

Samson, originally from South Africa, has lived in Laguna Woods Village with her husband for just over a year now, and since she retired she has more time to devote to her beloved pastime—dog agility training.

Samson has spent the last six years training two 12-13 pound rat terriers—Lexi, 7, and Surfer Girl, 5. Lexi has won the high honor of "Accomplished Performance Dog" by the U.S. Dog Agility Association (USDAA), and both have competed and won numerous competitions across the country.

Laguna Woods Village resident Linda Samson, with her two rat terriers, Surfer Girl, left, and Lexi. Samson trains the award-winning dogs in many dog agility competitions across the country--but Samson says it's just plain fun.

"I've always wanted to do it," she said of dog agility training. "It's been a lifelong ambition of mine. I've always loved animals and I love training animals."

Dog agility competitions are run by both the American Kennel Club and the USDAA and can offer prizes up to $10,000. In dog agility competition, a dog is led through an obstacle course by a handler, and then given points based on speed, accuracy and the difficulty of the course. At some events, dogs compete in events for a few days, then judges tally points at the end to determine a winner.

"You plan your sequence to get the most number of points," said Samson of some courses where handlers can choose the obstacles.

Samson said she was always interested in dog agility training, and when she found she had the time, she began reading books, watching DVDs and taking coaching lessons.

She said there are a few different kinds of courses and using body language is key to leading the dog through, since they take silent cues from their handler. She said dogs like Lexi and Surfer, because they are small, pay attention to your feet. Although there is a lot of time put into training the dog, Samson said she likes it because it makes her and the dogs happy.

"I find them fun and challenging, too," Samson said of competitions.

Samson has been readying both dogs for the 2009 Cynosports World Games which begins Nov. 11 in Scottsdale, Arizona, one of the largest competitions put on by USDAA. Samson said Lexi will compete in six events and Surfer in three, with some of the best dogs from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Now that she is retired, Samson said she usually makes it to competitions twice a month.

Samson said it is fun for her and the dogs to train for these events. She said three times a week she attends classes at Jump Start Dog Sports training facility in Yorba Linda, and also rents a field to practice obstacles with the dogs. She also runs and walks with them outside daily. Samson said she prefers the jumping and running in dog agility to dog shows.

"It's so much more fun," Samson said. "Dog shows are just boring."

 In addition to jumping through obstacle courses, Lexi and Surfer also have worked with cancer groups and in hospitals as therapy dogs for patients. They perform tricks for patients to keep their spirits up.

Samson said Surfer loves tricks, as she performs an instant roll on the floor of her home when Samson yells out, "Bang, bang, you're dead." And she said Lexi, the elder of the two, is more focused when on the course.
And what are her secrets to training a dog? Positive reinforcement, said Samson, in addition to treats.

"I mean, you wouldn't work without a salary check would you?" she said.

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