The world of dog obedience and agility training can sometimes be rigid and formal. Victoria Farrington’s class with the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District is not that.
Dogs of ranging ages and breeds can be found at South Whidbey Community Park jumping off park benches, balancing on logs or going under picnic tables in her sports sampler class. These activities are considered dog parkour, or urban agility. Another week the canine athletes might hunt out tubes with rats in them.(The rats are not harmed in this exercise.)
“People have developed a very conventional way of doing things, and I wanted to do something a little bit different,” said Farrington.
Farrington is an experienced and accomplished dog trainer, and said she got involved during the beginning of clicker training. She was self taught but eventually lost interest in teaching those types of classes.
“It wasn’t exciting anymore,” Farrington said. “I guess I liked it when it was brand new and you had to figure out everything yourself.”
After moving to Clinton around 10 years ago, she noticed there weren’t many kennel clubs or official dog training classes on the island. She wanted to teach classes again but without having to start her own business, so she contacted the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District.
Recreation Supervisor Carrie Monforte said dog-related classes have been and continue to be popular among South Whidbey residents. The Canine Sports Sampler class is held Tuesdays or Saturdays 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the next session begins May 15 for Tuesday classes or May 19 for Saturdays. The fee is $100 per dog and sessions are limited to four people because of the small space in the park’s “Doghouse.”
The range of activities changes each week and many relate to competitions that dogs and their owners can eventually move on to.
For instance, rally obedience involves dogs performing different commands as they move through stations. People and their pets can particpate in these competions by traveling to them or submitting videos in “cyber rallies.” Or owners can submit videos of their furry competitors performing parkour, following International Dog Parkour Association guidelines, and win titles. But many of the skills and activities in Farrington’s class can be used every day.
“With all the sports, I try and make sure it’s something people can practice at home or inexpensively,” Farrington said.
Sue Salveson, with her young rescue pitbull Nugget, had taken nose work classes before and enjoyed them.
“She’s fairly new to our family, so I took it just to establish a fun connection,” Salveson said.
Her son Peter is also a member of the class, with his rescue pitbull Sarge. Peter Salveson has had Sarge for a few years and felt he would be a quick learner. During one of the recent class activities, Sarge lived up to expectations by quickly figuring out the object of a game in which a piece of cheese was hidden under one cup. After a couple of times, he learned to thoroughly check each cup, and the bulky dog would gently tip the cup with his nose, often without knocking it over, and nab the cheese.
Mary Ellen Courtney and her Texas heeler Jon have done nose work and agility before, but Courtney said she enjoys the more casual atmosphere of the sports sampler class. Her herding dog, who is also a rescue, appreciates the stimulation, she said.
“He loves anything involving work,” she said of the around 4-year old canine.
Farrington gives tips on more ways owners can interact with their pups on walks or just at home in the living room, which keeps dogs engaged and builds stronger relationships, she said. The sports sampler class is a new offering and Farrington said she’s figuring it out as she goes, but so far the reception has been positive.
“I wasn’t sure if people would be interested in trying something new every week,” she said. “It turns out that works really well.”