Agility With Coco by V. M. Burns

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I used to compete with my dogs in canine performance events. It might not have been a different galaxy, but it feels like it. I had a toy poodle, Coco Chanel who was full of energy. Poodles are considered one of the smartest breeds, which is why they were often featured in circuses. Smart dogs are great, but they need a job. A smart dog without a job can get into a lot of trouble, and Coco was a smart dog who got into trouble. She needed an outlet for her boundless energy. That’s when I found Agility.

Agility is a sport where the handler (me) has to help my dog navigate through a timed obstacle course. To make things more challenging, dogs run off leash and the handler isn’t allowed to touch either the dog or the obstacle. In addition, no toys, treats or other incentives are allowed.

Agility consists of obstacles including things like jumps open and closed tunnels, weave poles and contact obstacles. Each dog/handler team must complete the course in order, within a predetermined time which varies by dog height and experience level. Novice dogs have easier courses which may not include more challenging obstacles like weave poles.

Speed is important and each team is racing against the clock. However, the most important thing is safety. All of the contact obstacles (See-saw, A-Frame, Dog Walk, etc.) have an area near the bottom painted a contrasting color (usually yellow). This area is called, ‘the contact zone.’ Judges watch carefully to make sure the dog places at least one paw in the contact zone or the team is disqualified. This is a safety feature to prevent dogs from leaping off the top of an obstacle and inuring themselves. Another safety measure is adjustment of jump heights. Jumps are based on the dog’s height.

Coco loved agility, she was small and fast. In the early days of competition, she would race through the course ignoring all of my commands and flying from the tops of obstacles with a huge smile of pure joy on her little face. Of course, those joy runs were an automatic disqualification, but she enjoyed herself. Her favorite obstacle was the tunnel and I spent most of my time blocking them from her view so she wouldn’t deviate from the course to zip through causing a disqualification for going “off course.” We had a lot of disqualifications, but as the years passed, she settled down and I learned how to direct her and she earned a number of ribbons and titles from both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC). If you ever get a chance to watch an agility trial, I highly recommend it. The best teams make it look easy. Trust me, it isn’t. However, it is a lot of fun.

Lilly Echosby and her toy poodle Aggie find a fresh start in Chattanooga, Tennessee, spoiled by the scent of murder. . .

Having solved the shooting death of her cheating husband, Lilly’s left behind the drama of Lighthouse Dunes, Indiana, to start over in the hometown of her best friend, Scarlett “Dixie” Jefferson. As she gets settled in her new rented house, Lilly gives Aggie, short for Agatha Christie, her own fresh start by enrolling her in the Eastern Tennessee Dog Club, where Dixie is a trainer.

But drama seems to hound Lilly like a persistent stray. Her cranky new neighbor appears unfamiliar with Southern hospitality and complains that Aggie barks too much and digs up his prized tulips. But what the poodle actually unearths is the buried body of a mysterious man who claimed ownership of the lost golden retriever Lilly recently rescued. Now it’s up to Lilly and Dixie to try to muzzle another murderer . . .