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Posted June 19, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Fun and games: Local dogs compete in national obedience, agility tournaments

By Jessica Wiant -- jwiant@nvdaily.com

BOYCE -- Leslie McLean runs alongside her big yellow Lab, motioning for him to shoot through a tunnel, leap over a jump and pause, both the woman and the dog exhibiting speed and coordination.

In an obstacle course set up on her lawn, she points out various equipment, a collapse tunnel, tire jump, dog walk, weave poles and platform jump.

For a first timer, the sight is a little overwhelming, but, McLean explains, when she competes with her dogs in an agility competition, every time is the first time. Each course is different -- and at every competition she and her dog only get five minutes to walk the course before competing. Competitors are judged on their time as well as how perfectly they run the course.

Amazingly, McLean's two teammates, Fox Rise Pooh Bear, or Bear, and Fox Rise Troubella, or Trouble, still figure it out, with lots of practice.

"It's like muscle memory for the dogs," she says. "For me, it's the exercise, the mental planning."

McLean is working with Bear to gain some speed through the tunnels.
"Of course, that means I've got to be that much faster, too," she says.

The sport puts as much work on the human as it does the animal.

"You have to be as good as the dog," McLean says.

Bear, the Lab, and Trouble, a rescued rough coat Jack Russell terrier, along with McLean, worked their way up the rankings in 2009 to qualify for the United Kennel Club's Agility All Star Finals Invitational Competition on July 9 in Indiana. In the nationwide level III -- the most difficult -- rankings for the year, Bear is seventh and Troubella is 14th.

McLean admits to a competitive nature, but it's really all about having a good time.

"It's like kids on a playground. They're out there to have fun," she says. "It's the same with the dog."

McLean, now 72, entered the world of dog training and competing with her German Shepherd, Vicki, while she was still just a high school student, she says.

In her first obedience competition with the dog, she scored a 199.5 out of 200.

"I was a kid, I was a teenager," she says.

From there, dog training became a lifelong passion that hasn't let up. While McLean spent most of her time doing either conformation or obedience events, in the last decade she has taken up agility competitions.

"Now it's kind of reversed. I'm 72 and I'm competing against the 40-year-olds," she jokes.

McLean has trained dogs -- well, their owners -- all around the valley and beyond.

"I train other people to train their dogs," she says.

She taught classes for the Winchester Parks and Recreation Department, as well as in Loudoun County, and served as the training director at a club in Northern Virginia for years.

She founded the Blue Ridge Dog Training Club, which will hold its own agility trial on July 9 at the Sportsplex in Winchester.

Aside from working with dogs at a local animal shelter, McLean now spends her time with her own animals, and agility competitions are a more laid-back way to stay in the game: Dogs are never corrected or reprimanded in the sport, she says. There is more praising and interaction, compared with the static and unnatural obedience competitions.

"It's very positive," she says.

McLean has five dogs now: three elderly dogs, including Bear's mother, Shamrock, also a former agility competitor; and Bear and Trouble, who she says will be her and her husband's last.

Neither Bear nor Trouble started out their lives competing.

Bear, who is 7, was born of a litter that McLean bred and went to a good friend of hers, Elaine Smythe. When Smythe died, McLean brought Bear back to her home, Fox Rise.

McLean began with agility as a way to play with him to help him out of mourning his former owner, she explains. The 70-pounder was a natural and now owns multiple agility titles.

Trouble was rescued off the streets of Washington and taken to the animal sanctuary where McLean works.

Trouble trots through the agility course without the same power as her sibling, but she, too, took to agility courses, and to the McLeans.

Even though the dog was biting people, she got along well with McLean, she says.

"I just fell in love with her."

The July competition will mark McLean's first long-distance agility competition, but she says when Bear was doing so well -- only about four dogs qualified from the Mid-Atlantic states -- she just had to see how well he could do.

McLean says she will likely continue going to certain local shows to meet with friends -- and may try dock diving with Bear.

"It's just been an avocation of mine," she says. "I'm really a CPA. I crunched numbers during the day and had a lot of fun at night."

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