July 26, 2013 Updated: July 30, 2013 at 10:31 am
It was the final run of the day for Trek, a 7-year-old border collie competing in the inaugural dog agility competition of the Rocky Mountain State Games on Friday.
Everything was going smoothly through the first part of the course, but as he cleared a hurdle and should have been heading toward the weaving poles, Trek veered off course and headed through a distracting red tunnel in the course at America the Beautiful Park.
His handler, Mary Dougherty, tossed her head back and put her hands on her visor. She visibly sighed and then called Trek back toward the correct path.
A smile on her face, Dougherty directed Trek to the poles and picked up the routine right where he left off.
But Trek pulled out of the poles early, eager to get back to another tunnel. After a few tries, Dougherty finally got Trek to successfully weave through all the poles - but it was too late for a qualifying score. In the master division, dogs must complete a clean run in the correct order to count a finish.
Dougherty's other dog, a 4-year-old Belgian Trevuren named Jade, had similar problems, and Dougherty handled them in a similar fashion.
"I made my dogs redo the weaves because I want to know what they have," she said. "I don't want them to develop a behavior that they think they can leave early and go on. I find these trials the best training places."
Dougherty, a native of Alaska, first got into dog training after her children graduated from high school and she completed her masters in counseling.
"After I finished that up one of my rewards was I was going to get a dog," she said. "After the girls were done with high school I got a Bouvier. Her name was Denali."
But Dougherty didn't stop with just one dog, and after a short time, she had two more Bouviers, Valkryie and Aurora. Soon she was competing with all three in agility, obedience, tracking and confirmation.
The dog training gave Dougherty more than just a hobby, it gave her a community - one that stretches from Alaska to Colorado.
When Dougherty and her husband moved to Colorado Springs three years ago, they already knew people from dog agility competitions.
The welcoming and friendly community is a source of friendships and gatherings.
"It's like a big fraternity or sorority, you see the same people every weekend," Dougherty's husband, Kevin said. "There are trials all over. Next weekend is in Durango, a couple weekends ago it was up in Denver and so you get to see your friends on the weekends."
Since getting started in dog agility 13 years ago, Dougherty has become skilled in being an instructor and handler. She teaches lessons at Bow Wowz in Colorado Springs and also offers private lessons at her home course.
Dougherty and Trek earned their Master Champion title at a trial last week and also make yearly trips to the U.S. World Team tryouts.
"We haven't qualified yet, but we go because it's a great learning experience and the courses are more of a European style," Dougherty said. "It pushes me as a handler and an instructor. We just go and try, that's all you can do."
Dougherty will bring Jade and Trek back for the next two days of the RMSG dog agility competition with hopes of getting cleaner runs. But if it doesn't happen, that's OK, too. At the end of it all, it's about having fun with her dog on the course.
"The dogs have such a good time with the sport," Dougherty said. "Sometimes as handlers we get a little too serious, but when you're running and doing those things you get a little more upbeat and the dogs just love it. You can see it when they run through the course."