April 8, 2010
Ojai poodle wins AKC agility title

Nancy J. Lewis and her poodle, Frazzle

A 10-year-old toy poodle called Frazzle and his owner-handler Nancy Lewis of Ojai are celebrating a victory in their class at the American Kennel Club’s Preferred National Agility Championships recently held in Tulsa, Okla.

The pair competed in the 4-inch-jump-height category and beat out five other finalists the last weekend in March.

Lewis, 59, married to Ojai veterinarian Curtis Lewis, said it was a “really special experience. It is an honor I never would have imagined getting,” she said.

It is the first year the AKC has held a Preferred National Agility Championship to complement its more well-known National Agility Championship. Both events were held the same weekend, and the new competition was designed for older dogs who want to keep competing, Lewis said.

It is designed for dogs who cannot jump the maximum jump height (in the regular agility contests) and they are allowed extra time, too, so it is a way for slower older dogs to keep competing without hurting themselves, she said.

The agility competition was divided into categories based on the height of the dog, so Frazzle, who is 10 inches tall at the shoulder, was competing against dogs similar in size. Dogs and handlers competed in three qualifying rounds to make it to the final, and Lewis said she and Frazzle won every round they participated in.

“It was a standard agility course,” she said. “There was a dog walk, jumps, tunnels, an A-frame, a tire jump and a teeter-totter or see-saw. It is up to the handler to direct the dog where to go and to communicate to the dog what obstacles to do next.”

Lewis said she bought Frazzle, whose full name is Sassafras of Diamond Dream, from a breeder in Simi Valley in 2000 specifically to train him as an agility dog. She worked with Margie Hanlon, who runs the Seaside Scramblers Agility Center in Camarillo, and agility trainer Kate Moureaux of Moorpark, who runs DrivenDogs Agility.

Hanlon said she is thrilled that somebody who trains at her “very small mom and pop center” achieved national success.

“It is so incredibly cool that someone from this kind of center that is not high end or big business would win,” she said.

“Nancy has a good deal of animal sense and she is probably the most humble, gracious person you could meet on the planet,” Hanlon said. “And Frazzle is just the biggest crowd-pleaser and I think that is what spurs her on.”

November 6, 2006

Camarillo instructor says agility training is a better way to teach a dog obedience. She and the pooches have Fun in “Leaps, Bounds!”

Margie Hanlon loves sharing her addiction with others. As an instructor for the Seaside Scramblers Dog Agility Center, Hanlon gets a rush from training dogs and their human handlers to maneuver through tunnels, jumps and other obstacles.

Hanlon, a former endurance athlete, got involved in the center a year after its opening in the mid-1990s. The Camarillo resident heard about the instruction from her husband, Walt, and thought it would be more interesting than a traditional dog obedience class.

Hanlon said she seemed to have a natural aptitude for using techniques to teach people how to handle various breeds of dogs. A year after joining, she became an instructor.

She applies the discipline of the endurance events and infuses the energy of a “runner’s high” into her teaching.

In agility events, the dog and handler work together as a team. The dog performs the stunts as the handler guides the animal with verbal cues and hand gestures while running a timed obstacle course. Jumps, tunnels, seesaws and other obstacles challenge the dog and handler.

“It’s a good way to burn off excessive energy,” said Hanlon, who owns and operates the center near the Camarillo Airport. “It gives the dog a job to do and the handler a challenge to communicate as they find a way to negotiate the courses.”

The handlers walk the course so they can see what their dogs are going to feel. She says that helps them transfer their own excitement to the dogs.

“We just love it. We have lots of fun, which makes a difference because it helps out their obedience and socialization,” said Arlene Laux of Westlake Village, who brings Berklee, her 21-month-old sheltie.

Most of Hanlon’s classes are for beginners. They are held Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the corner of Skyway Drive and Eubanks Street in Freedom Park near the airport.

“It’s a better, fun way to teach dog obedience,” she said.

Hanlon designs different courses to see what works most efficiently for dog and handler. She also guides them with words.

“We’re going one more time, prove to me it wasn’t a fluke,” Hanlon tells participants in her semi-advanced class. After successfully running the course, she asks them: “Isn’t this cool you guys are doing it today?”

Nearly 10 years after she began teaching, Hanlon is as enthusiastic as ever about agility training. She says the motion of the dogs is exciting and addictive. Every class provides a mix of big, small, purebred and mixed-breed dogs.

“They come here to interact and exercise. It’s a flowing, lucid movement. Any age can do it. Some people equate it to dancing,” Hanlon said. “My hope is that they’ll become addicted like I am and do it forever.”

Curiosity seekers and enthusiasts of the sport can view an American Kennel Club All-Breed agility trial Saturday and Sunday at University Preparatory School, 500 Temple Ave., Camarillo. The event, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., is sponsored by the Dog Agility Club of Ventura.

For more information on Seaside Scramblers, call (805) 529-4452.

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