Seventeen-year old Abby Peach opens her eyes at 5 on a Saturday morning. She’s barely awake, but her dog Riley’s eyes (one blue, one brown) follow her every move. The Australian shepherd’s legs are set to spring. He wants to know one thing: Will she grab the bag she packs only on agility trial days?
Yes! Riley leaps up, whining, barking and wagging his nub (the place where his tail would be if he had one). Soon they’re on their way to compete in the fast-paced, paw-pounding, canine obstacle-course race called agility.
(Becky Peach) - Abby Peach and her dog, Riley, at an agility competition. Abby says, “I’ve always liked working with animals and teaching them new things and creating that bond.”
“Riley has a mellow personality,” says Abby, who lives in Haymarket. “But on agility day he gets very excited.”
That’s because agility trials are super fun. Dogs like Riley dash, weave through and fly over courses of 20 obstacles, including jumps, tunnels, poles, a high plank called the “dog walk” and a teeter-totter. Handlers like Abby run alongside their dogs, guiding them with hand signals and voice commands, including “jump” or “tunnel.”
When Abby and 6-year-old Riley arrive at an agility trial, they walk the course, do a few warm-up jumps and wait for their turn in the show ring. When the timer buzzes, they take off. “It’s exciting and loud,” Abby says. “Some dogs bark through their whole course.”
Afterward, Riley gets a pile of cheese cubes, dog biscuits or a spoonful of peanut butter as a reward. Then they relax for a few hours and do it all over again.
The pair has competed in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia over the past four years (sometimes 20 events a year), winning many titles and having a doggone good time. Abby’s goal is to qualify for the American Kennel Club’s National Agility Championship.
“I’ve always liked working with animals and teaching them new things and creating that bond,” says Abby, who got started in agility when she was 13. These days, they practice about 10 minutes every day and attend agility classes twice a week. When she and Riley are not training, they go for long walks. Riley also loves to play fetch and swim in a pond near their home.
“I love agility because I love to see my dog happy and excited and having so much fun,” Abby says. “That means the world to me. There’s nothing better than when we’ve both come across the line . . . knowing that we did well.”
— Kitson Jazynka