When Lucas Hughes brainstormed his final community project to earn his Eagle Scout rank with Troop 365, he knew two things: he wasn’t going to build a bench, and it had to relate to dogs.
The 15-year-old East Wake High School student catered his project to some lesser considered residents, constructing the mini agility course at the new dog park at Wendell Community Park.
Made up of six obstacles – an adjustable jump, a dog walk, a tunnel, an a-frame, a teeter-totter and weave poles – the course took Hughes and his troop about three days to construct and install.
“I like dogs and knew I wanted to do something with dogs,” Hughes said. “I talked to Jeff (Polaski, the Parks and Recreation director) about doing something in here (the dog park) and then I researched the best obstacles.”
And he researched a lot – he said that before construction, he knew little about agility courses.
The town designates a certain amount of expenses for Eagle Scout projects, and covered most of Hughes’ $700 cost.
Running the course
Hughes’ project is designed for recreational use – it’s about a third the size of a full competitor’s course. He has a few more finishing touches to add before it’s complete, but the course is available for puppy parents for now.
Dog owners should run their pet through the course counter-clockwise, because the jump and teeter specifically are designed for that direction.
Professional agility trainer and competitor Alison Tickle, who lives near Knightdale, has been running courses for more than 10 years and took her dogs out to demonstrate how to use the course on a recent Friday afternoon.
Now, with two Shetland sheepdogs, or Shelties, and a border collie, Tickle has claimed regional, national and even international accolades for agility.
“Once you get a ribbon it’s really addicting,” she said.
In running a competitive agility course, judges look for a dog that can run a “clean course” – or not hit any obstacles incorrectly or refusing to complete a step – in the fastest time possible.
“When you step out on the course, it’s the first time the dog sees the course,” Tickle said.
But because the handlers can view the course before competing, they can prepare and use special hand signals to guide their pets through the course.
When she’s not competing, the mother of two trains novice agility competitors through Thunderpawz Agility. In five years, she’s coached a few national winners.
She pointed out that many competitors are middle-aged women looking for an activity to participate in with their pets.
“It takes 15-18 months minimum of training to be able to compete,” Tickle said.
But for those who want to just have some fun, the dog park at Wendell Community Park is ready to use.
Professional agility trainer Alison Parr-Tickle shares tips on how to keep your beginner pup safe on the course:
▪ Keep your dog leashed.
▪ Hold on to Fido’s collar, if necessary.
▪ To encourage your pup to maneuver the course, use positive incentives like treats or a favorite toy.
▪ Never force Fido to complete an obstacle.
▪ Back off if he shows hesitancy.