Riki shoots into a tunnel and leaps through the tire jump, following his owner's prompts to navigate each obstacle on the indoor course.
The dog -- a 105-pound Rhodesian ridgeback -- is just one of six students at a weekly competition-level agility class at Doggie "U" K9 Academy in Bay Shore. The dogs aren't the only ones getting a workout.
"When we train it is 50 percent me, so I have to remember the course, too," says Riki's owner, Susan Scelzi, a medical technologist from Islip Terrace. That means using a series of verbal commands to coach the dog to clear jumps and hit yellow contact zones. Timing matters -- but so does accuracy. Particularly challenging: Mastering the weave poles, which requires dogs to dart through 12 poles without knocking any over.
Naturally, a bit of motivation is in order. For Riki, that's sardine "yummies" -- baked treats made from sardines, graham crackers and eggs -- treats Scelzi reserves for training.
"Agility is a great sport," says instructor Louise Wetzel. "It builds confidence in a dog because they are constantly getting rewarded for making good choices.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Doggie "U" K9 Academy is the brainchild of Ginny Anziani and Rolissa Nash, who have both been involved in dog training, competition and obedience for more than 30 years. Their 13,000-square-foot space -- the largest indoor training facility for dogs on the Island -- opened in 2005 and offers several levels of agility classes along with obedience, breed handling and rally courses.
Agility calls for the dog and owner to work as a team to tackle the course. Common obstacles include a seesaw (or teeter-totter), bar jump and a "pause table" that calls for the animal to sit or stay for a period of seconds. Training begins with learning individual obstacles, eventually building to be able to run a full course.
During a recent intermediate-level agility class, excitement built in the room as dogs waited for their turn in the ring -- some sitting quietly, others panting and whining. The 10-obstacle course should take about 30 to 35 seconds for the dog to complete, Wetzel says.
Looking particularly confident is Manny, a 6-year-old Afghan hound with a stunning, but long mane that can sometimes get in the way of his training.
"Knocking down bars can be an issue because he has a lot of hair," says his owner Sharon Ferraro, 47, who drives to the academy from Montauk to take classes. Not this time -- Manny nailed the weave poles, making his owner proud.
For Beth Gereg, 44, an attorney from Smithtown, the weekly sessions are more than just training time for her canines Max and Walker (both Australian shepherd rescues) -- it's playtime for her, too.
"It's exciting," says Gereg, who is taking Walker to his first American Kennel Club trial show next month. "You get addicted, and you can't stop!"
Doggie 'U' K9 Academy
41 Saxon Ave., Bay Shore
INFO 631-968-7972, doggieUK9.com
COST $130 for six hourlong sessions