Watching young people with their dogs performing live agility trials is a thing to see.
Jerry Lloyd has taught dog agility the past 20 years to adults and 4H Club kids. He says folks have referred to him as an ‘animal nut’ at times because of the way he understands and appreciates the dynamics between humans and animals, and is continually inspired by their relationship.
He’s been known to teach a Bantam rooster how to navigate the agility course in the past. At 78-years-young, Jerry is an energetic proponent of animal training and the benefits it brings. He runs the training classes out of a horse and dog arena in Greenbank.
We—my husband Bill and I—met Sept. 11 with Jerry and 4H members from two clubs—All American Puppy Paws and Happy Hounds. The island kids who qualified for the state fair competition Sept. 13-24 were practicing a final time at the arena before heading to Puyallup.
Right away I noticed how the nearly dozen dogs assembled were comfortable around each other while their trainers—ranging in age from 9 to 19—chatted companionably.
“The dogs know each other and are socialized,” Jerry noted.
While the group was setting up ramps, a teeter totter, jumps and tunnels, I chatted with some of the 4H club members.
Bethany with her dog Bella, who was practicing jumps across the back of her friend Sophia on Bethany’s command was the first sight we saw upon entering the arena.
Bella will compete at this year’s state fair in showmanship and obedience and was a grand champion winner of the fair in the past. With showmanship, a dog is judged by its appearance, build and temperament. In obedience, dogs are judged on how well they respond to human commands.
This is the first year in 4H Dog Agility for Max, the English Bulldog, and his trainer Arya. “For the first couple of meetings all Max did was pull and bark,” Arya explained. “What I’ve learned, is that even if something is really hard, just keep doing it. Now he loves doing agility.”
“The arena became our field of dreams for dogs, horses and kids,” Jerry said, during an interview a week before at Dolce, a bakery that is part of the Greenbank Store and Deli. “The last 10 years has grown to host 4H kids, who have their annual spring dog show here. We pulled doing agility training from the fairgrounds ten years ago. The dogs weren’t performing well. They were exhausted from being viewed by the public all day. Then they had to compete after the horses at night. The sand level is geared for high-action horse events, but not appropriate for dog shows—it’s too deep. In about 2013, volunteers built a shallow sand arena at the Greenbank Farm, so 4H agility was moved there, but events were discontinued at the farm after 2015, so it was an easy decision to move 4H agility to our arena.”
Getting trainers and their dogs used to the high energy and activity of a state fair takes practice and focus, Jerry explained. One of the toughest challenges along the course is the pause table, where a dog, after running through tunnels and over jumps, stands still on a table for a count of five.
There is also the challenge of weave polls—24-inch poles, six or twelve, spaced about two feet apart, depending on the level of competition—that require a dog to weave back and forth at top speed.
At the arena Sept. 11, 19-year-old James Cash took Bentley a Smooth Collie, through the weave polls course. Bentley barked at James each time he wove around a pole, telling James to keep moving.
The agility course also features a 12-foot ramp with yellow stripes on either end. A dog is required to touch the stripe upon entry and touch another yellow stripe before exiting. Bentley performed this like a champ.
Heidi Cash, James’ mom, is the co-leader of the American Puppy Paws 4H club. She mentioned how her oldest son Zach learned agility training with another dog through Jerry’s classes.
“I’ve grown up with her family,” Jerry said. “Her oldest, Zach, is off to a successful career in Boston.”
After Zach’s first dog was hit by a car and killed more than 10 years ago, Heidi explained, the family was offered Bentley, then a puppy, by another 4H family. Though Zach is grown, Bentley continues to perform. Heidi’s twins James and Kelly will take Bentley and his niece Pearl for competition at the state fair this year.
Jerry likes to tell the story about 9-year-old Eva and her older sister Sophia, who each shared training a German Shepherd named Tess last year. He could tell it was challenging for Eva.
“This is one of my top 10 stories,” Jerry said. “I picked up on the dynamics of big sister-little sister. The dog was confused by having two different trainers. Last year friends had a litter of Field Trails Irish Setters. During a visit to see the friend’s puppies, one puppy laid on my chest. The friend said that puppy was going to a 4H kid.”
Jerry brainstormed how to create a contest that would fairly award the puppy to one of his 4H kids. He spoke with Dr. Kristen Reiter, a veterinarian at the Useless Bay Animal Clinic.
“I said, ‘Doc, I need your help,’” Jerry recalled. “I have to figure out who will win the puppy. She said, ‘That’s easy. I won a horse by writing an essay.’”
Eva wrote an essay and her family received a commendation from a veterinarian that they would treat the puppy well. Eva’s essay won and she became the trainer of a spirited Irish Setter named Ben.
“Eva won Grand Champion for Ben at the fair this year,” Jerry added. “The judge asked if she’d been taking advanced classes, competing with adults at AKC trials. No. She is brilliant and devoted.”
That devotion was evident as Eva took a spirited Ben over jumps and through tunnels.
Also inspiring to watch was the companionship of Araina, a Belgian Sheepdog, and her trainer Kaileah, who competed at the county fair, winning two championships. At the Greenbank arena, Jerry watched the pair work together along the agility course.
“A perfect run!” Jerry said. “You can put that in the bank. In an agility competition, when you make no mistakes, it is called a ‘Clean Run,’ and that is the name of the national publication for the sport. In addition to ‘Have a Clean Run,’ we say, ‘Run fast, run clean,’ when they make no mistakes. That’s what they strive for. It is obvious this dog looks to her owner. It tells me she loves her owner.”
Jerry said much of what he learns and practices is from the Whole Dog Journal.
“I would consider it a science publication for dog training,” he said. “It is written by some of the top dog trainers in the world. It covers health, temperament, diet. veterinary research. A key article discussed why dogs are good for kids. In Sweden they did a research paper and the result was kids who have dogs have 40% fewer social issues. I see that in 4H all the time. If there’s anything that winds my clock, this is it. I see the benefits all the time.”
Seeing the benefits of dogs who are well trained, and using her 4H-honed agility skills is Elli Dubendorf, a co-leader of the Happy Hounds Club and at 21, an instructor with Seven Cedars Dog Training in Langley.
“After I aged out of 4H, I continued in dog agility training,” Elli said. “I do private lessons at people’s homes.”
Jerry Lloyd takes lessons from Elli in advanced agility training with his own dog.
“You can’t see your mistakes when you’re training your own dog, and I’m learning from her,” Jerry said. “Elli was one of my first 4H students and, here I am!”
In the mean time, it is a pleasure to see Jerry’s enthusiasm and passion light up the 4H students he works with.
For more information and to contact Jerry, visit this website.