Who let the dogs out?

HOUSTON Talk about athletes ... our 4-legged friends will gather for the Reliant Park World Series of dog shows. Here's a sample of what to expect.

"Dog agility is an international dog sport that started 25 years ago," said Jane Simmons-Moake, director of Flash Paws Agility Training Center in northwest Houston. "It was based on equestrian events, where horses would take the jumps and obstacles."

"It seemed like doggy gymnastics," said Betty Carter of Flash Paws.

"It's the fastest growing sport in the country, by far," Simmons-Moake added.

The very first American Kennel Club sanctioned event was held here in Houston. "It was held in '94 at the Astroarena, and it was a really exciting event," Simmons-Moake said.

She organized that competition. A former obedience trainer, she is the director of the Flash Paws Agility Training Center in northwest Houston. Founded in 1990, it is one of the nation's oldest such facilities.

"The big challenge is getting your dog to be like your dance partner, to follow every move with your verbal commands, your body commands and your signals, to be consistent and smooth," Simmons-Moake said.

Dogs of many different breeds participate, with competitions divided into five different classes based on size. But you can make things equal in every imaginable way.

But like some people, some dogs refuse to be rushed.

"We try to shape their behavior so that it becomes more and more the picture of perfect performance, and they get it through food and toys and love. It's a blast for everyone," Simmons-Moake said.

Dogs and their trainers compete against the clock, the goal being to correctly negotiate the obstacle course in the quickest time possible.

"After a good run, you'll hear everybody whoop it up, you know. Everybody roots for each other," Simmons-Moake said.

"She hears clapping and stuff like that, she runs all the faster," Carter said of her dog. "We ran around the ring, there was a crowd everywhere cheering and hollering and it was a lot of fun," she said.

"They get that job to do and they say, 'Look at me.' You develop a whole new persona," Simmons-Moake said of the competitors.

"The real dog comes out."

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