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The life of a champion agility dog in CT: Chiropractors, massages and lots of naps

Diane Patterson y su perro, Happy, competirán esta semana en el Campeonato Mundial de Agility de la FCI en la República Checa.
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Bill Patterson
Diane Patterson and her dog Happy will be in the Czech Republic this week competing in the FCI Agility World Championship.

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Top-tier dogs and their trainers will be in the Czech Republic this week for the FCI Agility World Championship. Middletown, Connecticut, resident Diane Patterson and her dog, a six-year-old Shetland Sheepdog named Happy, will be competing.

Happy, guided by Patterson, will rush through an obstacle course filled with jumps, weave poles, ramps and tunnels. Patterson said she first got hooked on agility training two decades ago at a training center in Manchester.

“A woman had a dog jump into her arms and I just thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen,” Patterson said. “I immediately signed up for classes.”

There's a lot to learn. Choreography, cardio work and a nimble mind are all must-haves for the humans guiding their dogs through the course.

“We have to work on our footwork and on our timing. It's actually generally like dancing, so we're trying to memorize the steps and I spend a lot more time working on my physicality … rowing, running, doing cardio work, than Happy ever does,” Patterson said. “He's basically lounging on the couch when he's not at a competition.”

Dogs like Happy get top-notch care to prepare for competitions, Patterson said. She watches his diet and nutrition, rest and recovery time and ensures he's getting all the needed appointments at the doctor.

“Yesterday, he saw his massage therapist. Today, he saw his chiropractor and everybody's given him a clean bill of health,” she said.

But on competition day, it’s on Patterson to make sure she avoids making mistakes directing Happy through each new course.

“We humans are given seven minutes to memorize the course, the dogs have never seen it.” Patterson said. “I'm telling you, if we were all on 'Dancing with the Stars,' we'd all be great, because we have to memorize the dance steps really quickly.”

Happy will compete among the world team, FCI, which only allows purebred dogs. But, in the United States, AKC (American Kennel Club) allows all breeds and shows have all breeds and in all sizes.

Even though the dogs will be around new competitors, Patterson said she has no problem preventing unwanted romantic entanglements.

“Happy competes quite regularly with girls that are in season and he’s pretty focused on his job,” she said.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.