Forget the dog days of summer; it’s the muddy days of spring in southern Wisconsin that can be a real drag for our canine friends and their owners. While dogs long to run and play, their owners may be reluctant to let them out, only to have to clean dirty paw prints all over the house (or end up giving the dog a bath).
But there is another option — agility classes at Canine Sports Zone, a 30,000-square-foot facility for dogs in Middleton.
On a recent blustery and slushy March evening, inside Canine Sports Zone 15 dogs of different ages, shapes and sizes are practicing things like impulse control (for beginners in the Agility 1 class) and weaving and jumping (for dogs who have graduated from Agility 1).
While some people bring their dogs to the facility to learn how to compete in timed events, co-owner Shawna Richgels says the focus at Canine Sports Zone is on having fun. The facility also runs its own competitions.
Richgels started participating in agility classes when she was looking for activities for her boxers. She started teaching about 15 years ago, but there was no facility near Madison where she could compete and practice. So Richgels, along with three other instructors, decided to open their own place. The facility has been open for about two years and has been in its current location on Laura Lane for just over a year.
Pro-grade field turf (left) for competition agility is in a room they call "Clifford" because it's big! Rubber matting (right) is good for general training and exercise.
Richgels says all dogs are welcome at Canine Sports Zone, as long as they have some social skills. She says it is a common misconception that only border collies, a breed known for herding livestock, can participate in agility courses with obstacles. But the participants in the Handling class (for dogs who have completed Agility 3) put that myth to rest. On this evening the dogs waiting to run the obstacle course include a papillon (a toy spaniel that weighs no more than nine pounds), an eager vizsla (a small retriever breed) and a 110-pound Alaskan malamute. As Richgels watches the malamute lumber over a pole, she says, “Would it be easier for a golden retriever to make those jumps? Sure, but he’s having a good time.”
In another room, the Agility 1 participants are learning impulse control from the “demo dog,” BB, an Italian greyhound. The demo dogs belong to Canine Sports Zone instructors and come along to show the other dogs the ropes. BB is in a crate waiting patiently for his release word.
Richgels says this an important skill for dogs to learn. “It’s great for everyday life, times like when you come home with a bag of groceries, but you don’t want your dog to jump up and knock you over.”
She says classes are a good way for dogs to gain confidence; she works with a lot of rescue dogs who need that reassurance.
All classes at Canine Sports Zone have six sessions and cost about $120. In addition to offering workshops, the facility can also be booked for dog parties (much like for a child’s birthday party). The similarities between Canine Sports Zone, with tunnels and toys strewn about the room, and a space meant for children are apparent. “It really is like taking kids to the playground,” Richgels says. “They have to learn patience before playing.”
Canine Sports Zone
3036 Laura Lane, Middleton, 608-831-0225, caninesportszone.com