Energetic dogs running through tunnels and flying over jumps is guaranteed to make people smile.
And for the sixth year, the Durango Kennel Club will present its popular mood booster at Joe Rowell Park in Dolores on Aug. 1-3.
"We love coming to Dolores, and so do our handlers and their dogs," said organizer Jenny Peterson. "The park is spacious, it's a little cooler with the river right there, and the town is very welcoming."
Fifty competitors will compete this year, running All-American and mixed breeds through an elaborate obstacle course.
Dogs of different skill levels are directed by handlers to negotiate pole weaves, climb A-frames, go through tunnels, run along teeter-totters, and jump over walls. The dogs are timed and judged on ability. For the masters class, no faults are allowed.
"The dogs love the tunnels the best," Peterson said. "It is the first thing they learn, and you can see the pure joy."
A challenge for handlers is "tunnel suck" she adds, where a dog will forego a jump and dive right for the tunnel.
"They get sassy sometimes," Peterson said. "Some of the incredible feats we ask them to do are not intuitive. It is all about the team work between the handler and the dogs."
Training takes years of practice and patience, beginning when the dogs are puppies. Positive reinforcement is the training standard, and the word "No" is avoided.
An aspect spectators may not realize is the control handlers are judged on when dogs take on jumps.
Dialing back the adrenaline-impulse for dogs is key to prevent overshooting a designated landing zone.
"Like steeplechase for horses, the dogs have to learn to collect themselves, and safely make the jump," Peterson said. "Faster dogs have a tendency to fly over too far."
The popularity of the event for competitors and the public has been growing, said town clerk Ann Swope.
"Attendance is more than 100 per day, and is going up as people realize how much fun it is," she said. "The kennel club loves it because we offer on-site camping and a good park rate."
Friday night's opening ceremonies under the lights are especially fun for the public, said Pam Leisle, trial chair for the event.
As for the dogs, they are all winners.
"When my dog Rumble made it to the finals under the lights, he was holding his head up high just soaking it in," Leisle said. "But mostly they get excited for the ice-cream afterwards, not the ribbon."
The event fosters the coveted "stay another day" standard for tourism.
"Our competitors come early to set up because they love the area," Peterson said. "Afterward, they hike the trails, go fishing or biking and eat in local restaurants."