Good Living Jan. 2014

Dogs keep it agile

By From page GLV2 | January 22, 2014

Rainee Johnson of Shingle Springs has a perfect plan for keeping her body in ship-shape as she cruises toward her sixth decade: four furry friends who keep her hopping.

“My doctor told me to keep moving,” said Johnson, owner of Sierra Animal Hospital in Placerville.” He said if it hurts, stop, but otherwise just keep moving.

“And my dogs keep me moving,” she added, calling to three energetic Norwich terriers and a calmer, lovely English springer spaniel who all responded to “Mom” and loaded into her vehicle.

The gang was headed to a green lawn just around the corner from Johnson’s home in the sprawling Buckeye Rancheros, to a neighbor’s property where a dog agility training course has been built.

“I met my neighbor, Terry Leclair, through agility training,” said Johnson, who has won several championships with various dogs since 1998, when agility training became an interest that has taken her and her canines to competitions throughout the country.

“My dogs have been world champions six times,” said Johnson, releasing 6-year-old Norwich terrier Savvy from the small van so that the happy dog could be put through its paces for the Mountain Democrat.

Savvy, named the No. 1 Norwich four years in a row in AKC agility competition, sat like a perfect little lady as she awaited a command from Johnson, who has been training and showing dogs since 1980, getting into the agility competition circuit 18 years later.

She has lived in El Dorado County since 1989 and has been owner of the animal hospital on Green Valley Road since 1990.

“I can’t retire, because I have to pay for my hobbies,” said Johnson, a smile lighting her face. In fact, during the entire time she introduced her dogs to the visitors and showed off their impressive skills, the smile never disappeared.

“Agility training, working with dogs, is a nice social outlet,” said Johnson, perhaps explaining the reason for her healthy, upbeat demeanor.

“You get together with people with common interests and it’s not just the competitions. There are plenty of seminars with continuous education, seminars on agility training. You learn to advance your skills, including junior members, kids,” she said.

Johnson said agility training is “highly populated” with women in the age range of 45 to 65 providing an outlet that improves mental and physical health.

“I have an 81-year-old friend who runs Australian shepherds,” she said. “And there’s a 90-year-old woman from the Bay Area who runs shelties.”

As the wonderful dogs race through the agility course, hitting teeter-totters, jumping over bars, prancing up elevated structures and twisting their way through the “weave poles,” their owners run alongside, coaxing the animals with doggy treats that are gratefully snapped up at the conclusion of each trick done well.

As Savvy settled down after running the course set up by Johnson’s neighbor, her owner ruffled the dog’s ears and told her, “I’m the best there’s ever been! That’s what my mom tells me,” to the obvious delight of the dancing terrier.

Asked whether the four dogs are allowed into her house, Johnson conceded that such special treatment has been known to occur … “but not all at once.”

“They have a climate-controlled sun room with heating and air conditioning,” she explained. “There’s a big green yard, big beds and dog doors.

“We don’t pipe in music … yet,” she said, as the English springer spaniel, Pearl, jumped into the agility training area to show her stuff.

“Pearl’s retired from agility,” said Johnson as she quietly asked the black-and-white spaniel to run onto the teeter-totter anyway.

With a graceful gait, Pearl did so, rocking the board to a gentle bump as the dog ran off the other end, then ran a stately weave through the poles.

“Pearl is 9 years old now but she is my companion on trail rides, with my horses,” explained Johnson, who is fit and trim in her “dogging clothes.”

“She can run alongside the horse all day long when I go on trail rides with my friends.”

Johnson then let Marco out for a visit, with the black-and-tan terrier being the baby of the bunch, at 1-year-old.

“Marco is being shown in conformation,” said Johnson as the youngster responded to her quick commands.

“You can do agility training with any dog, but medium-sized dogs are probably preferred. Border collies are good at agility but they’re very busy dogs. Shelties are great, too, as are Norwich terriers,” she said.

Staying inside the vehicle was Johnson’s fourth pal, Elton, who she said is good on the course but has a bit of trouble clearing the jumps.

“Elton is a breed champ in conformation — he tries hard but he’s not a great jumper,” she said. “You’ve got to know what you’ve got. You want a dog with a good attitude, with drive and with good conformation.”

Johnson advises those interested in agility training or any other canine activities to contact the Hangtown Kennel Club in Placerville.

As she called Marco back into her vehicle, getting ready to head back to Johnson’s “Breakaway Kennel,” the veterinarian in the pink shirt and gray jacket waved as she climbed behind the wheel. One thing left in her wake as she drove away: a great big smile.

Pat Lakey

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