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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

Dog agility training much like teaching keiki how to hula

By Wade Kilohana Shirkey
Advertiser Staff Writer

Susie White admits her whole life went to the dogs after hers got into hula.

"OK, doggie aerobics," she jokes, admitting that to purists in the international dog sport, fashioned after horse show-jumping, it's officially "dog agility." Still, for all practical purposes, it has every appearance of doggie hula.

Whatever you call it, the question remains: Why?

"Why not?" she said. "It's one of the most fun things you can do with dogs. They love it, there's no negative reinforcement, and you form a bond with your pet."

Actually, it's more method than madness: White loved aerobics and she loved dogs. She put them together.

She is so tuned in to the dog world, says her husband, Don, that she even gives directions with canine cardinal points: "Turn left at the brown dog's street." There's also a Puppy Road in her pooch-oriented mindset.

"Susie looks for every possible thing she can do with the dogs," Don says, including herding, tracking, dog shows, obedience, and rescue dog and police dog training programs.

She introduces her border collies with motherly mutterings: "This is Bing, 4 — boy, I'm a naughty dog! — and Bippy, 9 — she's a Big Island girl."

Just like hula, dog agility begins with the basics, such as hound hip-sways, right and left, as they learn to maneuver through weave poles. Handlers, too, said White, have to "wiggle (their) hips" to navigate.

Like keiki learning hula, "this is a difficult concept for dogs," she said. "You have to do a little 'ami (hula step) with rhythm' to get the dogs to follow suit."

"You do a sway of the kikala," said Susie, and the dog will "execute a right hip ka'o." Dog and handler have learned their first dog hula basic.

"That move later becomes a smooth negotiation around the weave poles," White said.

"Now you've got the dogs up to party hula (tempo)."

Yee-ha! Makaukau!

As dancers respond to kahea, the hula vocal command, dogs soon execute agility moves at their owners' kahea. "In fact," White said, "with one handler, all vocal commands are in Hawaiian."

As with hula, the dogs must "keep their eyes on the hands." Many of the up to 20 skills, she said, are suggested through the owner's hand motions. "They're (cuing off) body motion and voice."

After repeated, weekly Saturday evening "doggie halau," when all the elements come together, you have "the perfect (doggie) hula," she said.

"It's a great spectator sport — the Merrie Monarch of the dog world!" she joked. Poi dogs "love this sport!"

Of course, the dog and human pair dance this hound hula for fun — but as with any rigorous hula, there are side benefits of the exercise: "An exercised dog is a happy dog."

Similar to the discipline of Hawaiian dance, the rigors of dog agility call on the concepts of discipline, training, kokua and lokahi (unity) — and with the camaraderie between people and pooches, 'ohana.

"It brings out the best (in dog and trainer), and the doggie community becomes your family," said White.