A local woman and her dog have qualified for the American Kennel Club National Agility Championship, which will take place in Reno, Nev., in late March.

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Photos courtesy of Morse

Agility is a type of performance where dogs race to complete obstacle courses with attention to both time and accuracy. Mallorie Morse, a member of the local Ithaca Dog Training Club, said she has been training her poodle, Parker, in agility since it was a puppy.

Over the past year, Morse and Parker have been competing in agility trials two to three weekends out of every month in order to meet qualifications for the national championships. Morse said only about 3,000 dogs across the country qualified, and of those a little more than 1,000 will compete in Reno.

Morse’s participation in agility trials began with her poodle Hunter, who died in 2010. Morse said she was taking standard training classes with Hunter when her instructor suggested that she try agility — turns out, Hunter was “a walk in the park” to train.

“I feel some people think of [poodles] as foo-foo dogs,” Morse said. “They’re not. They were bred to work, and that’s what I love about my poodles. They’re extremely intelligent.”

A poodle named Bliss was among the 2014 winners of the national agility championship in Harrisburg, Pa., according to the AKC website. Other common competing breeds include border collies, sheepdogs, corgis, retrievers and papillons.

In addition to training with Parker, Morse is also starting fresh with a poodle puppy named Gage that she got last July. Morse also competes in obedience and rally, which she says is a mix between obedience and agility.

During an agility trial, dogs are not rewarded with treats or toys, and their handler cannot touch them or the obstacles. They work together using commands and hand signals. The AKC website says agility courses are designed “to demonstrate a dog’s willingness to work with his handler in a variety of situations,” and says agility “requires conditioning, concentration, training, and teamwork.”

Morse said her dogs and the relationship she has with them are the sources of her passion for agility.

“The relationship that you and your dog have is truly amazing,” Morse said. “It’s not just like having a pet that’s well-behaved; you and your dog have a working relationship, you guys have to trust each other and both of you have to do right by each other all the way through.”

Her main goal at the championship, Morse said, is to have fun with Parker.

“Every time we’ve competed he’s always given me 110 percent, and he owes me nothing,” Morse said. “So we’re going to experience this together and we’re going to have fun and make the best of it.”

On Morse’s GoFundMe page to raise money for competing, she says Parker is now seven years old, and 2015 will be his last year of serious competition.

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