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    Sunday, April 02, 2023

    Dog agility trainer keeps it fun

    Kate Jordan leads Spring through her backyard agility course on July 11. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Quaker Hill resident Katie Jordan — onetime professional actress out of New York and longtime performer in regional theater — knows the athletic symbiosis between humans and canines firsthand. She trains and competes dogs to run agility courses and does so on a regular basis.

    “Agility training is an excellent way to keep your dog healthy and fit, and it’s the same for owners who take part in the activity too,” she said. She lights up when explaining the benefits and joys of this sport that appears to be a blend of disciplined equestrian-type competitions and just plain ol’ running around and playing fetch with your furry, four-legged pal. It combines agility, coordination, discipline and aerobic exercise, all of it utilized in navigating intricate obstacle courses.

    It is a sport for true animal lovers, whether a participant or a spectator, as the design of the activity itself is both entertaining and healthy. Jordan’s close rapport with animals, of course, is not recent. She has had a strong affinity for them her entire life.

    “As a young girl I had horses and competed as an equestrian and loved every minute of it. I spent so much time around them during my youth, I can honestly say that I actually miss the scent of horse manure,” she chuckled.

    In addition, Jordan’s longtime fondness for animals in general has resulted in a wide range of pets that includes rescue dogs, cats and birds of varying types.

    Married to corrections officer and life insurance salesman Robert Jordan, who shares his wife’s compassion and affinity for animals, she is one of few residents who can boast of a legitimate dog agility training course in their own extended back yard. The acreage and woodland setting of their property allows for the privacy and space to perform the proper training that goes into preparing Katie’s own dogs, and those of her clients, for the competitions … or in some cases, simply for the exercise and enjoyment animals and owners both derive from it.

    “It’s not mandatory to enter competitions,” she explained, as some clients are completely satisfied with the activity in itself, and not all dogs or owners are competitively oriented. “The bonding between pet and owner is the true benefit, whether competition is involved or not.”

    Jordan, who has worked as a horticulturist for Thames River Greenery and City Center District, was not one destined for putting in an ordinary work day then going home to watch television. Her many years in theater — where she also met her husband who enjoyed acting as an avocation — have defined her as one who prefers the extraordinary instead. A lifetime consisting of compassionate care for animals and her time in the performing arts was bound to intersect, just as early humans and companion animals would one day intersect.

    One might say her new arena offers the best of both worlds.

    “I do love the active role of partaking in the course with the dogs,” Jordan said. “It’s a partnership we both look forward to.”

    She explained, for instance, the flyball competition —a relay race with four dogs on a team. At the end is a box with a tennis ball that is released by a mechanism the dog activates by touching it. The ball then pops into the air and the dog catches it, then returns the ball for the next dog to do the same.

    Jordan explained how it must be done with a required sense of precision or the process has to be repeated.

    But there is a limit on that as well.

    “Everything is in accordance with carefully determined studies and an evaluation of how many times is enough for the dog,” she said. “Dogs are not made to do anything to the point where they become unduly tired or frustrated. If they have to repeat a maneuver, it’s taken into account in advance how many times before stopping altogether.

    “Their safety and health always comes first. And there are a variety of rewards and treats for performing correctly — and absolutely no negative reinforcement at all,” she said.

    In competitions that depend on the performance of both the handler and the dog, such as hurdles and obstacle courses, rapport between the two is crucial.

    “Sometimes a substitute handler is allowed to participate in place of the regular handler (usually the owner), but any substitute must be someone the dog knows and trusts,” she said.

    These competitions involve many different aspects, such as hurdles designed and built for dogs of varying sizes.

    “It’s all done with the best interest of the animal coming first,” she said.

    Jordan explained also that competitions are held on specifically designed courses where spectators are always welcome. But for herself and likely the many other owners, trainers, and handlers, who range in ages that include children, teens, adults, and seniors, the real joy is in the training itself.

    “If you enroll yourself and your dog in an agility training program, the competitions are there for those with a competitive interest in mind, but that’s never been a requirement,” she said. “More than anything else, it’s something for you and your dog to do for enjoyment and fulfillment.”

    Kate Jordan and four of her dogs: Addie, top left, Spring, top right, Coal, bottom left, and Tag, bottom right, on July 11. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Kate Jordan’s dog Addie goes through the weave poles on July 11. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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