Q&A: Dawn Darr, canine agility trainer and handler

How did you end up in agility training?

I started learning about obedience training in 1995, with my first dog, Kirby, a Pomeranian. Then I ended up getting another dog, Skyler, a golden retriever, and I felt like she needed a different outlet. In June of 1999 we took our first agility class and in March 200 we were competing at our first trial; now I'm qualified to teach. I have a 6-year-old golden named Journey, who is currently ranked 15th among goldens competing in the country. She gives the Border Collies a run for the money—and I'm currently starting out my 9-month-old Pomeranian.

Is it hard for the dogs?

They love it, and everything that they do is natural to them, with the exception of the weave pole, which we have to teach them. The rest is all dog stuff—jumping, going through tunnels, running, climbing. And agility training is great exercise for the handler and the dog—it's a great way for owners to enjoy their pets.

You're one of a few that teach agility in the area?

Yes, Diane Richards owns the property at Diane's Canine School of Charm and four local people teach classes there and give private lessons. Agility is starting to get more popular in the Knoxville area. I'd say around 100 locals are competing, or training, or starting to.

Why do you like Pomeranians for agility training?

First, they're lap dogs, but they're also loving, loyal, and ready to work.

Are there any breeds you recommend to others?

Most people start out in agility with whatever dog they happen to have at home. And the American Kennel Club for the past year has allowed mixed breeds to compete.

Is there any money in it, or do you just do it for fun?

We have to pay money to do this. The reward is the accomplishment.

Do the dogs like to win?

Oh yeah. But a lot of times, I try not to even let them know they've made a mistake. They get their praise and their cookies at the end of the run regardless.

Diane's Canine School of Charm has beginner classes starting Monday, March 21, dianescanineschoolofcharm.com.