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Having a doggone good time

By Colin McCandless '01

Linda Pyeritz

Most dog owners are content with teaching Fido to sit or stay, but some UNC Asheville staffers have discovered other ways to have a doggone good time with their furry friends.

So you think you can dance? Well, can you canine freestyle dance? UNC Asheville staff member Linda Pyeritz and her talented pooches can raise the 'woof.'

Pyeritz, a registered nurse with Weizenblatt Health Center, who does canine musical freestyle with her two female golden retrievers, Lark and Spice, explains that the routine isn't about the dog doing unnatural moves or trying to be another "two-legged" partner for you.

"Rather, the skill of training your dog is a partnership with you, as you develop behaviors that highlight your dog's abilities," Pyeritz said. "Basically, it's obedience moves choreographed to music."

Pyeritz's "Golden Girls" may enjoy a little boogie, but they aren't just acting like party animals. They have their musical freestyle beginners title, are registered therapy dogs, and work through Paws on a Mission at Mission Hospital.

Debbie Griffith

Pyeritz mostly performs the freestyle routine for cancer fundraisers, for both human and canine cancer research (her first dog died of cancer). "I have always seen a patient smile when we do some musical freestyle moves," Pyeritz said. "Always!"

But Pyeritz isn't the only UNC Asheville staff member with passionate pursuits involving man/woman's best friend. Robert Straub, UNC Asheville's associate director for Student Activities and Integrative Learning, has taught dog agility classes for 13 years and has earned many titles with his agility partners.

Straub explained that dog agility involves the dog and handler navigating an obstacle course of jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and teeter-totters for speed and accuracy.

"I think it helps build a bond between you and your dog," said Straub, who currently owns a collie named Katie Claire.

The personal benefits he derives from teaching dog agility classes are the interactions with fellow humans."I like the people," Straub said. "Training a dog in dog agility takes significant patience as people must learn to communicate with and lead their dog".

Dominique Ennis , UNC Asheville's assistant director of Campus Recreation with the Health and Fitness Center, has been taking dog agility training with Straub for more than two years with her two Shiba inus, Koki and Kibi. "The most important thing is it's exercise, and it's something you and your dogs can do together that's fun."

Another of Straub's students is Debbie Griffith, Communication and Marketing director, who is training two Australian shepherds, Goodtime Charlie and Gracie. "Charlie is just now able to compete in some agility trials. Thanks to some good teachers, he's won some titles, but his handler still needs a LOT of work," she said.

"Agility is great exercise—mental and physical—for both dog and the handler, and it's easy to see that the dogs are just having a blast out there."

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