Spruce venue has gone to the dogs

TARINA WHITE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:39 PM ET

When it comes to being a Spruce Meadows Prairie Dog, it's not about being the fastest, the brightest or the best.

It's about being a crowd pleaser.

And judging by the smiles and cheers from audiences watching the canines show off their talents this weekend during the Spruce Meadows National, they're all winners.

For 10-year-old James Verishine, the tiny Jack Russell terrier was a star performer.

"I loved it ... because of how athletic he was and how fast he was," said James.

The youngster made a beeline for the show as soon as he found out about the furry performers.

"When he knew there were dogs going to be here, we had to get down here straight away," said dad Ron.

With the guidance of their handlers, the pooches are put through the paces on the obstacle course, weaving around poles, high jumping and diving through barrels.

The course tests their agility, speed and precision.

But mostly it's about having fun, said Keith Petkau, who started the Spruce Meadows Prairie Dogs 19 years ago.

"Our goal is to put on the best shows we possibly can to entertain people," said Petkau.

"What I want people to get out of this is a smile on their face."

There are about 60 dogs on the team, ranging from tiny terriers to golden retrievers.

While the dogs compete to make it through the obstacle course the fastest and with the least errors, there's no prize for top place.

"They get cookies and kisses," joked Petkau.

Janet Wilson has been a part of the show with her standard poodles for eight years.

"I think they like to see the dogs mess up. They get a laugh out of that," Wilson said about the audiences.

The spectators can also get up close to the dogs during breaks between the four daily shows.

Grant Nixon, co-organizer of the event, said it's as much fun for the handlers as it is for the pooches.

"It is tremendous fun. That's why we keep coming back,"said Nixon.


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