RIVERDALE -- Rukus kept his ears alert and his eyes fixed on the movements of master Dwayne Baker. The dog, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, stayed focused on his obedience training even as a starter pistol fired nearby, two men in padded safety suits tossed a yellow tennis ball and another man threw dog treats near the spot where Baker had ordered Rukus to stay.
Master called to dog, and Rukus raced to Baker, adding a happy-dance leap to the final step. Rukus could contain every emotion but his joy.
"These dogs love to work," said Baker, of Layton, director of the West Coast division of the Protection Sports Association. "If my dog didn't have a job, he would tear my house apart."
PSA is a dog sport that tests canines in their mastery of obedience and protection skills.
Nine dogs -- six German shepherds, an American pit bull, a Cane Corso and Rukus -- are in Riverdale this weekend to attempt to qualify for level one and two safety and protection certificates.
"It's great for dogs, the most challenging sport there is for dogs," said Barbara Andersen, who drove 560 miles from her home in Arizona to bring German shepherds Cheyenne and Dyk. "I love dogs, and my dogs love the sport."
Emily Wipp came from Salt Lake City with her German shepherd, Rebel.
"I absolutely adore dogs, and I love to manipulate them into something powerful and beautiful," the 19-year-old said. "Rebel adores training and competing. If he didn't have it, he would go crazy. A working dog needs a purpose, and this is his."
To earn their level one obedience certificate, dogs walk to the left of their master, staying close, stopping and starting with their human, and matching the master's pace. When the master turns abruptly, stops, twists or walks a figure eight, the dogs must adjust to stay close and to the left. Dogs must stay where they are told as masters walk away, then run to their masters when called. The firing of a starter pistol must not distract the dog from its master.
For a level two certificate, dogs must do all that, plus focus on their master despite additional distractions of objects strewn on the course and human decoys moving around.
Baker enjoys training dogs, is a certified decoy and is in training to be a judge at PSA events. Baker has trained protection dogs for Weber County, Hill Air Force Base and several area police departments.
Saturday morning, eight dogs -- Monkey, Cheyenne, Axel, Rebel, Rhino, Dyk, Soot and Rukus -- earned their next level obedience certificates. Each then enjoyed a cooling, celebratory drink from or romp in a water-filled toddler pool.
Only Torque, a German shepherd from Roy, delayed testing after a tiff with an unchained neighborhood dog determined to start a turf war.
After a lunch break, protection skill tests ran in the afternoon.
Rebel paused at the pool to accept pets and hugs from multiple young fans.
"He doesn't have a mean bone in his body," Wipp said. "He's not actively aggressive, but he is very watchful. If you try to hurt me, he will take you down."
Wipp said Rebel once protected her from an attacking pit bull.
Kari Baker, Dwayne's wife, said her dog always made her feel safe when she was newly divorced and home alone with a toddler. That was before she met Dwayne through their common interest in dog training.
Children have asked the Bakers if the PSA-trained dogs are mean. The Bakers ask if any kids know a police officer who is friendly and gentle off duty, but who has to be tough on the job.
"They can understand after that," Kari Baker said.
"I love having dogs that can do an intense protection drill, then walk out and be sweet and gentle with a 2-year-old."
The PSA dog-certification event continues today and is free to spectators. Obedience testing is 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The protection phase, to include bite work, runs from 12:30 p.m. to about 3 p.m. The event is at Good Foundations Academy, 5101 S. 1050 West, Riverdale. Bring your own seating, and a hat or umbrella for shade.