Vicki Case and her pure-bred Australian cattle dog Lil have a special bond.
It's so special that Ms Case refers to the spritely pooch, who turns eight next Australia Day, as her "heart dog".
The Wilberforce duo recently returned from the four-day Australian Agility Dog Association Dog Agility Grand Prix, held at the Australian Equine and Livestock Events Centre (AELEC) in Tamworth from September 23.
The premier event of the Australian agility season, it attracted pooches and their people from up and down the Australian eastern coast, competing across a number of disciplines.
This year's event attracted around 250 dogs and represented a blessed return after having had to be postponed for the previous two years due to COVID-19.
For the uninitiated, dog agility is a sport for dogs and their handlers, in which the dogs must learn to complete a variety of obstacles, including going through tunnels, weaving their way between poles, jumping and negotiating other equipment to complete a course.
It is open to most dogs, from smaller breeds, including terriers, through to larger dogs like retrievers.
As well as correctly completing the obstacles, dogs and their trainers race against the clock to record the fastest time.
Ms Case and Lil are members of the Hawkesbury Dog Agility Club.
Competing in a range of races on each of the days, including a team race with a buddy spaniel and labrador, Lil ended the meet with three qualifications and a title to her credit.
"I'm just so proud of her ... you should see her wall of fame," Ms Case said.
Ms Case said that whenever possible the pair train up to four times a week.
"They have to be able to focus on their handler and on the environment," she said. "It takes a lot of work. And usually when a mistake is made it's my fault not hers."
Ms Case said that the dogs needed to be fast, focused and aware of distance commands.
A venue the size of Tamworth's AELEC can also pose a difficulty for pups not used to being surrounded by so many different sights, sounds and smells.
"The environment really does blow some dog's minds," Ms Case said.
While the Tamworth Grand Prix is the pinnacle event of the sport, Ms Case said there were events held nearly every weekend during the season. You've just got to be willing to travel.
With Lil, she attends all local meets, which include trips to Douglas Park, Castle Hill and even Parkes and Armidale.
She said she was looking forward to the Hawkesbury competition, which would be the last of the year on December 3.
So how do you keep a dog enthused and ready to perform?
In Lil's case, Ms Case has a toy on hand.
"It has to be emotionally rewarding," she said. "I bring a toy into the ring and at the end of a run it's party time."
And Lil's toy of choice: "anything she can run off with".
Obviously, a strong bond between dog and handler is crucial when it comes to such an activity.
"She's definitely my heart dog," Ms Case said. "She's extremely loyal, protective ... she just loves me."
While she may not be able to vocalise, there's a fair bet Lil would say the feeling is mutual.