Here you get to fill in the blank. High on the list of things wanted are dogs who come when called, walk without pulling, keep their feet on the floor rather than on an incoming guest and refrain from chewing up the favorite pair of shoes.
Most people these days think of dogs parading around in a large circle with a human trotting along beside them as what a dog show is all about. This view and understanding has been strongly influenced by the annually televised Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Meanwhile, there are several other “show” venues that owners make use of to test their dog’s skills as a helper, a hunter, a team member in a sporting event or just for fun.
What are some of these venues and how do they affect dog ownership in general? How do they affect your ability to continue to own a dog, enjoy your dog as a member of your family? First a list, not a complete list, but still a useful list for our purposes in learning about “The Other Show Dog”.
While there are many different organizations that sponsor and hold dog competitions of one sort or another, I am confining this article to those sponsored by the American Kennel Club. The Performance Events Divisions of the American Kennel Club consist of Agility, Obedience, Tracking and Canine Good Citizen as one division with Field Trials, Hunting Tests, Lure Coursing, Herding, Earthdog and Coonhound as other events.
Our specific interest is in the Division made up of Agility, Obedience, Tracking and Canine Good Citizen events. Agility appears to be fun. It is fast moving. The dogs and their owners dart and race around a large ring filled with all sorts of obstacles. The dogs bark. The humans shout and gesture. The excitement in the air is so thick you can cut it with a dull pair of scissors. A thoughtful person has to wonder just how comfortable it might be to live with a dog that has been taught to bark, run, dart, jump, climb things and do so all on their own and at top speed. What they are doing in the ring does not translate into a calm, quiet, relaxed dog you would enjoy taking on an evening stroll in nice weather.
There is also an event called Rally. Rally, billed as being fun for the dogs and their owners seems the answer to many dog owners. The owners are allowed to talk to their dogs almost non-stop as they move around a ring filled with many different “stations”. Each of these stations has a sign telling the human what trick is to be performed.
Again, it is somewhat difficult to imagine how these individual tricks translate into useful everyday life skills.
All of this brings us to Obedience. At the first level of Obedience, known as Novice, a dog is expected to walk beside its owner (heel) and to maintain the position while the owner changes pace between a normal, a fast and a slow. The dog is expected to turn right, left or right about all while maintaining a comfortable position next to the owner’s left side. When the owner comes to a halt the dog is expected to sit. All of this is based upon a single “heel” command when the walk started. Since your friend’s dog is equally well trained and well-mannered the four of you enjoy a wonderful walk and all come back refreshed and relaxed. Sure beats being pulled down the street, having to duck or avoid others and finally returning home with your shoulder aching
This exercise is repeated twice.
The first time is on leash and the second time is off leash. Every dog needs to be taught to work without a restraining device if we are to do our duty and keep them safe.
The next exercise on our list is a stand stay with petting by someone else. Jumping up on a stranger goes away and so does wiggling out of reach when it is time for some grooming. Useful at the Veterinarian’s office, at the groomer’s, when feet need tending, the stand stay foster’s trust between owner and dog. The dog learns to trust and the owner learns how to earn and maintain trust in the relationship.
How about the business of coming when called? The one thing every dog owner wants. Let’s hear a rousting cheer for the dog that always comes when called. So what if someone leaves the front door standing open or the meter reader forgets to close and latch the gate?
Your dog won’t see either of those things as signals to run away because they come when called. You can head for an open space to play ball or Frisbee and know that should an untrained dog show up you need not worry, because your dog will come when called and you can move on to a safer place.
Finally a sit/stay and a down/stay in the company of several other dogs rounds out the picture. How nice to know you can put your dog on a sit/stay and load or unload your car after a shopping trip and not have to worry. How wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable it is to be able to leave your dog on a down/stay in an out-of-way corner while you visit with a friend. Even if you say something that makes your friend mad at you, your dog will still be welcome to visit.
Once you have taken the time to teach your dog to heel, on and off leash; hold a stand for petting; come when called; and remain in a sit/stay and a down/stay in the company of other dogs the dog show/obedience trial should beckon. Go. Enjoy. Show off those hard won new skills and at the same time earn a ribbon or two. Along the way, you will find that Obedience Trials are both fun and rewarding.
Margot Woods – Applewoods Dog Training