I phoned my good friend Marge Bishop in Oregon last night. She has been training dogs as long as I have and has had some bizarre things happen in the dog obedience ring over the years. She’s had birds strafe her Golden Retriever, not once but twice, and she’s had a deluge of water pour on her dog as the Golden Retriever was setting up for an exercise. So when I told her of my wild weekend at a recent dog show she calmly said, “Oh, yeah. I remember my times with my poor Windy.”
My Border Collie, Levi, was entered last weekend in an obedience trial in Lawrenceville, Georgia at the Gwinnet County Fairgrounds. Lawrenceville is located east of busy Atlanta. Driving there from Pensacola was quite an experience in itself. I had confidently printed out directions from Mapquest.com. Driving on Interstate 85 in Georgia, I approached Atlanta and saw a flashing sign advising people to take the Atlanta Bypass, Highway 285, to avoid heavy Friday afternoon traffic. My Mapquest directions said to then take exit 41 off 285 which would put me near my destination. Wrong. Not even close. But I was able to stay on Highway 10 at exit 41 which took me through the town of Stone Mountain, Georgia, to Snellville, over to Highway 124 and the fairgrounds.
The next step, after setting up my crates ringside at the show site, was to find my hotel. The best and cheapest La Quinta I could find was another 30 minutes NE of the show site. The directions from Mapquest said I could take Highways 316 to 85 to the correct exit for the hotel. But wait. This was a Friday and traffic was at a standstill. I opted to take back roads, which worked out perfectly, except I missed the La Quinta hotel entrance at the last minute. The road ended and dropped me right onto busy highway 85. I panicked. That was the one thing I was hoping to avoid. I was tired, running low on gas and wondering how I could manage to get to the hotel. At that moment the thought of just turning around and going home became an option. But I got lucky, got off at the first exit, looped around and found the hotel, a really nice dog friendly place, and settled in for the night. Around midnight Levi woke me to let me know there was a bad storm nearby, complete with loud thunder and heavy rain. So much for sleep. Did I mention I also lost an hour of time? Pensacola is on central time. Atlanta is on east coast time. Five a.m. came all too soon.
Dog shows are similar to military events. You arrive at your target destination, only to sit around for hours waiting for action. Then everything happens at once, only to return to boredom and waiting afterwards. Levi was about the twentieth dog in the ring. He seemed prepared and attentive to me. Our first Utility exercise was the moving stand. Not a problem. Then on to the signal exercise, where we heel around the ring on the judge’s commands, culminating with the dog standing at one end of the ring, me walking to the opposite side, giving him the required signals to down, sit and come. He freaked and ran into me. Oh, crap. What is it with this dog and signals, I thought? We had worked so hard in the last three weeks. We limped through the next few exercises. Levi couldn’t hold his attention on me. When it came to the scent article exercise I heard rain beating heavily on the metal roof. Levi hates storms. His ears went back and he was becoming even more nervous. He ran out on command, picked up the right article with my scent, brought it back to me, freaked out, dropped it and ran around the article pile. We set up for the next scent article exercise. The rain was now drumming on the roof and Levi was as nervous as a cat in a room full of Rottweilers. He ran out to find the metal article, found it, reached to pick it up, and with a pop, the electricity in the building went out. Everyone yelled as one, “Oh!” I’m sure my dog thought he’d been corrected by the whole room. He decided he’d had enough with this whole scene and did something he’s never done before. He started to run out of the ring. He wanted to find a chair to hide underneath. We left the ring in defeat. How badly would this set us back for future shows?
The next day dawned sunny and hot, with no clouds on the horizon. However, I was so nervous I couldn’t eat. Yup. Stupid me. Note to self: always eat before showing a nervous dog. A nervous dog and a nervous handler do not make a good team. But I decided to try something different this time. The fairgrounds is well maintained and has several livestock buildings and pens near the show building. I spent my down time with Levi doing some light training. He was hesitant about the signals but we were able to work through his confusion. What has been in his mind each time we go into the ring and I give him signals? Why all of a sudden is this so difficult for him?
Later on, still waiting for our turn in the ring, I took him outside and asked him to drop. He gave me a wild eyed look and ran into me. Oh, no, dog. Wrong. Levi hates to be wrong. In my nervousness in the ring I must be giving a different signal than in training. That was the key. He needs a strong drop signal, the same signal I give him in training. When I set him up for another signal run-through he did the exercise perfectly. We had a party. He got a treat and a toy. The confusion lifted from his eyes and he did the signal exercise perfectly in the ring. But. There’s always a “but”. Remember I mentioned I didn’t eat that morning. When I went into the ring I was shaky, not thinking clearly and didn’t set him up correctly for the directed jumping. He crashed and burned. Was I upset? No. It was my fault. He did a great job on all the other exercises. I praised him heavily in the ring.
I packed up Levi and Catcher and headed home. I had learned a lot over the course of the weekend. The storm did not “ruin” my dog in the competition ring. He bounced back to being a normal, hyper Border Collie. There will be more shows, and no doubt, more bizarre experiences. As a matter of fact a friend advised me, after the lights went out Saturday, “Well, at least the tornado sirens didn’t go off!” Oh, no, please!
- Utility Journal (bordercollies3.wordpress.com)