Late Saturday morning I loaded up my Subaru with four crates, a crate dolly, a chair, a gear bag, my purse, a water jug, a lunch bag and two of my three Border Collies. The destination was Ft Walton Beach for a two day obedience trial. The day was sunny and warm but I didn’t care about the weather. As usual I was a bundle of nerves. What ignominy would Catcher, who is an unusually low energy Border Collie, put me through in the obedience ring this weekend? Lately he’s been a bit of a wild card in competition.
This is my thirtieth year showing dogs but each new dog brings back memories of all the things that can go wrong at their first shows. Will the wheels of training (so to speak) fall off after months and years of training? It all comes down to choosing a puppy that has a strong work ethic or whose parents come from a working background. That is, if you want to be competitive. Silly me, I chose Catcher because he was a cute, curious puppy, with one blue eye, one brown eye. He DID do well on his temperament test at seven or eight weeks of age but now that he is three years of age I’ve found he has a stubborn, independent streak in him. On the plus side he loves people, puppies and is a great house dog. Well, except for his counter surfing.
Catcher is smart. If he were a person I would say he would make a great engineer or a great criminal. He assesses and calculates situations and makes intelligent decisions based on how it suits him. The other day while the puppy and I were off buying Fromm dog food, Catcher, who is 21 ½” tall, reached up on the 36” counter, bought his paw across about 16”, snagged a small dish loaded with Fromm Cat kibble, dragged it to the edge and spilled the contents all over the floor. When I walked in with the puppy an hour later Catcher met me at the door, snuggling against me and licking my hands. Any time he greets me at the door it’s an indication that something is amiss. Sure enough I found the empty bowl and the floor licked clean. Later on in the evening Catcher panted like someone after a Thanksgiving meal who has had that second or third helping of pumpkin pie.
“Really, was it worth it, Catcher?” I asked him. He panted some more and burped. The good news is that he didn’t urp up the kibble. Something that well-earned was staying down in his stomach.
We arrived at the show site at the Ft Walton Beach fairgrounds after a ninety minute drive. After I unloaded all the crates and gear, walked ringside to the air conditioned obedience room and set everything up, I returned to bring the dogs inside. I admit to being a bit proud when I walked in with my two Border Collies on lead and in tandem, without mishap, through a grooming area filled with barking dogs, blow dryers and people. I had to laugh as my dogs acted like seasoned politicians at a voting rally, trying to lick everyone’s hand, wagging their tails, wanting to go over and say hi to all exhibitors. I reminded them to stay on task and they did. My initial pre-show training in comportment paid off. They trot to their soft crates.
It is still a wonder to me that numerous dogs who’ve never met now sit side by side peacefully in individual crates made of fabric. At home some of us have remnants of soft crates that were torn by young dogs. But by the time we show our dogs they have learned that their crate is a safe haven, filled with cushions and toys. My dogs settled in for a nap.
Dog shows are like a well-oiled military operation where the motto is hurry up and wait. Then everything happens at once, nerves get worse, arm bands come up missing or fall off. But the judge finally called my number and Catcher and I entered the ring. Catcher was on lead for this particular class called Rally Novice B. His lagging butt cost us three points but in the end we left with a yellow third-place ribbon. I drove for ninety minutes, spent $50 in gas, paid $27 for the entry fee and won a $4 toy and a flat ribbon worth ten cents. Ah, but the memories. What an insane hobby.
Sunday was D-day with Catcher. Saturday’s class was totally on lead. He couldn’t use his brilliant brain power for evil. He was tethered to me. Sunday he was performing off lead. There was no use being nervous. I pretty much knew he was not in the game when the lead came off. When someone came from the judges room behind the obedience ring with a couple of plates filled with food, I knew getting Catcher-the-chow-hound back on task was futile. At this point the cartoon bubble over his head said, “Lalalalala. I don’t hear you. Lalalala.“
The only humorous moment was during the long sit and down exercise (which Catcher excels at since doing nothing is his specialty). A small frog hopped across the ring several feet in front of the motionless dogs. Catcher didn’t see the frog. In fact, I don’t think anyone saw the frog, including the judge. As we were leaving the ring, I encouraged the clueless critter to leave. Otherwise he would have been a doggy treat.
“Run, Froggie, run.”
Losing is the price you pay for being involved in any kind of competition. It is not only frustrating and embarrassing, but who enjoys being seen by your peers as a total idiot. But there is no place for anger against the dog when he or she isn’t perfect in the ring. Stuff happens. There are things you can’t train for and things you can drill for and in the end it’s up to your dog’s training, ability to enjoy the work and be a team player.
This is where I’m at with Catcher. He is telling me that something is wrong. Next week I’ll take him to the vet for blood work before doing more intense training. Does he have a thyroid problem or an undiagnosed health problem? Or is he in need of a dreaded diet, a half a scoop of kibble instead of one? Catcher is what we call an easy keeper, not helped by his love of stolen cat food. I know from training previous dogs that this too shall pass. We will either work through his lack of motivation or find something that makes him spark. It may sound cruel to submit him to a job where he isn’t successful. But this is the dog who nudges me each morning at 7:30am to go to the training building. He loves riding in the car, loves greeting everyone at the shows and has no fear working inside the obedience show ring. Maybe his blue eye, what I call his dark side, is overwhelming his brown eye, the good side. Or maybe his independent spirit is “giving me the paw”.
Next weekend: Back To The Pig, another dog show.