Once again my aging Subaru was overloaded with my dogs and show paraphernalia and heading east on Interstate 10. Our destination was the North Florida Fairgrounds at the state capital of Florida, Tallahassee. There is something at this show site that always makes me laugh. In front of one of many exhibition buildings there is a cement rooster, in front of another a goat, and way at the end there is a big black and white cement pig. It is this pig which has terrified my Border Collies over the last five years. What would be their reaction this time? My dogs are well socialized but have never had an occasion to see or work around any barnyard animals.
The first time my (now deceased) dog, River, was entered in one of the club’s obedience trials I took the opportunity to walk him, along with Levi, around the spacious grounds. We came upon the pig and a tradition was started. Before showing in the ring my dogs and I had to pay homage to the porcine statue. “All hail the pig.”
My confident, hard-working dogs were afraid even though the statue didn’t move. The pig is huge, with its head down, ears forward and eyes glaring straight ahead, portraying a picture of an impending attack. Both River and Levi walked on the balls of their feet, ready to bolt should the black and white beast move. My words of encouragement to them as I touched the pig fell on deaf ears. The same thing eventually happened with Catcher each time I showed him at this location. No way would any of my dogs, past or present, go near the pig and they actually weren’t too keen on the goat and rooster either. I had to laugh each time I showed at this site.
Young dogs often learn by watching other dogs in their pack and it is in fact a tool I use when training my puppy, Tommie. If she sees Catcher retrieving, jumping and running in my training building she is ready and anxious to train when it is her turn. In this case I was anxious to see if Tommie would pick up on Catcher’s fear of the pig or if she would form her own opinion. Catcher had been taught by Levi not to trust the statue. Brave little Tommie was hesitant but not afraid. It was Catcher who finally put the power of the pig to rest. He walked up to it, smelled its front leg, turned around, lifted his leg and peed. “Piss on you, Pig. You hold no power over me.” Once again I laughed, feeling proud that my independent, stubborn Border Collie had broken the spell.
My dogs and I weren’t scheduled to go into the ring until around 3pm and we arrived at 9:30am. Every hour on the hour I took both dogs outside in tandem and walked them around the fairgrounds. Unfortunately we couldn’t walk in the short grass because of sand burrs, which attached painfully to the fur between my dog’s feet, making it almost impossible for them to walk. But they needed the exercise and I was beyond bored so we walked in the sand or on the road between the buildings. The only sport left for me outside the show ring was observing the relationship between dog owners and their canine companions. Comedians take note; there is a ton of untapped material at dog shows, beyond the obvious similarities of how dogs and their humans look-alike. Dog people are funny. I am one so I can point fingers.
Dog shows are an opportunity to people watch. Baby talk is a language many people use to communicate with their dogs. I’m not saying it’s just woman either, although dog shows are predominately ladies and you do see them blurting out non-stop, high-pitched chatter. On one of my walks I saw a man outside having a long conversation with his typically very smart, well-bred dog before going into the competition ring. I’m sure the dog only heard blah-blah-blah, since, like any beleaguered spouse who blocks out background noise, the dog gave no indication of hearing his human.
I’ll be honest and admit that I’m a bit of a cheerleader when training my dogs, encouraging them above and beyond what is necessary. It’s a bad habit that I’m working hard to stop. Give the command, wait for a response and then praise, correct or help. Since I train alone most of the time my bad habits aren’t generally visible to me and therefore not a problem. But well-meaning friends have reminded me to “zip it”. Give the dog a chance to respond on its own. Don’t be a mommy-trainer, a helper, an enabler. That’s me but I’m working hard to train, wait and respond with praise or help.
Catcher did a pretty good job in the Rally ring, finishing his Novice title. Noticing that I take myself and dog showing too seriously, Catcher decided to introduce a bit of levity to our two minutes in the ring. We were working on a perfect score of one hundred, when he slipped behind me and goosed me. There’s no way to save oneself when a dog goes above and beyond the required exercise. You can only hope the judge didn’t see it. But the judge must have seen me jump because I saw him mark a point off on his sheet giving us a score of 99 and second place.
Every dog show, every exhibitor, and every show site has a story, some funny, some sad and some infuriating depending on one’s point of view on life, not just on competition. Gossip is rampant and I’m sure no one is safe from scrutiny nor is one’s dog. But although we compete against each other we are a community of dog lovers and wouldn’t hesitate to help someone in need at the show. It’s why I love dog shows and dog people. We belong. We understand each other and we support each other. The ten-cent ribbons or the cheap rosette is just a way to display the results of our training skills, to earn praise from others in the sport and in many cases, to just get out of the house.
After driving home to the real world of house work and lawn mowing and bills, I received a shocking email from a friend. The hotel where we stayed, checking in late afternoon Friday, had been raided that same day for human trafficking and prostitution. While we were at the fairgrounds frustrated over our dogs missing signals in the ring, or a dog not working perfectly, people’s lives were in jeopardy. While we played with our dogs, spent money and time with our friends and our canine companions, people were struggling to stay alive..
Every show reminds me that in the end this is just a game and we are lucky to play it with our dogs.