Saturday, April 30, 2011


Unless you are working on an OM2 or beyond, what follows may not be of much interest to you.

On Saturday, April 16, I arrived at a two-day obedience trial poised to finish Bravo!’s Obedience Master 2.  We needed 13 points.  He had long since gotten the required number of Open points and Utility points.  What we needed were miscellaneous points; we could get them in either ring.  And we had two days and four rings to get the job done.

My little guy wasted no time – 197 in Utility B, then an hour later another 197 in Open B.  Thirty points.  Done!

That left us with a surplus of 17 points to be carried over toward Bravo!’s OM3.

The reason I knew exactly what we needed that Saturday morning was that I keep an accurate running tally in a notebook.  At the end of the day I would post Bravo!’s latest points in my notebook.

But in what category?

If you are susceptible to Excedrin headaches – or worse, migraines! – read no further.  Otherwise, please join me as I explore the Where-In-God’s-Name-Do-I-Put-These-? dilemma that I was mired in that evening.

There seemed to be two options.

Option 1:  Bravo! had picked up 15 master points in Utility B that morning – 15 of the 13 he needed to finish his OM2.  Which he had done.  So, I reasoned, he had 2 Utility points left over to carry forward against his OM3.

An hour later he stormed through Open B and picked up 15 points toward his 60-point Open requirement.  Right?

Not so fast.

Would the Great Electronic Scorekeeper at the AKC know he had finished his OM2 at 8:20 with 2 points to spare?  And, with his OM2 under his belt and no more miscellaneous points needed, he had come out of the Open ring later that morning with a 15-point jump start on his OM3 Open requirement.  Would the computer understand the sequence involved?

In other words, at the end of the day, did Bravo! have his OM2 plus a  2-point start on his OM3 Utility requirement plus 15 points toward his next Open requirement?

Option 2:  Given that we had entered that morning seeking miscellaneous points, might  the AKC deem those 17 surplus points to be miscellaneous carryover?

I figured I’d better go right to the source for my answer.

So I called the AKC office in Raleigh, N.C.  There I encountered a sweetheart of a lady named Sydney Suwannarat.  Sydney is in charge of keeping track of this sort of stuff.  Which means she spends her days unscrewing the inscrutable – like how master points are accumulated and allocated.  Surprisingly, she seems to have a firm grip on her sanity.

I explained the reasoning I had used to calculate the two options mentioned above.  Turns out I was right the first time.  At the end of the Saturday trials our progression toward our OM3 did indeed show 2 Utility points and 15 Open points.

As we talked, Sydney shared a few words of caution about how the progression of points takes place in the computer versus how the information is displayed to you and me when we go to the AKC website.

Theoretically each of us is working toward the title Obedience Grand Master (OGM), the culmination of 10 Obedience Master titles.  An Obedience Master title requires 60 points from Open B, 60 from Utility B and an additional 80 accumulated from either Utility B or Open B (the miscellaneous points).  Consequently, the dog who attains the OGM has amassed 2000 points – 600 from Open B, 600 from Utility B, 800 miscellaneous.  A Herculean accomplishment.

Sydney’s computer looks at its job as a progression toward those 600/600/800 points.  It isn’t allocating just your master points toward your next OM, it’s accumulating Open  points toward 600, Utility points toward 600 and eventually miscellaneous points toward 800.  Then one day the computer scans the cumulative totals in those three “bins” and says, “Aha!  This dog has 60/60/80; we’ll award him another level.”  (An OM2,3, whatever)

Unfortunately, the display we encounter when we go online to check Fluffy’s OM points reflects the process I’ve just described, not exactly where Fluffy is right now on her journey to the next OM title.

“The display is not very visually representative of what you want to know.  It’s very confusing to handlers trying to keep track (of OM points),” Sydney told me. “Internally we do have the correct calculations for how levels are attained.  But visually it’s always going to look like you have these weird points.  You’ll say, ‘How is that possible?’  But internally the math is correct.”

Which indeed, in Bravo!’s case, it was.

“Not to worry,” I told her, “I keep my own running tally.”

Getting the way the points are displayed fixed is high on Sydney’s wish list.  But her wish bumps up against the AKC’s hierarchy of  programming priorities.  “Right now they consider it a cosmetic change,” she said,” so we haven’t been able to get it fixed.”

Meanwhile, she acknowledged, keeping one’s own tally might be a good idea.


Monday, April 25, 2011


On April 4 I posted an item entitled "Inquiring Minds."  It was my third stab in less than a decade at learning the rationale behind the AKC's regulation that forbids a dog from wearing his everyday collar in the obedience ring -- the collar with the dog tags suspended.  In the obedience regulations (Section 17), the statement is: "Nothing may be hanging from the dog's collar."  Again in the judges' guidelines (the section headed Collars), there's one simple sentence: "Nothing may be hanging from the collars."

But why?  The question -- which has been posed all the way to the wisest, most veteran heads in the AKC obedience department -- always elicits some version of, "We haven't the foggiest."

In response to my April 4 query, a couple of veteran obedience competitors guessed the rule might have something to do with the utopian supposition of anonymity of the dog and handler as they enter the ring .  Incognitoness which would be blown when the judge saw the dog's or handler's name on the tag.

Silliness which conjures up a vision of the judge down on his knees, fumbling with the tags only to discover that the name tag is so worn that it's illegible anyhow. How ridiculous is that?

If the reason for the no-tags rule is in any way related to the tongue-in-cheek scenario I've offered above, oh how I wish I'd been a fly on the wall at the meeting where some august group dreamed that one up.

But let's look at this matter of anonymity in general.  Theoetically, when a competitor walks into the ring, the judge has no clue as to the identity of the person or the dog.  That's the intent of the rule that forbids the judge from looking at the catalog until judging is finished.  In theory, when Bravo! and I walk into the Utility B ring we're number 504. Period.

The last time I showed my judge was a friend from long ago when both of us were struggling on the OTCH trail with our Novice A dogs.  We battled over those precious points regularly, and loved it.  Too bad the warm fuzzies from those good old days didn't blind her to a bunch of lousy fronts as she judged us in four rings that weekend.

And then there was the judge in California several years ago.  Before her ring started that morning, she hustled over to our tent.  " I just wanted to tell you how much I love your books," she gushed.  "I wish I had known you'd be here this weekend, I'd have brought them so you could autograph them."  As it turned out, she was more enamored with my writing than she was with my dog's heeling.

Realistically, how valid is this anonymity stuff once you get past Novice A?

When Petra Ford walks into the ring with Tyler, is there a judge alive who doesn't know he's about to score the defending two-time national obedience champion team?  And how can any judge not recognize Dick Guetzloff, who at one time showed a border collie to just a shade under 8,000 OTCH points, and still sports that trademark black hat?  The fact is most active, accomplished competitors are hardly secret agents in the obedience ring.

There's an underlying message here, and it isn't pretty.  The implication is that if the judge knows me, knows my dog, I'm going to get preferential treatment, a break on the scoring.  Or the converse, a hosing.

Is that what we are to believe about AKC judges?  I hope not.  Better still, I know not.  I'm in my 21st year in the sport -- hundreds of rings, hundreds of judges.  I have yet to experience anything which reflects negatively on the integrity of AKC judges.  A lack of competence here and there, yes. A few personalities that would better have been kept in the closet.  But nothing that reflected a dearth of integrity.

Which brings us back to the no-tags rule . . . and a conclusion.  That rule is a stipulation that no one can explain or justify.  Then why is it embedded in the AKC regs?  Best guess:  "We've always done it that way."


Monday, April 18, 2011

Scent Articles + Focus = GANGBUSTERS!!

A long time ago I started keeping score when my dogs do scent articles -- when we practice, at matches, in trials.  At any given moment I can tell you, "Fido has x-number of correct scent articles in a row."  I keep a running tally in a notebook.

According to my wife, "That's sick."

Many years ago I mentioned my type-A score keeping to a friend who at the time was one of America's premier obedience competitors.  She, too, thought it was silly, and said so.  Several years later, though, she had something else to say:  "I'm getting so bored with obedience."  Eventually she drifted away and now competes almost exclusively in agility.

Let's see, I have this sickness; the defining symptom is making a game out of everything my dogs and I do.  I'm not bored.  Neither is my dog.  We're still in the sport . . . joyously.

I must be doing something right.  Every one of my dogs has been good at scent articles.  Honeybear (golden retriever), my Novice A dog, my OTCH dog, brought back the right article 209 times in a row.  I thought she was hot stuff . . . until my first border collie, Bebop, came along.  For a while he held the household record, 340.

Cheddar, another golden, shattered that with 509.  No telling what kinds of numbers he might have put up had I not retired him before he was five with an inoperable vertebrae problem.

Now I have Bravo!, my rescue border collie, the most talented competition dog I've ever had.  And I can't say Bravo! isn't a good scent articles dog; he's missed  only once in competition, and that was nearly three years ago.

But I have to evaluate Bravo! as less good at articles than any of my previous dogs.  Oh, he hit 361 late in 2008, but by 2010, far two often I was looking at runs like 7, 33, 71, 49, 23, 16 -- not the sort of consistent sharpness I had grown used to with earlier dogs.  And I knew that sooner or later that type of performance would spread to the competition ring.

Bravo! has always had a distractibility problem.  I ask people, "What's the most interesting thing in the world?"  They give me this blank look.  So I tell them, "Whatever's outside the ring when Bravo! is inside the ring."

He went through a phase where he'd go out to the pile, then stand and gawk for a few seconds before he went to work.  Mind you, he'd then bring back the right article.  But after his gawking cost us a boatload of points off under Judge Alvin Eng in Tucson, I was motivated to fix the problem.  It took only two mild corrections at the pile.  I said mild.  I decidedly do not want corrections to be part of my scent discrimination  training. I strongly, strongly believe scent articles excellence is all about the dog's confidence level.  But there is a time . . .  I did my corrections early in 2009 and I haven't had to repeat them.

The attention/distraction bugaboo has manifested itself in other ways, too.  For a long time I allowed Bravo! to wander around between exercises, gawking and sniffing.  When people called me out about that, I'd reply,  "Bravo! is like the major league pitcher who parties all night, then shows up hung-over and proceeds to pitch a no-hitter.  Once he gets into heel position to start the exercise, he's all business."

But more recently I began demanding control between exercises -- and surprise, surprise, our scores went up. 

Buoyed by that development and disgusted by recent scent articles runs of 9 and 12, I decided to extend that regimen of absolute attention to the period while I rubbed up the article and the judge carried it to the pile.

It wasn't that Bravo! was gawking around during that period -- as I see so many dogs doing, particularly while the handler, rubbing up the article, chit-chats with the judge.  Bravo! was there, just not committed.

So I began insisting on no-excuses, watch-me attention during that period which I felt was critical to sustaining focus on the job he was required to do next.  And no glazed-over eyes, either.  If his attention flickered away for even an instant, I'd give a mild correction, usually just a little collar jerk with my left hand, accompanied by, "Watch me!" 

Bravo! immediately began getting the correct article every time.  And like the Energizer Bunny or Charlie Sheen's mouth, he has kept going and going and going.

I hadn't dreamed I'd ever have another dog who'd approach Cheddar's record (509).  Certainly not Bravo! who had been my most erratic scent articles dog.  As he approached 500, then passed it, the suspense mounted.  Note that I just referred to suspense not boredom.

He passed 509, set a new household record and has kept right on going.  As I post this, we're sitting on 614. We'll see whether this post is the ultimate jinx.

So what happened here?

Eight years ago, writing in REMEMBERING TO BREATHE, I said, "The three most important words in competition obedience are attention, attention and attention."  The longer I'm around competition obedience the more certain I am that focused attention is the foundation for every scintilla of every exercise.  That and want-to.

Bravo! is well trained in the scent discrimination exercise.  He knows exactly what to do when he gets to the pile.  The problem, for far too long, had been lack of committment.  And the best way to have him locked in when he arrives at the pile turned out to be keeping him in absolute-focus mode from the minute I get him in heel position and pick up my first article.

Who knew something so simple would produce instant, dramatic results.


Friday, April 8, 2011


The Fiesta Cluster is Arizona's premier weekend of dog shows, obedience, rally and agility trials. Wrapped around  the first weekend in March, at WestWorld in Scottsdale, it features five days of competitions.

The following incident, alleged to have taken place this year, was related to me by an obedience steward.

It's time for the Open sits and downs.  The judge, a veteran and seemingly well-regarded, gives each of her ring stewards a pad of paper and a pencil.  She instructs them to watch the dogs during the group exercises, write down anything they see and report the information to her after the exercises are finished.

"In all my years of stewarding (counted in decades), I had never seen that happen," one of the stewards said to me.  "But we did what we were told."

The American Kennel Club publication The Steward in Obedience states:  "They (stewards) should carefully refrain from discussing or even seeming to discuss the dog's performance with the judge . . . "

As comic Red Buttons used to say, "Strange things are happening."


Monday, April 4, 2011

??? Inquiring Minds ???

Before you take Fluffy into the competition obedience ring, you must remove the tags that normally hang from her collar.  Most competitors have two collars, Fluffy's everyday collar and her ring collar.

The question is why?  Why is it verboten for a dog to have dangling tags on in the ring?  I can think of one very practical reason why the tags should accompany the dog.  If the dog bolts, runs from the ring ("Loose dog! Loose dog!") and even makes it out of the show grounds without tags, she has no easily visible means of identification.  That has happened, with catastrophic results.  Some of us deal with the problem by having a flat metal plate mounted on the ring collar.

I've been in the sport more than two decades, and from time to time I've posed the question . . . why?  Oh, I've gotten a few guesses from folks who are otherwise well informed.  Twice I've been told something like this:  "Because there are people who might try to use them in some way to cheat in the ring."

To which I've responded, "How? Please tell me how to cheat using my dog's tags."  At which point the conversation ends.

Twice I've called the office of the person in charge of obedience at the American Kennel Club, seeking an answer.  And struck out.  Several years ago I talked to Curt Curtis, the assistant vice president who, among other things, oversees obedience.  He hadn't the foggiest.  But he said, "Jim Dearinger is in the office today, I'll ask him and get back to you."  Dearinger, then retired, had been on the AKC staff for 23 years.  In his final position he was vice president for obedience.

Yeah, I thought,  if anyone would know, it would be Jim.

Curtis called back that same day.  "Jim has no idea," he said.

Which is where we stand today.  We've got this strange regulation.  It's been in effect forever.  But no one knows why.

OK, out there in doggie obedience land, does anyone know?  I'm sure there are plenty of guesses, but does anyone really know.  Please share.