The first time I saw Karen Price and Flash they were, appropriately, on a pedestal. It was a natural pedestal, but a pedestal all the same. And in my mind I've kept them there ever since.
It was a long time ago, the winter of 1992. We were at the Kachina Kennel Club obedience trial held in Estrella Mountain Park, southwest of Phoenix. Karen and Flash had taken high in trial that day and were positioned on a grassy knoll for their high in trial photo. They looked so magnificent up there
I was greener than the grass on that knoll. My Novice A golden retriever Honeybear and I had two legs on our CD. I was trying to convince Honeybear to endure just one more long sit so we could finish our first obedience title.
And there was Karen with this big handsome golden, posing for the high in trial photo. I began to dream.
That was Saturday. The next day I wandered by the Open B ring just in time to see Flash not budge when Karen called him for the drop on recall. A large airline was passing over as Karen gave her command, and Flash hadn't heard her.
The imprint was firm and lasting: yesterday HIT, today NO . . . because the dog didn't hear "Come!" spoken in Karen's soft voice. From that day forward, without exception, my commands in the obedience ring have been loud and clear.
We saw a lot of Karen and Flash after that, and they became our first role models in obedience competition.
I would watch Flash: his drive, his explosiveness, how he strutted through every heeling pattern, his sheer joy at being there at Karen's side. And I'd dream.
Then Honeybear and I would practice and I'd say, "Be like Flash!" Of course Honeybear didn't know what I meant, but I did, and that made all the difference.
Someone has said, "Your images lead your reality." So doesn't it make sense that the mental pictures you use to visualize your best ring performances should be as close to perfect as possible? My remembrances of Karen and Flash served that purpose through a UDX, a Gaines placement, multiple highs in trial and high combineds, and finally an OTCH.
Next came Ott, a $50 border collie who had a million-dollar impact on my life. Ott belonged to Sandra Shults, sometimes student, sometimes instructor at Precision Canine, where we trained.
Ott was my first border collie experience. I had to ask someone, "What kind of dog is that?" I was struck by Ott's focus, drive, intensity. And, again, I began to dream.
If Ott planted the seed, Lace cultivated it.
Those who compete in competition obedience in the western United States have for many years encountered Louise Meredith . . . and have gotten their clocks cleaned. Louise is one of America's great obedience trainers and competitors. Her teammates are border collies.
Ott had raised my antennae, so I was quick to spot Louise and Lace. Showing in Southern California, we'd arrive the day before the trial and go about pitching our tent and arranging our setup. Invariably Louise was there working Lace. Heeling, heeling, heeling for what seemed like an eternity.
At first I thought, That woman must be crazy. Doesn't she know better than to work a dog that much the day before a trial? Then, of course, for the next two or three days Louise and Lace would chew up the competition an spit us out.
We learned many things by watching them. One of which was that there is a type of border collie (the kind with four legs) that thrives on work.
Louise and Lace were splendid role models. I was priveleged to be present at the show when Lace retired in December of 1996 with 1062 OTCH points, 75 high combineds and 50 highs in trial.
As I developed as a trainer, my role models became less general. Less, "Be like Flash!" More oriented toward seeing a team do a specific exercise spectacularly well, then adopting that perfect picture as the standard we'd bust our butts to attain.
Take for instance Sandy Rowan and her dynamite border collie Rev. The first time I saw them was at a Gaines tournament in the early '90s. Rev did a stunning drop on recall. When Sandy called him, he came like the wind. When she signalled the drop, he dove into it, skidding on his chin.
Right there Sandy and Rev became our role models for the drop on recall. And though nearly two decades have passed, I've yet to see another dog that committed to hitting the deck.
Note that we aren't talking about mentoring here, we're talking about lasting mental pictures. How are you going to train for the perfect exercise or the perfect run if you don't have a clear image of what it looks like?
And I don't think it'll do you a bit of good to look up the date of the next local AKC obedience trial and write on your calendar, "Find role model today." It's a passive thing. You don't plan it, it happens to you.
You see a dog/handler team whose performance not only rings your bell, it shatters it. Something inside you -- something involuntary -- says. "That's it! That's why I'm in this sport. That's the way I want us to be."
That performance stays in your mind. When you train your dog, that's the picture you are seeking. It's your inspiration to train in the rain, even to practice your footwork by yourself. A good role model is the wind beneath your wings.