- Such a shame I see so many people out there training religiously. Practicing day after day. Practicing all the wrong things. Conscientiously teaching the dog how to screw up in competition. Wonderful work ethics misdirected.
- Great read In the summer of 1972, Barbara and I spent a week in Nassau, Bahamas. It rained every day. I didn’t care because I was reading The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn. The book is about the members of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s, one of the most exciting professional baseball teams ever fielded, and what became of those men after their glory years had passed. Maybe it was because I had grown up in Crosley Field, then the home of the Cincinnati Reds, and I was so familiar with all those old Dodgers. Or maybe it was because Roger Kahn is such a marvelous writer – just the inspiration I needed at the outset of my fledgling writing career. Kahn and The Boys of Summer were to my writing efforts as Karen Price and Flash were to my obedience career.
Today, 40 years later, The Boys of Summer remains the best book I’ve ever read. So what’s number two? Recently a friend encouraged me to read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Boy, can that guy write! A bit slow to begin, but ultimately can’t-put-it-down gripping, it’s a powerful story told with depth and compassion through the eyes of a dog. Which is why my strong recommendation finds its way into this blog.
- Demythifying rally You may get the idea from what follows that I’m anti-rally. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. As you read this, I’m prepping Bravo! to begin his rally career late in January. As those who follow this blog are aware, Bravo! has recently been retired from pursuit of his OTCH because an arthritic hip limits his ability to jump the heights required in Open and Utility. But I want to keep him active, keep him working at my side, which he loves. So we now move on to rally because it’s wonderfully appropriate.
What follows here is a little unsolicited dissertation on what’s inappropriate, at least in my opinion. Which I’m fully aware is, as Helen Phillips has said for 40 years, decidedly a minority point of view.
There is a strong, almost overpowering myth about in Dogsports Land that rally is a wonderful place to start a dog on an obedience career. Or just the place to help a newbie handler dip her toe in the sport of competition obedience.
I wouldn’t be caught dead taking my beginning dog into rally obedience. Or encouraging a newbie handler to get off on what I regard as decidedly the wrong foot. Not if the goal is to do well in the competition obedience ring later on.
It’s a given in rally that the judging, by design, is much looser. Fronts can be almost straight, or maybe not even almost. Heel position is OK if it’s in the same area code. A team can be quite sloppy and still get a high score. They can be a crying disaster and still qualify.
The whole thing is loose, loose, loose. Is that how I want to imprint my little competition obedience dog? Oh God no! Of course there’s nothing that says you can’t do rally courses with discipline, even precision. But how many handlers – especially newbies – can sustain the self-discipline to not gravitate toward the lowest common denominator? I don’t believe there are many. Certainly not I, I’m learning. When Bravo! and I were hell-bent for our OTCH I struggled mightily (and not all that successfully) to get perfect fronts and finishes. But not so much now that we’re rally-bound. And I’m not nearly as demanding about head position as we heel those few steps involved in the rally exercises.
Then there’s all that hand-luring and all those chiropractor-friendly body gyrations and all the coaxing that’s permitted in rally. I sure don’t want my young dog to be brought up that way. Nor my newbie competitor to develop all those bad habits. There are far too many sloppy teams in the obedience rings now; why create more?
Even some of the rally exercises are designed to send your training due south.
Last weekend a member of my training group – a person with 30+ years of experience and enough obedience and agility titles to sink a battleship – was commenting on the new rally exercises, due to go into effect in April. Specifically, she was expressing concern about exercise #210, Send to Jump. In that new exercise (as opposed to existing exercise # 34 where the dog and handler run toward the jump, the dog jumps as the handler runs past the jump, then they meet on the other side in heel position and continue on to the next station) the handler stops short of the jump, the dog jumps, immediately turns and returns to heel position before they continue past the jump.
“I sure don’t want to teach my beginning dog to go over the jump and immediately turn and come back,” my friend was saying. Amen! Teaching a young dog to do that is just asking for trouble. I see plenty of dogs – in training as well as in the competition ring – going over the jump, looking bewildered, then turning and coming back . . . while the dumbbell lies untouched in the grass. This exercise is fine for a veteran dog, but just one more reason why I don’t want my young, fledgling dog anywhere near rally.
By the way, what’s wrong with Beginner Novice for getting Fluffy started? Answer: Absolutely nothing.