My recent posts concerning the dropoff in competition obedience entries drew several responses worthy of highlighting in this space. Here they are.
1. There's a bright, active lady in Pullman, Washington who comments on these posts from time to time. I think she's retired, but I'm not sure. She was or is a vertebrate museum curator. Anyhow, she has interesting things to say, and I wish she lived in our neck of the woods. She blogs under the "handle" Palouse Dogs."
Recently she posted this comment:
. . . I disagree that obedience only needs more recruits. Just look at agility. I don't see anymore effort to get youngsters involved in agility than in obedience, yet agility is thriving.
Agility requires far more space and equipment (or access to such) than obedience. You hardly need any equipment for obedience and you can find a way to train in a house, on the sidewalk, in a park, etc. And yet, agility, not obedience, is thriving. Obedience never has been as popular as agility, even when obedience was practically the only dog game around.
Just about everyone in obedience has an opinion on how this or that change could improve obedience. I have a million ideas. Only thing is, it doesn't MATTER what anyone's ideas are. Obedience is etched in stone. And that, I think, is the real problem. Regular obedience doesn't seem to be able to try anything new.
Agility and rally can make dramatic changes practically overnight. Changing anything about obedience requires decades of pushing, and then the changes are little more than chips around the edges of the stone into which the rules have been carved.
I'm not talking about making obedience "easier." I'm thinking of things like more variety in the routines, maybe a "Preferred" option with lower jumps, higher and harder levels of obedience to move teams beyond the endless perfection of the same old, a reassessment of the value of exercises that people have complained about for decades (like the Open groups), etc. But mostly, I think obedience just needs to TRY some new ideas. Maybe they won't work and maybe they will.
Evolution: It's not just for antibiotic-resistant bacteria anymore.
Well, AMEN! Helen Phillips, one of the great thinkers in our sport, has been saying the same thing for decades. Is anyone out there listening?
2. There is a person here in our local environment who has participated in conformation and agility but has only watched competition obedience from ringside for more than two decades. What she brings to the table in this discussion is 40 years of national award-winning experience as a marketing excecutive. For at least a decade she's been saying:
Over the years I've heard a lot of people lamenting the dwindling number of young people in obedience. One thing that might help would be to award the winners in Novice an entry into their next trial, rather than giving them a tchotchke. Young people don't have a lot of money and it's expensive to show a dog in obedience. An award of their next show entry is more likely to bring them back than is a fuzzy duck.
3. Finally, an observation of my own. I'll make the comments that follow, then show up for the rally trials at the Fiesta Cluster in Scottsdale this weekend with a paper bag over my head.
One need look no farther than rally to identify a major contributor to the decline in competition obedience entries.
Firstof all, rally obedience is a misnomer. Better the sport should be called rally coaxing or rally luring or rally arm waving. To use the word obedience to identify the sport of rally and then turn around and apply it to the venerable sport of competition obedience is, I submit, a lot like the use of the word beauty -- it's in the eye of the beholder.
Traditionally, in AKC dog sports, obedience has implied a strong commitment to training the dog. That's absolutely not true of rally. Give me a dog that -- with sufficient coaxing, cajoling, begging, pleading, and above all arm-waving -- will sit, down and take a low jump, and I can qualify that dog in rally. I see it umpteen times at every rally trial. Blood, sweat and tears not required.
That's not to say that rally is easy. What's hard -- what trips up so many of us (Yes, us; I lose far more points than my dog does.) -- is keeping our heads together so as not to make silly handler errors. But training the dog, naw!
I was at a rally trial last weekend here in the Phoenix area. There were 39 entries, which meant there were quite a few less people than dogs. I counted 14 people that I knew and was personally aware of that had either started out in dog sports with the intention of doing competition obedience or had been in competition obedience -- some for many years -- but had dropped out and had gone into rally.
Those who had started out to do traditional obedience had discovered that training a dog to be competitive in the obedience ring is hard. It requires dedication and commitment. And it takes a long time, at least two years. They had said, "Oh my God, this is is hard!" And had fled to rally. A lick and a promoise and they were in the ring, patting thighs, flailing arms.
Those who had been in competition obedience for a long time -- struggling along with poorly trained dogs -- discovered rally, cried, "Hosanna!" and they were outa there.
Sociologists would tell you that this migration is simply a reflection of a decades-long tred in our society -- instant gratification. And given a choice, many take the low road, the less-effort road.
What I've just said is in no way a suggestion that obedience should be dumbed down. It's merely an observation of one of the factors that clearly is siphoning off competition obedience entries.
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A Personal Note Many who have been reading this blog for the past 10 months have also read my first two books: Remembering to Breathe and OTCH Dreams. A third book is on the way. I've just finished the first draft. Right now I have 518 pages of an intended 300-page book. At this point I always do a complete rewrite -- and cut. That exercise and training a yet-to-be-born puppy will consume the lion's share of the rest of 2012.
The point is that postings to this blog will be fewer and farther between. The blog isn't dying, it's just slowing down to accommodate the priorities mentioned above.