Monday, April 15, 2013


The Demise of Veterans

Honeybear (my first golden retriever, my first competition obedience dog) finished her OTCH at the age of nine years, nine months and 25 days.  The first thing I did, right outside the ring gate, was drop to my knees, put my arm around her and tell her, "Honeybear, you'll never have to jump again."

Our road had been rocky as we entered the home stretch on our quest for the Holy Grail of dog sports.  Seven months earlier HB had had her right knee rebuilt following a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.  Then, eleven points from the finish line, she had mysteriously sustained a hairline fracture in a back paw.  And with 199 points -- one stinkin' lousy point from our goal -- she began refusing the jumps.  I credit acupuncture treatments by veterinarian Alice Blazer for getting her back on track to finish our OTCH

Clearly, then, on that glorious Sunday morning in Las Cruces, New Mexico, it was time to pull the plug on jumping.  But was it time, also, to terminate Honeybear's career in the ring?  NO! She loved working with me far too much for me to sentence her to couch potato status.  So for the ensuing three years and seven months, until she was well into her 14th year, we showed in Veterans.

When it finally became obvious that she was laboring -- and it came suddenly, in San Juan Capistrano on May 10, 2003 -- she retired . . .again.  She had shown in Veterans 28 times.  She had won the class 24 times, finished second three times and gotten up on the down once.  During her "second career" in Veterans, HB had averaged 197.8.

I hadn't been just pulling her off the couch and taking her to shows.  We had trained.  For Honeybear it had been as if nothing had changed . . . except now she was no longer jumping.  She was still "in there."  And she loved it.

During that period, we noticed an interesting phenomenon locally.  Entries in Veterans increased (from one or two to five or six).  People saw what was going on with Honeybear and they wanted to bring their dogs out, too.

Fast-forward to the present.  Since January of this year I've received 28 premium lists from dog clubs here in the far west -- Arizona, California, Nevada.  Twenty-one offered obedience.  Only one -- Vegas Valley Dog Obedience Club -- offered Veterans.  Clubs are now offering the new optional titling classes, which are attracting more entries than Veterans would.  It's a matter of time and money.  There's just no room for the old dogs anymore.


The Demise of Obedience

This is hardly new news, but it is what it is.  And what it is is troubling for one who has a wonderful puppy prepping to debut in competition obedience in the not-too-distant future.

Of the 28 premium lists I referred to above, seven contained unhappy surprises.  Those seven clubs had offered obedience as recently as 2012.  But not here in 2013.  That's 25 percent attrition among the clubs in the random sample I have in my file.

That's sad, too.  And scary.

The Lonliness of the Novice A Handler

I have a student who has recently brought her golden retriever out in Novice A.  Cole is well into his ninth year.  And happy, happy, happy.  I don't know how far we'll be able to go with Cole, but for right now it's pure joy to watch him frisk around the ring.

That's the good news.  The bad news is that with one exception Angie and Cole (who's a low-190s dog) have been the only team entered in their Novice A classes (here in America's sixth largest city).

Again, sad/scary.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

BRINGING UP PRESTO! We Graduate to PetSmart, Part 2

I must admit I'm a fan of PetSmart.  True, they're overpriced, but Presto! is my fifth competition obedience dog who has received part of his training (largely sits and downs and heeling) inside a PetSmart store.  The management has always been friendly, helpful and tolerant.

So one day last week, at 9:15 in the morning, Presto! entered a PetSmart store for the first time.  They open at 9:00 and I figured we'd dip our toes in the water when the store wasn't very crowded.  We'll enrich Presto!'s experience gradually over the coming months.

We traveled light on our first visit.  I had my dog, a few treats, a four-foot leash and a 2x3' mat with a rubberized, non-skid back.  PetSmart's floor is polished concrete (the better to clean up you know what).  Put a dog on a long sit on that surface and you can watch the hind legs slide out, out, out.  So we go prepared.

I kept it simple for our first foray. Later I'll carry a bag with a 30-foot long line and two signs in stand-up clear plastic holders.  The signs, to be placed in front and back of Presto!, say:  Please Don't Pet Me.  I'm Practicing Obedience.

Not that the signs will stop Brunhilde from lumbering over so that Tootsie, her 100-pound rottweiler, can "meet" my puppy (and thereby risk excision of her dog's Adam's apple.), but they do tend to keep most of the knuckleheads at bay.

Like everything else in Presto!'s training, his sits and downs practice at PetSmart will proceed in modest increments.  Ultimately I'll be 30 feet away at the end of the long line.  Then I'll drop the line.  And then I'll start incremental out-of-sight segments.

Once I've built the store managements confidence -- to say nothing of my own -- I may eliminate the long line.  We'll see. (That blog post will by titled "Stark Naked In PetSmart").

All this is taking place smack-dab in the center of the store, right where several main aisles intersect.  The neat thing is that about 30 feet away from the sitting dog is the area where they have parakets and other exotic birds for sale.  I can duck behind several rows of those cages.  Then, looking through the cages, I'll have an unobstructed view of Presto!, but he won't be able to see me.  What could be more perfect for practicing out-of-sight sits and downs?

By the way, all of this takes place with me between the dog and the front door.  A hair-raising chase inside (and almost outside) The Home Depot a few years ago infused me with instant enlightenment.

Our first little PetSmart adventure last week was a piece of cake.  I was at the end of a four-foot leash for a four-minute sit and a six-minute down.  A few people passed, oohed and aahed, and Presto!'s head was on a swivel but he didn't budge.

Later, when I have him in there with heavy traffic and maybe a forklift stocking high shelves one aisle over, it'll be more of a test.

For now, though, our PetSmart Phase is underway.  Tomorrow morning we'll add in a little heeling.