I've heard people gush over a young obedience competition dog: "This is the dog I've waited for all my life."
Let me paraphrase that: "Presto!'s is the drop on recall I've waited for all my competition obedience life." Ever since the day I first saw Rev hit the deck.
It was in the earliest days of Honeybear. There was an event called the Western International Obedience Competition (WIOC). It brought together elite teams from several of the western states and Canadian provinces. Two days of competition to see which team could return home as that year's WIOC champion.
Once in the early '90s WIOC was held in Phoenix, in a hotel ballroom. Alaska was represented. And that's where I saw Rev dive into his drop, chin first, skidding on the carpet. I was stunned.
Rev was a red border collie owned by Sandy Rowan, who at that time lived in Anchorage. I was the newest of newbies. If I had seen half a dozen Utility dogs, that may be a stretch. But I didn't need any comparisons, any frame of reference. That morning, at ringside in that Holiday Inn ballroom, Rev's drop became the standard by which I would judge all drops for the rest of my life.
I ran into Sandy and Rev again at the Gaines in 1995. Same dive, same skid. I was no longer a newbie. I had been there, won that. In fact, Honeybear and I placed in Open at the Gaines in Salt Lake City that August. But jaded I wasn't, and Rev's drop still knocked my socks off.
By 1999 I was writing the obedience column in Borderlines, the magazine of the Border Collie Society of America. I've always known this sneaky thing about column writing. If I really want to understand the nitty-gritty of something but don't want to expose my ignorance by asking, I write a column about it. And in the process I interview the person I think knows the most about it.
Which esplains my January/February 1999 Borderlines column, which I headlined "Sandy Rowan's Supercalifragilisti, Dynamite Method for Teaching the Drop on Recall."
And from that moment on I've used Sandy's method (with an adaptation or two of my own across the years.)
That exercise has always been one that I could count on not to siphon off points. My dogs have always been reliable. Very good, but not Rev.
Until now. Until Presto!
Briefly stated, you teach the drop with the dog on a flexi and two long PVC poles eight to ten feet apart on the ground. The idea is for the dog to come like the wind (popped off the sit) and respond to one of three optional commands (verbal or hand signal): (1.) Come all the way through and jump for a treat. (2.) Drop behind the first pole. (3.) Drop behind the second pole.
All this involves split-second timing on the part of both the dog and the handler. And extraordinary dexterity in the use of the flexi. Believe it or not, these are skills you can develop if you set your jaw and say, "By God, I'm going to get good at this!" I -- SUPERKLUTZ -- have mastered it. "Nuff said.
Presto! is a lot of things. Among them, he's a bundle of aptitude. I could not believe it when by the second day he he was dropping behind the pole. (You start with one pole or -- depending upon your dog's mastery of the concertina down -- you might want to start with the bar from the bar jump; it's a more imposing barrier.) Presto! had learned the concertina down in my PVC box, so our first order of business was to make that happen when he was on the move.
He picked it up in the blink of an eye.
Yes, Presto! gets down like Rev, like he's shot. But their dropping styles are as different as night and day. What caught my eye about Rev was the way, at warp speed, he dove, then skidded on his chin. Presto! sees my hand signal (from day two I've used only the palm of my right hand, no verbal) stops dead in his tracks, then folds back into a down.
If you're up there watching us, Rev, thanks! You too, Sandy.