Performance Competition: Why am I Doing This?

Dash&meNov14My mother was not a ‘dog person’.  She grew up urban, Jewish, and Jews (much like Moslems) did not own dogs—for the most part.  My father was also urban, but his father owned a pet shop for a number of years.  My father got his first dog after he married my mother, and he knew he had to train the dog.

Since my mother was not a dog person, and my father worked long hours, it was about 10 or so more years before we—-as a family—got a dog. It was a Poodle, maybe  three or four years old, that a guy was giving away because his fiance didn’t like it.  Jack was not a great dog, but he was amazingly tolerant and learned tricks quickly.  That was my first taste of dog training.

My parents had very bad luck with dogs:  being poisoned, , inept veterinary care,  but when I was 12, I was obsessed with getting a dog to show in conformation.  We  had gotten a Miniature Schnauzer after Jack died (amazing, we only had him  four years), and  he was very sweet, but I wanted an Irish Wolfhound.  My mother said that if we got another dog, it would be an Afghan Hound.  That’s how it started.

My father insisted I train the dog, and back then,  in the late 1960s, not only did you not start training a dog until it was a year old,  every dog trainer discouraged us from even attempting to train an Afghan Hound.  My father could not understand why.  Granted, they are not Golden Retrievers or Border Collies, but if the dog is not brain damaged, you can shape its behavior (at least we know that now—-about 40 years later).

Back in the 1960s, we  really didn’t know that much about how dogs learned.  My first Afghan, Khyber, did ok.  He would have been more reliable had I been a better trainer.  When I got my second Afghan Hound, Aswan, I had no choice but to learn better training methods.  She was very smart, and I had to find a way to communicate with her.  I also had to find obedience classes so she could understand that I expected her to listen to me even when there were other dogs around.  Aswan ultimately got her Companion Dog title. It took  five trials, and  she squeaked by with  a 170.5, 172, and a 184.  I  then trained her for Open.  She  knew all the exercises and was very reliable, but I got divorced and  the stress of that really prevented me from following through. Another Afghan Hound owner who got  two qualifying scores out of over 20 trials also made me stop and think about the point of gambling on a title..  All she needed was one more qualifying score, but she felt the entry fees (back in the day when they were $12)  were too expensive.

I next titled Bari, although I believe Sue Crum-Sommers handled him to two qualifying scores. Once he was fourth High in Trial.  I know it was her handling.  A good handler makes all the difference.

Then, I went to college, then graduate school, and Peace Corps,and  both Aswan and Bari had died.  My next dog, a Saluki, was  not obedience material. He hated classes, and did everything he could to let me know it. I got Dazzle, the second Saluki after Sadiq died.  He came to me obedience trained, but he was way too nervous to  compete  in obedience.  In the 14 years I owned him, I don’t think he ever sat.  He stood or laid down.  Even on most of our walks around the neighborhood, he’d turn around to see if anyone was following him.  The cowardly lion.  Bebop  came into our lives from WRAP  (whippet Rescue)  a few months after Dazzle, and he had also been obedience trained,  and was smart enough, but by that time I had bought a business, and  wouldn’t devote the time to  polishing him up for competition. Also, since he was a rescue, he wasn’t registered, so I never got that together.

Dazzle died, and we got Dash. Dash had, apparently, been  obedience trained by his former owners, and we was very attentive, so I started with a Canine Good Citizenship certificate, and  we’ve kept going.  I do it  for several reasons: the discipline—-my own discipline, to follow through.  I learn so much from people at the classes, and at the  trials.  I learned how to housebreak a difficult dog, and how to train the various tasks that look like magic to the non-dog trainers. I learned why the collar should not make a difference.  I also do it because I love communicating with my dog.  It’s such a great feeling when the dog  gets it!

When I started training, over 40 years ago, having titled an Afghan Hound in obedience gave me immediate credibility to other fanciers, as well as employers.  I got a job training dogs because the guy who hired me said that if I could train an Afghan, I could train anything. Could be true.  The sighthounds are a challenge because they’ve been bred—for centuries (over 5000 years)to think for themselves.  You really have to challenge them to get their attention.  Now, employers don’t care,and many seem to suspect that I hurt my dogs to get them to behave, because so many  groomers now don’t believe in training, breeding  for the betterment of a breed, or showing dogs. When you  compete in  performance, you are judged by your peers.  You can’t hide anything, You and the dog  are out there.

I have to really think about this, because  last weekend, on Saturday, we qualified (by the  judge’s benefit of the doubt) for one obedience leg and one rally leg.  On Sunday, after  we had completed 2/3 of the rally course, and I was sure we’d qualify with a good score, I asked Dash to return to heel to the right instead of the left, and as he was correcting himself, his expression changed to f** that s**t, and he walked out of the ring.  Then, I gave him a hand and vocal signal on the stay and I  got us not qualified.  $60 down the tubes.  Well, you  win some and you lose some. That’s how it goes.  So why bother?  For me, there is nothing like knowing  I am communicating with my dog, and he understands.  I have stimulated his brain.  Also, I am with other people who feel the same way.That is the magic.

Now,  I could have  very possibly worked with the Salukis I owned, as well as BeBop the Whippet, but you have to pick your battles.  Even the late Janie Wondergemm who owned and trained TCP Crystal Payday, U.D., our last  Saluki U.D., didn’t bother with her younger Salukis.

I am somewhat disappointed that both the pet  grooming and  boarding  industries have evolved  to the point that owners and managers do NOT value what I have done, and that pet owners don’t think this is important (thank you, PIJAC—for marketing the competency of retail managers over actual pet lovers), but it is what it  is, and I hope  readers of this blog will forward it.


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