Cooper is not a dog for precision. He’s the dog you want when you’re looking for enthusiasm, a willingness to give it a shot, the confidence to try something even when he’s not completely sure exactly what he should be doing.
I’ve been working with Cooper in Rally, which I think is made for dogs like Cooper. I haven’t been working so much with him in competition Obedience, which rewards exactness and precision. But lately in practice, he’s actually been heeling next to me, even on the Figure 8 exercise.
So just for the heck of it, I entered Cooper in his first UKC Novice Obedience trial today. He did great, especially considering that this is Cooper: a 189.5 point score (170 out of 200 is a qualifying score).
And to top it off, he got first place in his class, Novice B.
AKC Novice Obedience and UKC Novice Obedience look an awful lot alike — they both have On Leash Heeling and a Figure 8 exercise, a Stand For Exam exercise, and an Off Leash Heeling exercise. But there are some significant differences, too.
The most fun difference is the Recall exercise. In the AKC version, you sit your dog on one side of the ring, walk to the opposite side of the ring, and call your dog. The dog is supposed to come directly, and sit squarely in front of you. The UKC version is just like that, except that there’s a jump between you and the dog. Cooper loves jumping, so jumping over a high jump to get to me is just plain fun.
So fun that we almost blew it. You don’t call your dog until the judge says, “Call your dog.” Then you give your command, and only then should the dog come. Today, when the judge said, “Call your dog,” I saw just a sliver of sunlight appear under Cooper’s butt. That lasted just for just a moment, and then he thought better of it and sat back down. I waited a beat and then called him. He ran, jumped over the jump, and then came right to me, just hair off square (hence the loss of 1/2 a point). If he’d actually gotten up and come to me before I called him, he’d have failed the exercise and we’d have been out.
Then there is the Long Down. In the AKC version, the Long Down is done as part of the group exercise, with the Novice dogs lined up along one edge of the ring, all in the down position for 3 minutes. The UKC does it a bit differently, and it’s called the “Honor.”
In this exercise, the “honor dog” team enters the ring first, and walks to a spot indicated by the judge. The handler downs the dog, walks to a spot about 25 feet away, and then turns and faces her dog. While this is all going on, the “working dog” team has also entered the ring, and they are waiting for the honor dog and handler to get all situated before they start their On Leash Heeling exercise. The honor dog must stay in the down position in the ring while the working dog is in the ring, too, doing the On Leash Heeling and the Figure 8 exercise.
What I didn’t anticipate was the impact of the waiting when it was our turn to be Working Dog. We walked into the ring and got into heel position, ready to go… and then waited. For several long seconds. In the AKC version, the judge would quickly get you started with the On Leash Heeling as soon as you were in position. But with this UKC version, the working team has to wait for the honor team to get settled, and those extra seconds is plenty for Cooper’s attention to go elsewhere. When the judge finally turned to us and said, “Are you ready?”, I had to say, “Just a moment” so I could get Cooper’s attention again. When he looked at me, I said, “Ready” and just then, Cooper looked away again. Argh! The judge kindly waited a few beats more and luckily Cooper looked up at me again just as the judge said “Forward!”
As you can see from the score sheet, Cooper’s heeling is still not beautiful. He lags behind me on the outside turns of the Figure 8. He sniffs the floor sometimes instead of keeping his attention on me. He forgot to sit once at a Halt. But he didn’t go running out of the ring; he didn’t get so engrossed in his sniffing that I completely lost him; and he totally stayed with me on the About Turn. All huge improvements over his qualifying performances in AKC Novice Obedience.
So we left the ring, Cooper got a quick roast pork tidbit, and then we walked back into the ring to do the Honor exercise. Cooper is actually pretty good at this. He doesn’t ignore the working dog, but he stays down, sometimes looking at me and sometimes looking at something else. Ideally, he would keep his attention on me, but this is Cooper we’re talking about. I am just happy he stayed down.
So then we left the ring again, and waited for the Long Sit, a 1 minute sit-stay done with a group of dogs. Cooper was a bit distracted, as usual, stretching his neck out first to the left to get a whiff of the dog to his left, and then turning to do the same on his right. He looked at me a couple of times, yawned once, and swiveled his head toward some noise only he heard. But his butt stayed on the floor and his front feet didn’t move, and that’s what we needed.
All in all, it was a great day. I got some ribbons to hang on my bulletin board and Cooper got a blue stuffed toy to rip up. I think we’re both pleased.
We’ll try it again tomorrow. I love that UKC allows a person to sign up on the day of the show, so that’s what I’ll do tomorrow morning. We’ll just see how it goes.