Archive for October, 2011

At least in this one regard, Cooper is a lot like me, or I am a lot like him. We both get worried, feel insecure, and need help and reassurance when we don’t understand what we’re supposed to be doing.

Fortunately, Cooper has me. When he is insecure and worried doing his Long Sit and Long Down in the Obedience ring, as he was during both trials this weekend, he can get up and walk over to me. It’s not what I want him to do, but when he does, I will hold his collar and let him stand next to me, where he is safe.

And I have Cooper. While he’s not particularly good at having an intellectual discussion about what he’s worried about, he is a good dog who loves me. He’ll keep going into the Obedience ring because I want him to. So it’s my job and my privilege to help him understand what I want him to do.

But I need help, too. I am a Novice A person with a Novice A dog. This is my first performance dog and my first experience with Obedience training, with only a few months experience. I’m clumsy, I make a lot of mistakes, I don’t know a lot of things that other handlers just seem to get without effort. I’m not naturally talented at dog training. I don’t see where and how I’m going wrong, just that it’s not working.

So, this weekend, after Cooper didn’t qualify at either trial, I knew something had to change. It’s just that I can’t figure out what. Am I doing everything okay, and I just need to be more patient? Am I doing something wrong? Is there something else that I should be doing that would be better?

Or maybe I should just quit.

I thought about that a lot on Sunday after our failure in the Obedience ring. I sort of mechanically put Cooper up in his crate with his toy and a bucket of water, and then walked toward the building where the conformation dog show was being held.

On my way, I ran into Tammy. Seeing her, I started to cry. She’d already heard that Cooper didn’t qualify again, so she didn’t ask me what was wrong. She just put her arms around me and said, “I am so proud of you.”

No advice. No scolding about how I shouldn’t have put Cooper into the ring if he wasn’t ready. No trying to convince me that I shouldn’t feel sad. Just, “I am so proud of you.”

And then she told me some stories about her dogs: the dog that took 20 trials before qualifying the first time, the dog that never could get a CDX title, the various creative ways her dogs have expressed their opinions about competition Obedience.

And she also said that she’s sure that Cooper and I can do it.

So probably, we can.

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Weekend before last, Russ did a bunch of portrait photography. Our living room transformed into a studio — furniture pushed out of the way, and the space crowded with lights, diffusers, reflectors, backdrops, computers, cables, lenses, and cameras.

Cooper, Tooey, and I had been out. We were home earlier than expected, but that turned out great. Russ’s last subject of the day was just about ready to drive away (in his Mini Cooper!), and all the equipment was set up, so why not take a picture of the dogs?

Here’s one Russ did of Tooey, the beauty queen in charge. If she had her way, she’d be the cover girl on a magazine entitled Royalty.

Tooey, modeling for Russ

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Had it again. The dog show dream/nightmare.

I tend to have dream locations. These are places that exist only in my dreams, and I go back to them from time to time. And when I go back, I recognize them as places I’ve been before, even though they’re not “real.”

This place was a dog show site, the same place as a similar dream last January — lots of people, lots of dogs, aisles crowded with dog crates and grooming tables. And when I got there last night, I instantly recognized it. But even so, I was lost.

I could not find my Obedience ring. Cooper and I were rushing around looking and looking. No one could point me to it, and there didn’t seem to be any ring numbers posted on any of the rings. Finally, I decided to put Cooper in his crate and asked someone to watch out for him while I went looking.

Then, thankfully, I found the ring. So I rushed back to get Cooper and, OH! The crate was empty. No Cooper. So then I had to search and search for Cooper, calling his name, looking everywhere. I found the person who was supposed to watch him — she’d gotten distracted and lost track of him. She shrugged her shoulders and said she was sorry.

So I went searching, panicking by now, crying, calling his name.

Finally, I found him, safe in a corner under some bleachers, waiting calmly for me.

I was so happy to find him, so relieved. Just for a moment, time stopped as I held him. Until I looked at my watch, and realized that our ring time had already started. So we ran through crowds of dogs and people, weaving around crates and tables, to get back to the ring.

We arrived ringside just as the steward was putting away the ribbons and the judge was making final notes in his book.

Damn. Too late.

Then the judge looked up. I recognized him (I have shown in a real conformation show under this judge before, and he dismissed my dogs with a single glance). My heart fell to the bottom of my chest. And then this tall gangly man in a funny hat invited us into the ring for our Novice A Obedience trial.

That’s where the dream ended. I have no idea how we did in our dream Obedience trial, whether we qualified or not, whether Cooper stayed by my side or went wandering off, whether he stood still for the Stand for Exam, or stayed put during the Long Sit and Long Down.

Just remembering this dream makes my heart pound a bit.

Fortunately, next weekend, I know where I’m going. I know the building where the Obedience trial will be held, I know my ring time, and I know how long it takes to get there. I think just for peace of mind, I will plan to get there early, and give myself some time to breathe before it’s time to go into the ring.

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I should know this by now. At dog shows, do not argue with the judge. Don’t even appear to argue with the judge. If they say you won or qualified, keep your mouth shut. Just let them give you the win.

The first time I did this was just after the judge awarded Cooper’s first major win in conformation. As the judge was walking over to get the ribbons, I asked, “How did that happen?” My ringmates and some bystanders quickly shushed me.

My second faux pas occurred this weekend. Cooper and I (somehow) qualified in a Novice A Obedience run at the Clackamas KC B-OB match on Saturday. I don’t know how we possibly have qualified, and when the judge said, “You have a qualifying score,” I made the mistake of saying, “Really? We qualified?”

The judge turned to me as she was walking to the table to get the ribbons, “Well, so far…”

Hmm. I could have lost it right there. Note to self: keep your mouth shut in the ring, except to say, “Thank you, judge.”

But really, I don’t see how we could possibly have qualified. I was talking to Cooper the whole time to keep his attention on me and off the lovely, horse-scented, dirt barn floor. And I had to call him back to me when, on an off-leash About Turn, he decided to go straight on, right out of the ring. (He came back.)

But, heck, if the judge wants to give me a pass, I’ll take it. Not that it counts for any points. But it was good practice for next weekend’s real Obedience trial, which is also on a lovely, horse-scented, dirt barn floor.

And I was pleased to see that Cooper maintained his Long Sit and Long Down. No getting up and leaving in the middle. And he moved only one foot during the Stand for Exam. So that was good.

photo by Ron Worley

Since Cooper is not a huge fan of Obedience, I try to always do something fun (fun by Cooper’s definition) right afterward. So this Saturday, he had a small vanilla ice cream and then we went to a state park just 7 minutes away from the match site.

The park’s boat ramp was completely deserted, so Cooper joyfully jumped in and swam out to retrieve his beloved camo Wubba, over and over and over again.

Cooper and camo Wubba on the boat ramp

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It has been so busy for so long — not bad, just busy. Obedience practices, laundry, house cleaning, doing dishes, dog grooming,… oh, and work.

Time for a break.

Today was one of those wonderful October days. Sunny with puffy white clouds. Cool, but not cold. Not raining, not windy, with that spicy smell of autumn. My favorite kind of day.

And one of my favorite places to go is the delta, where there are hundreds of acres where you can walk your dog, leash-free — meadow, river, woods.

I’ve been working so much with Cooper lately that I decided to spend the afternoon with Tooey at the river. Swimming is her very favorite thing to do, and she’s a very strong swimmer. This late in the year, I knew the flow would not be too fast for her.

Unlike Cooper, Tooey doesn’t need a ball, or stick, or any other excuse for a swim. She just goes in and swims.

Such a sweet break in the routine. I hope I get good weather like this again next weekend. I’ll take Cooper, and of course, a ball.

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I am noticing some changes in the relationship between Cooper and Tooey. Don’t know if they’re permanent or temporary:

  • Last weekend at the beach, Tooey began to get to the retrieve object before Cooper. Prior to this, Cooper always, and I mean always, got to the stick, bumper, or ball first.
  • Tooey has been standing back and letting Cooper lick out the mixing bowl or pan, instead of crowding him out like she’s usually done in the past.
  • Since Tooey came back from her being-in-season at Colleen’s, she and Cooper have not been playing as much — no box turns off the couch and a lot less chasing each other around.

Not sure what’s going on.

  • Is it age? Cooper is 4.75 years, and Tooey is 2.75 years.
  • Did something happen with Tooey while she was away?
  • Is Cooper feeling unwell? I do think he’s having a skin reaction to the new food, so we’ll be switching back to the previous food.
  • Is Tooey feeling more self-confident and less need to be pushy?

We’ll just have to see how it goes.


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