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Archive for the ‘dog shows / conformation’ Category

Every dream turned into a goal involves a journey laden with setbacks, disappointments and milestones. There is joy in that journey. Guard that joy well so that in the end you rightly celebrate the accomplishment as well as the memories of the trip.

That’s from an article “The Joy Stealers” by Connie Cleveland. In the article, she talks about the comments we make that diminish another’s dream or accomplishment, whether out of thoughtlessness, misplaced kindness, or malice. And in one tiny sentence, she mentions that sometimes we can steal our own joy.

I think that’s what I’m doing in the back of my mind.

My first two Irish Water Spaniels were All-Around IWS. That’s an award given to Irish Water Spaniels that get titles in AKC retriever hunt tests, obedience, and conformation.  I worked hard for those titles, and fortunately, I had two dogs who agreed to go along with me (as well as a lot of help from other dog folks).

With Cooper, my first IWS, I wanted to achieve all that because I wanted to make his breeder proud of us, and because I could see that he had all the talent, work ethic, and beauty to achieve it. He loved retriever work, kind of got a kick out of obedience from time to time, and tolerated conformation because he loved me.

With Tooey, I thought I could do it again, and we did. She loved conformation, even though, being English, she didn’t look like the other American IWS girls. So that title took awhile. Retriever hunt tests took even longer — only when Russ decided to make it fun for her in the field, did she finally get that title. Obedience was OK, so long as the judge was a woman with a gentle touch, and not some big guy with a floppy coat.

So both of them got their All-Arounds. And now I have Carlin, who has all the beauty, brains, and work ethic that Cooper had, and he has a retriever title. So, all I need to get is the conformation championship and the obedience title, right?

Well, maybe not.

Carlin has issues. Ever since he was viciously attacked out of nowhere and injured by a dog twice his size, he has been deeply suspicious of other dogs he doesn’t know. Which, in a conformation ring or at an obedience trial, is just about every dog. He lunges and barks at them, and it raises my stress levels every time. I put a lot of effort and thought into keeping him safe, and those efforts are distracting when you’re trying to remember the Obedience rules or struggling to help your dog stay calm in the conformation ring. I’m sure some very intuitive person with excellent handling skills and a lot of dog knowledge could pull it off, but I don’t think I’m that person. And I haven’t found the person who can take him on without my sending Carlin away and spending a lot of money.

So. I may have to give up that dream. And the thought of Carlin’s not getting an All-Around like Cooper and Tooey fills me with regret.

And I think my own regret might be stealing at least some of the joy I could be feeling about Carlin’s considerable accomplishments:

  • A Master Hunter Upland Advanced title. It took 18 increasingly difficult spaniel hunt test passes and years of training to get that title.
  • A Rally Novice title. He loves doing the Rally exercises, but not the dog-filled environment. We got that title by concentrating on small shows with relatively few dogs and one ring. And he was on leash the whole time. And I kept him either busy or in the car, so he never had very many moments in a row to worry about other dogs.
  • A Coursing Ability title. That was not work — it was all fun. Just the joy of watching my dog run alone at top speed for 600 yards, and loving every second.
  • A retriever Junior Hunter title. That one was work, and a lot of training, and involved several failures. There were parts he loved (swimming and running), and parts he didn’t like so much (ducks). But we did it. When we passed that last test, I cried and hugged the judges. (They were very nice about it.)
  • A lot of very fast progress in Scentwork in just a few months. He loves the game, is very methodical in his searches for odor, and almost always finds it. If there’s a weak link, it’s me.

Really, when I look at that list, it’s kind of amazing. It’s a lot to rightly celebrate. And my trip with Carlin is not over yet.

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Carlin did okay at the Irish Water Spaniel Club of Puget Sound’s regional specialty.

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Carlin with his prizes for Reserve Winner’s Dog and a qualifying score in Rally Novice B (IWSCOPS Specialty), and another Reserve Winner’s Dog (Sammamish KC)

By the time we got to Bothell on Saturday, it had cooled off to a humid high-70s F. Not bad. Not nearly as bad as last Saturday’s hunt test. So that was a good start.

Our first event was Rally Novice. I’ve been in Rally ring many times, but not for a couple of years, but Carlin had seen a full course of rally signs only once, last Tuesday. The good thing was that this event was being held in the daycare building of the Academy of Canine Behavior, and Carlin had been in there working around other dogs last winter. So the space wasn’t strange. And many of the other people competing were trainers he’d worked with while at the Academy, so they were only mildly strange.

But still, I can be a worrier, so I worried. Carlin has not completely recovered from his being attacked, and he can become upset and afraid when he’s on a leash and being approached too close by another dog. There was lots of room, so I just kept him out of the way of the other dogs, and fed him lots of treats and praise and scratches under the chin when he paid attention to me and not to all the other dogs.

When it was our turn, I rushed him on a close leash into the ring, completed the course very quickly, and then rushed out. I don’t remember much about the run, except that I consciously decided not to repeat one station that I knew we’d done badly on, and that I had to pull Carlin’s attention back to me several times. I didn’t even have a sense of whether we’d qualified or not — I had to ask Kim later to check whether we had qualified. We did, with an 83, and he surprised and pleased me by doing a very polite job of sitting next to me while ribbons were handed out to the cluster of qualifiers.

Conformation was next, much later in the day. In the meantime, Colleen, bless her, transformed my rough grooming job in to a beautiful sculpture of an IWS. Carlin looked great. Once in the ring, he moved beautifully, but I couldn’t get him to stack well for the judge. Everyone could see that the judge seriously considered Carlin, but his unwillingness/inability to hold a stack for more than 2 seconds did us in. So instead of Winner’s Dog, Carlin took home second place, Reserve Winner’s Dog.

But I was honored and pleased that two well-respected IWS breeders asked to examine Carlin. They had heard, and then seen for themselves, how beautifully he moves, and I think both were impressed with his two recent master-level spaniel hunt test passes, too.

The next day at the Sammamish KC dog show, Carlin got another RWD. This was a tougher show for him. Way more strange dogs getting too close. I tried to keep him back and away from the other dogs, but one got that one inch too close, and Carlin growled loudly and got ready to lunge. I intercepted him in time, but not in time to prevent him from making a spectacle of himself. It was really remarkable, how all the people turned their backs to me after that. Perhaps they were just giving me some privacy; perhaps they were excluding me; or perhaps something in the middle.

So on top of that excitement, the ring was relatively small and the ground very uneven. Even though Carlin did a much better job of stacking this time, I couldn’t really get him into his most beautiful gait. And plus, I’d shown under this job before — she didn’t give the nod to Cooper, either, and Carlin is built much like Cooper was.

But still, there was improvement, so I was pleased. We hopped into the car, stopped briefly to have a nice lunch with Tammy and Steve, and then took the long drive home.

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Carlin’s been in only a few conformation dog shows. I showed him when he was quite a young puppy, and again several months later. He has 1 point, won when Marty showed him up in Seattle a couple of months after that. But other than these, I haven’t shown him for two reasons: his skin/coat and his attitude.

The skin/coat issues started early. Carlin had no coat on his tail or throat when we got him, and then he suffered a series of skin infections that made his coat even worse. At one point, he had no coat at all on the back of his thighs, chest, stomach, throat and tail.

Now his chest and stomach coat, as well on his tail, is starting to come in. He still has little coat on his throat, and big bare patches on the backs of this thighs. Judges at three different shows have asked me about his coat, while today’s judge opined that Carlin must be bare on his thighs because “he’s been doing a little self grooming.” (The dog who won Winner’s Dog today, as well as Best of Breed, has a beautiful coat and was well handled by a pro.)

So. Coat not great.

But his attitude was good. He showed well, was friendly to the judge, didn’t do any hopping and leaping, and basically ignored the other dogs while they were in the ring. I was so pleased.

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Carlin says hi to the judge

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Carlin gaiting beautifully, nice reach and drive

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Carlin showing off his butt

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Coming back on the up and back

We made some smart moves that helped him, I think, and chance did us a favor as well.

Our show time was 8 AM, which is usually killer for Irish Water Spaniels. There is a lot of grooming to do, fluffing up the legs, doing last minute trimming, wiping down any unsavory accidents that may have occurred, etc. But 8 AM also means that the venue won’t be at it’s most crowded, so it’s more likely you can maneuver around enough to get in and out without having to come face to face with any other dogs.

Carlin has never loved that, coming face to face with another dog while he’s leashed. That was made much worse when, while Carlin was leashed and walking on a city sidewalk, he was ambushed by a Malamute twice Carlin’s size. The Malamute charged down a driveway and attacked Carlin, wounding him and scaring him half out his mind. With that, being leashed in the presence of other dogs became unbearable, and Carlin would lunge and growl at almost any oncoming dog. We sent Carlin off the the Academy of Canine Behavior last January to see if they could help him. While there, he improved quite a lot, and our management of situations while he’s leashed has also improved.

One trick we tried this weekend was giving Carlin a stuffed toy to hold while he’s leashed. I got that idea from a neighbor whose dog (named Chowder, god help us) carried around a stuffed animal on their walks. So today (and yesterday at the dog wash), Carlin held on to his own stuffed hedgehog until he went into the ring.

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Carlin with his hedgehog

Once in there, he seemed to know just what to do (thank you, Marty and Kay), and he behaved himself beautifully. He won his class, but then didn’t get the point. That’s OK. I’ll take my successes where I can get them.

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And we have the paper to prove it!

You can read about her CGC test in an earlier post. It was part of the 2016 IWSCA National Specialty fun, and we both did great.

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Many years ago, I went through the CGC test with Cooper. But I’ve been avoiding it with Tooey for years now because she often take an inexplicable dislike for some dogs. I know some of the kinds of dogs she doesn’t like: dogs with pushed-in faces and pushy bitches. But I can’t always predict which dogs she’ll like and which she won’t. So I’ve been avoiding CGC tests because participants can’t predict or control which kind of dog their dog will encounter during the test.

imageOn the other hand, the chairwoman of this year’s IWSCA National Specialty encouraged me to enter. And Tooey is usually on her best behavior at Irish Water Spaniel events. As another IWS person said, IWS know their own. So I entered, and we lucked out. The dog she tested with was the mellow, veteran IWS boy, Presley, whom she ignored and who politely ignored her. And because of that and her past training, Tooey earned her Canine Good Citizen ribbon.

If you’re not familiar with the test, here is a recap:

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger

Tooey sat politely when I asked her to, and stayed sitting while the evaluator, playing the “friendly stranger,” approached from the side. Tooey ignored her. Tooey was busy watching prairie dog holes, waiting for a rodent head to pop out.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting

And she stayed sitting while the woman petted her topknot briefly. Tooey was still watching for prairie dogs.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming

Tooey is quite practiced at this, having let many, many people brush her over the years. She just sat there and let her ears be looked at, a brush be run down her back, and her front feet picked up. She did briefly look at the evaluator to assess what was going on, but then went back to watching for prairie dogs.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)

This one was easy. I gave Tooey the “right here” command (our version of a loose heel), and she walked right with me: forward, right turn, left turn, about turn, and stop.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place

Tooey did this perfectly. She sat and downed just wonderfully. Then, I put her in a Sit and Wait, and walked the 20 feet away. When I turned around to come back, he was sitting there, straight and proud, just like the princess she is.

Test 7: Coming when called

I again put Tooey in a Sit and Wait and walked 10 feet away. I turned around to see that proud princess pose again, and when I called her, she trotted directly to me. Not into front position as in obedience competitions, but that’s not required. I think by now the prairie dogs were temporarily forgotten.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog

This is the exercise because of which I’ve been avoiding the test for Tooey. Walking in control around other dogs is not predictably easy. In this test, we had to walk up next to another person/dog team, then have Tooey sit and ignore both the other dog and the other person, me shake hands with the person, and then both teams walk on. Presley was very calm, as I expected. That probably calmed me down as well.

Normally, participants don’t get to pick their test dog, but Presley was handy, so I (strongly) suggested him. He was perfect. (Thank you, Jill, for volunteering for Tooey’s test.)

Test 5: Walking through a crowd and Test 9: Reaction to distraction

For these tests, which were combined, there were four people: one in a wheelchair, one walking with a cane, one walking with a walker, and one walking around holding two stainless steel bowls. As they milled around, Tooey and I walked around in the group. She jumped just very slightly when the two bowls came crashing down, making a noise, but behaved quite calmly otherwise.

Test 10: Supervised separation

Tooey did this beautifully. I took her over to the volunteer, and told Tooey “Here’s a friend”, “Wait”, and “I’ll be back”. For years, whenever I have to leave the dogs, I’ve been saying, “I’ll be back”, and then, I always come back. So for this test, when I walked away out of sight, Tooey knew I’d be back. I had to stay out of her sight for 3 very long minutes. The volunteer told me that Tooey just sat there perfectly, not even moving a foot.

I showered Tooey with praise, and after picking up our ribbon, we ran off to get Tooey some treats. And then I let her take me on-leash prairie dog hunting again.

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I love walking outdoors, and my dogs love to work. And those are two of the major reasons I like hunt tests and hunting. They are all excuses to be outdoors, watching my dogs do the thing they love.

As much as the dogs and I love working outdoors, it’s not always safe for the dogs. And I’m not talking about the big dramatic things, like getting lost, falling down a bank, or running into a trap. And I’m not talking about the annoying but not dangerous collection of burrs and twigs in the coat. I’m talking about little insidious things. Like seeds. Like grass awns. Like splinters of cactus spines.

Before today, we already knew a little something about this. You might remember that Cooper got a seed trapped under a third eyelid while doing a summertime hunting demonstration, causing the whole area around the eye to swell, grow painful, and become inflamed and weepy. When he got home that day, we’d done the best job we could, carefully searching out and removing all the seeds we could find from his eyes, ears, feet, and anus. But even with our best efforts, Cooper still had to go to the vet for treatment.

Today Carlin joined the ranks of dogs who go to the vet after hunting.

We’re not sure what the nasty small thing that got Carlin was because, whatever it was, it was either already gone or too small to see. But it was something sharp and nasty, like a grass awn or a cactus splinter, something he would have encountered in California at the hunt test or Colorado while hunting. It burrowed its way into the skin between two toes, and then, based on what the vet saw, it traveled halfway up the paw and then straight down, stopping just short of coming out between two pads at the bottom of his foot.

The vet opened the track left by the debris, and flushed it out several times. Now Carlin is home, recuperating. We’re in for a week of foot soaks, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory meds, but that’s OK.

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See? I have an owie, but the vet cleaned it up really nice

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Getting my foot soaked is not so bad. I get lots of treats!

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I am being a very good boy. I lick my foot just a little bit. The vet says that’s OK because it keeps the wound open. Good vet!

Carlin doesn’t seem too unhappy. He’d been sedated, so he was a bit loopy when he came home. But he’s not licking the wound excessively, he’s not limping, and he’ll let me touch it, so I think maybe we’re going to be OK.

My friend Sharon advised me to make some changes to my grooming routine when I go hunting in dry areas, where grass awns and seeds abound. She suggested I trim the fur out from between his toes. Apparently, grass awns and other debris hook onto the fur, and that gives them the traction they need to propel themselves into the skin. If I’m very careful, she says, if I use a very small scissors, I can trim the coat from just between the toes and still leave enough coat on the top of the toes to keep him decent looking enough for a conformation dog show.

I’ll give it a try, but I wonder — maybe Carlin doesn’t want to be a show dog. First he gets a series of skin infections that makes him drop his fur. Then, after that has finally grown out again into a beautiful show-worthy coat, he rolls himself in a field of burrs in Montana in October, requiring a very, very short all-over clip to get them all out. And now, just when I think he might be barely presentable in January, he gets into something sharp and nasty, requiring a foot shave.

I guess I could stop taking him hunting… Nah!

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The July 2015 issue of the AKC Gazette is out, and, lo and behold, my breed column, “Codes of Conduct Help Us Help Ourselves” is on page 34.

To see it on the AKC website, click the link and then scroll your way through the PDF until you get to page 34. Or you can read the article here, by clicking on the magazine’s cover below:

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Cover, July 2015 AKC Gazette

This is an odd time for this Gazette article to come out, in a way. I know that very soon, the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America will propose a final draft of its Code of Ethics its members. I have made what I hope are constructive comments about the drafts that have been sent out for review by the membership.

I really hope that it will be a Code that I can agree with and adhere to. Because I know that codes and rules and guidelines really can help when they’re well designed and executed fairly.

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One of the delightful aspects of both working with dogs and dog people and being a photographer is that I get to share my combined interests in many ways. After an article that I wrote and photographed was published last winter in the German magazine, Der JagdSpaniel, it was read by an Italian spaniel enthusiast. Elaine just happens to be the secretary of the Italian Spaniel Club, and she was looking for some photographs of an Irish Water Spaniel.

As we all know, this is a rare breed, but they may actually be non-existent in Italy, and there is a subsequent shortage of IWS images to choose from. Elaine was hoping I could supply a photograph for their club booth at the 2015 World Dog Show in Milan (June 10-14, 2015). So I sent her a variety to choose from: images of our 3 dogs, plus a number of our friends’ dogs here in the Pacific Northwest.

Now, if I were to guess which image they would choose, my money would be on Ms. Tooey. She has graced the center spread of Gun Dog Magazine, had her portrait in Ducks Unlimited Magazine, and appeared on the title page of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s book Irish Water Spaniels in Art. (Yes, I am her stage mom.) She is quite strikingly photogenic and makes the breed proud with her visage.

But no. They liked a puppy portrait of Mr. Carlin that I made when he was just 21 weeks old.

Carlin at age 5 months

Carlin at age 5 months

Well, I guess if you are going to enter the family business of being a model for Russ, debuting in Milan is a good start.

Club Italiano Spaniel booth, World Dog Show, Milan, 2015

Club Italiano Spaniel booth, World Dog Show, Milan, 2015
photo by Elaine Narduzzo

The family tradition continues . . . .

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I did something today that I’ve wanted to do for a while, but didn’t have the conviction necessary to do it. Until today. This afternoon, I gave Carlin a very short “field dog” all over, including the topknot and ears. He looks like the other two did a month ago, and I hope he’s much more comfortable.

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Russ with Tooey, Carlin, and Cooper in their field dog cuts.

Carlin has been dealing with some health issue. We’re still not sure exactly what is going on (and we’ve been through many vets trying to figure it out), but one of its manifestations is that he feels hot all the time.

He doesn’t have a temperature, but his breath is hot, his skin is hot, and pads of his feet are hot. He radiates heat. He pants much more than the the other two dogs, dries himself out panting, and then drinks a lot of water. He seeks out the coolest places he can find, like the bathroom tile floor and the dirt under the deck. And to top all that off, now in Portland, the weather is hot (in the upper 80s and lower 90s F).

Poor dog.

So, I today I took his coat down to about 3/4″ all over. All that lovely leg, topknot, and ear coat is gone. I feel relieved for him — I hope it helps him stay a bit cooler. And just touching him now, as he lies next to me as I write, his body does feel a bit cooler.

But for myself, I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve let down the people who helped me over many months shape his coat into something that would impress a judge in the conformation ring. Soon I’m going to have to call his conformation handler, who had promised to show him in the big shows in August, and tell him that Carlin won’t be able to show. And I can’t forget what a more experienced IWS person told me many years ago when I wanted to clip Cooper. She said, “You have a coated dog, and there are certain responsibilities that go along with that.” So in cutting Carlin down, it almost feels like I’m letting the whole Irish Water Spaniel breed down.

Which is ridiculous. Lots of people keep their IWS cut short, and they don’t feel guilty. There is no logical reason why I can’t do so, too.

True, it will take a long time to grow out his topknot, ears, and leg coat. He for sure won’t be ready for the August shows, and he may not even be grown out enough for the January 2016 shows. But that’s OK. It will grow eventually.

But even so, it appears that I’ve internalized some standard that is lovely in the ideal and necessary for a show dog, but just isn’t the best thing for Carlin right now. And somehow or another, I’ll just have to reconcile myself to what is right in front of me, right now. And do what I need to do to keep my dog as happy and comfortable as possible.

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Well, the Gun Bitch trophy going on to the next person — to recognize the #1 Gun Bitch at this year’s IWSCA National Specialty.

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Tooey won it last year for being the most beautiful bitch with a hunt test title, but now it was time to send the trophy on. Before we shipped the it to the awards committee, though, we put Tooey’s plaque on the back. As long as someone has this trophy, Tooey’s name will live on.

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Tooey has been a wonderful dog, a beautiful girl and a great hunter. Russ and I have been so pleased that she lives and works with us.

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This weekend, I took a gamble, and it paid off: Carlin got his first point in the conformation ring (taking Winner’s Dog and Best of Winners today at the Seattle Kennel Club show).

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My gamble? I sent Carlin off to Seattle to be shown by pro handler. This isn’t something I’ve done much in the past. I used pro handlers for several shows when Cooper was young, but after that, I showed both Cooper and Tooey myself. But truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy it until after they had their championships, and winning points no longer mattered to me.

In choosing Marty, I think I chose well. I’d seen him handle several other IWS (including one other idiot male), and I watched him win Tooey over one evening in a motel room by mostly ignoring her and surreptitiously giving her treats.

I didn’t get to see Carlin win — I was instructed to stay home so Marty could bond with Carlin over the weekend. But Marty did take some some snapshots during the weekend:

Ummm…. Carlin. It’s time to wake up! — photo by Marty Glover

Come on, buddy. It’ll be fine. You’ll do great! — photo by Marty Glover

See? I’m a real show dog. I have blue wrap on my ears! — photo by Marty Glover

I'm gonna do good today!

I’m gonna do good today! — photo by Marty Glover

And I got texts telling me what a beautiful boy Carlin is, how pretty he is to watch move, and what a force he’ll be when his coat comes in fully. Marty reported also that other handlers and owners complimented Carlin highly. And I even got a text telling me what a good choice of handlers I’d made.

Staying home did have its benefits. Russ and I were able to spend some quality time with the two older dogs, who firmly believe that they are being neglected in favor of that twerp of a puppy. Saturday was sunny and warm, so we took them to some local training grounds where we threw bumpers onto land and into ponds for the two to retrieve. Cooper also practiced some land blinds, and Tooey got another lesson in taking direction via hand signals (also called handling).

And then this morning, we slept in, had a leisurely walk in the sun, and then spent the rest of the day puttering around the house, fixing little things. It’s been good, and I’ll be glad to have Carlin home again.

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This was the scene almost immediately after Carlin’s most recent circuit in the show ring today.

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Chasing a ball, through puddles and mud, out in the sun — a nice reward for a job well done.

And Carlin did do a nice job in the ring. On his second time around, he gaited beautifully around the ring (the first time, he galloped). And he stood still (mostly) when the judge came over to examine him, instead of backing away like he did on Saturday. And his up-and-back was smooth and easy, with a nice stand in front of the judge to top it off.

Even so, he got third in his class of three puppy dogs, aged 9 to 12 months. Even though I hoped for better, I expected something of the sort, as Carlin is still recovering from a series of bacterial and fungal skin infections that made much of his coat fall out. At its worst, a couple of months ago, he had no coat on his belly, no coat on his neck, no coat on his tail, no coat on the back of his thighs down to the hocks, and very sparse coat on the outside of his thighs. Now he looks much better, sort of like he’s been trimmed to a field cut.

But you know, sometimes very nice things happen in the show ring, even when you don’t win. In this case, the judge stopped me as I was leaving the ring. He told me that Carlin had the best reach and drive of all three pups, with a lot of power in his back end. And then he asked, “What happened to his coat?” So I told him, and he said, “Well, when that coat comes back, you’ll have no trouble at all.”

Judges so rarely say anything one way or the other about the dogs, that when I left the ring, I was surrounded by folks who wanted to know, “What did he say?” It was so nice to be able to share with them the nice compliment the judge had given me — sharing it made it even better somehow.

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Russ showed Carlin in his first two conformation shows this last weekend at the Vancouver Kennel Club shows. They’re both newbies, but they both did a great job. Carlin, especially, had a good time. And he’s did pretty well, letting the judge examine him and mostly not bouncing on his way around the ring.

See for yourself.

Here they are in the Best of Breed ring on Saturday:

And here they are on Sunday, first in the Puppy 6 to 9 month class:

And again in the Best of Breed ring:

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About 3/4 of the way through this IWSCOPS specialty weekend, I had thought to begin this post by saying that this has been the kind of dog show where, when asked how it was, you’re supposed to say, “We had fun.” Deciphered, that often means that you didn’t do well at the show. Some people do actually mean that they had fun, but it’s often more like, when you feel like crap, and are asked “how are you?”, you say “fine.” So — we had fun.

But actually, by the time the show was over, discouragement turned to relief and happiness, and I realized that some things did go really well. So let’s start with that.

One of the puppies from Tooey’s first litter, Pax (the former Mr. Red), took Winner’s Dog in both the Friday and Saturday conformation shows (both major wins), under two different judges and with two different handlers. Next, Bold (the former Mr. Green) won Best of Opposite Sex on Saturday, against some stiff competition. He is well on his way to a Grand Championship, and I couldn’t be prouder of his 18-year-old handler.

And then we did actually have some fun, too. Like Cooper and Tooey before him, Carlin, at 5-1/2 months old, retrieved his pigeon (you can read about how that part of the event is run in the posts about Cooper and Tooey), so he got to compete in the Bird Dog conformation match on Friday. Carlin took second after his brother Decoy in the puppy class, but the best part was that he qualified to enter the match at all. To do that, he had to go out about 15 yards, pick up a pigeon and bring it back. He went out fine, found the pigeon right away, and poked it with his nose a few times. I started backing up and calling him, so he picked up his pigeon and ran back to me with it.

In Saturday’s Pee Wee Puppies conformation match, Carlin again took 2nd to his brother. In both events, I got some compliments on my dog and how he was groomed, the inevitable advice about how I should do this thing or that differently, and comments from several people saying that they would have given my dog the nod over his brother. Plus, Carlin wagged his tail the whole time while getting treats and running around in circles.

But the very best part of the Specialty this year was that Cooper’s brain came back into his head just in time to run in Team Rally. Even up to moments before we ran, I was urging the the team captain to use one of the alternates because Cooper had done so poorly in Rally both Friday and Saturday.

On Friday, he’d qualified in the Excellent run, but then NQ’d in the Advanced run because he refused to sit. Half the stations required sits, so there was no way we could qualify. Then on Saturday, he walked out of the ring in the middle of the Excellent run, and even though his body returned, his brain just didn’t. It was as if he was on an entirely different planet from me, so I pulled him from the Advanced run altogether.

I felt dispirited and discouraged, and in the light of Cooper’s troubles, Carlin’s taking 2nd in his two events just felt like defeats. And I was afraid that I would feel worse if Cooper couldn’t or wouldn’t do it in Team Rally. I just couldn’t face letting down the team, too.

Renae, however, refused to let me quit. As far as she was concerned, I had to enter, and I had to go in first and just do it.

So I did. And thanks to the saint of lost dog brains, so did Cooper.

All of a sudden, he was right with me. He sat briskly when asked, heeled right next to me. Came to front, went around, stayed when required, and just generally played the game with me like we were a team. I had my dog back!

I was so happy that my brain temporarily left the building, and I missed one entire station. Fortunately, in Team Rally, missing a station just results in lost points. (If it had been regular Rally, I’d have NQ’d for that.) That mistake bumped us down to 3rd place instead of 2nd, but while my teammates were astonished at my error, no one was angry. And I was happy. I had my Cooper back and we were a team again.

Later, after I got home from the show, I got some more good news. Today, with his third show this weekend, Pax* got his AKC championship. This is especially wonderful because he’s the third of Tooey’s puppies to become champions, after Sorcha** (Ms. Yellow) and Bold*** (Mr. Green), making Tooey an Outstanding Producer. Pax did it under all different judges with different handlers, in a sweep of major wins in just a few short months — first in the IWSCA Specialty in Utah in April and then three shows in a row this weekend — two at the IWSCOPS specialty and a third at the Sammamish Kennel Club show.

What a weekend!

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* Pax — Am CH/Can CH Whistle Stop’s Not Me, ‘Pax’ Did It RN

** Sorcha — Am CH/Aus CH Whistle Stop Mine to Keep at Tirriki

*** Bold — CH Whistle Stop’s Bring It On

 

 

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At the 2014 IWSCA National Specialty, I participated in a conversation that unfortunately morphed into an incident, and I’ve been thinking for quite a while about how to write about it. When I came across a blog post by one of my favorite writers about dogs, I knew I had my opening.

PEOPLE ARE ANIMALS TOO. Remember the value of positive reinforcement? I’m often amazed at how quickly people forget to use PR as soon as they… start talking with a member of their own species… If you want to say something to someone about their [dog], you darn well better start with something good… I learned early on how defensive people can be about their dog.

From Trisha’s Blog (The Other End of the Leash website by Patricia McConnell – http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/how-to-talk-to-other-dog-owners)

So here’s what happened at the Specialty (* some of this I heard second hand)

  • While waiting our turns in the Rally ring on Monday morning, and friend (Friend) and I both noticed a dog across the room. This dog had very straight stifles (sort of equivalent to the human knee), not curved as they should be. This gave the dog a very stiff-looking gait in the rear. It looked painful, and seeing this, my friend observed, “Watching that dog walk makes me hurt.”
  • (*) The sister of the dog’s owner was passing by, and overheard our comments. She reported to her sister (Owner) that Friend had said, “That dog makes me want to hurl.”
  • A few minutes later, I walked up to Owner, and offered unsolicited advice about trying chiropractic for her dog, saying that chiropractic had helped my dog a lot when he’d hurt his back.
  • Tuesday night, after the last specialty event was over and people were pulling out of the parking lot, another club member (Member) approached Friend as she and I were just leaving, and scolded her for insulting the dog, saying that Owner had been so upset that she chose not to come to any more of the specialty events and was thinking about quitting the club. Friend tried to explain that she had not said what had been reported, nor had she meant any offense, and that had she been given the chance to explain and apologize in person, she certainly would have. Friend also asked for, and did not receive, Owner’s name or contact information.
  • Late that night, I spoke privately to Member. We explained to each other what we’d each done and why. Since I didn’t know Owner’s name, I also asked Member to give Owner my email address and phone number, so that I could apologize also to Owner for giving unsolicited advice. (I don’t know if my contact info was passed on or not.)
  • (*) Days later, Owner complained to the IWSCA’s President about Friend.
  • (*) About the same time, Friend independently contacted the IWSCA’s President, explained the situation, and said she would be happy to apologize if given Owner’s name and contact information. The president supplied that info, and Friend sent Owner an email explaining and apologizing.
  • (*) Owner replied, acknowledging the apology.

So sad, all this hurt and anger. And none of it had to happen.

But it did. And why? Because we all forgot about the power of positive reinforcement. None of us thought to start out our comments with something good and positive.

We also forgot something else. National specialty dog shows, even more than regular dog shows, are fraught events. As a dog trainer might put it, we spend a lot of time at specialties being “over threshold”. Not only are we generally defensive about our dogs, at specialties, we are also frequently nervous, envious, anxious, and generally hypersensitive.

This situation makes it even more important that we be careful to not only start out with the positive, but perhaps even to stay with just the positive.

So how could this all have been different? There were lots of chances to make it better, and all of us involved missed them.

  • Both Friend and I could have said nothing at all in public that was even remotely less than positive about any dog. Or in this particular situation, we could have simply approached Owner, introduced ourselves, and just said something nice about her dog.
  • Owner’s sister could have checked with Friend to make sure she really heard what she thought she heard.
  • Owner could have approached Friend directly, explained how hurt she was, and asked for an apology.
  • As soon as I noticed Member approaching us in the parking lot, I could have turned to greet her warmly to start our conversation on a positive note.
  • Member could have asked for an explanation of Friend’s comments about Owner’s dog, rather than starting out with a scolding.
  • Member could have introduced Owner to Friend directly, either in person or via email/phone, and urged a conversation.

Now, I don’t want to imply that the Specialty was all like this incident. It wasn’t. If you’ve read my previous posts about the specialty Obedience and Rally trials and the conformation show, then you’ll know that it was also filled with fun, generosity, and kindness.

It’s just that those positive qualities can so easily be overshadowed by incidents like this, and it’s up to us to practice on our fellow humans what we have learned from our dogs: positive reinforcements works.

 

Notes:

  • Others who participated in, witnessed, or heard about this incident may remember it differently. They (and all of you) are welcome to comment on this post — I just hope that when commenting, you take my (and Patricia McConnell’s) observations to heart.
  •  If Patricia McConnell’s work doesn’t convince you, take a look at Amy Sutherland’s article “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage” (New York Times,  June 25, 2006) and her book, What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage.

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