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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 his thing today, well, actually, several of his things. Early this morning, he ran around in a park, burning off energy (and I think generating more) as he ran. We’re lucky here in Boise. From November 1st to February 28th, many of the public parks are open to off-leash dogs. The theory is that the dogs will scare off the geese. And right now, the morning temperatures are in the mild mid-40s F, so the grass isn’t frozen and the ponds are not ice. So Carlin and Tooey both ran around to almost their hearts content, on green mowed grass, with nary a grass awn or goat head to bother anyone.

Then, off we went to meet an unofficial subset of a local hunting retriever club. I had met one of their members at the Treasure Valley dog shows several weeks ago, and hearing that we had Irish Water Spaniels who needed a group to train with, she invited us out to train this morning.

Russ was handling Carlin, so I stood out in the field and threw bumpers. I like that job — you can get a good view of all the dogs and how they work. There was quite a variety of breeds represented. Labs, of course, but also a Golden Retriever, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a Flat Coated Retriever, and today, and Irish Water Spaniel.

This is a retriever group, so we worked on marked retrieves and blinds. Fortunately, Carlin has not forgotten all his training during the long months while we were preparing to move, packing, actually  moving, and settling in. He stayed pretty steady at the line (with a reminder or two), and he did a great job of finding his 100 yard blind retrieve. He also did fine on the shorter marks, but got a bit lost on the 120 yard marks — we’ll have to work on those.

One of the fellows in the group brought his camera along, and got a great photo of Carlin running back with a bumper. You can see the kind of cover we were working in, the fact that it wasn’t raining, Carlin’s short field cut, and the intensity in his eyes.

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Carlin returning with his bumper–photo by John Arrington

When everyone was done training, we came home for lunch, a shower, and a bit of re-grouping. Then Carlin and I headed out to the state fairgrounds for his third rally trial. It was a lovely small show put on by the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club. There was Obedience in the morning, with Rally Obedience starting in mid-afternoon. The novice classes always go last, so I didn’t actually have to be there until 3 PM or so. I watched the dogs working at the Excellent level, which is always a treat because you get to see such good work. (I was disappointed that yesterday’s exhibitor in a wheelchair didn’t compete today. Watching her and her dog do both Excellent and Advanced Rally really made my heart happy. They were such a great team, in wonderful harmony with each other.)

Today I hoped Carlin would do better than he did yesterday, and he did! Yesterday, during his second trial, he bested his first qualifying run of 83 with an 87. He was distracted yesterday by this horrible air conditioning system that screamed before it started blowing cool air, and then by a young dog who also screamed at something. Carlin has been a nervous competitor, and these distractions made yesterday’s run a real test of his concentration. He knocked over a sign and sat crooked at some of the Sits and Halts, but he also did a nice job with most of the 270 and 360 degree turns and the serpentines around the cones.

So, with these two qualifying scores, today I was just hoping for something better than an 87. I’d have been happy with an 88, but Russ sent us out the door today, telling Carlin to get a 90.

He kept it together much better with the screaming air conditioner today (I am not exaggerating — I saw people jump every time it came on), and with fewer dogs in the show today, he seemed to be quite a bit calmer. He sat and downed much straighter, and he mentally stayed with me for most of the run. What a good boy — this is hard for him, and he really tried hard.

We beat the 90 Russ told us to get. We ended up with a yellow squeaky toy, a green ribbon for a score of 93, a 4th place ribbon, and an RN title ribbon! I am so proud of my boy, and pleased that we can work together.

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When we were done, I got Carlin a vanilla ice cream cone, and then we headed home to dinner.

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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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Having written this blog for many years makes it possible for me to go back and remember my life with Irish Water Spaniels quite clearly. I’ll look at the current month, but one, two, three, or more years ago. So today, when I looked at October 2011, an entry titled “Another dog show anxiety dream” came up in my search. In that post, I recorded a dream in which I was panicked because I was very late to an obedience trial that Cooper and I were entered in.

Sometimes, in going back and reading the blog, I can make links between something that happened in the past and something that is happening now. Like that post and this weekend.

This Sunday, I stewarded at an obedience trial. Carlin is not ready to show in obedience yet, and I like stewarding. I like helping out and staying connected with other folks. I like watching other dogs’ successes. And I am comforted by witnessing in other dogs’ performances the fact that my dog is not the only one to lose a lot of points for poor heeling, get distracted by loud noises or dogs barking, or forget to sit at the finish of an exercise.

We were about half way through the Utility class, and dog #406 hadn’t checked in yet. But just as dog #405 was just finishing, and the gate steward was lifting her hand to mark #406 absent, dog #406’s handler walked into the building.

The judge had already decided not to take dogs out of order since, as a one-ring trial, there would be no ring conflicts. So if the handler and her dog were going to run, they had to do it right then. The gate steward saw her and called to the handler to say that she was next in the ring, while I went over to get her dumbbell from her. Of course, the handler was shocked. She said we must have started early, but we hadn’t. She’d just gotten her times mixed up. But she pulled herself together, put her dog on a leash, and into the ring they walked.

Several of us stewards were all pulling for her. We speculated that maybe arriving at the last moment had not given her time to develop ring nerves. We wanted her and her dog to succeed, to triumph over adversity.

But they failed. The dog just did not meet the requirements to qualify. Who knows why. Perhaps it was that neither handler nor dog was warmed up and ready to run. Or maybe they would have failed in any case.

I knew the panic that poor handler was feeling, because I’d felt it in my dream. I admired her for choosing to run anyway, for giving it a shot. And like I did when I woke up from my dream four years ago and again yesterday, I bet she vowed never to be late to a trial again.

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One of my (many) fondest memories with Cooper is the one Rally trial where he and I were totally in sync. He was with me every step of the way, and it showed in the fact that we earned both Rally High in Trial and Rally High Combined.

His other RAE scores mostly good, in the low 90s and high 80s, and I think a couple were (somewhat embarrassingly) in the 70s.

But one thing that made getting his RAE remarkable was that he got 9 out of the 10 required legs all in one year.

This turned out to be the most of any IWS for 2014. Thank you to the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America for recognizing our achievement with this certificate:

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The AKC sent me an email. Either one or two people (it’s not clear if the email is from Steve or Lisa — but no matter) in the AKC Companion Events department sent me an email. It’s an invitation. And even though I can’t accept the invitation, I am still thrilled to get it.

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If you go to the website in their email, you can navigate to the Eligibility Information to see what Cooper had to have achieved in order to get this invitation to compete in the Rally Advanced Excellent (RAE) class. During the qualification period (12/1/2013 to 11/30/2014), Cooper had to have earned:

  • A confirmed Rally Advanced Excellent (RAE) title (He did that on 10/26/2014.)
  • Three scores of 95 or more points (He actually got five scores of 95 or more.)
  • At least five double qualifying scores from the Advanced B and Excellent B rally classes (He got nine double qualifying scores during the qualification period.)

What a dog my Cooper is, and what a team we made.

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Last Saturday, I played judge for a Rally match at my dog obedience training club. It was fun. I enjoyed choosing and setting up the courses, running the people and their dogs through them, watching for errors where I might take off points if I were a real judge at a real trial, all to help my fellow club members improve their and their dog’s performance.

I discovered that I naturally see certain things, like inefficient or incorrect footwork on the part of the person, or the dog’s sitting at an angle at the Halts, rather than sitting parallel to the person. I saw incorrectly done stations and missed stations. But I realized later that I  hadn’t really noticed out-of-position heeling — as long as the dog was not really lagging for forging, as going along pretty much next to the person, I didn’t really see if the dog’s neck was right next to the person’s pants seam or not. Interesting…

But what I did gain was a pronounced appreciation for real judges. For their ability to stay focused, observe closely, treat every body with respect and kindness, all while standing on hard floors, for hours.

Thank you, judges.

I didn’t judge the whole time. In each of the courses, I took a few moments to run one of my dogs: Cooper in Excellent, Tooey in Advanced, and Carlin in Novice (sort of).

Each dog had a different experience:

  • Cooper: “Hah! I already have my RAE title. I don’t have to do this anymore. Except the jumps. I like the jumps. Let’s do that jump again!”
  • Tooey: “You really want to do this? You do? Really? Oh… okay…. But there will be food in the ring, right?”
  • Carlin: “Wow! Look at all these dogs! Smell all those treats! What are all those cones and signs all over the floor? Oh, you want some heeling? Ok, I can give you three steps. 1, 2, … Oh! Look at that puppy over there! Let’s go say hi!”

We all came home tired and ready for a nap.

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