I don’t claim to be a world renowned dog trainer or have umpteen years in training dogs (though I’d like to think I’m pretty good and always willing to try something new…). The reality of the matter is I’ve only had a passing interest in canine sports in the last seven-ish years or so. I’ve done my share of pet obedience prior to that and always had easy dog … one that was compliant and had no real issues to speak of. That all changed six years ago when I was given Ryker.
Ryker started off as an easy dog. He got along with everyone. He has drive in spades. He enjoyed learning and being challenged with new tasks and goals. He is also dog aggressive/reactive. For anyone who’s ever had to deal with this issue, they know what a challenge it is doing competitive sports that involve being in close proximity to another dog. The worry that passes through you when you’re training – especially in off leash scenarios with a dog that is relatively reactive can be excruciatingly nerve wracking.
For years I was terrified to compete in competitive obedience with Ryker because I was worried he’d go after another dog. We trained and socialized and then trained some more. I was never quite comfortable enough to take the plunge into obedience. It caused me to falter on more than one occasion. I would fall up short when working with dogs that he was comfortable around because they’d get too close and I would tense up and then he would react.
The reality was becoming more and more apparent that it wasn’t so much a dog problem. It was a handler problem. I was the issue. My body language and reactions set him up to fail when he knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing. After all, we’d done this all for years and he was a pro at this and so was I.
With the help of some very close people in my life (you guys know who you are), I finally gave in and we attempted our first leg to obtaining his United Companion Dog (AKC Companion Dog equivalent). We NQ’d during the off leash heeling pattern. Why? Well, a previous dog who’d run the course before us had hiked his leg on a pole and having an intact, domineering brat of a dog…well, Ryker had to follow suit and let that dog know it was his turf. (Little did I know that this little action would come back to haunt us at other obedience venues too. *headdesk*)
My heart sank because I knew I’d NQ’d. The judge, however, allowed us to continue through the rest of the trial and he was beautiful – even the recall over the jump that we’d only done once prior. We finally got to the part that made the butterflies start fluttering around like they were on crack in my stomach – the group sit. I wanted to run to the bathroom and throw up my lunch. My hands were shaking and I reflexively kept changing positions on the leash.
My friend Jen and her boy, Icon, were with us and I continued to nervously eye up the Novice A – both of them had NQ’d also when they blew off every off leash exercise known to man. Neither of them wanted to stay when their handlers left them. It smelled like trouble in my book. The judge, seeing that neither dog wanted to listen to the handler, asked them both to remain with their dogs – on leash. I let out a big sigh of relief.
We did our group exercise. Ryker was placed in a sit/stay next to Icon – a dog he had trained with for many hours and was comfortable with – on one side and a very calm Novice C dog who completely ignored every attempt at stink eye he shot at the strange dog. We finally left our dogs.
It seemed like an utter eternity standing across the ring willing Ryker to keep his furry fanny firmly planted on the ground and to not get snarky with his neighboring canines. It was finally all over. The judge released us to return to our dogs. My boy had done it. He finally did it. I was elated. I was beyond proud of him. I didn’t care that we’d screwed up and didn’t actually qualify. He had done what I felt to be the impossible. He had helped me overcome the biggest gap in the bridge of our training – my fear.
I knew, right then and there, we could do it and get his UCD. I knew that all that we had worked for, trained for, socialized for…it was all a reality. It could be done. Above all else, I was proud of my dog. The dog I never thought could do anything that involved having another dog in the ring. I knew that he -the dog that looked at another dog and puffed out his chest and barked his fool head off at – could do it and that I helped him get there even as much as I’d held him back.
Consequently, there was a second trial that weekend. I signed us up for it. The butterflies returned but not so furiously. Now they were big, beefy beasts that were proudly strutting their stuff and proclaiming that we could do it and they were my cheerleading squad. We were on a mission and we went in and owned the ring. We managed to wrangle in our first qualifier – even if we squeaked by with a 178. I was on cloud nine. We had done what I thought was the impossible and made it possible. I truthfully owe that small victory to the dog who never failed to amaze me and the people who knew we could do it.
It’s not much, but we did it. We’re still battling with his loathing of other dogs but each small step makes me realize that we will get through it and we can do anything we set our minds to with a little bit of elbow grease and a good old-fashioned kick in the pants from friends when I start to doubt our foundation as a team.
Now we have one down and two more to go. Here goes nothing!