My First Year in Obedience
By Leilah’s Mom
Leilah is my first puppy - the first dog that's really mine. Oh sure, I've lived with dogs before. There was the Basenji that my parents bought when I was 4 years old. My husband came as a package deal with an adult Dobie/Samoyed mix, who was unruly, unsocialized, and jealous. But, I found that once I laid down the ground rules, he was a wonderful companion until he died at 13 years old. About one year after my husband’s dog died, Leilah was chosen for me by her mother's owner, a horse trainer and trader that I've assisted for a few years. I have always liked his sweet Vizsla. He had decided that this particular puppy was for me, I only had to realize it. I eventually relented.
I had been hoping to show some of the horses, and had been continually frustrated by the logistical problems of showing other people's animals. I never even considered that I could eventually show this 2 month old, 5 pound mutt-puppy. On that first vet visit, I had remarked that it's too bad that I couldn't show a mixed breed dog. The vet's assistant told me that I could, that the AKC wasn't the only game in town. She told me about Obedience, Agility and Flyball, and gave me the number of an Agility organization. If I had ever been able to reach them, this story would probably be different. And anyway, Obedience sounded an awful lot like the dressage I'd been trying to do with the horses.
A little over a year ago, I went to an AKC show to see the Obedience trial, and found that I had gotten there too late. All I saw was the highest score trophy presentation. The Golden Retriever did do a demonstration exercise. His owner left him in a sit at one end of the ring, while she turned her back and walked to the opposite side. From there, she called him and he came racing to her. When he was halfway across the ring, she threw up her arm and he hit the deck into a down position. She called him again, and he got up and raced towards her again, only to slide into a sit directly in front of her. (I later found that this exercise is the "drop on recall".) Boy, I was impressed. What in the world did it take to get a dog to do that? And so happily? At a book vendor's stall, a very kind sales lady helped me pick out a book or two on obedience, and she gave me the address of the UKC and a semi-local obedience club.
While my rapidly growing puppy was learning her basic house manners, I was researching Obedience. I could register her with the UKC and AMBOR registries. I bought a few more books. The semi-local club referred me to a more local club. Having learned a thing or two from my husband's dog, I wanted Leilah to learn her manners early and be well socialized. She could sit at 3 months and do a 2 second stay at 4 months. But, what about those pictures in my books, of dogs holding stays, without a human in sight? Wow, could I ever do that?
When Leilah was 5 months old, we took our first obedience class. It was a pet class in the parking lot of a local pet supply store, run by a private training service. Every day, we'd intersperse a few minutes of obedience work in our daily walk. I worked hard to socialize her as thoroughly as possible. As soon as her shots were completed, we went to the local high school baseball field to play with other dogs. We went to charity dog walks. We went to any store that would admit her, and she learned to lay quietly while I wrote a check. I had set off to have the world's best behaved, spoiled dog, and we were getting there. And, I was still buying books about training and Obedience.
At 7 months, I enrolled Leilah in a beginner's novice class through the Obedience club. While the class was still mostly geared towards pet obedience, it did cover most of the basics of AKC Novice Obedience. I learned to reward her with food, to "bait" her. Even though she's free-fed and has kibble any time she wants it, she really responded to baiting. With experience from her previous class, she quickly learned the exercises. She won first place at her graduation, our first taste of successful competition.
During that class, I learned from another student about regularly scheduled "show-and-go" matches about an hour away by freeway. I was thrilled that she made it all the way with out getting car sick (a problem we are still working on). While we skipped the off-leash heel, and had still never heard of attention training, I was pretty happy with our work. The scores we did get were at least qualifying, and I got lots of welcome help from perfect strangers. I never saw anything like this at any horse show. I still stand her for examination the way I was told that day, She was the only mixed breed there, and everyone had great fun speculating what breed I could ILP her as. (She looks like a small, tricolored Vizsla, and there was no consensus.)
Our beginner's novice graduating class was given applications to join the obedience club, and we were accepted. I went to my first meeting, and wondered "what are they talking about?". The woman who judged my graduation was there, and she explained a lot to me, and everyone was very helpful to the new, ignorant member. At the next show-and-go, I recognized a woman from a club meeting, and struck up a conversation. I don't know what she saw in us, but at the end of the day, she asked if I would be her training partner. I professed my ignorance, but agreed to it if she would tell me what to do. Her puppy is a couple of months younger than my dog, and her older dog was training for Open. At this time, I had no prospect of continuing in the club's classes, since my work schedule didn't permit night classes, and this seemed like a way to get at least some help in advancing my puppy. I found a mentor, a trainer, and a friend.
The Club held a match about 3 days before Leilah's first birthday. She got her CGC, probably the only piece of paper she will ever have with her name and the letters "AKC" on it. We came in a close 5th in the sub-novice class, at least I think so. Ribbons were to 4th place, and that was a 151. We got 150.5. I was elated, my little puppy seemed to really be coming along. She was so good, especially after a long, hot day. I was running around showing my score to all four of the people I knew there, I was so proud of her.
I started working with my trainer, and I was really in the thick of it now. This woman has at least 6 ways to train anything, and our sensibilities on how to treat a dog are similar. From horses, I learned that the only thing worse than having a trainer that's too easy is having one that's too rough. This trainer fit me just right. She assures me on the phone that it's not the end of the world when I mess up, and congratulates me when Leilah is so good that I have to call her. Our dogs have become good friends. Leilah and I started making real progress.
We went to our first UKC trial shortly after the Club match. In Novice A, we managed to place 2nd with a qualifying score of 176! I was just thrilled! I was practically ready to frame the score sheet. My dog could finally do those group stays that I saw in the training books. I waited and waited for our name to come out in the UKC Bloodlines magazine, and finally, there it was: Goldie's Lucky Leilah.
I worked with my trainer to improve our score. The next trial was coming up in 2 months, and since trials for mixed breeds are few and far between, I didn't want to skip it. There wasn't enough time to properly learn "attention heeling". We would just have to make do with the minimal attention I had. She sometimes looked at me, sometimes not. We would start attention training immediately following the next trial.
Leilah was 14 months old when we entered our second trial. My goal was to beat that 176. In the line up for awards, once I realized the results, all I could do was giggle. Not only did we beat 176, we came in 1st with a 185, and won a special trophy for the High in Trial Ambor dog - she had the highest score of any mixed breed dog in the entire trial. Our luck ran out the following day in what would've been her third leg for the U-CD title. Apparently, just a minute or two before our arrival at the ring, a German Shepherd had gotten loose and dove into the American Pit Bull Terrier breed ring, next to the obedience ring. While as far as I knew, there were no serious injuries to anyone, the mood among the dogs was ruined. Leilah picked up something wrong before I did and was trying to hide between my legs. We managed through most of the exercises, but it was clear that we weren't going to beat our previous day's score. Then, at that critical moment in the recall, she just tuned me out. We non-qualified. In fact, my entire Novice A class non-qualified. At least I was in good company.
We started attention training, and our heel was greatly improved, as well as all our other exercises. I'm finding that it's harder to teach the handler than the dog. We are waiting for the next trial, hoping to complete our U-CD and beat that 185. We also started training for the Open class. She now happily does the drop on recall. I had been losing hope of getting Leilah to retrieve - without a retrieve we'd never get from Novice level to Open level. She didn't seem to have a retrieving fiber in her body. I had to bribe her just to fetch a ball or frisbee. When my trainer came up with a way to use her hunting instincts by tying the dumbell to a string and dragging it across the ground, Leilah's resolve cracked. Our progress moved along so quickly, it was unreal. Today, Leilah did her first retrieve over the jump.
I am in awe of this little dog, and I never suspected the rewards of close work with any dog. She is now 18 months old, 20 inches tall, just over 30 pounds, and I definitely have my well behaved, spoiled dog who squeezes between my husband and me every night.
What a year!
On May 3, 1998, Leilah became U-CD Goldie’s Lucky Leilah CGC with a score of 192 to win her Novice A class and a High In Trial – Mixed Breed award. By July of 2000, she was UCDX Goldie's Lucky Leilah HCT CGC, after she had completed her Open Obedience title and the beginner's level sheep herding title.
Copyright© 1998 Leilah's Laughs