Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The role of respect in dog obedience

Melinda Wichman's most recent essay on her blog made me start thinking about the expectations of respect in dog obedience. Usually this runs along the lines of "you must ensure your dog respects you!"

Which immediately made me think of Tycho. He demanded from the very start that I respect him. Once I understood this, and started a long career of ignoring obedience instructors, we began to form a working bond which was made up of mutual love, respect, and fun.

Some of my favorite memories, which exemplify this.

first time in the agility ring

Our first Canaan dog national specialty, in Tucson. Tycho was barely two years old. Tycho had entered in the specialty and had been charming. Then we showed in Novice A obedience. First Time Ever. And he QUALIFIED!!!! Then I dragged my wonder puppy over to the agility arena, where I made him hang out next to me, on lead, in the sun, for several hours until it was our turn. Right before our turn, I tried the practice jump, which he refused. I cannot sufficiently emphasize how strange this is, as there was NOTHING he loved more than jumping. So we went into the ring, I set him up, led out, and called him to start the course. He sat there and gave me a Look. I called again and he got up off his rump, sauntered over to the first jump, and peed on it, while giving me that LOOK again.

Yes, I learned. NEVER again did I make Tycho hang out endless hours in the sun, on lead, exposed to passing dogs, people, etc, and unable to relax.

Let me make this perfectly clear

Next incident was many many years later. At another specialty, this time in California. I knew the rules and compact under which Tycho worked, and I broke them once again. I entered him in Veterans and then Veterans Sweeps. And probably parade of titleholders. And then there was obedience. He already had his CDX but I entered him in open. He was tired and had already been paraded Round the ring many time and did not want to do anything again, but I brought him into the obedience ring. Our judge was the wonderful Mid Rothrock, who managed to not laugh out loud at his performance. Tycho deliberately NQed every single exercise, while giving me a dirty look, to make sure I knew what was going on. He proved his knowledge of the exercises by carefully NQing each one. And everyone at the specialty was watching. I loved him so much in that moment!

I don't want to but for you I shall do my best

Just in case you think all the examples are negative, nothing could be further from the truth.

Tycho finished his Open Jumpers title in a pounding rainstorm. This is a dog who truly loathed the rain. I kept him under the canopy until our run. I was out in the rain, but he stayed dry. When it was our turn to run, w ran that course, and he was beautiful and fast and responded perfectly to my every cue. I am pretty sure we won the class and finished his title. I was so wet...

Then there was the day we finished his CDX. He Qed in the morning, and w had entered the afternoon trial. The first time the AKC had allowed two trials in one day in one site. I almost left, but decided to stay, and he Qed again. It wasn't the prettiest performance ever, but what heart! He did it ONLY because he knew I wanted him to!

Then there were his RE title runs. At this point he was over twelve years old and had arthritis and some weakness in his hind legs. But he loved to work still! At yet another Canaan dog specialty I showed him in Utility and Open. He NQed but showed well, if slowly. By the time we got to Rally Excellent, I think his hips really hurt. We did a glacially slow rally course, because each time he had to sit, it was so slow. But he Qed with a good score. He Qed each time he went into the Rally ring and got multiple perfect scores, and many placements.

Why would a dog do such things? When they were hard or painful or unpleasant? Because their person asked them to. Some of those moments were the most precious gifts that Tycho ever gave me.


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