“If you don’t try to win you might as well hold the Olympics in somebody’s back yard.”
- Jesse Owens (American Athlete, 4 time Gold Medalist in Track and Field at the 1936 Olympic Games, 1913-1980)
Although there were only three competitors “going for the gold” at Reigning Cats & Dogs’ Saturday, August 4th obedience class graduation, competition was olympic-caliber. Cameras were in evidence. A hush fell over the crowd when the first team of competitors, Pattie Allen and her American Pit Bull Terrier, Saber, led off. An outstanding display of owner/pet teamwork was shown as the older dog, bearing the scars from two knee replacements, displayed her mastery of the material. To a round of applause she heeled (walking at her owner’s side) through an intricate pattern that involved both change of direction and varying tempos. The challenging “sit for exam” was next, where the dog must remain motionless, away from her handler, while the judge (instructor Lenore Newsom) approached the dog, ran her hand over the dog’s whole body, then stepped away (but not before receiving a lick on the arm - no points off for attempting to butter up the judge!). Next the recall, where the dog comes to the owner from a distance of 20 feet, then sits in front of her. Saber had been trained so well in the “stay” that she needed a little push to get up and come, but her sit was perfect.
Second to the starting line was Eddie Willie and “Missy,” a lab/border collie mix, age 1. She repeated the same exercises, again attempting to bribe the judge with a kiss during the sit for exam. Again, a stellar performance from this hard-working duo, with Missy’s handler being the only guy in the class (all the dogs were female, too). Despite the estrogen-laden atmosphere he contended with, week after week, this pair put on a great demonstration of teamwork.
Last but not least was the baby of the class, Peach, a barely-6-months-old yellow lab, and her handler, Trudy Irwin. (Trudy’s husband Jess provided “tech support” through all 8 weeks of the class, never missing a session). Despite an inauspicious start on Week 1 of the class, Peach shocked and awed the large crowd with her no-points-off heeling, sit for exam (with the biggest kiss yet), and near-perfect recall. As Trudy said to Lenore the week before, “if we had a video of the first week (where Peach was dragged, screaming, around the store during lesson one of learning to walk on a leash), nobody would believe it was the same dog.” Plus she could have gotten extra points for cuteness!
Last but not least were the group exercises. All three dogs sat attentively at their handlers’ sides. At the judge’s command of “leave your dog,” the dogs were told to “stay.” The handlers walked a distance of 20 feet away, then faced their dogs, while the dogs sat motionless for one minute - the longest minute of their handlers’ lives! The handlers then returned to their dogs, and at the command, “exercise finished,” praised their dogs effusively. Next the dogs were commanded to “lie down”, then “stay,” and were left again, this time for 2 minutes. Again, “exercise finished,” with lots of praise. This ended the competition portion of the graduation exercises. Score sheets were tallied while the owners and audience enjoyed refreshments and posed for pictures. Then, the moment of truth - medal time! All three competitors scored in the 90’s (out of a possible 100), with Peach winning gold! Missy and Saber were within one point of each other, making this not only the highest-scoring graduation class yet, but the only class to have 100% (no points off for anybody) on the one-minute sit-stay. To the uninitiated in dog obedience, let me tell you this is very unusual, and a tribute to these handlers’ training ability.
Despite our graduation being, as Jesse Owens termed it, “in somebody’s back yard,” these teams demonstrated world-class mastery of basic obedience skills. The diligent trainers patiently practiced, week after week, learning to clearly communicate with their pets, and overcoming some challenging behavioral issues, like jumping up, dashing out the front door, biting, and the afore-mentioned “lying on her back and screaming” (the dog, not the owner!)
Last but not least, all those exercises outlined above were performed off-leash. Nothing but the owners’ dedication to practicing these skills with their dogs prevented these pets from racing out of the ring or visiting with the “peanut gallery” or the snack table. All the family and friends in attendence were impressed, as rightly they should be. Mason now has three more canine “model citizens” and three more “dog whisperers.” Also completing the class, plus overcoming the challenge of retraining a shy young rescue dog, but unable to attend graduation, was Mona Hoerster and her 8-month-old “All-American” (mixed breed), Abby.
Reigning Cats and Dogs has obedience classes four times a year. All classes are 8 weeks in length, and meet Saturday mornings from 8:30-9:30 AM. Your dog must be a minimum of 5 months old to attend, and cost is $99, plus equipment. Rescue dogs from Second Chance or Save Old Yeller rescue groups may attend for half-price ($49). The next class begins on Saturday, September 8th, and will graduate before Thanksgiving. To enroll, call Lenore Newsom at 325-347-1700. Class space is limited, so enrollment is first-come, first-serve. Lenore would like to thank Jocelynn Hemphill for her stellar assistance with instructing these classes, and outstanding ring-stewarding during graduation, and Tommy Newsom for “tech support” (ring set-up, bringing ice, etc.), ring scribe (writing down scores), and judge hand-holding. Best class yet! Who’ll be next?
Graduates of Reigning Cats and Dogs’ Summer Obedience Class - Jess, Trudy and “Peach” Irwin (yellow lab), instructor Lenore Newsom, Pattie Allen and “Saber” (pit bull terrier), and Eddie Willie and “Missy,” (lab/border collie mix). Also graduating, but not present, Mona Hoerster and “Abby” (All-American)