There are many different kinds of dog sports offered by many different clubs; Agility, Obedience, Rally-O, Lure coursing, Barn Hunt, Schutzhund, French Ring, Nose Work, Dock Diving, Tracking, the list goes on and on. There are so many options out there, that there simply must be one that you and your dog would love to try together. But with so many choices and so much information it’s all a little bit overwhelming, so where do you start?
For me it was in Rally-O, an AKC sanctioned trial or match. I’m proud to say that my girl is now titled. No, I will never breed her, and yes, to anyone but us, our titles may seem silly. But to me a Doberman is a WORKING dog. The best possible exercise for them is to use their brains. They were bred to use their brains, to problem solve and to be driven. A healthy, happy Doberman is one that works.
I started into the competition dog show trials when Gemma was just a year old. I had never worked a dog before. I have other pets at home, which are schooled in basic obedience, and I even have a retired working Belgian Malinois, but he came fully trained to me when I adopted him. I have never had the desire nor the knowledge to go any further than the basics: sit, down, stay, come, etc.
Then I got a Doberman. I knew the negative judgments that are placed on this breed, and I wanted to make sure that no one could say my Doberman was dangerous, vicious or out of control. I started where anyone starts: puppy kindergarten, we progressed into obedience level 1, then level 2 and finally onto show obedience level 3. I was lucky enough to find a trainer who was patient with my and Gemma’s learning curves. I made a lot of mistakes on the way, as does everyone who is learning as they go, but my trainer is always encouraging and patient.
One of the biggest hurdles for me is that Gemma is from a backyard breeder and has absolutely ZERO working drive. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Then I met Catherine. I saw her working her blue Doberman at an Iron Dog competition and I couldn’t believe the teamwork they had. Her dog stared at her like she was the only thing in the world. I wanted that for Gemma and me. Catherine is a wonderful role model and I treasure and appreciate the mentor that she has become for me. She has opened me up to the world of competitive dog trials. Without her help, my club’s help and my trainer’s help I would have never gotten as far as I have. Any faults or mistakes fall solely on my shoulders, but Gemma and my success has been a group effort.
As I got to know Catherine, I learned that her blue Doberman, Miley, had just finished her RAE (Rally Advance Excellent title) and she was beginning to work her black Doberman, Beckham, in rally and in obedience. She asked if I would like to join her at a trial. I was over the moon. Here I was learning from one of the best. She helped me fix some Doberman specific issues I was having with Gemma’s training. She encourages me to train harder, and smarter, and she points out areas that I need to strengthen or things I need to stop doing. I’m not sure how I ended up with such an amazing mentor but it’s been a fantastic adventure for me to learn from her. I’ve been lucky to have a few other people on my side as well. Joining my local Doberman club – Vermont Total Doberman Club – was also another very smart move on my training path. The combined knowledge and experience of its members is mind blowing. They are always honest and to the point about Dobermans, their needs, health and training and they encourage me, and point out areas that I need to work on. They help me solve problems, each in a different way, until I find the answer that works best for Gemma and me.
Gemma and I earned a total of four titles in seven months. She started at 13 months old, first earning her CGC, than in rally her RN, than RA and in obedience her BN. In January, at the age of 21 months, we made her first attempt at her RE. We sucked. I’d lost my dog somewhere along the way. Everyone kept telling me, “Stop pushing her, she is just a baby!” “She’s not even two years old yet. It’s ok!” But I was so driven to work her that I pushed her before she and I were ready. Our first two trials in the Rally Excellent class we NQ’d (not qualify) for lack of points. I was heartbroken and disappointed. What a blow to my ego. It took me a good long week to even want to work her again, and that was only after I realized that something had changed. Working my dog wasn’t fun anymore, for her or me. Training my dog had become work, something I demanded and dictated to her. My team had become one sided, because I had somehow managed to put an “I” in team. I was very disappointed in myself. I had been more blinded by the thrill of flashy ribbons and placements than remembering to be happy just working my dog. So, I’ve decided to take a couple months off and just remember how to love working my dog again. I need to remember the joy I get watching her figure something out and the sparkle in her eye when something finally clicks into place.
As for my mentor Catherine, she and Beckham have earned seven new titles in six months and have gotten a spot at the upcoming Rally Nationals. There is true teamwork and I continue to look forward learning how to have the best relationship possible with my Doberman.
Next month we are going to cover the Do’s and Don’ts of Dog Sport.