Back to your dog

All summer in Bedhead Hills, it’s been hot and humid with the promise of a few days of storms in the forecast, but tomorrow’s thunderstorms never come. We’re left with dry and drier grass, shriveled flowers, and withered shrubs. The squirrel are attacking the heads of the sunflowers before the seeds are ripe and in their water-starved state the sunflowers are brittle and easily broken.

Just to escape the relentlessness of August, I signed Eggi up for an obedience show in Amsterdam, New York, near Schenectady. The drive up on Friday was a little intense as it’s getting to the last weekends of summer and Schenectady sits north of Albany, out where New York State begins to be much bigger and wilder than many imagine it to be. The Friday highway scene was miles of cars loaded with boats and bikes and coolers and camping gear.

Eggi and I stayed at a dog-welcoming hotel situated between a popular seafood restaurant and a wedding venue , all sharing a nice view of the Mohawk River. She and I took many little trips around the building, through the parking lot, practicing our heel work and going potty, watching people wait for a table for four, or line up in matching red bridesmaid’s dresses to see their best friend get married.

a pre-tied red bow-tie and some rose petals lie on the pavement of the parking lot of the wedding venue the next morning
The next morning

Saturday morning we took our time. it was going to be just as hot here as it had been in Bedhead Hills. An email from the show secretary warned that GPS did not always find the venue, but we did, and parked the white whale in a spot that was not shady but might be, later. I used our reflective knitted aluminum blanket and rolled down all the windows and set up two fans, transforming the white whale into baked potato mode. In this set-up, it stays shady and nice in there.

Large SUV with tailgate up, wrapped in reflective blanket

Inside the show venue, I found a busy show scene underway. The dog training club was divided into three rings, all in a row, running simultaneously. Dogs in crates and handlers in camping chairs were packed into much of whatever space was left, with a corridor running along where exhibitors entered the show rings. Handlers and dogs at the ready were milling about, yet the mood was workmanlike. There was none of the barking or whining you hear at breed shows, as dogs left alone in kennels complain without result or reprimand.

Eggi

While we were waiting to go in, we met another vizsla owner, who correctly guessed Eggi’s mother once I said who her breeder was. And with this new friend standing by, Eggi and I went in the ring and got 189 1/2 out of 200 points from the judge, looking not quite flawless, but definitely on the verge of perfection someday soon.

It was good enough for a 4th place ribbon in a big, competitive class. When I hung the ribbon from Eggi’s collar in the ring she seemed not to know what to make of it.

Dog with 4th place obedience trial ribbon

She got over it.

With this score, it meant we only had to get one more score above 170 for her novice obedience title, known as the CD, for Companion Dog.

I picked up some take-out from the restaurant next to the hotel, and we had a quiet night.

Eggi absolutely loves hotels.

Sunday we woke up pretty ridiculously early, having gone to bed super early the night before. We packed, ate breakfast, loaded the white whale, and headed up the road to the show.

Sunday’s judge was more efficient than Saturday’s, perhaps, and was further along with the classes when we arrived. I brought in a kennel and a chair so we wouldn’t have to stand the whole time we were waiting for our turn.

At dog shows, the handler wears a number under a rubber band on their left arm, assigned beforehand and distributed when they check in at the show. But in obedience, if it’s not, say, the Vizsla National Specialty, where all the dogs are the same breed, exhibitors are referred to by their breed. So on Saturday, I was told we were after the standard poodle, and on Sunday we were after the Berner.

Now a Berner is a Bernese Mountain Dog, which is a large, tri-colored, Swiss, fluffy, friendly kind of dog, mostly known for being self-confident and alert. Eggi and I were focused on warming up to go in the ring, so we weren’t paying any attention to the one competing, so when he erupted into loud, excited barking, and came flying out of the ring he was working in, nearly bowling over both Eggi and me, and ran loose through the competition until someone corralled him, we were extremely surprised (in my case), and frightened and upset (in Eggi’s). And suddenly the efficient judge was standing at the in gate with her clipboard, asking us to come in.

So instead of having Eggi all perfectly focused and concentrating on me, she was staring bug-eyed, hackles raised, ready to take on whatever just scared the wits out of that huge dog, three times her size.

We did not have the kind of trip around the ring that we had had the day before.

We did keep going, however; me, grinning the most encouraging smile I could muster, especially between exercises, doing everything I could to regain Eggi’s attention, and Eggi, still twisting to see what was happening on the other end of the room. Our heel work on leash was rough. The figure eight was so weird, I felt like I had someone else’s dog. I may have given up some points talking to her here, just trying to get her to concentrate on me.

The stand for exam marks the moment where you take off the dog’s leash, give it to the steward, tell the dog to stand, step away about 6 feet, wait while the judge quickly touches the dog’s back, and then you go back to your dog when the judge says, “Back to your dog.”

When I got back to Eggi, she was back in the game. Our off-leash heeling was better. The recall was great. We made it to the group sits and downs. Back to your dog, indeed.

There were 12 dog and handler pairs asked back to the groups sits and downs. We were lined up in two rows, about six feet apart. Eggi looked around during the sit, which is only a minute long but of course seemed like at least three, but stayed sitting so that’s what matters. During the down she was perfectly good this time.

Which meant we qualified. No ribbon, but the third leg of our title.

We will need to do a bumper leg or two, so she doesn’t think dogs explode and run out of the ring all the time. But now that I know we can get a 189 1/2, I’m wondering if we get get an even higher score.

And then, after this, the next levels we get to start working with fetching dumbbells.

Four Legs

Because of the Covid pandemic (which continues unabated), last year’s Vizsla National was postponed from April to October, so while it was held only a few months ago, it’s already time for this year’s, in Minnesota. And I hear it’s way out west next year, so I’ve been pretending oh, sure I’ll go again this time. Why not? I don’t have anything better going on. Who does?

Besides, Eggi and Fellow and I have been working pretty hard at obedience and agility, going to twice-weekly classes with our trainer who teaches in her backyard when the weather allows and in a classroom above her garage when it doesn’t.  My dogs love the classes, indoors or out, and whether I wear a mask or don’t, they’re used to both by now.

I thought it would be good to do some practice shows locally to get ready for our big trip. I did a couple of conformation days handling my own dogs in the breed ring, and while they know what to do, I understand it like a child playing dress-up, wobbling around in high heels and a party dress that doesn’t fit, miming doing cheers with an imaginary glass of champagne. Eggi was so surprised I was in the breed ring with her she watched the handler next to me. Fellow had the grumpiest judge I’ve ever seen, and I strangely enjoyed watching her find fault with him. No ribbons. Who cares?  They’re both grand champions, and I’m not chasing more breed titles with them.

Now, in the obedience ring, this is where we might stand out. Novice obedience is easy for Eggi, so I felt Eggi and my trips around the ring would be confidence boosters; she and I already have a beginner novice title that we completed last summer in Vermont.  Fellow is younger, less experienced, goofier, and easily excited, so I was hoping I would be able to use my time with Eggi in the ring reinforcing the calm, positive efficient way I need to work with Fellow. I signed up for the two dogs to do two different classes each of the days, Saturday and Sunday, one of obedience and one of rally. I had four numbers to manage between the two dogs, three judges, and three rings over two days. It was for practice. 

We arrived early as one must. The drive had been unremarkable. I had brought a pair of travel crates and a chair which I took inside and set up. I also had to check on and change the classes I entered with Eggi, so I had to find the superintendent to do that first thing. There are A sections and B sections for novice levels; A is for the Novice handlers with no previous titles and B is for Novice handlers with any previous titles but if you read the rules carefully you might come to the conclusion (as I had) that being a beginner and working on your first titles might be reason to put you in the A group, but any title at all puts you in the B group. Anyway, I managed to get myself switched into the correct class, by trying to be polite and apologetic, or maybe they’re used to nitwits like me, begging for mercy. In any event, by doing so, Eggi and I would show in the B group, and we would have to be last to go. 

Walking into the Better Living Center at the Big E, I could tell something was wrong. Like, if you showed up at a high school party, the music was loud and unfamiliar, and you could smell something burning, a couple of kids looked like they were already puking, and all before you even made it inside. The Better Living Center was crowded (13 rings), and it was loud. And it wasn’t fun and happy loud; it was tense loud. Eggi stopped to smell every pillar like it had just been peed on. Fellow turned to me and just barked in my face.

It was too crowded. It was too loud loud. There was a puddle of pee by the obedience and rally rings that I watched dry slowly over two days, turning from a wet puddle to a sheet of thin, faintly yellow crystallized urine. No one came and cleaned it up. The first dog to go in Eggi’s novice obedience class stepped 15 feet into the ring, stopped, squatted, and took a dump. His handler picked it up, the ring steward rushed over and dabbed at the spot with a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer (yes, hand sanitizer), and the judge moved the cones for the figure 8 away from the place where it had happened. This pair was disqualified for pooping in the ring. 

When Eggi and I entered the ring, the judge commented that mine was the third vizsla in the class. I replied that one of them was Eggi’s grandmother. The judge may or may not have said anything else. In retrospect, I think she may have tried to say something nice to set me at ease, which was hard to do, and became increasingly more difficult as we moved through the ring, because from that moment onward I’m pretty sure I misunderstood most of what she said, at least at first.

Eggi had her good moments, and a few, unexpected moments of sightseeing. Her automatic sit while heeling was absent. She came when called but finished herself and never presented herself in front of me. It was a bit like showing a dog that already had a novice title but I did not know how to handle. Nevertheless, we got a qualifying score, and were called back for the group long sit and down.

And that might have gone ok had the judge not lined us up so that one dog had to sit in the spot where the disqualified dog had pooped earlier. And of course, one dog was instructed to sit there, and it was mine. The sitting actually went ok. But for the down stay, which lasts a minute, Eggi started by hinted to me that there might be a problem when she lay down diagonally away from me rather than straight. And after about 35 seconds I could see that she was thinking about doing something with one hip. Was she going to roll onto one side? That would be ok. But, no. At 45 seconds she popped up into a beautiful square sit, with a satisfied smirk on her face. She surveyed the other, obedient dogs, all good, lying down dogs for the full minute, Eggi clearly thinking, “All y’all are doing down stay on the dog dooky floor mat like a bunch dog dooky chumps.”

So we were disqualified. With 15 seconds to go. No score. No qualifying leg towards her title. Not the confidence booster I was sure it would be.

Fellow’s turn was pretty typical for him. He was boisterous, bumping into me on the heel work and popping up whenever I returned to him, costing us a qualifying score as well. 

Then we took a couple trips around the rally ring, which is the miniature golf of obedience. It was reasonably fun, as I believe it is intended to be. You go in the ring and follow the signs. Both dogs had qualifying legs.   And then we went home, ran around the yard and ate ramen

The next day, all the obedience judges traded places. Fellow’s ring worked very efficiently that morning, so I showed him first. He kept himself together better, and bumped into me less. The judge told me twice how beautiful he was and asked about his breeding. He had a qualifying score, and that was his second beginner novice leg so when he shows at the Vizsla National he could possibly finish his title.

Eggi and I had practiced everything she’d had trouble with the day before, so I went in feeling confident it would go ok. Alas, the sightseeing during off-leash heeling was even worse on Sunday. The overall noise level was less, but a work crew arrived during our turn and started dismantling the ring next to us. When I left Eggi to do the recall (where the dog sits and stays and the handler crosses to the other side of the ring and calls the dog on the signal of the judge), there was a tremendous crashing noise behind her. Eggi did not get up, but she did turn her head to look, and she did not turn back to look at me. The judge signaled. I was in a situation I had never practiced: my dog was not even looking at me. Normally, I say, “come!” brightly and clearly. Some people say their dog’s name and then “come.” I decided, given that she was looking out of the ring, that I would say, “Eggi! Come!” as loudly (and brightly and clearly) as I could manage. So I did.

Slowly, she turned her head towards me. She sat, still stuck to the spot where I had told her to stay. She had stayed through a loud crashing noise. She had been extremely good, hadn’t she. Had I just said her name? What were we doing? Still she sat. 

I called again: “Come.”

She came. But we did not have a qualifying score. Again.

Did I sit in my chair and cry while I watched the work crew who ruined my obedience competition roll up the mats and take the ring away? Yes.

Wasn’t this supposed to be practice? Wasn’t Eggi actually very good, under very hard circumstances? Isn’t this just a dog show? Yes, yes, and yes.

Did I go and learn the miniature golf rally course and stick around and do that with both dogs? Also, yes.

Fellow was first of my two goes in rally. I like to get those rally courses over with, so we marched through it very efficiently, and on our way out the judge said Thank you, which is kind of weird because usually they tell you if you qualified or not. But I thought we nailed it. Whatever. It’s only practice.

So I put Fellow in his box and grabbed Eggi out of hers and got her walking around warming up and I saw someone getting ready to go in the ring ahead of us who was practicing a specific sign, the 5th one, which was down your dog, walk around them, and proceed, and I’m thinking….wait….I didn’t dooooo that

But what did I just do? because I did the whole thing so fast I didn’t even remember… 

I grabbed my map just to make sure, and oh boy, howdy, I just skipped it? Or made something up? Or had him sit instead of down? I still don’t know.

Anyway, Eggi did do that sign correctly, but Fellow never did. So Eggi had a qualifying rally leg that day, but Fellow didn’t. Which means that she, too, could perhaps finish a novice rally title at the Vizsla National. 

But the goal of going is to enjoy it. We leave in the morning.

Titled Deed

So, like, back in June when I didn’t know when Eggi was coming into season or anything, I figured that if we were waiting to see if she was pregnant in July, we might enjoy the distraction of a dog show. The thing is, I’ve been doing obedience classes with Eggi once a week since she finished puppy kindergarten, so we were as ready as we were going to ever be. When the entries opened for the Vermont Scenic Circuit, I entered her in the first level of obedience, beginner novice. 

Also who can pass up an excuse to go to Vermont? Not me.

Obedience used to be a popular event to compete in, but there are a lot of different things to do with your dog now (like Rally, Agility, Nose Work, Barn Hunt,  and Dock Diving, just to name a few). 

The dog shows in Tunbridge, Vermont are held in mid-July, and a popular event for the professional handlers, who all camp on the show grounds in their RVs.

There aren’t any hotels nearby, so I went with a dog-friendly Air BnB that was about 25 miles away. 

The drive to Vermont was uneventful, and I would like to nominate the rest stop on I-91 just as you cross into Vermont as the Prettiest Rest Stop on the East Coast.

It was not quite dark when I arrived, and thought I’d eat at a promising restaurant recommended by the Air BnB owner, but my timing was poor and I pulled up just in time to see the last spot appropriate for a large vehicle taken by a car with a bunch of kayaks on a trailer. So I went back to the Air BnB and ate sandwiches and went to bed early.

Thursday we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and hit the road. I knew there was no mobile coverage between where we were staying and the dog show, so I had to pick my route and stick with it. The fairgrounds in Tunbridge don’t really seem to have an address; I used the town as my destination and was counting on the dog show judging program for more details; it said that RVs needed to follow the signs due to a low overpass. The navigon offered three routes, and I gave little thought to which I picked, other than it was supposed to be the fastest.

As soon as we turned onto Route 113, I regretted it. There was construction for the next 15 miles, with flaggers, many large construction vehicles, and long stretches of road where they are repaving and have taken the surface down to corrugated pavement or dirt. 

We stopped many times.  I wasn’t in a hurry . We made it eventually.

Once at the dog show, I could see the big breed show tent and row upon row of RVs, but I had no idea where my handler was parked. There is a Parking Authority Person who decides where you park if you’re in an RV, and I guessed she’d know where my handler was, but she was nowhere to be seen. So I drove past her station hoping I’d get lucky on my own. After discovering several dead ends, I threaded my back and waited for the Parking Authority Person. She knew just where my handler was, and as it turned out there was enough room for me to park the White Whale and even stay out of everyone’s way.

Thursday was hot. Fellow’s entry got messed up and so when someone went to his ring to get his number there was no number for him. Annoying. As a result, Fellow did not show and had a very boring weekend.

Eggi and I walked to the obedience ring and watched for a while and got our number. I counted entries and tried to estimate when we would be going. We were the second to last entry in the very last class in the obedience ring, and the judge was methodical. We talked dogs with various people, hung out, walked around, and eventually had our turn. I stopped and talked to the guys setting up the beer garden. They offered me a beer; I said I would wait until after I competed. They took our picture. I promised I’d come back when we were done.

Finally, it was our turn. I was nervous, and Eggi was inquisitive and excited. Every time the judge asked if we were ready, which is the judge’s cue for letting an exhibitor know that they are now about to be judged for the next element, Eggi jumped to her feet. She was ready. Really ready.

So we did not start from sitting in heel position on the heeling pattern, but by the time we halted at the end of the pattern, she sat promptly and looked eagerly at me and I knew that she knew what we were there to do.

We muddled through, with about 15 points of deductions, but ended with a score good enough to qualify for one leg towards our beginner novice obedience title. Not too bad for our first time in the obedience ring at a show, ever.

Celebratory Beer

For dinner we stayed and had hamburgers and brats with the neighbors. I left the dog show and drove back the exact way that I had come, because in the excitement of the long day I had forgotten to look for another route. In reverse, with all the contstruction paused until the next morning, it wasn’t so bad, maybe just a little rumbly for the extra length of dirt road.

Friday, I got up, made myself a sandwich for lunch, and fed the dogs in the car. I forced the navigon to take me a different way. It was easy to pick since there was obviously construction on the other two routes.

Of course, a few short miles into this route revealed construction, and once again the pavement ended and I drove a number of miles on a dirt road. But, there was a covered bridge, and several cute, tiny towns.

At the show, they had saved me a parking spot, and I parked. We had another hot, humid day, with a similar schedule and a lot of waiting to go in the ring. The judge was more efficient, and very kind. I was a bit discombobulated by being cued by someone who wasn’t my normal trainer, so I had to have a couple of do-overs, but Eggi was spot on and this time we won the class. Two legs done in two days.

Saturday, the hot, humid  weather finally broke and we had drizzle, the threat of rain, or rain all day. Bliss! As I told the guy at the smoothie truck, while he made my $6 Mocha Madness, with whipped cream, our water cycle is part of the miracle that sustains life on our planet. He wanted to know what kind of a vehicle a water cycle is. Earth science is cool, kids; you won’t catch me being unhappy about the rain.

Fellow at this point was terribly bored and neglected having spent most of the last three days sitting in his box. I took him for a walk across the fairgrounds to check the progress of my ring, and came to a blocked off road with a piece of yellow caution tape strung across it. As I stepped over I told him to jump it. Now, Fellow knows ‘jump.’ We do agility. He loves to jump. But right at this moment he was not thinking agility, and decided to go under the tape, and I had committed to stepping over, so I fell in the mud in front of a couple hundred dog show spectators. If any of them saw me, I bet they laughed.

At the start of each of the different obedience levels, the judge had a walk-through for competitors (without dogs). Most people parked their cars at that end of the fairgrounds, so they left their dog in a nearby crate and got their instructions from the judge. I handed Eggi’s leash to a different handy stranger each day, and she was relaxed and calm about it. There were many so called pandemic puppies at the show, looking overwhelmed and out of sorts about the change in routine, and all the people, all the dogs, and all the noise. Of course, the pandemic puppies will be fine, in the end, with patience and persistence, but had they the chance to see and do more as puppies, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it now, and could move on to more interesting challenges.

Our third time in the show ring, Eggi was flawless. She heeled consistently, sat crisply, and came when called. I made a handler error, telling her to stay one more time than necessary or allowed, and had a four point deduction. We won that class and so have a new title.

The drive home I did not even stop for gas.