Starbuc’s Dream Come True
I’ve been reading Remembering to Breathe: Inside Dog Obedience Competition by Willard Bailey (#53 Hard Copy).
This is the first in a two book series about training and competing his golden retriever, Starbuc’s Dream Come True (call name Honeybear) and, in the second half of Otch Dreams, he describes the same (but less successful) process with his border collie Bebop.
I got and read Otch Dreams a few weeks ago (Remembering to Breathe was misaddressed by the vender and took over a month to arrive). Willard warned me that I should read the other first, but I didn’t have it, so I dove in to Otch Dreams.
I liked it a lot – Willard writes well and engagingly. He loves Honeybear to bits – this is the story that comes after her huge success in the obedience world when she’s 10+, slowing down, although still competing in “Veterans” class obedience trials. And the story of making the excruciating decision to euthanize her at almost 15 years old (very long lived for a dog her size).
Typically, when I have a new hobby I go through the “how to” phase of reading about it at the beginning – I’m still reading dog training “how to” books, but they’ve gotten very specific (after 3.5 years of reading them). I know the exact way to train that I like and I enjoy reading books by really excellent trainers who use it.
My second phase of hobby-related book buying and reading is the “memoir” stage… This is the stage where I love books by fellow enthusiasts (or just plain dog lovers) who tell their dog loving and/or trainingstories… they have to be by people who share the basic pillars of my dog philosophy, but beyond that I’m pretty open (as long as the dog isn’t narrating the story – can’t do it, tried, nope, can’t go there).
So, this is where Willard’s stories fall. We share experiences and philosophy – both of us started dog training under the old-fashioned, border line cruel, jerk the choke chain-no treats regime from the dark ages of dog training. We both were exposed to more effective, humane training methods and adopted them. And I’ve gotten interested in competitive obedience training although I’m at the beginning – no fun matches or trials for us yet.
I have a beautiful golden retriever, Gus:
He had a beautiful golden retriever.
Willard writes with humor, self-deprecation (he doesn’t shy away from describing his mistakes), and irritability. He’s clearly somewhat cantankerous. And, he names names – in the dog world this is about as taboo as it is in Hollywood where every actor and director nearly always describes every actor and director with whom they’ve worked with superlatives.
I know from reading Otch Dreams that Honeybear goes to the height of dog obedience competition. Here’s a quote from the American Kennel Club or AKC (the organization that writes standards for AKC obedience and conformation, “breed standard” competitions):
- “The Obedience Trial Championship (OTCH) title is often referred to as the “PhD” for dogs, is the highest obedience honor a dog can receive.
- To obtain an OTCH title, a dog and handler team must earn 100 points by placing first, second, third or fourth in the Open B or Utility B class. Three first places must also be awarded from the Open B and Utility B classes.”
Beginning obedience competition starts with Novice classes – these are the easiest classes. Open and Utility get much harder – especially Utility, which involves scent discrimination (picking out the one item with the owner’s scent on it) and other tough stuff.
It took Willard and Honeybear a long time to work their way through the various titles at different levels, but Honeybear finally was awarded the fairly rare “OTCH” title at nearly 10 years old.
She was a sweet, sweet girl – Willard’s “once in a lifetime” dog. I enjoyed OTCH Dreams a lot and I’m enjoying Remembering to Breathe just as much.
In Remembering he describes his first days with Honeybear and then his discovery of puppy and obedience classes. He didn’t know that obedience competition existed, but once exposed to it, he relished the challenge and he and Honeybear had a wonderful time spending 1000s of hours training together, traveling together to shows, and competing.
I like the fact that he talks about being at the stage I’m at: pre-competition, still training for the Beginner Novice A class competition (the beginning of beginning class trial for new trainers who’ve never competed before). I love his stories about Honeybear and I’m getting lots of tips about trials (hint: bring a lawn chair).
Totally unrelated to reading training progress news:
Gus and I started his first obedience class this past week (he had a puppy class last fall). It is with my (wonderful) trainer, Dr. Sue Kapla. Day one was without dogs. So this coming Wednesday will be Gus’s first experience, as an adult, training with lots of other dogs around. Since we’ve worked privately with Sue, much of the class is review, but the key is we’ve been doing it without other dogs.
It’s critical, if you want to do competitive obedience, to train with other dogs around – this is the environment dogs face in trials and they have to be comfortable with it and have learned that they (to quote Sue) “don’t have access to those other dogs.” In other words, this is obedience time, not play with other dogs time…. Other competitors DO NOT appreciate a big old golden retriever ambling up to their dog during group stays, for example, even a dog as friendly and beautiful as Gus.
And Gus LOVES other dogs – he doesn’t care how little they love him: they can be growling and snarling at him, that just makes him play bow that much harder…. So, I’m looking forward to this golden opportunity for him to learn to ignore other dogs when training or competing. Finally, Gus is an amazing, amazing dog – gentle, friendly, supremely calm, even for a golden, extremely new people-oriented (one goal for him is nursing home visits). But he is quite noise sensitive and when he’s had a scary time in a building, he won’t go back.
He can be scared of big, overwhelming buildings (like nursing homes, universities, malls, arenas) – obedience competitions frequently take place in such buildings and are always very noisy. Right now he is scared of my neighborhood nursing home where I’ve taken him and my other dogs.
He LOVES the people inside – he was born to be adored and petted and fussed over by strangers, regardless of whether they are teeny kids, people with walkers, people in wheelchairs…. This is a dog who loves getting eye drops and nail clippings because they involve being touched (and believe me, he doesn’t lack for petting and hugging from me). But, if I can’t get him in the building without panicking, he can’t visit people…
So, Sue suggested getting his favorite toy (Chase-It dog toy, I highly recommend them) and playing with it and leading him into the building playing. And it is really helping! He walked happily into two big buildings (campus bldg and mall) this weekend. Yippee!! Well-done, Gus!
Happy Reading, Ruby