Take one sweet, but a little shy
and slightly nervous former brood bitch. Add the fact that at going-on-five,
she had rarely left the safety and security of her breeder, had seldom
worn a lead, and never a collar. To top if off, make her a Bichon Frise,
a breed whose competing is usually limited to the show ring. Is this a
recipe for a successful obedience dog? The answer is yes! Yes, with a lot
of love and patience. Oh, and also with a positive role model.
THIS IS AMY'S STORY.........
It started in late 1996 when Norma
Dirszowsky was contemplating retirement for Normandy's Amelia E. I was
looking for a suitable house mate and companion for Mandy, Ch. Normandy's
VIP of Crystalpines, CDX (Can/Am) CGC. Our search was limited to smaller,
mature dogs who would quietly accept Mandy's role as Top Dog. Amy seemed
the perfect choice.
As we were leaving with Amy, Norma's
parting words were, "I'm sure you'll be happy with her, but don't expect
too much in obedience - she's not Mandy". For the first few weeks, Mandy
was her constant role model. Amy did whatever Mandy did, and followed her
everywhere. In fact, I think Mandy contributed as much to Amy's housetraining
as I did!
Amy would watch Mandy's obedience
training with fascination. So, after a couple of weeks, I started some
basic training with Amy. She took to most of the exercises quite well,
and being relatively tall compared to Mandy, and graceful for her size,
heeled beautifully if conditions were right. Getting conditions right was
the main problem! Any change or distraction was a major problem for Amy.
A new hall, a new noise, even a different coloured mat meant we couldn't
do anything. And the stand for examination, which requires being touched
on the head, shoulders and back by the judge - well forget this one. Our
biggest problem was heeling off lead. For some reason, once the lead came
off Amy seemed to become frightened and lagged, tail between her legs.
I soon learned two things. First,
that the more modern methods of training which concentrate on praise and
reward were the only thing that would work with Amy. I didn't even introduce
a choke collar into heeling until recently, because I wanted to avoid any
sharp corrections, which might have upset her. Second, most of Amy's training
wasn't going to be about the exercises once she had learned them, it would
be about self confidence and working in new environments.
So we worked slowly, got all the
exercises down except the off lead, until one day, Amy had an epiphany,
and started heeling off lead better than Mandy. This literally happened
overnight and I have no explanation of why. Then the real work began -
correction matches in as many different locations as possible; training
indoors and outdoors in different locations; learning to figure what upset
her and how to compensate. For example, the first time we went to a correction
match she was nervous even in the car on the way. Then I realized, she
had never been in the car without Mandy. So then we'd go out for drives
just by ourselves. You can get the idea.
Last November Amy earned her Canine
Good Citizen, so I knew she was solid enough. In February I knew it was
finally time to trial in Novice B. We failed our first one, but only because
a large dog went loose during the long down and came up to Amy and made
her get up. Unfortunately, the judge in her discretion wouldn't let us
take the exercise again.
But then success - Over two weekends,
Amy earned qualifying scores three in a row, all in the mid to high 180's!
We even placed in two of the trials, once third, once fourth. In fact,
for the last trial I miscalulated the time, and we arrived only one minute
before our ring time. With absolutely no warm up, we were in the ring.
Only a really confident dog could do this. And only a really steady dog
could go on to pass two more Novice trials for good measure, making it
five in a row!
It's too soon to tell what Normandy's
Amelia E, CD, CGC will do next. Maybe Open work, maybe nothing competetive,
but she won't stop working yet. And that's her choice not mine- If Mandy
and I are working on Utility, Amy is quite determined for her turn at training
and won't leave!
Why did I invest so much in getting
this CD? Was it for the dog or for myself? Why do we try to get any sort
of title on our dogs? The titles are for ourselves, but the work benefits
our dogs, and our relationships with our dogs. If this is true for Conformation,
it is true in spades for Obedience. By the time we completed our titles,
I realized that I have two of the best behaved dogs imaginable, who I can
take anywhere, and trust in almost any situation. Of any pets I have had,
with my Bichon girls has been the
And a final word on Bichons in Obedience
- Part of the reason I was determined to help Amy earn her CD was to prove
that Mandy's success wasn't a fluke. If Amy could do it, Any Bichon Can.
So do think about it with your dogs, even the older ones. Your investment
in training will repay you a thousandfold.
Daryl Novak, May, 1999