- Putting obedience to the test
- Competing in herding, hunting, and tracking events
- Doing volunteer work together
Do you have a dog whose instincts won’t give her a rest — digging, chasing, herding anything that moves? Whether you have a mixed-breed or purebred dog, there are clubs and hobbyists across the world whose dogs share the same passion and who love to meet, train, and hone their skills — whether competition is the focus or not.
In this chapter, I give you an overview of some of the competitions, certifications, and hobbies you and your dog can check out together. Whether you’re looking to earn titles in competition, get a little help on a farm or ranch, or do some volunteer work, you have plenty of options.
Read over the categories in this chapter, see which one fits your dog’s drive, and then find a group close by that can mentor and guide you in the learning process. Think of it as another rung on your training ladder: like taking your dog to college. With the basics in place, your dog is ready to learn a profession! And remember: No matter how long it takes for your dog to master a skill, the only things that win brownie points are a good temperament, mindful behavior, and an upbeat attitude, whether you’re walking on two legs or four!
Letting other breeds into the mix
It used to be that the American Kennel Club (AKC) only sponsored breed-specific competitive events for purebred dogs. Those days are coming to an end even as I write this. In early 2010 there will be classes for mixed-breed dogs in obedience, agility, and other sporting events. Check out more at www.akc.org
The United Kennel Club (UKC) also sponsors obedience and agility trials, weight pulls, dock jumping, protection sports (like Schutzhund), hunting programs, and terrier races for dogs of pure or mixed ancestry, provided that they’re neutered and have applied for a “limited privilege number.” Visit the UKC at www.ukcdogs.com
for more information. The UKC’s breed classification for mixed dogs: They lump them all under the heading “AMB” which stands for American mixedbreed dogs.
While both of these clubs (the AKC and UKC) were founded to organize and track the population and certifications of purebred dog registrants, there is an organization that heralds
the status of mixed-breed dogs as well. Check it out — visit the Mixed Breed Dog Club of America (MBDCA) at www.mbdca.org
Showing Off in Obedience
Basic obedience training (see Chapter Encouraging Self-Control before You Launch into Lessons
) is something everyone should do — it’s a lot like teaching ESL (English as a second language). Teaching your dog the right response to 10–20 words allows you to direct, socialize with, and enjoy your dog throughout her lifetime. Everyone who gets a dog owes his or her pet this much.
But obedience doesn’t have to end there. You can enter obedience competitions and show off just how well you and your dog communicate with each other. In this section, I introduce competitive obedience and the more lighthearted sport, Rally-O.
Getting serious with competitive obedience
Competitive obedience takes obedience training to a whole new level. Structured and defined, there are set exercises, a 200-point ideal, and judges who score each performance.
Competition in the obedience ring is divided into three levels, each more difficult than the previous one:
– Novice: Companion Dog (CD). For this certification, dogs must compete in walking sequences at their handler’s side, a long “Sit” and “Down–Stay,” “Come” exercises, as well as a few other routines to prove their training and impulse control.
– Open: Companion Dog Excellent (CDX). Here dogs are expected to work off-leash and retrieve in addition to the skills required for the novice title.
– Utility: Utility Dog (UD). At this level dogs are to respond to signals only, locate and retrieve articles, and perform jumping skills.
At each level, a competitor is working for an obedience title. To receive an obedience title, a dog must earn three legs in competition. To achieve a leg, a dog must score at least 170 points out of a possible 200 and get more than half the points available for each exercise.
Having fun with Rally-O
Like the idea of competing, but a little turned off by the seriousness of it all? Consider rally obedience, or Rally-O — a virtual “Simon Says” of obedience. This timed activity consists of doing specific obedience exercises at set stations prearranged by the judges.
Working on a 100-point system, AKC Rally-O awards certification at three levels — Novice, Advanced, and Excellent — with each level graduating to more difficult exercises and off-leash control. Points are deducted if your dog moves outside the assigned area, doesn’t complete an exercise, or if you have to touch or correct her. Fast-paced and fun, Rally-O is a whirlwind activity that everyone enjoys. You can find out more about this activity at www.apdt.com/rally
Keeping Livestock in Line: Herding Tests and Trials
Many farmers and ranchers throughout the world still use herding dogs to control their livestock. And many dogs in the Herding group who are living their lives as cherished pets rather than working dogs still take their herding genes very seriously. You can spot them in a minute: They herd their owners from the kitchen, round up the schoolchildren as they get off the bus, and stare transfixed as the Discovery Channel airs a special called Sheep of the Scottish Highlands.
Herding dogs come in different types:
– Headers: These dogs work in front of livestock, usually sheep, and use an intense gaze known as the eye to control their herd. The Border Collie and Bearded Collie are two shepherd breeds.
– Drovers/Heelers: Drovers work behind sheep or cattle herds and drive them forward. They sometimes control the animals by nipping at their heels. Both the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgi fall into this category, as does the Australian Cattle Dog.
– Livestock guardians: Livestock guardians do just that: They don’t move the flock; they guard it. Bred to work independently, they’re raised with the flock and expected to guard it from wolves, bears, and thieves. Livestock guardians are all big dogs, and include the Kuvasz, Komondor, and Great Pyrenees.
– All-around farm dogs: These dogs are bred to stay around the farm, responding minute-to-minute to any task that comes up including herding and protection. The Collie, Old English Sheepdog, and Australian Shepherd are in this group.
While sponsored herding events do not test differently for each style of herding, titles are earned based on the ability of the dog to work with the handler to move livestock towards a specified goal (into a pen, for example) or around a pre-set course. Competitions aside, many clubs throughout the world gather to simply engage, train, and support their dogs’ passions. If you have a dog who clearly has the bug, check it out at www.herdingontheweb.com
Hunting Dogs: Going after Game
Hunting-dog events are held for dogs who historically have helped man hunt to survive. Though your dog’s skills are rarely needed, keep the secret to yourself — your dog takes her passions seriously and, when trained and tested, she will give you her all. Hunting dogs are divided into Hounds, Gun Dogs, and Terriers.
In this section, I discuss hunting-related activities, including digging up burrows, retrieving game, and staying hot on the trail of an animal. You don’t have to be a hunter to participate; in many cases, the dogs are simply showcasing their skills by chasing scented lures or finding a critter in a cage.
Earthdog: Digging Terrier trial events
Do you have a Terrier whose digging instincts are driving you crazy? If so, earthdog trials may be the perfect outlet for her. Terriers were originally bred to go to ground: to chase vermin all the way into their underground burrows and bring them back, dead or alive.
The breeds allowed to compete include all the small terriers in the Terrier group, as well as Dachshunds and Silky Terriers. Most toy breeds are not allowed to compete in official AKC events, although some, such as the Yorkshire Terrier, are certainly Terriers and may enjoy themselves at a fun match (a non-competitive gathering).
At the test site, a manmade underground tunnel is constructed with wood sides. A caged rodent is secured at the end of the tunnel in an area referred to as the den. The dog enters the tunnel at one end (see Figure 18-1), finds the rodent at the other, and barks. (In these tests, the rodent emerges still caged and alive.)
Figure 18-1: Terriers love going into the ground in an earthdog tunnel.
While it might seem as if the dogs get back to nature and let their instincts run wild in earthdog tests, in fact, dogs must be under their handler’s control at all times, even when they’re underground. Recall and other requirements test the training of even the toughest Terrier.
Tests are run at four different levels. In the first trial, called “Introduction to Quarry,” the dog does not receive any qualifications or titles, but simply gets a taste of what it’s like to be in a tunnel and scent the prey. After passing this test, dogs advance gradually through the ranks. Titles are awarded for Junior Earthdog (JE), Senior Earthdog (SE), and Master Earthdog (ME).
Each test requires a greater degree of skill in detecting and following a scent, eagerness, and determination than the previous one. The distances from which a dog must locate the den and the complexity of the tunnels she must maneuver in the dark become increasingly more difficult.
For details on these digging events, visit the AKC’s Web site at www.akc.org/events/earthdog
or the Web site of the American Working Terrier Association (AWTA) at www.dirt-dog.com
. Gun Dogs: Passing field and retrieval tests Gun Dogs hunt and retrieve small game for their handler, who carries a gun to kill his target. These dogs are further categorized into four classes that specify their genetic predispositions in the field:
– Pointing Dogs were originally bred to search fields far ahead of their owners and stop and point if they found a bird. Trials are often run with the hunter on horseback following the hunting dog. A dog on point is a beautiful thing to see.
– Retrievers retrieve shot game. In these trials a hunter may shoot one or several birds, and the dog is required to retrieve them from the water or land.
– Setters are both excellent pointers, indicating where birds can be found, and flushers, who will rush the bird upon the hunter’s command. Ready–set–go!
– Spaniels were bred to hunt close to man and flush out birds within gunshot range. They’re also expected to retrieve the game once it is shot.
Each class is trained according to a specific standard, yet trials are run in a variety of ways depending on the kennel club or association holding the events. In each, the dog is judged on its stability during the hunt (barking is an immediate disqualification), its steadiness when coursing the field (looking for the game), and its retrieval, including the determination to enter or move through rough terrain/water and tender hold of the game.
In hunt tests, dogs are evaluated against a written standard for following game, alerting the handler, and/or retrieving it. Events are organized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA), and the United Kennel Club (UKC) under the auspices of the Hunting Retriever Club (HRC).
Each dog that meets this standard earns a pass. This is unlike a field trial in which dog/handler teams compete against one another with only one dog being declared the winner.
Hounds: Following prey
If you’re a hunting enthusiast and you have a dog who likes to tag along, these events might be for you. There are almost as many kinds of hunting as there are dogs, and the AKC is only one of many organizations that sponsor hunting events. But all have one thing in common: They put hunter and dog back together at a task the dog was originally bred to do. Hounds are divided by the primary sense they use to hunt — vision or smell.
Sighthounds, who participate in the sport of lure coursing, use their vision to acknowledge and then chase their prey. The goal of this sport is to “preserve and further develop the natural beauty, grace, speed, and coursing skill of the Sighthound.”
Lure coursing events don’t use live bait anymore. Instead, an artificial lure is pulled along a 1,000- to 1,500-yard course that zigs and zags to test the dog’s speed, agility, skill, enthusiasm, and endurance. One of the key players in a lure coursing event is the lure operator. His job is to keep the lure 10 to 30 yards in front of the lead dog, make sure it never gets tangled, and stop it within 20 yards of the lure machine.
All the Sighthounds may take part in lure coursing events, including Afghan Hounds, Basenjis, Borzoi, Greyhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Pharaoh Hounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Salukis, Scottish Deerhounds, and Whippets. These dogs have one thing in common: They love to run after game very fast! As anyone who has witnessed a competition can tell you, Sighthounds respond to a lure on pure instinct. They do what they were bred for, which is to chase a moving object.
Sighthounds aren’t the only breeds that love to run, of course, and many clubs hold fun matches where any breed can enter. If your dog loves to chase, this may be the best way to redirect her energies.
Scenthounds use a scented trail to follow their prey and thus don’t have to be as fast-moving as sighthounds, who literally hunt to kill. While following a trail is definitely an endurance sport, these dogs are architecturally designed: Their ears are long and flappy to waft scents up to their noses, their lips are soft and subtle to capture and hold scent particles, and their noses are a maze of sensory cells like we could never imagine.
Scenthounds have a signature bay that signals their location to the hunters, who follow either on foot or horseback. Modern suburbanization has urged their silence, but these dogs rarely comply. Happiest following a scent, they like to bellow and share their delight when something smells good.
In trials, gatherings, or competitions, Scenthounds are used to hunt foxes, raccoons, and rabbits either hunting in large groups, smaller packs, or solo. Leggy hounds generally require their hunter to be on horseback to keep up, while some breeds, like American Foxhounds or Coonhounds, have their hunters wait to find them until their baying signals that the game has been run up a tree.
The AKC holds events and judges dogs based on how well they work together and follow a trail. Beagles and Basset Hounds work in packs; Dachshunds work in pairs (called braces) and are judged on their ability to run a rabbit into the ground; and Coonhound trials are held to test the hunting skills of several Coonhound breeds, including the Bluetick and Redboned Coonhound.
Similar events are sponsored by other breed groups and clubs as well. If you have a Hound and love the idea of hunting together, research your breed and find out what clubs exist to help you get started.
Tracking: Finding What’s Hidden or Lost
Dogs’ noses are analogous to our eyes. For dogs, tracking is like what looking around is to us. However, to train your dog to follow a specific trail is no simple feat. Tracking, teaching dogs to find missing persons or to detect drugs or bombs, is advanced work and requires a lot of encouragement and patient repetition.
Not only is tracking a great sport, but it can serve other purposes as well: You can train your dog to help with actual search-and-rescue missions. You may even want to teach basic tracking for personal convenience — having a helper to round up the troops for dinner or find a child who’s wandered off can be a tremendous asset!
Treating tracking as a sport
You can use tracking as a recreational sport, teaching your dog to find various people or objects in your family, or you can use it as a competitive sport, earning tracking titles.
Training must start with good communication. Positive retrieves, where the leather articles (wallet, glove) are within sight, are the best beginning. As a dog’s ability and enthusiasm increase, articles can be hidden from sight in tall grass or around corners.
Exposing a dog to different weather conditions and locations is important in creating a reliable tracking dog. A tracking dog will set to task, and the handler will follow wherever the track leads her.
The AKC offers two kinds of tracking competitions: field and variable surface. Variable surface tracking goes across roads, parking lots, and other urban areas, while field tracking is strictly in the wild. Titles for field tracking are Tracking Dog (TD) and Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX), whereas titles for variable surface tracking are Variable Surface Tracker (VST) and Champion Tracker (CT).
Signing up for search and rescue
Tracking skills also can be used to start dogs with a search-and-rescue group. Search and rescue is not a competition. It’s real life — dogs working with their owners to find missing people. These dogs must learn to air scent, following a trail created by the natural shedding of microscopic particles from a human’s skin.
Search-and-rescue dogs are trained to work in adverse conditions, in inclement weather, day or night, to trail the sometimes tragic repercussions of disasters, both natural (hurricanes, tornados, floods, avalanches, and so on) and manmade, such as bombings or transportation accidents. To find out more about this activity, visit www.nasar.org
Schutzhund: Offering Protection
Schutzhund is a German word that means protection. The training was developed in the early 1900s to determine whether German Shepherds would make adequate police dogs (as well as good breeding stock), though these days the training isn’t limited to that breed of dog. Intense training and certification happens at three levels:
– Tracking: Here the dog is set to track a scent, as well as dropped articles, over rough terrain. The trial is run regardless of the weather.
– Obedience: These exercises are similar to those held in competitive obedience; however, rather than involving a gated flooring or yard, they involve football-field-length distances and more elaborate obstacles, such as a wall or high jump.
– Protection: In this section of the test, the dog is expected to be under the complete control of the handler. Control is tested under stress and the dog must not attack until and unless instructed to or when under a direct attack. While this section of the evaluation has come under a lot of scrutiny (no one should be subjected to an out-of-control attack dog), the trained and padded “criminals” (shown in Figure 18-2) symbolize real-life events. A well-trained Schutzhund dog performs with synchronized precision to the direct commands of her handler.
Figure 18-2: Protection dogs must prove their courage when interrupted by a surprise attack.
Certification for Schutzhund dogs comes at three levels: I, II, and III, with each representing greater challenges to the dog. The finest certification is Schutzhund III: as they say, quite literally: “One in a thousand!”
While I’ve never trained a dog in the sport, I have worked with trainers and participated as an assistant in classes where such training was done and done well. I’ve heard, however, that there are some trainers who border on being abusive. Be careful. If the trainer won’t let you observe a few classes, go elsewhere. Meet the dogs who are being trained. Are they stable? Are they under control? A good instructor will evaluate every dog and person as well: Be very wary of a trainer who accepts everyone. This is a tough sport suited to a select few.
Earning breed-specific working titles
Believe it or not, there are many other activities you and your dog can do together. Many national breed clubs have designated individual working titles to test for the abilities their breed was first developed to possess.
– The Newfoundland Club of America sponsors clinics and competitions where dogs can earn Water Dog (WD) and Water Rescue Dog (WRD) titles. They also award the drafting titles Draft Dog (DD) and Team Draft Dog (TDD).
– The Dalmatian Club of America offers road titles.
– The Alaskan Malamute Club of America offers titles for weight pulls.
And there are lots more. To discover what your breed club has to offer, write your national club (you can get a list of national breed clubs from the AKC).
Sometimes the best way to deal with your dog’s natural instincts is to engage her in healthy competition. Earning a title is only a small piece of the pie. Working with your dog should be your number-one incentive, whether or not you’re ever recognized. The best way to get involved in organized activities is to seek out a club of like-minded enthusiasts in your area. Unfortunately, advanced training can’t be learned from a book. Although reading helps, it can’t replace experience.
Getting Certified for Pet Therapy
No dogs on the couch, please; this section isn’t about doggie psychiatrists. Pet therapy is the involvement of well-trained dogs who just love to socialize and get attention. Once certified, these dogs play a therapeutic role in such environments as nursing homes, children’s centers, prisons, and other long-term care facilities. I’ve been doing it for years, and I never cease to be amazed by how the unconditional love of a dog can light up a person’s life and ease her interactions with the world around her.
Before you call up and offer your services, you need to find out how pet therapy works. I remember my first pet-therapy class, which I took in New York City with my beloved dog Kyia. Together we were exposed to many of the unfamiliar situations that we would eventually encounter on our therapy visits.
I’ve turned from student into teacher — I now run a class to socialize dogs to the rigors of these environments. The dogs are exposed to wheelchairs, walkers, metal objects, a variety of handling techniques, speech patterns, and people of all ages.
Before therapy dogs are allowed to go visiting, they must be certified by an organization such as the Delta Society or Therapy Dogs International (TDI). These organizations provide ID cards with both the person’s and the dog’s picture on it and supply each team with insurance should an incident occur.
Is your canine a good citizen?
The Canine Good Citizen test — CGC for short — is a noncompetitive test developed to recognize and certify dogs and their owners as responsible citizens. Although the test was developed and is promoted by the AKC, it’s not limited to purebred dogs. Mixed breeds are encouraged to become certified as well.
The CGC measures a dog’s social skills and public manners, and is not a competition. The goal of the CGC test is not to eliminate participants, but to encourage pet owners to learn the skills necessary to train their dogs to be safe, well-mannered members of society.
To pass the test, your dog must know the commands “Heel,” “Sit,” “Down,” “Come,” and “Stay.” The test is composed of ten evaluations. For more information on how to get your CGC certification, visit www.akc.org
Not everyone is a dog lover. If you’re out visiting and someone says they don’t want to meet your dog, don’t push it. Often, people in care facilities don’t get to make many choices. Respect this one.
If you have a dog who is social and loving, yet calm and well-mannered, you may find therapy work very rewarding. Check out the book Wanted! Animal Volunteers,
by Mary R. Burch, PhD (Howell), or visit www.tdi-dog.org
for more information on how you and your dog can get involved!
by Sarah Hodgson