Articles Index/Obedience
Posted 06/14/10

An Old Friend in Times of

Trouble … What to Do?

An old friend of mine is in trouble. Through no fault of its own, changing times seem to have overtaken this friend’s place in the world of dog sports and that’s too bad, because basic obedience training is the foundation on which we should be building our dogs’ behavioral repertoire. The sport of competitive obedience is in trouble for a variety of reasons. For one thing, there are a lot more organized activities in which to participate than ever before. For another, earning an obedience degree – especially beyond novice – requires more work and dedication than a lot of other activities. And, too, the sport itself sometimes comes across as a bit stiff and cranky to those who don’t understand its allure.

This, coupled with the fact that most all-breed clubs that are putting on shows have little or no interest in offering the sport, makes it vulnerable. Obedience is viewed as labor intensive (it requires multiple stewards, after all, and this requires people to actually volunteer their time) and it costs money to hire judges. There’s ring space, too, and a whole variety of other excuses that make it easy not to offer this activity.

One of the real problems is that, historically, breed parent clubs have been decidedly unfriendly to activities other than those that support the conformation side of things. Fortunately, Norfolks have a spirited bunch of enthusiasts who are dedicated to putting titles on both ends of their dogs, but this is not true in many other breeds.

Ed Whitney is a competitor and judge who goes way back. When he was showing Kerry Blues in both breed and obedience, two of them had a CH at the front end and a UD at the back end of their names … a sure sign of a well-balanced dog. Ed is one of the most popular obedience judges around and he recently wrote a letter to the obedience publication Front & Finish in response to a previously published article written by Diane Bauman. With Ed’s permission, I am printing a portion of what he wrote.

“It is very hard to convince beginners, in today’s world to get into a sport that requires a two to three year commitment before you can enter an obedience trial. We live in a world that demands instant gratification. Exhibitors today have many choices to fill their free time. We have a good product that needs to be re-packaged so that we can become competitive in this competitive environment”

I too don’t believe that dogs can tell the difference between agility, obedience or rally. I agree with Diane that dogs are ‘really interested in quality time spent interacting with their owners, learning and experiencing new things’ and most important the rewards they receive.” (Emphasis, mine ~ ed.)

Ed continued, “I agree with Diane that we need a program that is ‘diverse, challenging, logical and progressive … there is nothing wrong with obedience as a sport other than the way the program is designed.’”

So, why reproduce Ed’s comments here? Why care about the sport? Why encourage your participation? I personally think that basic obedience training of puppies should be ‘required’ of all owners. These are skills … come, sit, stay … that can literally save a dog’s life when danger lurks. These skills can also make a visit to the vet or the groomer much more comfortable for all involved. And competitive obedience? It’s fun. It’s a way to bond with your dog. It’s a way to get ready for other activities. Whether you ever compete beyond the novice level, this is a sport that brings its own, unique rewards.

My concern, as a person who quite happily ‘dabbles’ in multiple arenas, is that people get discouraged if their dogs don’t compete at the highest levels of a sport. The idea that every team ‘should’ be in hot pursuit of an OTCH or a MACH can be de-motivating, especially if that’s not your goal.

It is sometimes hard to remember, as those around you are celebrating their own well-deserved honors, that it is the journey that counts. You may or may not care about the titles (and the truth is that most of us, at some level, do care … at least a little) but the only thing your dog cares about are the activities shared with you. In time, the ribbons will fade and the trophies will end up on the shelf in some closet … but the hours spent competing together are permanent deposits in your memory bank.

I hope that those of us who participate in this sport don’t give up. We are the ones who need to take the initiative and agree to mentor new people. This is a sport that takes time and commitment. The journey can sometimes be lengthy and the path steep … but in the end, it’s worth the effort.

ANTIC, June, 2009

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