Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The wonderful people of dog sports!

An unexpected post title after my last two, complain-y, rage-y posts! After some recent unpleasant experiences, it was SUCH A PLEASURE to have a few events with people who really reminded me how awesome the dog sport world is.


First: I recently attended a Sprinter event. I have been to one previous Sprinter and a couple of FAST CATS but have always had a friend or my husband with me to handle the hold/release of my dog while I handled the catch. This was the first time I was going to be totally solo, and in a new-to-me area, so unlikely to run into people I knew. I had some trepidation as my normally extremely gentle, sweet Dalmatian, Hazzard, turns into a screaming banshee at lure. He scream-barks, sounds violently aggressive (he isn't), and will do ANYTHING to release himself. He is crazy strong, and I have only ever handed him off to my husband before.

I arrived early and happened to run into a trio of people, one of whom I had met briefly at a recent obedience trial, so I recognized her and her GORGEOUS lab. I chatted with them briefly and mentioned I was there solo. They IMMEDIATELY offered to help me, how kind! I took them up on it and offered my assistance in any way. I did warn them that my dog turns into a demon near the lure, but the beautiful lab's owner assured me that her boy, Elroy, was also very strong and she could handle him.

There were 4 runs and EVERY one of this lovely trio held both Random and Hazzard. They didn't complain about Hazzard's...exuberance, rather they assured me it was all fine :). I was thrilled to be able to help them by holding their dogs - and enjoyed meeting the sweetest golden, Kara, the handsome and strong lab, Elroy, and the coolest mini-poo, Newton. Beyond the help, they were just lovely humans. They offered to share their lunch, they congratulated my dogs, and they made me feel welcome! Such a nice introduction to a new area for dog sports.

So - on the heels of a couple of posts about how people need to be welcoming - what a lovely experience. These lovely ladies modeled exactly what we all need to do at events...be welcoming to new people, help when you can (not at the expense of your own dog, or run...but when possible), being friendly is a nice bonus!

Don't be a jackass. In life, or the ring.

I want to preface this somewhat rage-y post by saying that overwhelmingly the Dalmatian community has made me feel VERY welcome. At my VERY first baby puppy show with Hazzard, a long-time breeder/competitor, Sharon, helped me stack him so I could get a photo of our first show. She was kind and welcoming and encouraging, and that set the stage for many people to come! Competitors like Sandra, who helped me with my stack, often watching from ringside so she could give me great tips and hints, or Karen and Ross who have been so friendly, right from the start, and have gone out of their way to be complimentary to BOTH Random and Hazzard! Sometimes my magical unicorn dog, Random, gets overlooked in the show world as her mega-spots mean she will never be a competitive conformation dog (plus, you know...spayed). My breeder, Pam, is amazing and has been SO supportive, enthusiastic, and helpful. Through her, I have met wonderful people like Laurie and Becky who have become friends and supporters and encouragers. Both breeders of my dogs' sires have also been incredibly enthusiastic and encouraging... Again and again I have met new people, who have long been in the breed, and they have been so welcoming, so encouraging.

This is not everyone's experience with conformation, or with joining a new breed, which is super sad. Perhaps BECAUSE of how awesome the community has been, someone who breaks that mold particularly stands out. Again, I have no desire to shame an actual person (ok, maybe a small desire, but I would never act on that), so I will keep the details vague...but I think the experience is worth sharing, because it was impactful on me, and would be particularly impactful on an even newer competitor.

So...long story short-ish...MANY years ago I took a conformation class from a friend who is also a professional handler. I didn't have a show dog at the time, but wanted to learn. She REALLY drilled common courtesy and professionalism into me. Some basics for every single time you walk into the ring: be respectful and courteous of your competitors, of the judge, and of the ring steward. Use the space you need, but don't crowd others. If you are at the front of the line, check-in with the person behind you before you start the group go-around to make sure they are ready. ALWAYS congratulate the winner! These really just mirror common courtesy for life. These are the tiny things we can do to make the world a nicer place, hold the door for people, let people merge into traffic, basically don't be a jerk. These are also the basics from when I used to box. Be courteous to your competition, sincerely congratulate them if they win, respect the ref, be polite to other coaches. THESE ARE BASIC LIFE SKILLS.

In a recent-ish show these common courtesies were ignored or rather trampled on. I was showing against a seasoned competitor who is new to the breed. It was just the two of us in the ring. I happened to be at the front of the line so before we started our group go-around I looked back, as I ALWAYS do, and asked "ready?" with a smile. I am so used to showing with people who have ranged from friendly to becoming my friends that it was very jarring to have the response be a literal eye roll with no further acknowledgement. Ummm...what just happened? Anyway, I carried on, of course, and had the pleasure of winning that day. Instead of the "congratulations" that I am used to receiving (and giving!) the other competitor grumped past me out of the ring, speaking to neither me nor the judge. The following day - same thing! LITERALLY ROLLED THEIR EYES instead of saying thanks for checking in, or even just "yes" to acknowledge they were ready for the go-around. This time, the other competitor won (they do, in fact, have quite a nice Dalmatian!) I enthusiastically and genuinely congratulated them - no response. Huh. 

For a variety of reasons, I have zero tolerance for people's poor behaviour these days. So rather than do the perhaps more mature thing and let it go, I followed said competitor out of the ring and said "pardon me, have I done something to upset you that I don't know about? Because I am VERY puzzled by your behaviour in the ring". The other competitor did not break their stride and tossed over their shoulder, I am really busy, I work for a handler. Erm...ok...that's cool, I am not looking to hang out between ring times...so I said "but that shouldn't have any impact on your time in the ring with your dog, and that behaviour is really poor". To which they carried on their way, saying "It isn't about you, it's just me." Um yeah, I know. But thanks. At least we agree on that.

So, here's the deal. I have been extremely fortunate to be trusted with some amazing dogs. Hazzard is my first conformation dog and we have been learning this sport together. He is a gorgeous dog and we have been fortunate to have some serious success together. But I am still essentially new to the sport, and we have new people joining the sport every day. If we want this sport to continue, we need these new people to want to stick around. Don't be a jerk (try not to be a jerk throughout your whole day...but particularly try and hold it together in the ring). Don't be rude. Don't be condescending. Don't make snide comments. Don't be clique-y. Don't exclude new people. Don't crowd people in the ring so your dog looks better. Be proud of your dog and what you achieve, don't let other's achievements take away from yours, and don't try and take away theirs. (not all the above shit happened to me, recently or ever, but these are the things I hear from an alarming number of competitors).

If I hadn't had SO MANY awesome experiences before, this may have really impacted me (rather than just showing me that this one person is a jackass). Much like my previous rant on behaviour around the obedience ring...I think we ALL have a responsibility to be welcoming to people (new or old), and encouraging, and friendly to each other. We don't have to be friends, but we also don't need to be enemies.

OK - THAT IS ENOUGH OF MY WHINING. Stay tuned for a new blog coming later this week that is about some amazingly welcoming, helpful, kind people at a recent event. 

Despite my griping, MOST of the people I meet are lovely. Part of what makes dog sports fun. Be a lovely person. Not a jackass.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Obedience "trials" and tribulations: Don't be a jerk.

When I started in OB, close to 20 years ago, I found people overall to be very welcoming. Judges were supportive and enthusiastic, competitors were friendly and helpful. After I finished two OTCHs and went on to an OTCHX with my primary obedience dog, my brilliant Italian Greyhound, I took a few year hiatus, the stereotypical "life got in the way". I went back to school to do my MBA, moved across Canada for a new job, and having accomplished all my current OB goals my dogs slipped into retirement, enjoyed their daily hikes and didn't really seem to miss our daily practices :).

When I got a new dog, my magical Dalmatian, I decided to get back into Obedience, among other dog sports. In a new province with a new breed, I felt like a new competitor again, except I came with the confidence of someone who had finished some OTCHs, hit some top ten lists, and "proven" myself.

This time around, I didn't find people quite as welcoming. I had one early experience trialing in the USA. With AKC I am back in "A" or the novice stream, they don't recognize accomplishments from other kennel clubs, so as far as the judge was concerned, it could have been my first time in OB, ever. That morning, under the other judge, Random and I had trialed and she'd done very well, a nice qualifying score in the high 180s. As can happen with young dogs, it all fell apart a bit in the afternoon! We did not qualify, which didn't bother me at all. I expect these things with new dogs (and sometimes not so new dogs!). What was upsetting, though, was the interaction with the judge after. I have become used to judges being very supportive and encouraging, and if not that, then just nothing. This judge decided to pull me aside and lecture me about my dog not being ready. You know what? Maybe she wasn't! I have a tendency to enter too soon...but that's my prerogative, it's my money to waste, it's my dog to enter or not, and without new people entering, this sport will soon be dead.

When I first started in OB there was OB, conformation, or Agility. Then rally came along, a kinder/gentler OB sport. Now, OB trials still compete with conformation, rally, and agility (with several different organizations to choose from), but also with nosework, with barn hunt, with dock diving, with lure coursing and sprinter, and so much more. I used to have to hand deliver entries on the opening evening to ensure I got in, now I regularly am at trials with 10 dogs entered for the entire trial. This would be a good time to be very welcoming to new competitors!

Sadly, getting back into OB, I've also seen a shift in competitors' attitudes. I don't know if that is a result of there being less competitors so all that's left are pretty hard-core people? And don't get me wrong, there are TONS of lovely competitors still. Today I ran into both versions fairly early in my day. I was at a "new to me" trial, so was unfamiliar with the venue and set up. I'd always been taught to show up at least an hour before my ring time, and often show up with more time to spare than that. I find I'm a better competitor if I am relaxed and not feeling rushed. So, I arrived fairly first thing, before the trial had started. The building was at the back of an industrial complex, so after one false start in the wrong parking lot I found the mass of "doggie vehicles" (you know, lots of vans, some SUVs, all kitted out with kennels, fans, blankets, etc. All the necessary doggie accoutrements), and found a spot to park.

I grabbed my collapsible kennels and headed into the building saying a cheery "good morning" to everyone I passed. I'm not, by nature, particularly gregarious, but I believe in making an effort at these events. It's more fun if I have made some connections and chat with my fellow competitors. The third person I passed gave me a stony look in response to my chipper greeting...cool, maybe she didn't hear me, maybe she's not a morning person...whatever. I marched past her into the building and was stopped by her shrill and snarky "you CAN'T kennel in THERE!". Her tone of voice would have made you think that I was planning to kennel on someone's fine china, or perhaps in the midst of a nursery. Nope, just apparently they don't kennel around the ring as it's a tight fit. Cool, every building is different, no big deal, but perhaps there's a friendlier way of getting this message across? I said "ok, no worries, it's my first time at this show so no way for me to know where you kennel or not". She then gestured to an open space in the ante chamber and said "this is all that's left", so I said "neat, guess I will kennel here!". Perhaps my abrupt responses helped her understand that her tone was inappropriate and unnecessary as she then tried to extend an olive branch of sorts and as I was setting up my kennels she asked "so what kind of dogs do you have?". I stopped. Looked up at her. And said "we must have been at 100 different trials together. I know you have xxxxx (dog breed redacted to not identify the culprit of nastiness). She looked at me, then said "oh right, I thought you looked familair". Humph.

Anyway...moral to the story? Don't be a jerk. It isn't necessary, it isn't helpful. It WILL negatively impact the sport. Entries are down, there is a genuine risk of this sport dying. Don't be part of that. Be the person who is welcoming, and encouraging. Share your knowledge. Be friendly. And if you can't be, then just be quiet. If someone is heading where they shouldn't be, let them know (kindly), or don't, they'll figure it out in a minute.

Obedience has really developed a reputation for not being welcoming. That's super sad. And doesn't need to be like that. There's such a wealth of knowledge in the competitors, share it and more people will join!

I do LOVE seeing some truly new people to the sport. There's a lovely girl with a wonderful mini schnauzer that has worked her way through novice and is now in utility and doing well! She is a great addition to the sport and I'm happy to see her chatting with people and hope that she's had the warm welcome she deserves.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Off Leash Dogs....Grrrrr

I think dogs running off leash is SUPER important to their mental AND physical health.
(So why do I get so angry with off-leash dogs?)

I LOVE having my dogs off leash. I hike with them off leash nearly every day. I love to see them running and playing, and I think that sort of unstructured play is really important for dogs. So, what’s the downside? WAY too often “off leash” gets translated into “zero control”. Unless you are one of those lucky people who have tons of land on which to let your dogs play, if your pooch is off leash then you need to be aware of people around you.

What about off leash parks?
As a sweeping generalization, I am not a fan. There are exceptions to this, some parks are set up very well and have a great group of people and dogs….but many are not. People bring their unruly dogs there, unsnap their leash (that is, if they even ARE leashed, many just let them explode out of their cars and hope they end up in the park) and voila – their work as an owner is done. Urgh. Erm….no. 

First, any dog who is off leash needs to have a good, solid recall. Are any dogs likely to be 100% reliable? Honestly, no. They are dogs. There will almost always be something that could trump you. For some dogs this may be a squirrel, for others, it will be a dog, for mine, it is inevitably something truly putrid that is rotting on the ground that MUST BE ROLLED IN. Still, if your pooch is not nearly 100% reliable PLEASE do not let them off leash. It isn’t safe for them, and it isn’t safe for the people, kids, and dogs around you.

Many dogs do NOT have appropriate social skills. They are bullies, at best, or aggressive, at worst. Dog park fights are terribly common and can be tragic. Do not put your dog at risk. Playtime with other dogs can be great, so find some friends with dogs, or seek out people from a training class, or meet up with people from online dog groups for controlled, supervised play sessions. It really is not reasonable to expect your dog to like every other dog they meet or to expect every other dog to like your dog. We aren’t like that with other humans, why do we expect it with our dogs?

Please, please, please if you have your dog off leash in a non-off leash park, have them under control. There are lots of “grey” areas where people go to run their dogs (conservation areas, provincial parks, etc) that can be tons of fun for an off-leash adventure, but you are sharing this space with other people. I frequently run my dogs, sled-dog style, with my bike, scooter, or sled. They are “joring”, wearing pulling harnesses and connected to the front and pulling me along. This is awesome exercise for them with the added bonus of respecting leash laws…but it can be catastrophic when we run into off leash dogs. The BEST scenario is me stopping and the owner with the off-leash dogs getting their dogs back and holding or leashing them as I pass. This happens about 5 % of the time. The other 95% of the time I stop, hold my dogs while a strange dog approaches, often growling at us . In these scenarios, the owner is usually calling them “fluffy, come on fluffy, here fluffy” with absolutely zero impact on the dog. I start with a firm, but friendly “Please call your dog”, followed up with some firmer, less friendly phrases when nothing happens. Why don’t I want these random off-leash dogs approaching?

   1)      My dogs are in harness and tied to my bike/sled/scooter. They are working, this is not play time. They LOVE pulling (there is really no way to convince a dog to pull if they don’t enjoy it), and they also get TONS of play time, but this is not it.
   2)      Whilst in harness they are physically incapable of playing. Think about how quickly dogs on leash can get tangled. Now picture two dogs, in harness, with two leads, plus a line to the bike, plus a line tying them together – and imagine that tangle. Dangerous!
   3)      Your dog might not be friendly. You may be yelling “It’s ok, he’s friendly”, but so did every owner whose dog has attacked mine in the past. Dogs do not always react how we expect them to. Your dog may very well be friendly most of the time, but that may change when he is presented with my two ramped up, screaming Dalmatians 😊.
   4)      Which brings me too….my dogs are not friendly in harness. They are very friendly off-leash and have lots of doggie friends. They meet stranger doggos off leash with no issues. But in harness they are snarling monsters. They are excited about their run, they don’t want to be held still (which I am doing to manage the dog charging up to us), and they have the frustration of being restrained. They are NOT going to greet your dog nicely. Which may make your normally friendly dog NOT friendly. And now I have a tangle of fighting dogs.
    5)      It’s dangerous for me. I am constantly scanning trails (and run my dogs where other dogs are, in theory, only allowed on leash), but if I come around a corner and there is an off-leash dog, or one comes up behind me, my safety is in peril. My well-controlled run can turn into a nightmare. Fellow mushers have had serious injuries as a result of off-leash
/out of control dog encounters

So, let’s all get along 😊. We are sharing these spaces, let’s look out for each other. If in doubt, call and leash your dog. If it is someone who wants your dog to play, you can always release them, but not everyone appreciates your off-leash dog. For their safety, for other dog’s safety, for other people’s safety, for my safety, please keep your dogs under control.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Spots in Savannah

En route home from the AKC National Championship show in Florida, we stopped in Savannah. I have been to Savannah a couple times previously and love the city. It is a gorgeous city, with the idyllic (though regrettably invasive) Spanish moss hanging from the trees, the old cobblestone and brick walkways and stairs (use at your own risk), and the stretch of the Savannah River where you can walk alongside an eclectic selection of charming ferries, olde thyme steamboats, and massive freighters being maneuvered by tugboats.

Rivaling New Orleans for my favourite “Southern USA city”, I love the ambiance and the food. Oh the food…. From delightful craft beer (be sure to check out Moon River brewing) to exceptional seafood (‘Sorry Charlie’s’ is a personal fav) to several quirky and outstanding restaurants like The Grey and Treylor Park. OMG THE FOOD.

Anyway, this was the first time that I was in Savannah with dogs and what a pleasant surprise, Savannah is QUITE dog-friendly. I was meandering along the river, window shopping with the Spots, and was amazed (and delighted) with how many shop owners called out “You are welcome to come in!”. One charming lady assured me I could come in to her coffee shop with the Spot, which I politely declined, we were enjoying our walk plus two exuberant Dalmatians around hot coffee and pastries quite frankly sounded awful. When I declined, she came out of the shop to let me know she had a water bowl if they were thirsty, again, I thanked her but declined, it was not at all warm and we hadn’t been walking all that long. And with the delicate orchid Spots I prefer to keep them to their own water. At this the patron said she would just come and pet them if they weren’t going to come in 😊. How charming!

The Riverwalk afforded MANY photo ops, my favourite being Spots gone Yachting.
We ambled down to the “waving girl” statue and, as they are inclined to do, the Spots insisted on reinacting this historical moment.

I am always up for a trip to Savannah, but now knowing it is dog-friendly I will be even more eager to find a reason to stay there!

Hotel: Red Roof Inn. About 20 mins south of the city. Weirdly they were adamant that there only be one dog in the room – fortunately, we had two rooms so each just claimed one Spot. Pet fee: Nope.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Lansing, MI is for lovers....right? (Or is that Vermont...)

Who DOESN’T want to spend their anniversary in Lansing, MI?

This was a big(ish) year for our anniversary, 5 years since we first combined our Brady Bunch dog households (Brad had 2 dogs when we met, I had 4). In past years we have celebrated our anniversary in New Orleans, on a Mediterranean cruise, in San Francisco, and in Arizona. The next logical locale was definitely Lansing, MI….right? The choice of Lansing was the result of a few things. First was Brad telling me “all you actually want to do is go on a roadtrip with the dogs, so let’s just plan something they can come along on”. Well, he isn’t wrong, per say….so I planned a fun trip to hit a few of the States that we hadn’t yet in Southern USA. 

Then Hazzard qualified for the dock diving championships held at the AKC National Championship dog show in Florida in early December – so after much discussion we decided to cancel the anniversary trip and go to Florida instead. Then a fellow Dalmatian friend sent me info on the Dalmatian Specialty being held in Lansing, MI, over our anniversary weekend. So we booked a romantic room at the Red Roof Inn (haha), packed plenty of water (sorry, Flint) and off we went.

Lansing is actually a pretty cool city. They definitely are having a bit of a revival and downtown recovery. They have a very hip brewery, Lansing Brewing, with exceptional food. This was where we went for our “official” anniversary dinner. Craft beer and chicken and waffles? Yes, please. Across the street from Lansing brewing was an also hip craft distillery. Well done, Lansing, well done. We made a trip over there and got a bottle of their vodka to add to our bar. They are obviously a new distillery as all they had for sale were clear liquors, the ones that are distilled quickly, no bourbon/whiskey, or rum (yet).

Day one at the show (Friday) was awesome! There was a Dalmatian sweepstakes, a just for fun event held at some specialties, and Hazzard won it! Sweeps have the BEST prizes, and this was no different, awesome Christmas themed prizes. At the “real” show Hazzard took Winners Dog for a 3 point major win – our third, and thus superfluous major. (to achieve an AKC Championship you need to win 15 points, of which at least two must be “major” wins, 3 points or more. This is to prevent you being able to collect points one at a time. It helps to ensure you truly have a quality dog, not just a dog that you enter at shows against another mediocre dog and collect single points). This brought us to a total of 13 points, agonizingly close to finishing our CH. With no obedience/rally offered at this show, Random was along for moral support, primarily, and for another entry of “Brace of Chaos” in the Specialty 😊.

Day two we got reserve winners, which is a nice way of saying “your dog is nice, but no winning for you, today”. But Day three brought a VERY exciting win, Winners Dog, followed by Best of Winners (when all the champions go in the ring to compete for Best of Breed, the winning dog and winning bitch are also back in. “Best of Winners” is the dog who is deemed to be better, either the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch). That meant we earned….wait for it…..2 MORE POINTS AND FINISHED OUR CHAMPIONSHIP. Wowza, finishing that weekend was seriously unexpected. What a fun an exciting end to our show! As Brad said, he could feel me smiling from across the arena 😊

Winning at a Specialty is particularly exciting as Specialties draw larger entries. To win in a ring full of really awesome dogs is super special. This was the end of our trifecta of Championships, first we finished our UKC (June) then our CKC (July), and now the AKC. There are titles beyond Championship, in conformation – various Grand Championships – we will pursue our Grand in Canada (we are already about ¾ of the way there) but will not in AKC. We will show occasionally, for fun, at specialties, but will now focus on the other side of sports, the performance events. Hazzard has been training in obedience/rally, weight pull, and nosework. We have begun entering shows and achieving titles, but now we will make this our main focus.

Hazzard is my first real show dog. Gecko, the IG, has his CKC CH, and I took him in the ring a couple of times, but it was the kindness of friends that got him his CH, I never did earn any points on him. Most people do not get such a quality dog for their first conformation dog. I was lucky. I had already “proven” to my breeder (the amazing Pam Fisher) that I was serious about working with dogs. She was clear with me from the start that Random would not be a show dog (toooooo spotty), so we have only ever focused on performance sports, and Random is AN ABSOLUTE STAR. One of those super rare dogs who is up for any sport, any event, any time. In the 1.5 years I had Random prior to Hazzard joining the household she had achieved 14 titles in 6 sports across 6 organizations. The other lucky thing was Pam having not one, but two show potential male pups in her gorgeous litter – so she kept the liver and let the black come live with me <3. Many, many people in the Dalmatian breed have remarked on how lucky I was to get Hazzard. I wholeheartedly agree. But I was also incredibly lucky to get Random. I just want to live up to the potential of these two amazing dogs. They are awesome. My job is to not hold them back 😊.

Speaking of a 5 year anniversary….we are also really lucky to have Brad. He loves me, and the Spots, even when we aren’t all that lovable. He supports my crazy dog show addiction, comes to watch when he can, shares in the wins and losses, and encourages us every step of the way. The Spots adore him, which is really the true test of what sort of human being you are. I divide my world into “good humans” and “not good humans”. I do not have a lot of gray area. But Brad is the best human.

Monday, 17 December 2018

AKC National Championship

The AKC National!

America’s largest dog show. 5,000 dogs and their handlers competing in conformation, agility, obedience, rally, and dock diving. The pinnacle of dog events. We were here because Hazzard (somewhat unexpectedly) qualified for the NADD (North American Dock Diving) Championships back in July. I say unexpectedly only because it is his first year diving. But he has come A LONG way and certainly was ready to hold his own against some of North America’s top dogs. After a lot of back and forth, we decided to go and to make a vacation of it. So, we packed the Spots and our two good friends into our Atlas and headed off on a 2200 km drive from Guelph, Ontario to Orlando, Florida.

We left after work on a Friday – determined to knock a few hundred kms off our trip to make the following two days a bit easier. I took the Spots on a good run so they would be relaxed in the car (they are awesome travelers) and we all settled in. Night one of a road trip always involves a trip to Target for travel “essentials” – including the Spots fresh foods (boiled eggs and yogurt), the obligatory new doggie toy, some dog treats, and snacks for the humans.

Saturday we made it to North Carolina, just in time to catch the start of what would turn into an epic winter storm, eeek. We stayed at a La Quinta, one of my favourite chains for traveling with dogs – dogs are always welcome and never incur extra charges. We woke up to a winter wonderland – significant snow and the threat of freezing rain, so we hit the road (with AWD and snow tires and lots of experience with winter driving). Good thing we did, the snow progressed and many of the highways throughout North Carolina were closed. Rolling out of the storm and into the warmth of the South was definitely appreciated.

In addition to the NADD Championships I entered Hazzard in conformation for 2 days, and Random in rally for 2 days – may as well make the most out of the show! I had left myself a bit of extra time, assuming the parking/kenneling etc would be a challenge, thank goodness I did! Parking wasn’t too bad, we were on right at 8 am so it wasn’t too packed yet. The kenneling area though? Wowza. By far the largest show I have ever been to, the kenneling area was larger than the entire footprint of previous shows I have attended. 1st lesson we learned was definitely book benching area ahead of time. After a truly arduous walk, with all of our gear and 2 VERY excited dogs, up and down and across and over and through the area, we found a small spot for our two kennels and 2 chairs. We got settled in and set off to check out the building. 

I found my conformation and obedience ring amongst the 30 + rings. In some quirk of scheduling I was in at 8 am in conformation ring 17 for Dalmatians AND in at 8 am in obedience ring 4 for rally. Eeek. I started at the rally ring, explained I had a conflict and they kindly moved me to the end of the class. The conformation judge was totally disinterested so fortunately (?) our stint in the ring was brief and I had just enough time to switch dogs and make it into the rally ring. We had entered in Masters, only our second time in and I had neglected to review the signs again, as I had intended. This combined with no chance for a walk-through (I was busy NOT winning in conformation) meant we were going in blind – perhaps not ideal. Random did her best, but it wasn’t our smoothest run and we did not qualify (nor did we deserve to qualify). So by 930 am we were done for the day, haha. Not our most successful day, but both dogs did their absolute best. We headed off, the following day our schedule was 8am and 230 pm – so we would have loads of time to further explore the show. We went back to the amazing house we were renting and Hazzard "practiced" for his dock event by playing in the pool :). 

Day 2: Rally again at 8 am. This time we were able to do the course walk-through (and read up on today’s signs) which made for a totally different experience! Random worked like a champ, despite me totally messing up one sign we came through with a respectable 81/100. Hazzard had a similar experience in the breed ring, he showed beautifully but no love from the judge – hard to feel bad when a gorgeous class of 41 Dalmatians is in the ring 😊. We were cut in very good company, America’s #1 (and very gorgeous) Dalmatian, Nate, was cut with us! Unexpected turn of events, but lovely to see a ring full of amazing dogs. We snuck off before breed judging was finished to get into the interminable line for dock diving practice. Hazzard had NEVER jumped indoors, nor beside another active dock, and thanks to it being Winter in Canada, he hadn’t jumped at all in almost 3 months, so practice was very necessary. He started out with some hesitation (understandable) but with some significant encouragement he did jump/slide into the water. After that, he did two very nice jumps – ok, ready for tomorrow!

Day 3: DOCK DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS! We arrived nice and early so that we could sit and wait for hours, haha – but as our first time at this event, we weren’t sure how quickly it would run and wanted to be prepared (spoiler alert, it did not run quickly). It was super fun sitting and watching the dogs jump, though. The vast majority handled the challenging environment (indoors, LOUD, weird light, weird noises, two docks side by side) extremely well. A few dogs refused to jump, heartbreaking for their owners, but all handlers/owners seemed to handle the disappointment well. 

In due time it was our turn up on the dock, the format of nationals is 2 jumps, back to back, no practice. We are used to doing a practice jump to warm up – and I decided this was still important to Hazzard’s routine. Up on the dock, I got him revved up with his ball, then tossed it in a short way. He didn’t follow immediately (gulp, c’mon buddy) but with minor encouragement hopped in willingly…whew. So we set him up for his “proper” jump, decided on ¾ way back on the dock, less than usual but wanted to make things easier for him – called him, threw his ball and he sailed off the dock. SO PROUD. 16ft, so close to 3 feet shorter than usual, but that was totally expected – the combo of no practice, so sacrificing one of our jumps for a practice, plus holding him closer up on the dock was bound to lead to a shorter jump. But he jumped. With confidence. Good puppy. Considering the same day I got a Facebook memory of some shared pics  last year of him a few weeks before we got to bring him home….pretty proud.

Random is, always, an absolute star. She handled the CRAZY building in a stride. Next year I plan to have her qualify for the Championship as well – this year she missed it by outdoing herself and jumping into Masters instead of Seniors – hard to complain about that!

Our first AKC National Championship was a great experience - and we plan to be back next year. Now that I know the building is manageable we will enter a few more classes.