Fourth Time's The Charm

Gretchen and I recently completed the Pre-Novice Obedience training class for the third time. Now, please understand that most duos do have to repeat the class at least once. You have to be able to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in the various exercises before passing into Novice Obedience, where the dogs are off-leash much of the time. Most do not make it through on the first try. So, I wasn't too surprised about having to repeat the class after we botched the first final evaluation. The second time we took the class and didn't pass, I was vaguely embarrassed but mostly took it in stride. By the third time, I felt like Gretchen had improved a lot. One of the hardest exercises is a "stand for exam." She has to remain standing while I move six feet away from her. The evaluator moves towards her and touches her head and then touches her back in a couple of places. The dog needs to remain planted and not move at all. We struggled mightily with this one but now she does it beautifully. She also heels pretty well most of the time.

So, when we went into the evaluation Wednesday night I was feeling pretty good. She performed well on all of the individual exercises. "We've got this in the bag!" I thought. The evaluator (note that the evaluator was not the class instructor - the instructor could not be there) called everyone back into the ring for group sits and downs. Gretchen completed the one-minute sit-stay even though the dogs on both sides of her broke the stay. Then came the three-minute down-stay, which is one of her weaker exercises. It baffles me because, really, what could be easier than LYING ON THE FLOOR for three minutes? Seriously, take a nap, bitch. Anyway, she made it into the third minute but then both dogs next to her broke the stay again. Eventually, Gretchen got nervous and shuffled towards me. I put her back in the down and then shot laser beams into her skull with my eyeballs.

The down-stay is worth thirty points so we were screwed. Our instructor had chosen to use an official trial scoring system rather than the typical pass/fail scoring. I was vaguely miffed at first. But then, when I saw who passed, I got downright irate. There is a black Lab in the class who is a real pill. Flat-out aggressive. He has come after my dog multiple times. His owner has so much trouble controlling him that she has to wear gloves to maintain her grip on the leash. He did poorly in many of the exercises in the evaluation, but somehow pulled the sit-stay and down-stay out of his ass and passed. The sit-stay and down-stay are weighted very heavily in the scoring.

As this dog's owner stepped forward to receive the certificate, the dog actually lunged and growled at a nearby Golden Retriever. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. My dog has a nice temperament and failed the class because she broke one down-stay? WTF? I decided to throw a minor tantrum with the evaluator. I should add that I've known the evaluator since 1998, when I began training Lucy Annabel under her tutelage (and eventually earned several titles). I pitched my fit, she attempted to console me, and I left. I wasn't mad at her; I was irritated with the scoring system and how the evaluations were handled.

As soon as I got home, I ripped off an email to the director of training. She sent me a very cordial response and invited me to bring Gretchen back to the kennel club Saturday morning and take the test again. I mulled it over for a couple of days and then decided to go for it. I took Gretchen to Petco Friday night to practice. Of course, I forgot that automatic sliding doors scare the poop out of her, so she was a little "off" the whole time we were there (had her scaredy face on). Nonetheless, I put her in a very long down-stay in the back of the store and she held it.

On Saturday morning, we headed back to the kennel club, where the director of training was running the evaluations. Gretchen's performance was not perfect. She lagged a bit on the figure-eights and didn't do the smoothest finish after the recall (something she ordinarily does quite well). But, she held the stays. This time, the evaluator was using a pass/fail scoring system and Gretchen passed. I imagine she would have passed this time even if the other scoring system had been used.

I really didn't think I could bear to take that class a fourth time. We'd both be bored to tears. Now, I hope to get her into the ring and start showing next year. My formerly emaciated secondhand dog . . . she's gonna be a supa-star.