Yesterday Czar and I passed the Class three exam at our local dog school, Knox Obedience Dog Club. Hooray!!
Now, I know dog schools work differently in different places, so let me explain what this means. At KODC, adult dogs start in Beginners, and most people move up after a month. In Beginners, there's an emphasis on what I'd call "manners" and training techniques. Teaching handlers how to lure the dog into a position with a hand gesture and a treat, and getting the dog to associate the hand signal with a verbal command. Then there's Class One and Class Two, where we continue to work on heeling patterns, sit, stand and drop. A walking recall and a "stand for exam" (the dog stands still and lets a person approach and run hands over it) are included. We got through Class One quite quickly, because Czar is very keen on treats. Class Two took a little longer, attempting to convince Czar that he still needed to work, even if treats were becoming less frequent.
In Class Three, we started working off lead, for heelwork, stays and recalls. This was terrifying, especially as I was six months pregnant when we started. I knew that if Czar took off, I had Buckley's chance of catching him. To compound my fears, Czar, being a true husky, has a strong prey drive, and is very independent. I couldn't decide what was more worrying - Czar taking off after a smaller dog and trying to catch it like he might a rabbit, or Czar taking off and just disappearing into the local parks, crisscrossed with main roads, on a nice long run. I upped the treats. Fortunately, to date, Czar has never taken off. (Oh dear, I'm jinxing myself with that one, aren't I?)
The other challenge is making sure I know what to do. Obedience involves lots of different instructions from the judge or instructor, being relayed by the handler to the dog. When the instructor calls out "down your dog", the handler needs to stop walking, signal with the right hand and use the command "drop". Top level folks can twitch their hand and the dog stretches out like a sphinx. I end up with my right foot forward, right arm across my body, right hand flat in front of Czar's nose, fingers pointing down, treat tucked under thumb, body bent over. And I stay bent over till he's all the way down - his least favourite position, so if I don't insist, he'll stop in a kind of leg outstretched sit.
But the most challenging part of the test is the recall. Take the lead off the dog, put it in a sit and walk away (stepping on the right leg). Keep walking, don't peek back (whoops!), trusting that the dog is still there. On command, about face, keep walking and halt. (That was where I stuffed up my first two tests, pure human error. Best tip ever - it's a game of Simon Says - don't do anything, even stop walking, without the instructor telling you.) When instructed, call the dog, and watch with your heart in your mouth as it runs towards you, hopefully stopping and sitting at your feet. After our first attempt ended in a whoops, in the second, Czar stayed sitting til I called, ran up, and sat - at a 90 degree angle to me. Oh dear! Fortunately, he completed the return perfectly, walking around behind me to the heel position and sitting. Yay!!!!
Because it was the last test day for the year, there were lots of people trying to pass the Class Three exam. Almost half failed during the heel work pattern and a couple more during the stays and recalls. It's amazing to see how graceful some folks are when disappointed. One pair I know was testing for the third time (like us), and had been doing extra classes on Tuesday nights (like us). I thought they were guaranteed a pass, but the dog decided to go visiting during the heel work. The handler just took the instructors verdict on the chin and quietly headed back to class. Another dog spotted her daddy in the crowd and couldn't focus on her handler. I'd watched them warm up and knew they were a higher standard than us. But they didn't protest when they failed, even though they knew they'd have to wait til the end of February to retest. Such good sports!
As for us, I haven't decided what to do next. We will enjoy the Christmas break, when training will be replaced with casual walks. One option would be to go back to Class Two in the New Year and work on phasing out the treats. Another option would be to give J a chance to complete Class Three with Czar, now that Ishka is retired, while I work with Frankie in Beginners. Or we could go see what Class Four has to challenge us with!
Thank you to all our instructors and friends for all their help and encouragement!