Dock Dogs: To jump or not to jump

This morning, bright and early on a Saturday, Shizuka and I ventured off to Dock Dogs Orientation. Though I had a feeling she wouldn’t jump, we went anyway in order to devote ourselves to the challenge we made with friends over dinner one night. 365 days committed to just one dog sport (instead of our usually willy-nilly approach to dog sporting). An interesting array of dog breeds showed up: Rhodesian Ridgeback, English Bulldog, Fox Terrier (ish?), Pit Bull, Black Lab– and that mystery breed known as Shizuka. It was super hot and it looked like all the dogs wanted to be in the water. Here we go. Begin 3 hours of Intro to Getting Your Dog to Jump of a Dock Into Water as a Sport.

We were second in line. The Rhodesian Ridgeback before us almost took the plunge, but in the end, it was a struggle for them to get her to swim even from the ramp. Shizuka, on the other hand, waddled right in from the ramp and paddled around in her usual casual crocodile style. The Dock Dogs club had a trainer there who’s apparently known for getting stubborn dogs off the dock. Shizuka walked to the edge, looked down, yawned. We tried different toys…we tried squeaking toys. The President of the Club, standing chest-deep in the pool, irritatingly squeaked her toy right in front of her face over and over. Squeaky Squeaky SQUEAKY!!!! Shizuka looked away. Boring. “I’ve never seen anything like it!” he mutters. I explain that while she’s got a very high prey drive, she’s not got much of a play drive. Toys only occasionally interest her…but not predictably.

As we were collected around the end of the dock encouraging Shizuka to jump in, and she peered around us to see the other dogs playing in the yard, the trainer sat down and started with “I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: I don’t see a dock dog here.” They were really nice about it as they explained that without toy drive, she’ll never jump and that most non-jumpers have a confidence problem and that’s why they will eventually take the plunge, but Shizuka has total confidence around the water, she just chooses not to jump. They offered to fit me in free of charge to another orientation in the event I ever find a toy that she loves (probably not going to happen). And they offered to let me stay and watch the others practice (which, for some reason, at that point sounded more like torture for both of us). The three-hour orientation began at 9:06 and we were back in the car, tears in my eyes, by 9:30.

Why am I so upset that we basically got kicked out of a dog sport orientation? Maybe I’m projecting my own insecurities. The ones that echo in my head that I could be a better dog-companion, or that I personally don’t like to be told that I can’t do things so I don’t want my dog to be told the same, or some other voice that haunts me. I know she doesn’t really care. And I know that nothing they said about her was incorrect or new information. It really stung though, and I’m just disappointed.

Driving around in tears (yes, for most people this is an overreaction), I rewind in my mind all the things we’ve crossed off the list of doggy activities. When she was a puppy, I wanted her to grow up to be a therapy dog- she does not have the personality for that. Obedience class- full of yawns and walking slowly towards me when the other dogs run at the sound of “come!” Rally– more yawns and a bit of irritation. Agility- and the instructor pondering that perhaps my dog has some sort of psychological disorder (she doesn’t, I’m sure, but she’s just not your typical dog- my fault, maybe?). Here we are at Dock Dogs. She loves water. Water is the only medium in which she will fetch something. I thought we were on our way. I keep reminding myself that she did well on her one run last week at Lure Coursing, but I have a feeling that once she realizes that she’ll never catch the bag, she’ll lose interest. I really wanted a dog that wanted to hang out with me and do fun things. I think of all those border collies locked up in the prison of suburban American that are on prozac because no one wants to play with them. And then there’s Shizuka who wants almost nothing to do with me and possess all of the physical and intellectual traits required to do any dog sport I could want to play- minus desire to please. I’m spiraling- this happens- when I look back and think about how I maybe picked out the wrong dog for me, as so many first time dog owners do…

So, here’s my conclusion. Shizuka is the dog for me. I don’t want a dumb dog, or an overly people-pleasing dog that won’t leave me alone–ever. My dog keeps the yard free of things that eat the precious fruits of my garden and things that might be dangerous for the chihuahuas. Shizuka and I do like the same things: gardening and hiking. Yes, most dogs like to hike, but Shizuka loves to hike because it’s mobile backyard hunting. She may seem bipolar to some trainers, but we can rock an indoor agility course like nobody’s business. Also, though she hates it, we can really rock an obedience class. Bring it. Patty was right when she started training us three years ago, Shizuka is a “neat” dog. She’s funny and super smart (this is why we suck at alot of things, I think)- she climbs trees and talks to me (and can communicate her desires). Like Cesar Milan says, you don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need. I guess that’s us. Without me, she probably wouldn’t have survived puppyhood. Without her, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work through my control-freak issues!

So, after the tears and judging of her and cursing my dog choice 5 years ago, I’ve resolved to push forward. I will watch and re-watch the borrowed Michael Ellis videos on top of my DVR and find a way to channel her prey drive into play drive. We may never compete, but we’ll keep going on the quest to pursue one sport for 365 days and see how it turns out in the end. Also, eventually I’ll probably give in and try dog sporting with Chilly because she does have the desire to please me- most of the time- and would make a great agility dog. To ten more months of Dock Dogs!

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Lure Coursing – Trying a new dog sport

Despite the vague instructions on the club’s website, my mom and I took Shizuka out to Bennett’s Creek Park in Suffolk, Va. early this morning to try our paws at lure coursing. A few weeks ago I stumbled on to the Sight Hound Organization of Tidewater’s (SHOT) website while looking for information about activities Basenji like to do (I’m still convinced this is part of Shizuka’s mix). The club meets on the last Sunday of every month at Bennett’s Creek park and, if you’re a newcomer, the first run is free. Though I had serious doubts that the area was fenced in and that I’d actually feel comfortable letting my tiny hunter loose on her own, we went anyway to give it a go.

Eager not to miss any information (there was none- don’t hold your breath), we arrived at 8:30 for a 9:00 meeting time. Hardly anyone was in the park, except for a group setting up for some kind of party. We wandered around for a bit, and eventually saw some people with dogs in their cars. Naturally, we followed and 4 other cars convened in a parking lot down the way. Everyone was a newcomer though, and with no sign of an actual setup, we were all a bit worried. Funny thing- I wanted to go to a sight hound organization to see if Shizuka fit in, but not a dog in that parking lot was an actual sight hound. Around 9:15, a trailer rolled up on the far side of the park and just sat there for a while. The five cars in the parking lot (ours included) wandered over to the trailer, which turned out to be the SHOT equipment.

First off, it turns out that SHOT is one of the only organizations of its kind for quite some distance. Around 9:45, sight hounds started to pull up in cars with license plates from North Carolina. A passel of Whippets, a Saluki, a woman with 5 adorable Basenji in tow. Closer to 11, an enormous Rhodesian Ridegeback arrived and did a beautiful run. The Virginia participants came from as far as the other side of Richmond. I guess it just takes them a while to arrive. Note to self: if we go again, don’t show up until 10.

We unloaded a wagon from the trailer with a set of pulleys that get nailed into the ground at various spots. Apart from the woman driving the trailer, the sight hound club members didn’t arrive until 10:00, so that’s when setup began. Needless to say, by 10 am on a late July morning, it was hot. Shizuka was bored. No one seemed to know what was going on. That aside, another newcomer and I helped a man wheel around a little red wagon and create a giant figure eight out of pulleys and string that spanned at least the length of a football field. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I sort of thought it would be a little more contained. It’s not. It’s pulleys with string in a field sheltered on one side by woods, one side by a parking lot (backed by Bennett’s Creek), one side with houses and the other side with the one road that leads into the park. My dog is not the best when it comes to recall, so I was starting to reconsider letting her run at all…

If you’re expecting an actual meeting with an introduction that lets newcomers know what the rules are, the etiquette, what membership entails, or what the point of the sport is, you should probably look it up on the internet before you come (I didn’t). With the lure set up and a test run complete, a sign up sheet is put out on the small table behind the ladder that allows the person operating the lure to see the entire course. With the whirr of the generator in the background, don’t expect that you’ll hear your name called. Go up and keep track.

A few experienced sight hounds made a go of the course, and it was totally worth the two hour wait. A few newcomers were non-starters. Their dogs chased for a few yards and lost interest. I don’t know that there’s any mentoring or teaching that goes on. Your dog does it or doesn’t. Luckily, though I was worried she’d get bored in the middle and run away, or poop, Shizuka took to the sport like a Lab to water. She dashed the length of the figure 8–soooo far into the distance– completely focused on the little white bags whipping by. Just in case, I even had my mom park the car on the opposite side of the field in the event that Shizuka dashed off for the creek. No need though. She came all the way back, grabbed the bag and killed it, and then joyously returned to her leash. Holy cow- one of the proudest moments of my doggy-companionship life! I can’t believe she did it! It was beautiful- seriously. I only ran her once. Partly this was because she didn’t run as fast as I knew she could, and I think that was due to her being extremely hot, and partly because I wanted to end on a high note.

I don’t want to speak too soon, but I may have found a sport for Shizuka! Membership fees are very reasonable at just $25 a year, so I think I’ll sign up and take her when it gets a little cooler. Next time I’ll be there at 10. Now for Dock Dogs Orientation next weekend…