Friday, January 21, 2011

Katie's Obedience Career

After Katie retired from agility in December 2004, we switched all of our efforts to obedience.  We had already competed at the Novice and Open levels and were starting to work on Utility exercises.  Utility is the highest level of obedience with scent work, signals, directed jumping, and lots of retrieving.  In hindsight, it was probably a blessing that she became unsound for agility as Utility required our full attention and it was well worth it.
Our adventures in Utility are my most favorite memories of Katie or even my greyhounds in general.  Katie was so hard working.  You could drill her with repetition after repetition and she happily continued.  The details never bored her.  Obedience is sometimes thought to be "stuffy" or boring, but working with a dog like Katie makes it so much fun. 
The Utility exercises are very difficult and require a lot of practice.  Obedience competition has been around for over 70 years and in that time only 14 greyhounds have earned a Utility Dog title (UD) (versus thousands of the more traditional obedience breeds).  Katie was the 14th.
One of the most difficult exercises for us was the scent articles.  You have five leather dumbbells and five metal dumbbells.  The handler scents one leather article and one metal article.  The judge adds a scented article to a pile of 8 other dumbbells and your dog uses her nose to find the one that you touched.
 Katie was not very interested in using her nose.  She rarely used her nose on walks or to investigate a new environment.  She is a sighthound, but she really took it to the extreme.  Traditional methods were not working and I was simply unable to explain scent articles to Katie.  That is until I blindfolded her.  I put her in a down, covered her eyes, and then I would hold various articles up to her nose.  When I held the correct dumbbell to her nose and I saw her nostrils quiver, I would click and treat.  Then I would hold up and a wrong article to her nose and gently tell her it was incorrect.  It worked!  Articles were still tough and required a lot of work, but blindfolding Katie got us jump started.
This is my favorite Katie video as it shows us qualifying in Utility (our 2nd leg).  It took us 25 attempts to qualify the required three times. Interestingly, all three qualifying performances were outdoors. We were close many times indoors, but for some reason she seemed more comfortable showing outside.
This is Katie's last filmed obedience trial. Here she is competing in Open B at the 2007 Greyhound Nationals in New York. How about that show site right next to the busy road?  No worries with Katie and Travis, but I would never take a greyhound I was not absolutely sure about.  Katie showed over the next four days at another dog show nearby and was a crowd pleaser, receiving lots of compliments.
Two weeks later (October 2007), Katie suffered the neurological injury that forced her to retire finally. I feel extremely blessed that we had no unfinished business. We had achieved all of our goals and more. At the time, we were simply competing because it was fun.