Thursday, August 31, 2006

Is that a show dog?

It's a funny distinction isn't it. Show dog vs. Purebred vs. couch potato. To the average non-dog person the fact that a dog is a "show dog" means he is different than the average fido. The dog is elevated, highly regarded - to most of the folks that walk by anyway. I'll take all of that with a grain of salt and a wee bit of satisfaction, it means two things: first we've moved on to training "impressive things" and secondly we're doing them well (for the moment). Yeah, we're back to working obedience pretty hardcore - running through our Open stuff - doing a lot of heeling and stay work. Most days it's easiest to do this in my front yard - very few cars, but walkers and bikers every couple of minutes. In novice the dog is on a leash, heeling might look fancy but it's all pretty boring for the spectators to watch. People watching the novice class look at their dogs and think - hey, that's easy. My dog can do that no sweat. The open work is different - it might look easy (because we've trained forever), but people don't leave thinking - "darn, my dog can do that too". Heeling around small children (off leash) in the road (no cars) is impressive for people. The figure 8 is Murph's specialty - then there's the really fun stuff.

A couple about my folks' age walked by this evening while I was working the retrieve over the high jump. I sent Murphy over the jump and the woman cooed at him, "ouuuuuughhhh, he must be a show dog", Murph landed and forgot for a moment what he was doing - stood there for 2 seconds regarding the woman, then his brain re-engaged and he got the dumbbell and returned over the jump. I took the dumbbell and finished him back into heel.

"How did he know to come back over the jump?" I explained the exercise and the retrieve over the flat - and it was simply what he had been trained to do - and rewarded for doing successfully. I started to talk about reinforcement history and I "lost" them. They went on their way and I setup for some out of sight stay work. People find the stay stuff most impressive, people will literally stop walking and stare at Murphy while he sits there. He stares back, blink. blink. blink. Some people initially think he's lost (ever seen a lost dog sit patiently in one spot) and try to call him "here puppy puppy" (blink), some people eye him cautiously as if he's sitting there thinking about evil deeds he can do to nice families out for evening walks...

I often tell people that their dogs could do all of this - they don't have to be "show dogs" to have some basic obedience skills. Certainly Murphy's AKC papers don't help him sit there through distractions. And the greatest irony of all, is that this "show dog" (after he's had all of his daily requirements met) is the biggest couch potato that you'll ever meet - most happy crashed on the couch with a chewie bone.

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