Cars from all over the area, some as far away as Oregon lined the spots in the parking lot in Frontier Park in Graham, Washington, on the last Saturday in March. The day started in prime Pacific Northwest fashion, cold, wet, and overcast.
It was the spring trial for Twin County Schutzhund Club, the first trial of the year which meant many people coming out to work off those winter break cobwebs. My club had put forth a big effort to host a great event, and it was a fantastic turnout.
Loki and I had put in many hours on this field, as well as many more off of it, and we were ready for our first test. Or so I thought.
A little background about the sport of schutzhund:
Originally meant to be a test to prove the suitability of German Shepherd Dogs for breeding, it developed over the past century into an international sport. It is still used by some to prove the worthiness of including their dogs in a breeding program, but in most cases, especially in the US, it is a hobby for most participants. In many cases today, since it is not just GSDs competing, it is called IPO.
There are multiple titles a dog can win in schutzhund, ranging from the companion dog designation(BH) to the topshelf title of Schutzhund (or IPO) III, with a wide variety of levels in between.
Loki and I have not been involved for long and our hope was to win his BH. This is required before a dog can go up the ladder of levels and face any other challenges.
The BH consists of strict obedience, including leashed and unleashed heeling, a long down (lying down for a long time with the handler 30 paces away), and strict heeling through a group of people.
In the weeks leading up to the trial, Loki and I had put in many hours on many fields working on the pattern. I was very happy with his progress and looked forward to the big day.
We were the first team on the field. Dozens of people stood on the sidelines watching as we greeted Judge AnnMarie Chaffin and took our place at the start.
From there, it went downhill. Loki had no focus on me. He was, however, very interested in the crowd, the grill with its aroma of cooking hotdogs, the strange dogs pacing along the roadway as their handlers walked off nervous energy. In short, he was focused on everything EXCEPT me. His normally close heeling widened as he drifted toward the distractions. When I turned a one-eighty, he made a wide arc and headed back to the concession stand. Time and again, I had to give extra commands to get his attention. Walking through the group, and exercise he normally had little trouble with, each person had to be greeted and sniffed.
At the end of our session, I stood with my head down as Judge Chaffin read off my list of deficiencies.
I was so incredibly embarrassed of my performance.
Immediately after leaving the field, I wanted to blame Loki. That dumb dog didn’t do anything right. Then I realized, I was the dumb one. This wasn’t a defeat, it was simply a learning experience.
First, this was our very first trial. Loki had been showing great progress in practice, but there was a world of difference between practice and what happened on that Saturday morning. There were so many new people and distractions, especially compared to our little training club, which usually has 5-8 people show up on a good day.
It gave me the opportunity to see how well Loki actually knew the routine and how often I was really giving “handler help” during training.
It showed me that I need to train in those areas of distraction, not just on nice quiet fields where Loki can easily pay attention.
Watching other competitors, some very polished and some only as good as us, showed me some different styles.
If nothing else, it was an education.
Even with my disappointment, there were highpoints.
Loki stayed put for the long down, which coming into the event was one of my biggest concerns. He made a quick and direct run to me for the long recall portion, his big doggy grin wide and his tail high.
One of the best things about his sport, is that there is always another trial coming up. At this point we are six weeks out from the next event. We’ve seen what we need to work on. We have a plan in place. We’re getting out on the field with added distractions. Vince Lombardi said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” I know exactly what he meant. This time around, we plan to practice right.