I moved from Texas to just outside of London about three years ago. I am still overwhelmed by the differences between Americans and the English. One can only imagine that those differences include dogs, dog training and obedience.
As in any locale, there are dog events on almost any given week end, especially if you are willing to travel. England is no exception. Let’s go to a dog show! Particularly in the south, trials are held almost exclusively outdoors in large pastures. Parking is inanother nearby pasture. I’ve yet to need a wrecker called out to pull my car out of the mud and grass.
Each ring is marked by stakes and surveyor’s tape, much like a ring in California. There will be at least one and possibly four rings adjacent to yours. That’s right, sharing the same walls! The nice thing too is that trials are often family affairs, so there may be three young lads sitting right by your “go out” spot. What jolly fun this can be!
If it’s a proper trial, as opposed to a match, you will send in your entry in advance. It is wise to enter early, as closing can be as much as three months before the trial. On the other hand, if you enter too early, you will be in the “running order.” That’s a list of the first ten dogs, in catalog order. On the day of the show, these first ten dogs must arrive early in order to check in and be shown, ideally in catalog order. If you arrive after the dogs listed behind you, you may be marked absent. And that’s after traveling thirty or more miles! (Distances are smaller over here).
It also pays to read your judge’s program. It will tell you when “stays” are, and stays may be held before the running order in your ring. All dogs are shown in the stays at the same time, even if there are 54 entries in the same class! If dogs and bitches are shown in the same class, they are separated during the stays in different rings. A judge will be present, as well as one steward for about every six entrants. The stewards will position you in the ring, and they will monitor their six dogs for any behaviors that might mean a deduction of points. During a typical stay, you will hear a steward call “time” anytime they see one of their charges move. The judge will note what time into the stay it occurred. It is very rare to receive no points for a stay. This exercise is graded on a sliding scale. If your dog doesn’t move at all, you will get all the points, but if he gets up with three seconds left, it might mean a 1 to 5 point deduction. As in any obedience competition, one should always receive full points on the stays. Now that you’ve entered, traveled and prepared for a trial, let’s look inside the ring. Oh my golly! Look at those ugly turns! The handler will go at a fairly good, normal pace, and then come to almost a complete stop at every turn. What’s going on here? If a British dog trainer saw you and your dog heeling, they might immediately begin to criticize your turns. Rounded, rounded, rounded! A proper English turn looks rather like something out of band camp or ROTC. One heels forward, positions the feet to make a 90-degree turn and then steps forward in the new direction. This kind of turn is almost impossible to do on the fly. By the third or fourth step, you might be back into full, normal speed.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention the classes and exercises. Even if you arrive in Britain with an OTCH, you first must get out of pre-novice. This elementary class consists of heel on lead, recall, heel off lead, and stays, for a total of 75 points. Quite often there will only be a right and an about turn in this pattern. One must win a first or a third or better in an higher class to move up to beginners (I’m told that technically “an” precedes a word that begins with the letter “H”, although you rarely hear it said as such. When the “an” is there, Brits often drop the “H” sound of the word, as in ‘igher). By the way, there are no jumps in any of the levels of obedience in the UK.
Handlers can talk to the dogs, and make sounds like those heard in a training class or a rally ring. This can sometimes be a good thing, with the handler happily talking to the dog during the exercise. On the other hand, it can be quite annoying to hear, “stay, stay, staaaaayyyy, stay, wait, come here, Fluffy, come here, wait, wait, finish, straight, sit!” This can sometimes have points deducted, depending on the judge.
Is heel position any different? Yes and no. Yes, the dog shall heel off the handler’s left side; however, your arm must be stationary, no swinging, please. You may have your elbow out, away from your body. The ultimate dog shall wrap his head around your thigh, knee, or shin, all the while maintaining the same distance from your body. I have seen dogs over here that looked like they would fall over if the handler moved out of position. The dog’s feet were six inches away from the handler, but the head was attached to the leg! I guess an apt description would be co-dependant or Velcro™ heeling. Yikes!
Let’s do presents! What? Gifts in the ring? No, fronts are called “presents,” as in “Westinghouse presents the Secret Storm.” The dog presents itself in front of the handler. A proper Brit front consists of the dog’s paws landing in between your feet. Ideally, the back toes will touch the front of your toes. In a perfect retrieve, you just slide your hands down your thighs to receive the dumbbell. Guess what happens if you have a small dog who prefers to sit a little ways out from you? You’ve got it; points off. Don’t even ask pregnant handlers!
By now you may be asking yourself, does she like British obedience or not? Well, I am much more used to the North American variety. I have found that I can play with whatever rules a kennel club says I should use, as every kennel club’s rules have their good points and bad points. It is best to make the most of what one can.