Thursday, June 30, 2011

Getting Motivated

Thanks to the German Shepherd Dog Club of Atlanta and its Versatility program (not to be confused with the AKC Versatile Companion Dog titles), I'm feeling motivated to get off the couch and work the dog now and again.

This copy is slightly out-of-date, I think. The copy for this year included the optional titles in Obedience. This turns Obedience into the great spot to get points, it looks like. It's not completely un-doable to charge in with the CGC, then pick up the full sweep of seven titles -- assuming, of course, that your dog can do all the exercises. It wouldn't hurt to throw in the Rally titles as an excellent place to practice heeling with lots of upbeat chitchat and fun.

Tracking and Herding are the big instinct outlets for German Shepherd Dogs, of course. Once upon a time, the forebears of the breed pushed the sheep out to pasture, kept them in line without fences all day, searched out and brought back any sneaky strays, then pushed them all home again and rounded up the children. Now we have to get formal. In an ideal world, C course herding (tending) would be easier to find, but we have to pretend our dogs are designed for chute-and-gate work instead. The other big outlet for shepherdy drives is Working Dog Sport, which involves tracking, obedience, and protection work. The national breed club still supports it, but the AKC does not.

The remaining AKC performance category is Agility, which most dogs love much as most children love a playground. It takes a solid, sound body, so it's a good idea to have the OFA certification on hips and elbows before getting too heavily involved. Puppies, though, are happy enough to learn the contacts and to step over a little jump. It's a good idea to teach as much precision as you can cram into your shepherd's head before you try to speed up, as most of them seem to want to run wild over every square foot of the equipment -- including parts that were never meant to contain a dog! Sunny, gonzo gal that she was, liked to jump between the tire jump and its supports rather than through the tire. You lose qualifying runs that way.

A huge portion of the Versatility program rewards health testing and responsible ownership. Microchipped? One point. Health test made public regardless of result? Point. Altering an animal you deem unlikely to improve the breed if it passes on its genes? Point. While getting the particular point profiles to match the club's title descriptions isn't easy, getting a decent point total isn't terribly hard if you actually do stuff with your dog. Your dog can even pick up a point by living past the age of ten. An altered ten-year old rescue with a microchip and a CGC qualifies for the club's Versatility Started certificate.

Dustin also qualified for a certificate, but I am feeling ambitious, or greedy, or motivated, or all three. I tell my husband titling the dog doesn't cost that much more than a gym membership. He tells me that he'd rather I had the gym membership, but I can carry the kid in a backpack while I lay and run tracks, or do obedience, or teach basic agility. He'd get squished if I did bench presses with him in there.

So, we're tracking. We're herding when possible. We're jumping at height, now that the hips and elbows are clear. And believe it or not, we're even working obedience, though the dog is in it for the cheese and it's not my favorite school subject either. My son is learning hand signals.

If you live in the area and have a shepherd, come join the club -- and me! We can get into a happy and productive title war.

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