Today, bright and early, Mom finally got it right. She got out of bed when she should this morning and I didn’t have to poke my nose in her eye. She threw on her casual work clothes (I know, I smelled them), and headed downstairs.
“Sailor,” she said as she tossed two large bottles of partially frozen water into my backpack, “Today we are going to our first dog show.”
“I knew it,” I said to myself. I had figured out that something was up when Mom rushed home last night from work and gave me a three-hour bath.
“This is an obedience trial,” she elaborated. “We are going to have fun and you are going to schlepp your own water.”
“Are you going to be obedient?” I asked.
Mom smiled and stuffed her backpack with my water bowl, brush, string cheese and leash. I waited by the door to see what would happen next.
What happened was a car ride longer than any ride I can remember, except maybe the ride to the duck debacle.
“Mom, do we live in a car now?” I finally asked.
“Sailor, we’re just traveling to a dog show,” she answered. “We’ll be there shortly.”
“How shortly?” I asked. “When are we going to get there?”
Mom didn’t answer because she was changing lanes and driving onto a bridge.
I turned in my crate and faced Mom. “When are we going to get there?”
Mom smelled patient. She said helpful things like, “in a little while,” “in the time it takes us to walk 4 miles,” and “we’re almost there.”
But this wasn’t helpful. Were we talking in dog years here or people years? How long would it actually take?
I stood up and whined again, “ARE WE THERE YET?”
In exasperation, Mom turned her head half way around and told me in no uncertain terms, “Sailor, you will know when we are there because the car will stop and everybody will get out!”
She rolled down the window on my side of the car so I could smell the bridge, the Bay and the tidal marsh. She turned a knob on the car wall.
“We’ll listen to Mozart,” she said. “It will calm both of us down.”
Obediently, I downed. “What’s Mozart?” I asked.
“Amadeus Mozart,” Mom explained. “He’s a big composer.”
I sniffed out the window, sure that one of my more composed Leonberger friends was about to appear. But instead of a giant breed, giant music blared out of the speaker. Mom turned the volume down from a Leonberger level to a collie level.
The music worked. I groaned my collie groan and relaxed.
Finally we stopped. And we got out. Mom saddled me up with my backpack and filled the side bags with my water bottles. She climbed into her backpack and slung her chair and my tent over her shoulders. Then, evenly balanced, we proceeded out of the car corral and up a hill to… a dog show.
Dogs were everywhere. Big dogs, small dogs, everywhere dogs. Lean dogs, fluffy dogs, even dogs with chicken pox (well, no, no Chinese crested here). I fit right in. We parked ourselves under a tree, Mom whooshed open my pup tent and grunted open her chair. We sat. I was petted and admired by lots of Mom’s friends and loved that. Their pockets smelled like cookies.
Then, Mom looked at her watch and started to smell nervous. Very nervous. She stood and gathered up my leash. Her smell made me nervous. I looked around, trying to discover what was so scary.
We trotted over to a distant patch of grass with a tent in front and poles along the sides. I kept an eye out for whatever was unsettling Mom. I had a job to do. In true collie fashion, I guarded her and kept all other dogs away, but politely, of course. I body-blocked a black dog and a yellow dog, and when I met my flat-coated friend from Dog School, I sniffed noses with him but kept myself between her and Mom. I didn’t even think about sniffing butts.
Mom said we were entered in Sub-Nervous. I thought about this and concluded that that was just where we belonged. She was Nervous, I was Sub-nervous. My goal was to dispense with Nervous entirely, but Mom wasn’t cooperating. Wasn’t this an obedience match? Didn’t Mom have to be obedient?
Things brightened up considerably when Mom broke out the cheese. She and I took a few school turns around a shady path, but, still uncertain about Mom’s state of mind, I lost heel position. I felt hesitant. I felt unsure. Cheese helped only a little. Mom was still nervous.
I overheard Mom say she worried about my long sit. She took me to the shade and sat me. She walked to the end of my leash and tugged me forward. I tugged me backward. She tugged. I tugged. That got me cheese. Then she walked behind me and just stood there, daring me to move. I didn’t dare.
This sit was easier than last week when she let Zoe into the yard for my long sit and I had to stay put while Zoe jumped on me and played Growly Spithead on my ruff.
“Number 116,” the tent man barked.
We hurried over to the tent.
“My name is Sailor,” I corrected him, sniffing by and following Mom into the ring.
Mom says we got off to a rocky start, but the footing was grass and clover and a few bees, not rocks. She was not with it at all.
“Heel,” she said, informing Alpha of the Clipboard what we were going to do first.
I could smell Mom was nervous, and I didn’t want anything to jump on us from behind, so I figured out how to guard the rear and heel at the same time: I lagged. I was so clever. Mom was not pleased, however. I wasn’t supposed to lag.
As I bumped into Mom on the left turn, I sniffed her pant leg and realized what we were doing. I came up with the perfect thing to say so Mom could relax and I could do my stuff.
“Mom, this is just exactly like Dog School,” I panted, doing a fast sit and looking up into her face.
Well, it wasn’t really like Dog School. A Mrs. Do-You-Have-Any-Questions had replaced Mrs. Dogs-On-The-Inside as our Alpha, but I didn’t want Mom to know that.
My ploy worked.
Mom smiled, her shoulders came down, her stride lengthened into a good imitation of the one I have no trouble keeping up with, and she started having fun. I relaxed, my stride lengthened, and I did a great imitation of perfection at Dog School. We heeled and turned and sat and heeled and about-turned and sat.
“POST!” barked Mrs. Do-You-Have-Any-Questions.
Two women named Post ran into the ring and we heeled around them.
Mom was obedient. I was great. And I was a joy to behold on the long sit. Mom said later that that 20-year sit at Mrs. Dogs-On-The-Inside’s last dog school class really polished my sit-stay. I had to agree, but really, a 10-year one would have worked just as well.
Our turn in the ring was over too soon. Mom was thrilled with me. I was thrilled with myself. And I was very pleased with Mom; she really got herself together in the nick of time.
Our second foray into the obedience ring came after lunch. Mom’s lunch, that is, not mine. I don’t get lunch any more, and started to grumble about that as I sniffed her banana with envy. Mom pointed out that cheese made a great lunch and I had eaten enough cheese after the Sub-Nervous ring to qualify for half a lunch. The rest of my lunch, she said, was to come after our next class.
“Sailor,” Mom said, upbeat and confident, “let’s have a great time in Nervous A.”
“Oh no, not Nervous again?” I asked “Haven’t we gotten past that yet?”
“The easy stuff will be off lead,” she said, “just like in dog school.”
Great. The Recall, Front, and Finish would be so much easier naked. So would the Stand for Exam.
This ring had a different Alpha with a longer pedigree than the last one. Her name was Mrs. This-Is-Novice-A-Do-You-Have-Any-Questions. I wondered how she was able to register THAT name on her AKC form.
“Shhhh,” Mom whispered, “Here we go.”
When Mom said, “Ready,” I knew just what to do and took off at heel position even though she refrained from saying, “Heel.” The New Alpha was perceptive enough to know that we were going to do our heel pattern without being told.
Mom was terrific and gave me thumpings on my butt between exercises. She had overcome her nervousness and had become very obedient. We were wonderful until we went back into the ring for the long sit. I started out in the correct position, sitting straight and upright. Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my concentration. The bees were buzzing, the breeze was rustling, and a helicopter was wop-wop-wopping overhead.
I shifted my front feet.
Mom gave me the Evil Eye.
I looked at the ring Alpha to see if this were legal. This was asuppused to be fun, after all, and the Evil Eye is NOT FUN. The Evil Eye, however, seemed legal, so I had second thoughts about going down. I didn’t want Mom to hiss at me and call attention to my lapse of concentration.
I straightened up and sat. And sat. And sat.
Finally, I got to lie down and spent my half an hour on the Down-Stay looking over my shoulder catching the breeze in my mouth. I was hot and panted into the wind to cool off. And for once, Mom didn’t tell me to watch; I could tell she knew I was trying to keep cool.
After that exercise, we left the ring and I got a lunch and a half. I trotted off very pleased with Mom’s performance and her math. I had two whole lunches and Mom had lots of points on her obedience card. I can't wait for our next show!