Dogs by the dozens put to the test

Annual Kennel Club event in Harford pits canines in breed and obedience competitions

January 29, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Every dog has its day, the saying goes - and yesterday dozens of canines had theirs in Harford County, participating in the Northeastern Maryland Kennel Club's obedience match.

The match was part of an annual two-day event that draws people from Maryland and neighboring states, said its chairwoman, Linda Billings, a member of the Kennel Club's board.

"This is like the testing ground for a real show," Billings said. "This gets the dog used to being in a ring setting, working with a judge." And with the background noise of children shrieking in delight as they watched, and a vacuum cleaner's loud hum nearby, it was also training for distractions the canines would likely encounter during a "real" performance.

Billings said more than 200 dogs stepped into the Churchville recreation complex gym where the match took place, where treats abounded and occasional yelps sounded.

While Saturday's session highlighted breeds, yesterday's focused on obedience. Whether German or Australian shepherd, golden retriever or border collie, one dog after another was set out to prove its skills in heeling or staying, retrieving or jumping.

The dogs ranged from beginning "pre-novice" to advanced "utility" levels of obedience, Billings said.

Overcast skies and a bit of snow did not keep travelers from driving a few hours to participate.

Peggy and Eddie Wireman and their 5-year-old Portuguese water dog Cruiser came from Delaware for additional practice.

Peggy Wireman and Cruiser walked into an area marked off by a low white fence, and Wireman tossed a small white toy dumbbell.

"Cruiser, get it," said Wireman, who often spends weekends on the road in pursuit of dog events. Cruiser promptly turned and ran toward the toy, picked it up, trotted back to her and sat down at her feet. He tilted his head and looked up at her.

"Take it," the judge, John Cotter, said, signaling the OK for Wireman to get the toy from her dog.

"Cruiser, get around," Wireman said after reaching out and taking the dumbbell. Cruiser walked behind her and sat at her side, ready for his next challenge.

Wireman, feeling the effort had not been perfect, asked the judge if they could repeat the exercise - a luxury not permitted in a real trial, but allowed in yesterday's match, along with talking to and touching the animal.

"It's an opportunity to encourage a dog if it is a little hesitant about a particular exercise," Billings said.

The dogs are competing against themselves, Billings said, striving for a perfect 200-point score. With scores higher than 170, owners know their dogs are probably ready for a show.

For Wireman, the matches are "like a practice show," she said, a way to get her dog seasoned and calm for the real thing, while also pushing him to be competitive.

"We do it enough, and it's fun," she said.

Nonparticipants enjoyed watching from the sidelines.

"It's good for [the kids] to just see them," said Julie Lynn of Fallston, who dropped by with her three children and husband.

They also had their future pets in mind. Natalie Lynn, 9, said she had her heart set on a West Highland white terrier, the dog in the American Girl dolls line, while her 6-year-old brother, John, had much bigger ideas, including a golden or Labrador retriever.

As her children watched Cruiser and other canines strive to sit still in their owners' absence, Julie Lynn said she really had only one requirement: "Any dog - anything that would make them happy."

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