Super Bowl Sunday I started to feel sick. Within a few days I was HORRIBLY sick with the flu. Chills, fever, head stuffed, coughing, the works! I rarely get sick and was taking tons of vitamins and taking good care of myself but it got me anyway. Two full weeks later I started to feel better. Then within a week it came back and I felt even worse than before. I could hardly walk. I went immediately to the Dr. and told her I was leaving for England next Wednesday. She told me “you will have a horrible flight, you won’t be better by then.” “Oh no” I said, “I WILL be better”. She really doesn’t know me at all!!!
My final Crufts training was a demo the Sunday before my flight. I was sweating, had the chills and had trouble walking a straight line, and, so lovely, I had a hacking cough. I drove home and went straight to bed. By Tuesday it seemed the antibiotics had done their job and I felt much better. Just in time!
Cathy Brooks, Linda Brennan and Betsy Scapicchio (of Top Dog Obedience) and I left for Crufts Wed. evening, flying overnight and arriving in Manchester early Thursday morning. Just when we thought everything was going smoothly we ended up with some confusion about Tyler entering the country. We spent a harrowing hour and a half not knowing whether or not they would let him “enter” the country. Talk about stressful!!!! Finally it was all cleared up and we entered the UK.
Friday morning I went to watch the UK obedience competition and quickly realized I was feeling sick AGAIN!!!!!! Luckily I had extra antibiotics with me and quickly took one as well as a ton of vitamins and juice. By Saturday I felt better.
While we were watching the UK obedience class Friday morning I noticed that there appeared to be a change in the heeling style. The English are extraordinarily friendly and helpful. I asked the woman sitting closest to me about this change and she said that hesitating in the turns would now be penalized. Linda, Betsy and I asked several other people to be sure, they all agreed, no pausing. So here I had been diligently training to pause in my turns and spent hours upon hours visualizing heeling with a pause – and now I would have to push through the turns!
Linda, Betsy and I also noticed a change in how the dogs were coming to front. In past years at Crufts the dogs would, literally, slam into their owners on the fronts and many had their dog’s legs push straight through the handler’s legs. I had worked super hard to teach Tyler to slam into me on his fronts and I was very proud of his “new” fronts. Well, Surprise! This had also changed. We found out that if he fronted the way I had taught him, I would lose points.
I took a nap midday and showed up for my training session very concerned. Team Tyler was at the training session en force. Cathy Brooks, Eleanor Campbell, Kathy Pugh, Jacqui and Carol Wyatt. Videotaping, acting as judges, encouraging us, cheering us on. (Team Tyler rocked all weekend, we had tons of laughs which really helped me relax and made for great memories, they helped me all weekend, and cheered like crazy – so much fun, so glad they were there!!!!) Linda and Betsy didn’t blink an eye about the last minute changes. They gave me new footwork and coached me to push through the turns. I then spent every spare minute until Sunday visualizing pushing through the turns.
Tyler is such a special dog…For 8 years I told him NOT to touch me on fronts. Then for the past three and a half months I asked him to bang into me on his fronts. Now I had exactly two training sessions to get him to front close, but not bang into me!! By the time I competed he was fronting perfectly – what an amazing animal.
In training we realized that the carpeting they use is VERY slippery so we worked on all the exercises so Tyler could make adjustments for the slippery surface. Eleanor ran to a booth and borrowed a jump from them! At Crufts they have you set up 3 meters (9.7 feet) from the jump. Just to give you perspective, I set Tyler up 14 feet away from the jump in the U.S.! Very difficult for such a large, fast dog to come to front in such a small space.
While watching obedience that morning we had noticed something else – this was the first time we had ever seen them set up the “sendaway” with NO back marker!!!!! We never even knew that was an option!! We tried not to panic hoping that the World Cup would, as always, have a back marker.
Sunday morning was the World Cup competition. I got up bright and early and quickly realized that Ty could not stop shaking his head. He has always been prone to ear infections, but his ears were perfect when the vet checked him the Monday before. Yikes!!!! This was not good!! I met Betsy and Linda downstairs and quickly pointed out that Ty’s ears were infected. I knew we could not “flush” them because then he would shake his ears all day. Betsy and Linda were calm as could be. Don’t worry, they said, we’ll figure it out. Luckily Crufts is HUGE and had several booths that sold ear cleaning products. One booth was already open. Luckily Betsy knew what she was doing and picked just the right product. Two drops in his right ear and the he didn’t shake his head all day!!! What a relief!!
Next we checked out the ring set up – surprise!! NO BACK MARKER for the sendaways!!!!! Even worse, there were FOUR markers in a square. A completely different picture – one that Tyler had NEVER seen before. Again, Linda and Betsy were completely calm. Linda bought a fourth cone at a nearby booth (we had been training with three cones all along – run through the first two and head to the third cone). We went outside, set up the four cones – Ty was really struggling. At one point he ran through the first two markers to one of the back markers. I realized this would be fine since I would stop him as soon as he went through the first two anyway. When I set him up in the ring he looked like he had the picture, but as he approached the markers I quickly realized he wasn’t sure where to go. But he kept on running anyway. He didn’t make it inside the markers but close enough that we only lost a few points. Had he stopped short, hesitated, or slowed down at all we would have lost a ton of points – and likely lost first place. Many, many dogs didn’t get the picture and stopped short, ran in a zig zag and generally looked confused (and rightly so!!), in the process losing a large number of points. But Tyler is all heart and courage, he ran because I told him to and kept running until I told him to sit. In spite of his confusion he gave me a nice turn and sit and a beautiful call to heel.
As if we weren’t making enough last minute adjustments…. During the morning when we were awaiting our turn, Betsy noticed that handlers were returning to their dogs after the signals directly to heel (versus walking around the dog which is what I had been doing in training). She ran and asked someone on the English team who said “we don’t do it that way”. “You’d better return directly to heel!”, Betsy tells me. “OK”, I said! And revised my mental picture once again.
Finally it was our turn. Tyler was a bit stressed but, as always, when the chips are down Tyler rose to the occasion and once again gave me 110% effort and worked his heart out for me. Shortly after our run Cathy, our official scorekeeper, informed us that Tyler was in first place. Now the pressure was on!!! Tyler has rock solid sit stays, but those two minutes were the longest of my life! Now all we had left was the scent exercise. We had a three point lead, but three points can disappear in the blink of an eye, especially at Crufts. We are never 100% sure where dogs lose points since their rules and standards are completely different than in the U.S.
We grabbed our scent cloths, went to the other side of the building and practiced our scent. (They tell you the scent pattern that morning). When we set it up we quickly realized there were several traps. The dog turned and faced the first cloth. Then the line of cloths went in a straight line to the right. The dog had to bypass the decoy cloth, the handlers cloth was towards the end of the line. Tyler picked up the correctly cloth, turned around and couldn’t find me. He panicked and dropped the cloth. In the U.S. (and when we practiced UK scent) I am always “centered” to the cloths. I am never on the opposite end! We did it two more times, helped him find me so he could be correct and left it at that.
I sat by Tyler and tried to focus on what I needed to do. I repeatedly visualized every step of the scent exercise. At some point I just wanted it to be over!!! So much tension!! Meanwhile, Linda and Betsy were in the stands watching the other dogs do the scent exercise. At some point the light shifted resulting in a huge glare in the ring. Dogs were picking up the cloth, turning to find their handler, looking straight into the sun and ending up in front of the judge or steward – very confused. Betsy jumped up from her seat, grabbed Linda and came running up to me. Quick, we have to work on his finding you – the dogs can’t see because of the sun! Oh boy!! We dressed Linda in red like the steward, ran to the warmup area, set up the same scenario as in the ring and worked on Tyler’s finding me – helping him, rewarding him so he would be confident. Just in time – it was my turn! As I walked into the ring I pushed all thoughts out of my head. I knew this was it, if he did a good job, we would win. Instead I put all of my focus on the task at hand and on Tyler. I scented the cloth and handed it to the steward. I pet Tyler several times to keep him calm. We pivoted. Tyler with nose down worked the cloths, ran right over the decoy and confidently picked up the correct cloth. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye and willed him to look at me…and he did – he looked right at me with his big brown eyes, ears up, very proud of himself. He worked super hard to hit a very difficult front. Then finish. We left the ring and waited. It takes several minutes for the score to come up. I didn’t even look at the board, just tugged with Tyler and told him what a great boy he was. Linda and Betsy’s eyes were glued to the scoreboard….waiting…. Finally, 0 points off, a perfect score, we won!!! And how fitting that Linda and Betsy were the first people I hugged! They proudly carried the flag, as was fitting – we were all together from the beginning to the end. Together with the rest of Team Tyler.
And it was truly a case of “WE” won. First and foremost Linda and Betsy are, without doubt, equal parts of our team. As most of you know we had to completely retrain Tyler’s heel position, the go outs are a novel exercise, and the signals were confusing for a trained dog that only ever does a sit after a stand and then comes to front. The scent exercise was a particularly difficult challenge since the dogs have to find “our” scent (a steward scents a decoy cloth) and in the U.S. they are finding “hot” scent. It took a solid year to teach him everything the first time around. We made some mistakes along the way, I was often super stressed because of the pressure, and I’m sure Linda was ready to kill me in many of our lessons!! But she figured it all out and somehow we got it done just in time. They were there every step of the way with fundraising, helping me at all of our “demos” and making all the travel arrangements. They never left my side while traveling, took care of EVERYTHING for me at Crufts (including helping me with my shopping!) and ensured that all I had to worry about was focusing on competing. They were there for every training session, every warm up session and constantly reassured me that everything would be fine They have always taught me to pay attention to the smallest detail….and they lead by example. Linda and Betsy were “on call” all weekend. They didn’t “relax” while watching the UK obedience. They were paying attention to detail to see what we needed to do so we wouldn’t lose unnecessary points. And they were asking other judges and competitors to make sure we were doing everything right with my handling. They improvised with training and with our warm-up to address all the last minute adjustments we had to make. They are great friends, world-class trainers and coaches. Ty and I would never have come this far without them.
I said it two years ago, but it definitely bears repeating. I was able to go to Crufts, again, thanks to the fundraising and support of the local community. To each and every one of you, Thank You! Thank you to everyone that ever encouraged us, supported us, allowed us to do a demo, ran us through, scented cloths, acted as a judge, helped break down and set up rings, videotaped us, held down the fort at work, etc. I am truly fortunate to be part of such a great community of people!!
A special thanks goes out to Dr. Kristine Conway and Dr. Sue Anne Lesser who held Tyler together for me throughout his career and, especially, these past 8 months. And, of course, thank you to John and Cindy Cavanaugh who not only bred my Tyler but gave him to me as a gift. The best gift I have ever received.
And, of course, there is my Tyler. Every time I try to describe how I feel about him tears come to my eyes. Words could never express how much I love him or describe the special bond we have. He is my heart and my soul, my once in a lifetime dog. He is a competitor through and through. When the pressure is greatest, he rises to the occasion. He has never, ever given less than 110%. He has tremendous heart and courage… and a wonderful sense of humor. He works primarily for praise and attention. He is incredibly sweet, affectionate and goofy. He loves nothing more than being the center of attention – whether it is in the show ring, at home or at Aqua Dog. Side by side we have experienced the journey of a lifetime.
And now he is retired. No more stress, no more pressure. I refuse to push him until he just can’t go any longer. If he wants to work, I’ll find something fun for us to do together. If he doesn’t want to, that’s fine too. We’ll hike, we’ll play, we’ll hang out and I will, as always, enjoy every minute with this very special dog.