West Highland White Terrier Club of America

WHWTCA Spotlight on Performance - Summer 2005

Suzanne Evans and the Lucky Boy Dawn's Share N' The Luck SE, RN, TD

Eight years ago I had the proud accomplishment of teaching our rescue dog, Maggie, to roll over for a McDonald's Chicken McNugget. That was the life long experience I had in training dogs.

Then came The Lucky Boy.......

In March of last year, after Maggie passed away, Melonie and I realized we missed the companionship of a dog, and began looking for a puppy. We had determined that we wanted a pure bred and were certain of the traits we sought: tough, small body but big attitude, hearty, confident, and smart. All signs pointed to a Westie. We set out in search of a PET Westie. We immediately began contacting breeders, visiting the WHWTCA site, researching, and educating ourselves about the breed.

We contacted Dawn Martin and she was extremely helpful, answered lots of questions, but did not have any "pet" Westies at the time. She did, however, have a 4 month old show boy. Immediately our heads were filled with questions: "What's showing a dog?" "What does it mean?" Dawn encouraged us to visit a match held by William Penn Club the following weekend where we met Lucky.

We fell desperately in love, not only with him, but with the community of people and events that we experienced. We were hooked. Admittedly we were a little nervous. We had no idea where to begin and felt quite intimidated by the whole prospect of jumping into this new world. One thing we did know was that we too possessed Westie qualities that would help smooth our transition. We were tenacious, ambitious, resourceful and really, really excited!

"The Lucky Boy" packed his crate and moved to The Big Apple the next week. Then, a phone call to Dawn:

Suzanne: "Hi Dawn. I can't get Lucky Boy to pick his head up when I walk him. He sniffs down the sidewalk like he is on a mission." 
Dawn: "He's probably tracking something." 
Suzanne: "He's what?" 
Dawn: "Tracking--- following a scent. There is an AKC event where dogs earn tracking titles and they follow a human trail to find a lost glove."
Suzanne (to herself): "Kinda like when I watched my Dad work with some of his dogs hunting when I was a kid..... Sounds like fun." 

So I headed to the internet to research.... tracking

We decided to give it a try. I found articles about serpentine tracks and training puppies, and I began laying mini tracks in the hallway of our apartment building. It seemed like fun, and he really enjoyed it. Lucky Boy easily followed the tracks and always barked at the end begging for more. This was the start of our training and performance activities---tracking chicken trails in a NYC apartment building. I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss because we decided to move our efforts outdoors and began laying tracks on NYC sidewalks (what I now know to be the most contaminated surface there is), but Lucky Boy would always follow the track… both of us learning as we went. We tracked in UPS parking lots, NYC parks, parking garages, and once down a pier over the Hudson River.

While following chicken trails through the concrete jungle, we also heard about an event called earthdog.....

Dogs chasing rats? Could our sweet puppy really have any interest in chasing a rat? We spend a lot of time running FROM rats in the city. The lure of earthdog was too strong. We decided to go out and watch, but not for long. There was no way Lucky Boy was letting everyone else have all the fun. He had to join in. He was quick to let us know that IQ was not enough -- he needed a bigger challenge, and on his first weekend in JE he became the youngest Westie to earn a Junior Earthdog title at barely 8 months old.

SE would be a true training experience, not just for Lucky Boy, but for me. I began to understand the mind of my puppy….sharp, eager, and desperate to please. Lucky Boy is a dog that is filled with desire. He is happiest when he is learning and performing. Whether in the show ring, playing fetch, or on a track he is a sponge absorbing everything around him. I could see him so desperate to get to understand the maze and struggling to make sense of the false den. Where did they put my rats? It was fascinating to watch his progression through earthdog last summer. Each entry he would push himself a little further and then fortunately at our final ED trial last Fall in NJ he found the rats! Unfortunately, this meant I had to recall him. We had practiced our recall but had never actually had an opportunity to put it to use, so I was in a bit of shock when the judge announced, "Call your dog!" I patiently called him. Suddenly I saw a white blur whirling towards me. Oops, there it goes right by me. Here it comes again. I dove forward....into a split. I caught him. He was definitely stunned by my acrobats, and I was stunned we had a Senior Earthdog leg! (Along with the SE leg that day I also got a cut finger, sore thighs, and a scraped knee.) After working on a calmer, gentler approach to recall Lucky Boy earned his last two SE legs the weekend of May 14th. He energetically recalled straight to me in twelve seconds and I patiently praised him and picked him up. While it did prove much less exciting I believe it was safer and more productive for both of us.

Meanwhile back at the UPS parking lot we figured we better find some fields and some help to move from our mini serpentines. In comes Sue Ammerman.... She laid our very first field track beside a confirmation ring at a show in Pennsylvania. She had us get rid of the flags we had been using since Lucky Boy had begun to site on the flags rather than use his nose and she started working us on 90 degree turns. Over the next several months she became a wonderful tracking mentor and spent many hours in fields helping us find tracks we had laid and then got lost on! But we persevered…. We learned how to make better maps for ourselves, I learned to trust my dog and just stand still, Melonie learned how to lay a great track, and we stopped at every field between here and Florida every time we had a chance. We also continued working him in the city on asphalt using obstacles such as buildings, pylons, and pedestrian traffic. At eleven months old Sue certified Lucky Boy and at one year old he earned his TD.

With summer being over we moved our training back indoors. I was excited when I read about rally because I was pretty intimidated by obedience......

What we had worked on so far was instinctual for Lucky Boy.....this would be more training specific. I enrolled in a rally class where I quickly learned that rally is a great bonding event for you and your dog. The constant interaction and attention create a unique dialogue specific to the two of you. It was also ideal for a novice, like me, because of the freedom to encourage and communicate in the ring. I love that every time we train I learn more. It may be as small as where to place a treat or as large as a break through in heeling, but each time I feel I get more confident and that confidence is transferred to Lucky Boy. We decided to put our work to the test and enter New Year's Day rally trials. The largest lesson there--- RING NERVES! Lucky Boy was excited to play. He was ready. I was a mess. But, we went in anyway and did our best. We got two legs that weekend and earned one more February 19th to give us our RN and for The Lucky Boy to become the youngest versatile Westie at just 15 months old. What an amazing journey this last year has been.

It is incredible how Lucky Boy has changed our lives......

We have made an entire new circle of friends and learned a lot about ourselves. Earning those titles was a lot of fun for two rookies, but the best part has been every day with Lucky Boy. From his daily rides with Melonie to work in a cab to the dog park to watching TV he has brought us infinite joy and fulfillment. He taught us to work less, play more, dream big, be patient, be enthusiastic, always keep going, and ask a lot of questions. He is everything we ever dreamed of in a Westie. In a very short time his accomplishments are vast.

Born: &nbsp November 12, 2003

NYC Move: April 10, 2004

IQ qualify: June 18, 2004 (7 months)

JE earned: July 18, 2004 (8 months)

Major from puppy classes: September 26, 2004 (10 months)

Certified for tracking: October 24, 2004 (11 months)

SE leg earned: November 6, 2004 (11months)

TD earned: November 21, 2004 (1 year, 1 week, 3 days)

Rally title earned: February 18, 2005 (15 months, 6 days)

WHWTCA Versatile Dog Award: February 18, 2005 (15 months, 6 days)

SE title earned: May 15, 2005 (18 months old)

To anyone wanting to get involved in performance activities.....

My biggest advice is do NOT wait. If you are waiting for the perfect clean run, a flawless rally course, or a dog that gets the rats every time you are really missing out. We haven't been perfect, we haven't been the best, and we are still waiting for ring nerves to pass, but we have had a blast in every event, class, and training session. The other advice would be to ask questions, ask for help, and keeping asking. There are wonderful people involved in Westies and they are very willing to lend their support. We offer a huge thanks to Dawn Martin for mentoring us in every capacity, answering phone calls at all hours of the night, and for entrusting us with one of her dogs.

When we first became involved we were not sure if we would be able to do performance, everyone seemed like an expert, and they were in their own right. However, we have found that what we have done is not so incredible after all. Doing performance with your Westie is easy once you see the joy on their face after they see a rat for the first time, the palpable determination they have to put their nose to the ground and follow a scent, or the surprise you feel when he really is beside you heeling through a course. We thought we had to perfect our craft for years, but what we realized is we just had to put ourselves out there to try. We get a great deal of pleasure out of just being entered and participating. What could be more fun than a day doing performance with your dog?

We can't wait for what is to come....

We have just begun working on regular obedience and I have one goal…to keep it fun! I am learning to develop accuracy and to be clear in my training methods. I am fortunate to have a dog that will give as much as I ask of him. Unfortunately, I am not always certain how to ask. It is all part of the learning curve. I am understanding the importance of body language and how my attentive dog really does depend on my every move. Our first tries out have been successful in learning and we just need to perfect those sits and downs to Q.

We are also working on Advanced Rally and are still running in Novice trials improving our scores and teamwork each time---our last score was a 97! Living in NYC we get to work on VST quite a bit and Lucky Boy yearns for tracking.... sometimes it is a planned track I have laid and sometimes it is down 7th Avenue following the trail of a man just off the subway who has dropped a slice of cheese pizza on the curb. In tracking I am focusing on teamwork and trust....trusting Lucky Boy and his instincts---after all he is the one with the nose! 
We are taking agility classes and we set up quite an interesting course on the roof of our apartment. Lucky Boy is strong and quick…now I have to learn to catch up.

It is somewhat ironic that we called him The Lucky Boy. We are the ones that are lucky. If you ever get a chance to meet him he will make you smile. He has not a modest or shy bone in him and he is as silly as he is smart. I know this is just the start of our bond…there is so much more to learn, so much more to do and maybe even another Westie to be had. We should be an example that if we can maneuver our way through performance certainly anyone can. Come out and give it a try. We'll be looking for you in the field, at the quarry, or in the ring. You will recognize us right away; we'll be the ones having lots of fun.....