West Highland White Terrier Club of America

WHWTCA Spotlight on Performance - Fall 2003

Bella Vista Westies & Stephanie Capkovic

While watching the antics of my 12 week old Westie puppy, I can’t help but wonder - what all will we do together? Immediately, I start thinking Breed Ring (need to enroll in the next handling class), Agility (he can already do the tunnel!), Obedience (now, where is my clicker?), Earthdog (better wait until he weighs more than the rat before he meets the vermin!) and Tracking (need to start some basic scent work drills). Are these high expectations for a 12 week old puppy? Not at all, just a routine life for a Bella Vista Westie!

Now of course this list of expectations did not develop overnight. My involvement with dog activities has evolved slowly and sometimes more quickly over many years. Here is the short version of my story:

Growing up in middle America in the 1960’s and 70’s indirectly influenced me to get involved with dogs. In a 4 child household, our border collie mixed breed dog got walked, fed and routine care but never received formal training. "Scout" preferred to be outdoors and was more interested in guarding the property than in interacting with people. I constantly begged by parents for another dog, a small breed like my friends had, that would be live in the house and sleep in my bed. The routine answer was "when you have a home of your own you can have as many dogs as you want." I wonder if my mother and father ever imagined that the number of dogs in my house would reach (and often exceed) ten!

At age 24, I got my first small dog, a pet quality Westie who was named "Alexis". Alexis was a very spoiled pet who informed us when it was time to eat, when it was time to go to bed and when she should be petted! Like many first time Westie owners, we honored her every wish and she was the "Queen" of our house.

On my 25th birthday, I attended the Montgomery County Terrier Dog Show and then life began to change. At that show I was introduced to many Westie people and was fortunate to meet and later become friends with Dawn Martin (Spotlight on Performance Fall 2002). Under her guidance, I became involved in the breed ring and became possessed to own a Champion Westie.

My involvement with performance events soon followed when Dawn encouraged me to attend an American Working Terrier Association (AWTA) Earthdog Event. My second Westie, Bella (CH Dawn’s Sabella Vanilla CD, CG) was a natural and I was hooked. It was truly amazing and exciting for me to see my sweet little Westie turn into a barking/digging/rat possessed machine. Bella earned her AWTA Working Certificate at her very first trial.

Soon I learned about the Versatile Dog Award offered by the West Highland White Terrier Club of America (WHWTCA). This award required the dog to earn a title in 3 different areas. Since Bella already had her breed championship and earthdog certificate, we quickly enrolled in obedience class. Despite my poor training methods, Bella earned her American Kennel Club (AKC) Companion Dog title and the WHWTCA Versatile Dog Award. I can relate many interesting stories of our ring experiences including:

I often completed the off leash heeling exercises alone since Bella knew I was coming back eventually so why should she bother to come along? Bella would occasionally think she was at an earthdog event and chase trash & hair balls out of the ring. On sunny days, Bella would find shade by sitting in my shadow rather than remaining in line where she belonged.

Although Bella earned the obedience title, I knew that both of our performances could use a lot of improvement and I decided I needed to find a more positive way to teach my dogs obedience skills. Again following Dawn’s advice, I enrolled in obedience classes at the White Rose Obedience Center with Margaret Schrader. What a difference training with Margaret made in my skills and in having my dogs ENJOY obedience training! My advice to anyone taking obedience classes - if you and your dog are not having fun - find a better trainer!

Most people know that I am somewhat possessed with agility. I love practicing and teaching the wide variety of skills needed and like the fact that you have to quickly adjust at times to be successful. To my dogs, agility is play and great fun - just like it is for me. With my Westies, I have had a great deal of success in the agility ring. Of course, we have also had some interesting times and unforgettable moments. Some of these include:

-Bubba running the bleachers at the WHWTCA first agility trial like it was an obstacle.
-Devon who would only run fast enough to qualify if I gave all the command in a voice with a southern accent (and we live in Pennsylvania). My only explanation for this is that she is Bubba’s daughter.
-On a rainy day, Amelia refused to come out of the tunnel, so I had to go in and get her. I am so glad that no one had a video camera that day!

Although in the past I did a little tracking, I became more serious with this dog sport in the past several years and in 2002, Amelia & I earned the Tracking Dog Title from the AKC. Actually, she earned the title and I was just the "dope at the end of the rope!" Tracking has been a real challenge for me since you need to let the dog have control and let them follow their nose. I am very thankful for my instructor and friend, Sue Ammerman, for having patience with me in class.

In 2002, I was introduced to Rally Obedience and immediately got involved in the fun! This is a new type of obedience training that allows more communication between the dog and handler.

The Westies that I have owned and competed with have been very successful in all types of performance events. In addition, they have also been part of the Bella Vista breeding program so there were many months spent away from training. I have been lucky enough to find performance homes and to inspire other Westie and other dog owners to do performance events with their canine companions. Listed below are the 8 Bella Vista Westies that I have owned, trained & shown to the level of Versatile Dog (2 have reached the level of Versatile Dog Excellent Level).

Bella Vista’s Versatile Dog Award Earners:

"Bella" CH Dawn’s Sabella Vanilla CD, CG
(Obedience: AKC Companion Dog; AWTA Certificate of Gameness)

"Ava" U-CD CH Bella Vista’s Avalanche Lily, CDX, JE, NA R1-MCL
(Obedience: AKC Companion Dog Excellent, APDT Rally Level 1, UKC CD; Agility: AKC Novice Title, AKC Junior Earthdog Title) Earned her R1-MCL Title at age 11! Date of birth: 6/3/02

"Indy" Bella Vista’s Indyan Summer, CDX, SE, NA
(Obedience: AKC Companion Dog Excellent, Agility: AKC Novice Title, AKC Senior Earthdog Title) RETIRED

"Chrissy" CH Dawn’s Hole N’ One, ME, NA
(Agility: AKC Novice Title, AKC Master Earthdog Title) RETIRED

"Phyllis" CH Bella Vista’s Running Amuck, CD, NA, NAJ (Showing in Obedience, training in Earthdog)

"Devon" CH Dawn’s Fun N’ Games, NAJ, JE—RETIRED (but may compete in some limited Agility & Earthdog events)

Bella Vista’s Versatile Dog Excellent Award Earners:

"Bubba" CH Bella Vista’s Oh Yes He Does, AX, OAJ, OAP, OJP, CD, JE, R1-CL, NAC, NJC (Obedience: AKC Companion Dog, Agility: AKC Excellent Standard & Open Preferred Titles, Open & Preferred Jumpers With Weaves Titles, NADAC Agility Novice & Novice Jumpers AKC Junior Earthdog Title; APDT Rally Level 1) Currently being shown in Obedience, Agility, & Earthdog and training in Tracking

Each of these Westies has helped increase and improve my training skills and taught me many new things. In addition, I have developed wonderful friendship with other dog owners as a result of attending classes and events.

Are my Westies perfect? In my eyes, almost always! In the judges eyes, not always! I understand that my dogs are doing multiple types of events and that they are dogs! I know that it is hard for them to switch gears from "run and jump as fast as you can" in agility to "walk exactly by my side and sit when I stop" in obedience. I just smile and think "what a great agility dog" when Bubba finds the high jump on the obedience healing pattern. Yes, he has been know to take the jump and then come back into heal position - couldn’t have taught that if I tried!

The bond that I have developed with my dogs continues to strengthen with each activity we do and with each training session. My younger dogs (including Meme, Dot, Otis, Allie & Cus who are not yet Versatile Award earners) are always ready to do stuff and my older dogs are young at heart and even after 10 years of age are not ready to stop playing agility, earthdog, obedience & tracking games with me.

On behalf of your canine companion, I ask you to give performance events a try. I am sure both you and your Westie will have a great time!

The 2002 Bella Vista Gang including the Westies Gone Bad!

(Tiger--the Yorkie & Gator--the Portuguese Water Dog)