West Highland White Terrier Club of America

WHWTCA Spotlight on Performance - Winter 2003

Deb Duncan's Beowulf & Treasure


Many dog people can own dogs for years. For everyone, some are more special than others. However, few people are ever blessed with what I call a "soul dog." There are not adequate words to describe a soul dog. Someone who has never had a true soul dog cannot understand what the term means. But, anyone who has ever been blessed & had their lives changed in that special way KNOWS what the term "soul dog" means.

It took me years to come close to an explanation other people could understand. The best way I can describe what I mean about a "soul dog" is to say: "All of my dogs live in my HEART....Beowulf lives in my SOUL!!!". I always believed that for whatever reason, God chose to send me one of the most special of His fur angels . . . my Beowulf. Also, I knew no dog I ever owned could touch Beowulf's special soul dog place. Amazingly, God saw fit to bless me with a second soul dog . . . my Treasure.

Here is their story.


Almost 16 years ago, I got Beowulf on the day I sent my little rescue Cairn to the Rainbow Bridge. I am so glad I did not know then what I know now about the proper way to acquire a pup. If I had, Beowulf would never have come into my life.

Believe me when I say, I was NOT prepared to own a Terrier. At 8 months of age, I sought out a pet obedience class for self-preservation . . . mine & Beowulf's! After a year of pet obedience classes, I heard someone mention an obedience fun match. Being the competitive person I am, that is all it took. Beowulf & I were off and I have never looked back.

Back then (late 80's), the most common obedience training method was the harsh collar corrections. Unfortunately, some people still use this method. I thought this was how training was done even though I disliked it. Add to this the fact that many instructors (then & now) felt & feel the only way to handle a "terrier" is to be even harder & harsher on them than other breeds.

When I think back on our early competition training & career, it is with chagrin, embarrassment, & utter shame. My wonderful boy was so full of attitude (Westitude) & heart. Beowulf relished the chance to use his incredible mind. Unfortunately, the initial methods used on Beowulf caused him to lose his love & enthusiasm for learning, competing, & performing. We literally plodded through his first title, Companion Dog (CD). My boy, so full of everything, slugged through seven competitions to earn his CD. Beowulf, who had started off heeling as a "forger" (being in front of heel position), actually NQ'd at one trial for "lagging" (being behind heel position).

During this agonizing time, I saw a few (not many) other dogs who loved competing & what they were doing. They had the same zest Beowulf had started off with in our first obedience class. I wanted to go on competing, but vowed I would not continue IF Beowulf could not regain his natural attitude & enthusiasm for training & competing. After much research, I decided to go back & "retrain" everything. This meant starting from scratch as if Beowulf had never even heard the word "sit." And, it meant using only positive reinforcement methods. Even these methods still meant collar corrections. The difference is they were not as forceful as the previous ones & they were called "motivational pops." This meant you were happy & upbeat. When you did give a correction, you immediately followed it with happy & upbeat praise & reward. (Note: I no longer use corrections of any form in training the dogs.)

Thank goodness, Beowulf has an indomitable heart & incomparable soul. He responded phenomenally to the new approach. He thrived. Beowulf found himself again & he salvaged me. Moreover, something truly remarkable occurred. Beowulf became my teacher! He has taught me most of what I know. I will say, unabashedly, Beowulf is a far more intuitive, talented, & insightful instructor than I can ever hope to be.

Beowulf went on to earn many more titles & awards. Most importantly, he became a true ambassador of the breed. He has blessed countless lives. He became a teacher to many people & many dogs in all aspects of his life. With all Beowulf achieved, I still feel his most impressive achievements were changing me in a truly indescribable way & touching so many people's lives as only he can.

Beowulf is my soul dog. He is the light of my life, even as he is in the twilight of his life. While most people will not remember me or my name, there are more people than I can count who will long remember how their lives were touched by having known BEOWULF.

I have truly been blessed to have a second soul dog sent to enrich my life.

Here is Treasure's story.


Treasure is truly a prodigy. There is no other explanation for how she has been able to achieve all that she has at such a young age I did set out to create a "super dog" using all I had researched & learned over the years. But all of my methods & efforts can only account for a small amount of her accomplishments. Granted, genetics . . . her breeding accounts for much of who she is. I will never be able to thank Anne & Sil Sanders (VERSATILE RIME Westies) enough for entrusting me with one of their most special babies. However, some of what Treasure is about, who she is, what she has achieved can only be attributed to the "specialness & uniqueness" God saw fit to imbue her with.

The biggest challenge I have encountered owning, training, & competing Treasure has always been trying to come up to her level. This meant, trying to find ways to give her what she needed to fulfill all she was capable of doing & all I felt she was intended to accomplish. This was an enormous challenge for me. I had never encountered a dog with the thought processes & mental acuity of Treasure. Her physical structure was beyond compare. Then, add to the equation the fact that Treasure "loved" learning. She thrived on it. From such an early age, Treasure could not get enough of doing things with a purpose. Just playing for the sake of puppy play was not enough. She needed more. When I wasn't giving her the challenges she wanted, when I was not giving her a chance to use her mind...she would take matters into her own hands. Treasure would find a way to teach me how to do a "play thing" with a challenge to it. Treasure is 7 years old & I am still striving to just meet her half way.

The best way I can describe Treasure is: NOTHING IS TOO MUCH AND ALL IS NOT ENOUGH!!!!

Let me begin her saga by stating my most basic tenet I have held to throughout all of Treasure's training. I pledged to train Treasure through her entire competition career with NO CORRECTIONS . . . NONE . . . NADA! I can honestly say, I have held 100% true to this commitment. Now, don't get me wrong. Treasure is an over the top dog. She had to be to have achieved all she has. And, she is a "terrier bitch." So, yes, there have been times I have had to admonish her for "behavior" issues. But, never when "training" in any shape or form.

(shown here at just under 12 weeks of age)

At 8 weeks of age, Treasure's play areas included PVC tunnels, mini dog walk, & various other physical interaction items. I had a wall calendar with the daily items we would do together. Everything we did was done in absolute play mode. Treasure's daily play training sessions included the following. She was handled physically to acclimate her to being handled by me, the vet, & eventually in the conformation ring. She had a mini obedience segment & a mini conformation ring segment daily. She did puppy tracking, retrieving, targeted go-outs, & toy play. I exposed Treasure to a different sight & sound stimuli. One each was done in the house & one each in the yard. When she was 12 wks old, she got a daily trip. This was to a shopping mall or a schoolyard with the children.

Treasure's play training sessions were never more than 10 minutes long. I did 3-4 of these per day. So, while all of this sounds terribly time consuming, it actually totaled only 30-40 minutes per day. Now, this excludes the tracking & the trips outside the home environment. Those took more time. Also, Treasure did have several all out "play" times with me and/or the other dogs every day.

All of this became so much a part of Treasure & she loved all of it so much that when she got older, Treasure would actually ASK to be trained. She developed a special way to tell me what " specific session" she wanted to do. If I was involved in some major task & unable to accommodate her at exactly that moment, Treasure would keep asking. She would go through the entire repertoire of "asking signals" . . . hoping one would work.

To this day, Treasure still asks for me to do something (or several somethings) with her everyday. She is unrelenting. The only way to get any peace is to stop & do some little session with her. I created a demon, but what a remarkable little demon. To be honest, this was one aspect I never foresaw when we began our adventures. You would have to see her do this to truly appreciate what I am talking about. Treasure is insatiable, almost obsessed. It seems to be "essential" for her to use her mind & her body every day.

Here is a recap of Treasure's unbelievable achievements to date:

- Born: Feb.8, 1996
- Certified for tracking: Sept., 1996.
- Certificate of Gameness (CG): Nov., 1996. Also, the fastest dog in the Certificate Class.
- Tracking Dog (TD): Dec., 1996
- Canine Good Citizenship (CGC): April, 1997
- Junior Earthdog (JE): May, 1997
- International Championship (INT'L CH): June, 1997. Best in Show. Three Group One's
- American Champion (AM.CH): Oct., 1997 NOTE: Treasure earned both of her majors at Montgomery County. Winner's Bitch at Devon & Best of Winners at MCKC (the Nat'l Specialty). At that point in time, she was the only dog on the WHWTCA Nat'l Specialty BOW trophy with any working titles after her name!
- WHWTCA Versatile Dog Award ...earned Oct., 1997
- Temperament Tested (TT)...Dec, 1997
- Companion Dog (CD)...March, 1999
- Novice Agility (NA)...April, 1999
- WHWTCA Versatile Dog Excellent Award: earned April, 1999
- Novice Agility Jumpers (NAJ): May, 1999
- Open Agility (OA): June, 1999
- Open Agility Jumpers (OAJ): Oct, 1999
- Senior Earthdog (SE): March, 2000
- Companion Dog Excellent (CDX): March, 2000
- Agility Excellent (AX): May, 2000
- WHWTCA Master of Versatility Award: earned May, 2000 at only 4 years of age
- Excellent Agility Jumpers (AXJ): July, 2000
- Versatile Companion Dog 2 (VCD2): Jan, 2001
- Master Agility Excellent (MX): May, 2001
- Master Excellent Jumper (MXJ): Sept, 2002
- Novice Agility Preferred (NAP): Oct, 2002
- Novice Jumper Preferred (NJP): Oct, 2002
- Open Agility Preferred (OAP): Oct, 2002
- Open Jumpers Preferred (OJP): Oct, 2002
- Agility Excellent Preferred (AXP): Dec, 2002
- Excellent Jumper Preferred (AJP): Dec, 2002

Will there be another Westie who meets or exceeds all Treasure has accomplished at the "young age" she has? There is no doubt there will be. I hope Beowulf's & Treasure's sagas inspire other Westie owners to help their Westies "be all they can be". One thing I can assure you is there is nothing to compare with the fun & pride you will have when you let your dog explore the world of performance events.

All I ask is that you have FUN, that you enjoy & relish in each & every aspect of your dog as they engage in these activities. If you are not enjoying & having fun, there is no way your dog will. Keep a sense of humor, more for your mistakes than your dog's. Recognize their creativity as a sign they "just need to have some fun", release some energy, tension, or anxiety. OR, you are not being interesting enough or clear about what you are asking of them. I truly believe WE do not train the dogs, rather they teach & train us . . . if we will only be open to hearing what they are telling us. Moreover, the dogs are exceedingly patient & only use positive reinforcement. When WE get it right, the dogs reward & reinforce our performance with the behavior we have been asking of the dog.

The Westies are NOT stubborn. Their owners are too often not fair in their expectations or they are not being clear in what they are training or asking of the dog. If you do not get what you are looking for, look to the source . . . YOU & your training methods. Also, realize that not every dog can take Best In Show at Westminster, not every dog can earn an OTCH, a TDX, a CT, a MACH, or a ME. Some will be average at many things, some will excel at only one. This is no different than it is with children. A family of three children will all have their own areas of interest & levels of excellence. Also, to be honest, I like the idea of a dog who can be a "jack of all trades, master of none." Enjoy every aspect of your dog, love them for WHO they are. Allow them to become the dog they, individually, are intended to be.

One perfect example are the "rescue dogs". When they appear in our Annual Rescue Parade, they are awarded a certificate as a CHIME. This stands for CHampion In My Eyes. When you consider what so many of those dogs overcame to be the loving family dog they become, many who had never seen a toy & did not know how to play. Or, the ones who didn't know what loving human touch meant. There is no doubt they are Champions in their minds & in their new owners' hearts.

Whatever your dog does & whoever they are . . . they should be a source of pride for you. Do consider exposing them to various doggie activities that can further enrich their lives & yours. Above all, Beowulf, Treasure, & I "challenge" you to listen to your dog, let them teach you the life lessons within them. Let your dog help you to become "all you can be" as a responsible, loving, caring, & interactive owner. Allow your dog to "enrich" your life as only they can.

Deb Duncan, Beowulf, & Treasure