WHWTCA Spotlight on Performance - Spring 2001
I saw my first Westie in about 1976, and from that moment on I never wanted another breed. I acquired my first pet Westies in about 1980, and my foundation bitch, Kelsey, from Eileen McNulty’s Wee Mac kennel in 1987. Over the course of her long life (she is now curled up beneath my desk and will turn 14 in May), she became Ch. Wee Mack’s Kelsey of Kirkton, CDX, TD, ME, CGC, and she was twice High in Trial at the WHWTCA obedience trial. She has two granddaughters that live with me. The first is Maybe, Ch. Kirkton Carolina On My Mind, JE, CD. The second is Sprite, Ch. CT Kirkton Quicksilver Girl, SE, VST, OA, NAJ. These titles are wonderful, but they don’t tell you much about the dogs, just their accomplishments, so this is an introduction to three distinct personalities.
As I get a little older I have come to realize that the most important element in these titles was the journey—the time spent learning how to train and the strong bond that results. If you take one thing away from this, I hope it will be an appreciation of the great joy that comes from watching an intelligent Westie work for you because they love it.
When I started training and showing Kelsey there was only breed, obedience, and AWTA (American Working Terrier Association) "working terrier" events. I earned my first breed points as an owner-handler and at the same time, joined my local training club to teach her obedience. At that time obedience was mostly taught with choke collars and corrections, but she learned anyway because she loved to please me. Eventually she became one of the top Westies in the country in obedience, and was twice High in Trial at the national specialty in novice and open.
I took her to a terrier trial when she was still quite young, and she took to it immediately. She earned her "CG" title (Certificate of Gameness—now the JE in AKC terms) in an unusual way. I walked up to the starting line when her turn came and released her. She ran right in and I stood waiting to hear her bark (the indication that she had reached the caged rats and was "working" them) but instead I heard silence. The judges, however, were intently watching at the other end and in a moment, asked me to come and get my dog.
Puzzled, I went to get her and was told she had passed. It seems that a bunny had gotten into the tunnel between the last dog and Kelsey, and she found it and chased it to the end, dispatching it right in front of the judges. Many people were shocked that she had done this, but after all, that is what they were bred to do and she proved she could do it! As they say, "that dog can hunt!" When AKC introduced their earthdog tests, Kelsey went on to become one of the first dogs to earn a Master Earthdog title.
Kelsey also earned a TD, and she was the dog who first got me interested in tracking. When she earned her TD, there was a dead rat in the middle of her track (the judges did not notice it!), and she nosed it, but decided it wasn’t interesting since it didn’t move, so she finished the track. I guess she could track, too! Kelsey went on to earn her CDX, and two legs of her Utility title, but never earned the third before her age caught up with her and she retired to a life of leisure.
My second performance dog is Maybe. She is a Manley daughter and she began her career with many impressive wins on the way to becoming a champion. Her personality is very different from Kelsey’s, and also from Sprite’s. She is the "princess" of the house, always assuming she should have the best and softest spot, and demanding attention in no uncertain terms. She never did track very well; I think she thought it was too dirty out there in the rough fields! Interestingly, she did enjoy earthdog once Kelsey showed her it was okay to bark at the rats! But she excelled in obedience because she enjoyed being the center of attention. She is now Ch. Kirkton’s Carolina On My Mind, JE, CD, and working on SE and CDX "when she feels like it."
My current performance dog is Sprite, and with her it may be true that "three times the charm." In Sprite I was fortunate to find a dog that loves to work and is intelligent and athletic besides. From the time she was born she had a twinkle in her eye and a desire to "do stuff." Sprite also benefited from my evolving knowledge of dog training. I decided to do all the "fun" activities with her first, so she started at about eight weeks learning to track, and at ten months learning agility. Both of these activities are taught almost exclusively using motivational methods (toys, treats, praise), so Sprite has always equated work with fun.
When Sprite began tracking, this sport was becoming my first love in dog activities, and I was fortunate to have Sprite, who was a natural at it from the start. If you don’t know anything about tracking, I can just say that it is unique because it is a talent the dog has that we can’t do ourselves. In other sports, dogs learn to play games by rules that we have made up, but excellence in tracking requires a dogs with talent and a willingness to follow a particular human scent on a difficult track that is up to five hours old. You can’t make the dog do this; they have to enjoy it. Sprite earned her TD at 8 months, her TDX at less than two years and her VST at less than four year of age at the Westie national tracking test in October 1999. She is still the only Westie and the only terrier to have earned a VST and CT (Champion tracker—awarded to dogs holding all three titles). Even though there are no more tracking titles for her to earn, she is my "demo dog" and we still track for fun because she loves it so much.
While learning tracking she also started in agility, and did very well in this as well, earning her Open standard and Novice jumpers titles in a couple of years. She also enjoys earthdog, and completed her SE title on the same weekend she earned her VST and CT. In between all these activities, she also had two litters of pups and earned her breed championship. Sprite started training in obedience last year at 5 ½. I am training her with a buckle collar, treats, and a clicker, and she loves every minute of it. She is also competing for additional titles in agility and earthdog. When she earns her CD she will meet the requirements for a Master of Versatile Excellence title in the Westie club and will have earned titles in every area of competition open to Westies. I fondly refer to her as "Sprite the Wonderdog!" I think she is secretly a Border Collie in Westie clothing!
On the way to earning these titles with Sprite, I truly came to understand how special it is when you have the opportunity to own a great dog and help them to live up to their potential. I know when she succeeds at some activity that she knows she has done well, and it makes all the work worthwhile.
Each of these dogs is different, and each has their favorite activities. Each has given me the chance to learn about them and myself, and each has made me a better trainer, and a better owner. Stop reading and go train your dog!
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