(This article was first published in Blueprints, summer edition, 1995. Written by Lisa Frankland, this article tells the story of her first obedience dog. Lisa has continued in obedience and has added many titles on her Kerries.)
“Lav” is my first Kerry Blue Terrier and my first obedience dog. I started him in obedience classes because 1) I wanted him to have some training before our first child arrived, and 2) I had been interested in obedience since watching a cousin put a CD on his Old English Sheepdog several years ago. Lav showed his potential early on, but it took quite a while for both of us to be ready for the ring. Standing by and watching a klutzy novice handler trying to control her rambunctious and all-too-easily distracted terrier puppy must have been frustrating for our instructors, to say the least.
Things finally came together, and Lav earned his CD at the age of two, with an average score of 192. A year later, following a move to California and the birth of another baby, he earned his CDX, with placements, in just one weekend. Then came Utility. Although I’m the first to admit that Novice and Open training had their share of problems, Utility was a whole new ballgame. Being faced with multiple choices, and in a situation where he had to give me 100% of his attention really stressed him out. Add that to the fact that smooth handling and teamwork are more important than ever, and we had some real trouble! It took over a year before I felt we were ready to attempt Utility. To my delight, Lav earned his three qualifying scores in just eight trials – I’m told the average is eighteen to twenty-four! The day Lav finished his UD – January 15, 1995 – was one of the most thrilling in my life, and the joy of seeing all that work come together into a good qualifying performance cannot be described. We’re now working on the ten combined qualifying scores (passing scores in both Open B and Utility B at the same show) required for a UDX.
Lav is the first dog that I have ever trained for competitive obedience, so I can’t say how he, or the breed, compares to other dogs. I’ve relied mainly on the methods outlined in Diane Bauman’s book, Beyond Basic Dog Training, for most of Lav’s advanced training, though I’ve also used ideas that I’ve picked up from other trainers. I use a lot of praise and play to motivate Lav. I rarely use food, as I don’t feel particularly comfortable using it, and Lav is not a chowhound, but have found it does help in training when he is confused and stops trying. He has a tremendous sense of fairness, taking a correction well if he feels he has it coming, but acting surprisingly sensitive if he is corrected too harshly, (in his opinion), or for something he doesn’t understand. I credit the prong collar with initially getting my “hairy blue terror” under control, but now that Lav has matured and is more responsive to me, I train and show him exclusively in a rolled leather buckle collar.
I don’t believe that a dog has to come from “obedience lines” to be successful in obedience. I have a big problem with breeders who make this claim, since it gives the impression that breeding for conformation and breeding for obedience are two mutually exclusive goals. The large number of dual-titled dogs in our breed and others, as well as the many successful obedience dogs coming form outstanding conformation lines, should put this myth to rest. Anyone who is selecting for sound bodies and good temperaments (neither shy nor aggressive) is breeding obedience dogs. Lav himself is the product of a breeding between two multiple group winners, and a litter sister of his is the dam of Ch. Casey’s Chasten the Blues, a BIS and Specialty winner. To his breeders’ knowledge, there are no other obedience titled dogs in Lav’s line.
Although I purchased Lav primarily as a companion, he is a nice example of the breed. This is desirable, since the obedience rings usually draw the biggest crowds at dog shows, and many people watching us compete have never seen a Kerry before. Lav is now neutered, but I hope my next Kerry will have titles at both ends. Lav’s temperament – intelligent, friendly, and outgoing, with a good dose of common sense – is a credit to his breeders and to his breed. Even before he was neutered, Lav almost never acted aggressively towards other dogs, though he is more than capable of defending himself. In the ring, he “smiles” a lot, does spectacular jumps, and his tail goes constantly. Whether or not we qualify, judges and spectators alike always comment on how much they enjoy watching us work. The best part about obedience training is that it has forged a bond of mutual love and understanding between us, and has made Lav a better pet. I dreamed about owning a Kerry like this since I was a teenager, and Lav has never let me down.