Apparently a triangle is when you jog down the long side, turn left, jog down the quarter line, and then back towards the judge on the diagonal… and another lesson I missed when I was absent from class. I’ve been practicing jogging in straight lines with Hush, but the dog/handler combo I’m watching as I wait my turn in handling class makes the triangle seem effortless, and I tell myself it won’t be so bad. More dogs go through the rotation, and finally it is my turn.
My piece of hot dog in my right hand is turning to goo, in my trembling, perspiring palm. I ask Hush to stand, and start fiddling with her legs… I know what I’m supposed to have them look like, but every time I lift one leg, Hush shifts her wait, or moves another leg.
I look up to the instructor, “How do I get her to stand when I adjust her legs?”
“You need to get her where she doesn’t move,” I’m told.
“But, when she moves, what should I do to tell her not to move anymore?” I plead for some sort of guidance. I feel inadequate, and unworthy as I stand before this famed AKC Judge.
I clumsily get Hush into a somewhat “stacked” position, and “the judge” approaches. With this, Hush starts wiggling like mad. “She needs to be able to stand and not move,” we’re reprimanded. I jerk on Hush’s lead, hoping if I think about it enough, I can will her to turn to stone.
“Now, show me her bite.”
I’ve watched enough dog shows on TV to know this means you want to look inside her mouth. If I can get a horse to open its mouth for deworming, a dog should be a piece of cake. I grab ahold of the top and bottom of Hush’s jaw, and pry her mouth open. Hush loves to pick up anything she encounters – my socks, sticks outside, litter we encounter on walks… and, channeling the crocodile hunter has become second nature to me.
“No. You need to do it from the top, like this.” The “judge” has transformed back to instructor, and demonstrates. I’m not exactly sure what she’s doing, but I try my best to mimic it. This time, I attempt to pry Hush’s mouth open by holding from the top only. “No, like this.” She demonstrates again. I take a deep breath, and think, crocodile hunter, I am the crocodile hunter! My attempt is a failure again, but I still don’t have a clue what I’m doing wrong. “I need to see her bite, to see how her teeth line up,” she dictates to me. The skies open up! The angels rejoice! I have an epiphany!
Why hadn’t she told me this from the beginning? I lift Hush’s top lip, and pull down on her bottom, she pulls away, shaking her head, thinking I am about to go crocodile hunter on her again, but I’ve accomplished something. It wasn’t pretty, but I’ve done it.
“Now, gait her in the triangle.” I gather my lead, and off we go. Hush is falling to the inside, and our triangle looks a lot more like an oval, but as we head down the diagonal back towards the judge, I feel Hush starting to move nicely.
“She’s moving weird upfront. I need to see you do that again so I can tell you what to change.” I start over.
I finish. “She’s pulling. You cannot let her pull on the leash ever. Not in walks, not in practice. Never! When she pulls, she moves terribly and it skews her front end.” I look down at Hush, it feels like my tail should be between my legs at this point, and she is hopelessly oblivious. I decide to end on a good note, and step in front of Hush to ask her to stack. At which point I’m told, “Never get between the judge’s line of view and your dog.” Oops, I think to myself.
After you gait your dog, the judge will examine it once more, and then will either tell you to “once around” or “thank you”. If the judge says thank you, that means they’ve seen all they want to see, and you can just walk back to the end of the line. If they say once around, you are to show off your dog until you get to the back of the line. I was told, “thank you.”
Everyone in the class finishes this exercise, and the teacher gives a brief lecture. She asks who went to the matches over the weekend, I had planned on going to one, but didn’t because I got sick. She emphasizes the importance of attending these practice matches, and then congratulates a classmate who won something or other. Then, she turns towards the beaming gentleman from before class, “He will be flying to England to exhibit a dog, one he has never handled before, at Crufts this week.” The class erupts in applause. I’m honored to be training alongside such a talented handler, but, at the same time, I can’t help but think of the irony. My classmate is being paid to fly to England, to show in their version of Westminster, and I don’t even know how to show my dog’s bite.
(To be continued…)