I’ve always loved animals. As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of them. Sadly for me, my family wasn’t really into pets, so my interactions were somewhat limited (in my opinion, anyway). My aunt and grandmother had lots of dogs and cats, and go to their houses was heaven! I spent more time with their animals than I did with my family. At one point I got a cat, but he was hit by a car. My sister got a little dog, whom I loved, but she wasn’t my dog. And, finally, as a teenager, I got a horse. My horse was my BFF and my pride and joy. I worked hard to pay for lessons and boarding, and did some limited showing where we were a great team and did very well.
As I was on my own, I got a dog. Baxter, the beagle, was from the county shelter. He was a jerk and with him, I learned a lot about obedience and dog behavior. I had him for over 17 years and lost him in 2011. When Baxter was an adult, I had some roommates with Labs. They weren’t pet bred Labs, but well-bred Labs, and I liked them a lot. The pet bred Labs I grew up around were hyper and annoying. This dog changed my mind. So, at some point after they moved out, I went about getting my first Lab.
I found Camden through an ad in Dog Fancy in 1998, before the internet was as vast as it is now. I asked a lot of questions and vetted that breeder carefully. We went through several obedience and agility classes, but at the time my passion was being a working Board member for the local Lab rescue. Both Camden and Baxter received their CGC titles at some point, but besides that and Camden being the musical sit champion at all dog events we attended, I never pursued anything else with them.
As Baxter was on his last leg and Camden had really slowed down due to age and arthiritis in his shoulder, I was missing having an active doggie companion. I did some research (at this point I was living 3,000 miles away from Camden’s breeder, so it did not make sense to go to her for another puppy) and got another black Lab puppy. Oakley came into my life late in 2010. He was a big boy at 30 lbs when he was 10 weeks old. He was busy, smart, and loved to train, so naturally was the star of his classes. He caught on fast and was enthusiastic. We went to a couple matches during his late puppyhood, but before the hormonal puppy brain really kicked in (around 8 months) and he did well. Then, life got in the way, I moved, changed jobs, bought a house, remodeled the house, and more, and stopped doing any formal training with Oakley.
Then, Oakley turned two and I realized that my giant, crazy, somewhat unruly puppy had turned into a really great dog. And, at that point, Camden was getting really old and nearing the end of his life. As I work full time and Oakley loves other dogs, I thought he’d be lonely as an only dog and decided it was time to introduce another puppy into the family. This time, I really wanted a Lab with obedience lines as well as conformation lines (because good structure is important!), but in my part of the world, obedience Labs are few and far between. Oakley’s breeder had a nice litter and one of the boys was available as his person backed out. I agreed to take a boy and was promised second best boy puppy after their evaluation.
I attended the evaluation and had picked my favorite puppy based solely on looks. He was everyone else’s favorite too. We all assumed he’d be first pick and go to the breeder. Surprisingly, he was not first pick, but second pick boy, which meant he was mine! Other than conformation, however, the evaluator gave him the thumbs down. She said he lacked confidence and would not be good in the ring or for traveling, and that he’d have nervous diarrhea. This made me nervous! I asked her if she thought he could improve with proper socialization and she said no. I went home that night wondering if I’d made a mistake in committing to the puppy and then I worried about it for another week until it was time to pick him up. Honestly, my gut said to pass on him. But now I can’t imagine my life without him!
When I got Wyatt, worried about his temperament, I socialized the heck out of him and started classes with him at 10 weeks of age. I took him to matches and trained him, and took him everywhere dogs were allowed to go, basically. He is a soft and sensitive dog, for sure, but he is very smart, trainable, and wants to do the right thing. He loves me, he loves to work, and he is doing well. My one regret, however, is that I trialed him too soon. As a novice, I really didn’t know better. We did well, though Wyatt is a bit ring sour, so now we’re working through that. He obtained his CGC at 7 months, his BN on his first birthday, and his RN a week after he turned a year old. He won every class and was a good boy, but certainly stressed. So, that’s currently what we are working on.
And Oakley? Well, Oakley went back to rally drop-in classes after over two years off of any real training. And? He did wonderful, shocking myself and I think my trainer as well. Summer of 2014 Oakley earned his RN with high scores, winning every class except for the class he competed with his little brother for. Oakley had time off as I decided to focus on Wyatt. But, recently I decided to focus on obedience and field work with Wyatt and rally with Oakley. I just don’t have the time or finances to do both with Oakley, but that may all change at some point. With Oakley, my goal is to get his RA this year, maybe a bit into next year.
I’ve also decided that I’d like to try to become a trainer as my semi-retirement plan. I have to get a UD title on a dog first before I can really say that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve got about 20 years though, and right now I’m just focusing on learning as much as I can from the best people I can get my hands on. I’ve started following Denise Fenzi and Janice Gunn a bit as well. I’m learning a lot and having fun, and that’s all that really matters!