The Road to the Rally National Championship
 ~ Sliver’s Story

Saturday, August 01, 2015 12:00 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

Written by Dee Dee Anderson

RNC OTCH DD's Slice Of Pie 

Owners: Dee Dee & Billy Anderson

As Sliver’s proud owner and partner I never thought this would have ever been possible for this little Golden to win the title of RNC.  To say I have been on an adventure with my little Sliver – a singleton pup that was not supposed to live, let alone walk -- is an understatement.  But with the nurturing of her dam Dream – and the care and attention from many other people -- she would not only live and walk, but she would thrive and eventually enter the exciting world of competition Obedience & Rally.  

Sliver’s story – and life challenge -- began during delivery.  When she was born, her right rear leg was black and swollen to twice the size of her left leg. She had no use of the injured leg and when she tried to crawl, it put such a strain on her left leg that she suffered ligament damage to that leg. By the time she was two weeks old, Sliver had no use of either hind leg.  Otherwise, she was a happy and curious puppy trying to investigate the world.  She would drag herself around using just her front legs. This only lasted a few days as Sliver developed swimmers pup syndrome because she couldn’t move around normally. Sliver’s rib cage had collapsed to the thinness of my hand. It was interesting that in the days before Sliver stopped moving around, Dream kept rolling Sliver over onto her back. Sliver would lay there kicking her front legs in the air. I would roll her back onto her stomach because I felt sorry that she could not roll over by herself. Much later I would learn that Dream had been doing the right thing – trying to keep Sliver’s weight off her chest. Here I was, with a two-week-old puppy that couldn’t move.  Many well-meaning vets said I should put her down, and I considered it every day in the first four weeks. But to take Dream’s only puppy away would be very hard for me to do.

Before I gave up, I took Sliver to see another vet – but this time we headed to an orthopedic vet (Dr. Brown).  I can still see Dr. Brown holding this two-week-old puppy in the air.  Sliver was so young, her eyes were just opening. He explained how you could not do an x-ray on such a young pup and that it would be a waiting game to see if Sliver could survive and walk. But his exact words to me were “I would not give up on her yet.” 

Since we had to wait for Sliver to get a little older before she could be x-rayed and treated, Dr. Brown gave me some physical therapy exercises to do with Sliver.  The exercises he recommended were to help Sliver overcome the swimmers pup syndrome and to keep blood flowing to her rear legs. Dr. Brown encouraged me to do the exercises with her throughout the day for a total of two hours – but if I could do more, so much the better.  This was Dream’s only puppy and all my focus was to help Sliver as much as possible. So I did the exercises with Sliver for six hours a day, every day for two weeks. Dream had naturally been doing the right thing by rolling Sliver onto her back from the very beginning. Dr. Brown said Sliver needed to lie only on her sides or back and I should not to let her lay on her stomach. Sliver spent a lot of time on my chest while I lay on the floor and did her therapy exercises. Dream smothered Sliver with love, and with her help, we taught Sliver how to walk. 

Sliver would take her first step at four weeks old and at that time, it became apparent her damaged leg was growing crooked.  We went back to Dr. Brown and while I was worried about her crooked leg, Dr. Brown was beaming when he saw her.  He said, “You did it! You taught her how to walk!” 

He carried Sliver around the office, stopping to show everyone how well she could walk. He then told me there was nothing else he could do until her growth plates stopped growing, which happens at about 8 months old. Until then, Sliver would only be allowed to walk on a leash or swim or track. It was so painful to watch her walk; it looked like her leg would break at any moment. When Sliver was 6-months old, I couldn’t stand it anymore and took her back to Dr. Brown to see if we could accelerate a treatment plan for her.  He took x-rays and said the good news was that she had stopped growing.  The bad news was that her right leg was so crooked, it was ¾” shorter than her left leg. He recommended surgery right away. He hoped he could straighten her leg at the point of the growth plate damage, and after recovery, that both her legs would be the same length. He was a bit concerned that such a young pup might not be able to tolerate the surgery and rehabilitation. 

Dr. Brown’s plan was to cut the bone, straighten the leg, and insert a plate to hold the leg straight while it healed. He thought he might have to take bone from her hip if the leg was not long enough.  Lucky for Sliver – he didn’t have to do that. I just wanted Sliver to be able to run and play like a normal puppy.  But Dr. Brown said, “No, you don’t; you want her to be perfect. I will do my best to make her perfect so you can do any sport you want with her. But you will need to do a lot of work with her afterwards.”

That meant eight weeks of restricting her movement -- not letting her walk, swim or track – and that was so hard on my 6-month-old puppy who wanted to be up and about. But Sliver and I would learn many tricks that you can play on the ground without a lot of movement.  The bad news is she learned that the best place to be was on top of me, biting my feet!  Sliver’s cast covered her whole leg, and it had to be changed twice a week because it kept shifting and turning and causing irritation to her foot.  We did so well following the instructions to keep her off her leg that at 6 weeks after surgery, Dr. Brown said we could take the cast off.  I was a nervous wreck and wanted to keep it on longer. But Dr. Brown assured me that her leg was healed and it was time for months of physical therapy. 

After all the months of attention and playtime restricted to whatever I could do in a small area -- often in my lap – it was clear Sliver was, and is today, very attached to me, and I admit that she does have some separation anxiety when we are apart.  But what did I expect?  She was not supposed to live – and as a singleton pup, I became her littermate! Well, at least I believe that is what she thinks. As my husband says, “Dream loved you, but Sliver cannot live without you!” 

I never expected I would be able to show Sliver in any event, but Dr. Brown said she would be able to run and play like a normal dog. To watch my 10-month old pup run for the first time was priceless!  Sliver had the time of her life when she was allowed out on the grass and free to play. Tracking would be physical therapy for her body and mind -- and for my mind too.  It didn’t take long for Sliver to earn her TD & TDX which seemed to come naturally and easily for her.  For obedience, we took our time as her leg needed to gain strength and of course, it is the right rear leg. That leg sticks out because of her surgery, and when Sliver sits, it makes her look like she’s sitting crooked. Sliver loves to work and some days she’s more excited than others. If it’s one of those days when she’s excited, she will tend to lean out when sitting on a halt -- and when she does that, her right leg sticks out noticeably. I love the way she works and hate to calm her excitement down, so we end up paying a price of ½ point off from some judges every time Sliver sits in heel position. 

While I was still showing Sliver in Novice, I had one judge tell me that Sliver would never sit straight and I should not be showing her as she would never be the dog I wanted.  This judge knew nothing about my little Sliver, and certainly nothing about what Sliver had been through. It hurt a lot to think that a person would even say something like that to me or anyone else. That judge will never have the privilege of judging my Sliver again. As a judge myself, I am now even more aware of being careful of what to say to an exhibitor. I would never want to discourage a person from showing. Many judges have asked me what is wrong with Sliver and many have been very kind and encouraging. I would not be showing her if I thought I was hurting her in any way. For those who have seen Sliver and know her, they know how much Sliver enjoys working with me in any sport. She just loves to be with me!

Competing with Sliver was never that important to me, but giving her a job to do and something to work on that she enjoyed doing was.  And she loves Obedience, as well as all the other sports she’s been able to participate in.  Sliver would earn her OTCH title, but because of her repaired leg sticking out, some judges took off a half point off every time she sat.  That was hard to take – knowing every time you went in the ring you would be down a ½ point or more on every exercise and there was nothing you could do about it – because a judge would see every sit as a ½ point off. This has been hard to accept over the years, particularly because I knew there was no way Sliver would be able to be competitive at a NOC, let alone qualify for one by OTCH points.  It was a big job just to get the 100 points for her OTCH. You can watch Sliver in a Utility ring:

Last year I decided to give Sliver a chance at Rally.  Sliver immediately took a liking to Rally and seemed to enjoy it so much.  In fact, the faster I moved through the exercises in the ring, the better she performed.  Her leg sticking out was never going to cost us a point off in Rally, and also, only whole points (no ½ point mistakes) are counted. When it was clear Sliver had qualified for the Rally National, the big decision was whether or not to go.   A four-day drive from California to Missouri was not something I really wanted to do.  But first I had to enter and see if I got in because the entries are limited.  With just days before the entries closed, I called a friend to see if she wanted to go too and we both entered.  We found out quickly that we had both gotten in, and now we felt we had to go!  I also entered Glimmer (Sliver’s 18-month old daughter) in Rally Novice at the championship. So we loaded up the minivan with three dogs and two people and headed east. 

We had no idea what the competition was going to be like or how it would be run. The RAE entries were divided into four groups. Sliver was assigned to group 4 and we started in Ring 4 which was an Advanced course.  We then moved to Ring 3 (another Advanced course), then Ring 2 and finally Ring 1 (both those rings were Excellent courses).  Sliver went into each ring with lots of energy and earned a perfect score of 100 in the first 3 rings. I thought for sure there would be many perfect scores – and there were – and I expected there to be a number of dogs earning 100 in all four rings.  If that happened, the only thing to set them apart would be time.  Going into the fourth (and final) ring, we encountered two of our most difficult exercises -- the Figure 8 for me and the “back up 3 steps” for Sliver. For the Figure 8, you can only go through the middle 3 times.  If you do it more than that, it is considered an IP (incorrectly performed) and it costs you 10 points off.  And wouldn’t you know it?  There were two Figure 8’s in that ring!  The reason this is a difficult exercise for me is that once I get going, I tend to lose count!  For the “back up 3 steps”, Sliver either does it perfectly or not, it is just hard for Sliver to back up – and this was the very last exercise in the whole competition for us.  I got through the Figure 8’s OK and now it was up to Sliver.  I did my part and we backed up together -- one step at a time.  She did it as perfectly as she ever had and I wanted to reach down and hug her.  But before we could leave the ring, I had to leave her on a sit-stay (which is hard for Sliver) while I went to get her leash and return to heel position without her getting up. Sliver held her stay and we earned our 4th perfect score.

At the Rally National competition, scores are posted on a score board outside the ring within minutes of each dog completing the course.  So at least you have an idea of where you rank within the group being scored.  But when you move to the next ring, the score boards are replaced and scores for the next group are posted.  That makes it nearly impossible to figure out where you rank in terms of the other groups.  

At the trial secretary’s desk, a large projector screen had been set up and as the scores were brought in to be logged, they were displayed on the screen for all to see.  Unfortunately, the format of the display only showed about 40 dogs with their scores at a time.  The display would stay up for about 10 seconds, and then the next group of 40 would roll up.  It was a revolving display and a bit hard to read, and since the scores were being shown in the order of the groups, you might have to wait several minutes for all the group/class entries to be displayed before it started over again.  

Since Novice finished earlier than RAE, I saw those results and was able to figure out that Glimmer was in the top 10 in Novice, but I didn’t know her exact placement because she was tied in points with two other dogs.  In the end, Glimmer won the 3-way tie because she was faster than the other two dogs.  But I didn’t find this out until the winners were announced.  

In Sliver’s case, three of the RAE groups were showing up on the display, but not the one Sliver was in. I kept going back to check for what seemed like hours.  The last time I went back to look, I heard two women asking if anyone knew who had won.  Some other person in the crowd said there was only one dog with a perfect 400 score.  I knew that Sliver and I had gotten a perfect score in all 4 rings, but I couldn’t believe that there was only one dog. When I got up to the screen to look for myself – there it was.  Only one dog with a 400 – my little Sliver.  She had won the Rally National Championship.  While she wasn’t able to follow in her dam’s footsteps (when” Dream” NOC OTCH DD’s  Dreams Do Come True UDX26 OGM RE TDX JH VCD1 won the NOC in 2007), Sliver would win her own National competition and hold a special title too. You can see Sliver’s winning runs on YouTube below.

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