First & Foremost #1 All-American Dog ~ 2017
by Andy Highland
I am thrilled that my cherished girl, Reckless (Reckless Abandon vd Rod), was rated among the top Obedience competitors in the USA by First & Foremost.
A large community of folks deserve credit for that achievement as MANY people gave of themselves to make it happen. They shared their knowledge, ideas, training efforts, a few kicks in my butt, lots of laughter and endless encouragement. I thank each and every one who helped us. This honor goes to them!
AKC Obedience competition was a rocky road for us. Here is our story in hopes that it provides incentive for others to get into the ring with their dog, no matter the obstacles encountered. The rewards of having fun together with your dog while working to be the best team that you can be are immeasurable.
Reckless and I have been companion workers ever since I brought her home to my farm as a pup. At that time, my only focus was on training a reliable farm dog to help me with livestock chores. I had never trained a dog for any sort of sport off the farm and the thought never occurred to me.
For needed socialization and exposure to the outside world, I took Reckless to a variety of fun classes. It is thanks to the many wonderful people and dogs that we met at classes for Puppy Fun, Agility, Tricks, Free-style, Scent Work, Obedience and more, that Reckless truly blossomed beyond excelling as my outstanding farm companion.
When Reckless was about 3 yrs. old, our Obedience class instructor at Breakaway Action Dogs talked me into taking advanced classes at Catoctin Kennel Club (CKC). At that time, CKC required its Obedience students to compete. Yikes! Now I had to straighten up my act in order to do right by Reckless.
Once we started competing, we were hooked. However, I had made so many short-sighted training mistakes early on, that we faced myriad challenges trying to correct those wrongs. Reckless was always ready and eager to try anything, so we kept working on tackling each & every problem using short, playful exercises that kept boredom away and required Reckless to stay alert and focused.
We hit a seemingly insurmountable road-block with the out-of-sight stays. My dog had been raised to remain alert and focused on her job which included always keeping an eye on me. Reckless took that responsibility seriously and could not relax when I went out-of-sight while she was working. At one trial, during the long down stay, there was laughter from the audience while we handlers were out of sight. On our return to the ring, I could see Reckless, still in a down, almost all the way across the ring to the gate. She reportedly had crawled commando-style without ever lifting her tummy off the floor. It took us years, trying most every training idea people shared with me to fix the problem. Nothing worked until I tried setting a "jackpot" food reward behind her during practices to give her something besides me to focus on during the out-of-sight exercises. The jackpot worked with time and Reckless finally earned her CDX.
Once we were working on Utility, Reckless had a problem with vocalization during the Directed Jumping exercise. Her enthusiasm and exuberance in the ring were always a joy to behold. However, it was difficult for her to remain silent. At one trial, I brought a pair of hearing protectors for the judge to wear because he told me that he did not want to hear a sound from Reckless while she was in the ring. Again, it was the use of high-value training treats, used to reward silence, that finally paid off for the most part. It was never a done deal. We lost lots of points for noise in the ring over the years.
At summer's end, 2014, we were a well-greased team on the farm and I believed Reckless was ready to get her UDX title. My family juggled schedules and we arranged farm coverage so that Reckless & I could enter trials around our state. All plans were in order, when the AKC notified me that I could not compete with Reckless. Someone had registered a complaint that my dog appeared to be a mixed-breed. Until the AKC made a determination as to whether or not she was a purebred dog, Reckless could not participate in any AKC events. Oh NO!
Although very upset that we were being unfairly thrown out of the sport at the prime of Reckless's life, I knew that it was just a matter of us losing precious time until the AKC would reinstate Reckless's Bouvier des Flandres (BdF) registration. Despite her "genetic throw-back" appearance, Reckless meets the requirements of the BdF breed standard. The AKC had plenty of proof that Reckless is a purebred dog. The AKC's own DNA Dept. had investigated the breeding and conducted parentage, DNA analyses in 2011. Their findings had proven that Reckless is the off-spring of her BdF sire and BdF dam. The AKC also had the multi-generational BdF registration records along with related documents and they were given photos of ancestors in her lineage.
Shockingly, a month after she turned 6 yrs., the AKC rescinded Reckless's purebred registration based upon their determination that her appearance is "unrepresentative" of her breed. Crushing news! I was ready to call it quits. Then, I looked into my dog's eyes. Her bright light glowed and reminded me of what is important. The immense love and amazing bond that we were building together with our teamwork was the prize. It is the only thing that really matters.
With my pleas, the AKC agreed to allow Reckless to continue the sport of Obedience with re-registration as an All American Dog.
The entire community of folks who knew and loved Reckless stood behind her and provided us with cheers and encouragement as we stayed with the game. She made friends everywhere she went while I enjoyed the amazing teams we had the privilege of getting to watch and learn from at trials. Performance teams are the BEST!
Despite being blocked from all of the breed-only trials, Reckless & I were able to attend enough trials over time to slowly gather the Master titles that delighted me. We kept working on the task of refining our precision and timing. I never thought much about OTCH points because my focus was on improving our teamwork and achieving Master points. When Reckless earned an OTCH during our journey, it was icing on our cake.
In Sept. 2017, Reckless earned the Obedience Grand Master title. That made my heart sing! With that accomplishment, we retired from competition. Reckless & I left the ring feeling the joy of having made many friends and having mastered advanced performance. Most importantly, with our years of teamwork, we had built the most valuable treasure that any human and canine can share: a solid bond of love and trust. I wish that same priceless joy for others. Get out there and play with your dog! I will be cheering for you!
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