Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Accidental Dog Breeder (Part 3)

I promised in my last blog of this series that I would tell you more about Beau and there is oh so much to tell but here I will focus on his show career (or should I say lack of)

As I mentioned in Part 2 of The Accidental Dog Breeder, Beau came to us at three months; house trained and show trained. We enthusiastically started showing both Beau and Sassy and even went to country shows taking the advantage of having a short break with our beloved Groenendaels.

They both did pretty well in the show ring. Sassy gained her championship title and Beau took out several Minor Puppy in Group awards.

All was going very well until one day Beau starting quietly grumbling about being in the show ring (OK he was growling – but just a little!)

We couldn’t work it out. Why was our loving, cuddly bear behaving like this?

We persevered. Sometimes he would behave like an angel and others like the devil himself.

At the same time my husband’s son, Carlo had been having a battle of wits with young Beau. Beau thought he was boss and so did Carlo. Carlo also thought Beau was nothing but a spoilt brat. They had no time for each other but Carlo had to persist working on the relationship to dominate him.

In time Beau grew to respect Carlo more and more and by the time Beau was twelve months old they were the best of mates. They adored each other.

This didn’t mean that we had solved all Beau’s problems. He was still a problem in the show ring but not consistently good or bad. There were still times Beau and I were even ordered out of the show ring. Me with my head down in embarrassment and Beau with his head held high proudly stating “I beat another one”.

Over time we came to realise that our Beau had an ‘idiot alert’. I’ll give you two examples but first some basic info. 
  • Belgians Shepherds are working dogs. (OK so you knew that)
  • You should never look an unfamiliar dog in the eye because a dog interprets this as being challenging.  (How do you feel when a stranger stares at you?)
  • Not using direct eye contact with a strange dog combined with correct body language will diffuse what could be a dangerous situation.
  • With working dogs this is even more important. They are tuned to using eye contact with sheep and cattle to control a herd or an individual animal making them even more sensitive to a stranger wanting to control them.

First example
Beau’s breeder (we’ll call her Jane) was also a show judge and I was fascinated watching her one day in the Working Dog ring.

Each dog and handler enters the ring separately, runs a circuit then the dog stands for examination. As Jane approached each one for examination I noticed she did not look at the dog at all. She would smile and look at the handler as she approached then, while exchanging few words with the handler, gently touched the dog. No challenge, dog relaxes and can be handled, everyone enjoys showing.

Such a pity so many judges missed this part of their training.

Now, picture the other side of the story.  Beau enters ring, impresses judge with movement and stands to perfection showing what a handsome specimen he is. Little old lady (they almost all are) bends over; hand outstretched staring straight into the eyes of my beautiful, dominant, alpha male. Yep, he growls, little old lady is frightened (oh why didn’t she stick to judging the Toys Group?) Idiot alert has signalled.

Example 2

We loved taking Sassy and Beau out with us. It was great for their socialisation but we were also very proud of our two beautiful shepherds.

One outing was a local fair, crowded with people and lots of noise from the crowd and the vintage cars and bikes on display. I confess I was often nervous about how Beau would behave but Carlo confidently walked around with him and Beau seemed to be enjoying himself. (Especially after Carlo treated him to his favourite food – fairy floss)

My husband and I got separated from them at one point and when I turned around to see where they were a young child was walking towards them. I nervously watched, while still confident Carlo could handle the situation if Beau growled. 
The child would not have been more than three years old and stood the same height as Beau. He walked straight up to Beau, grabbed him on both sides of his neck (Beau had a lovely thick main so it would not have hurt him) and rocked Beau’s head back and forth. To my amazement Beau just stood there!

The child cuddled into his thick fur then happily walked away. My 'vicious' dog, as he had been termed by some judges, was as gentle as a lamb. The child was no threat. In his excitement to meet Beau he had not looked straight into Beau’s eyes but viewed him overall just wanting to cuddle our handsome dog.

It wasn’t just with children that we discovered Beau had immense patience. He was he same with elderly people (not the idiot judge types) and those in wheelchairs.

We finally had to admit that although we had purchased Beau as a show dog his career was over. He became a very much loved pet and he and Carlo continued to adore each other and were the very best of mates.

Beau did however go on to father our first litter. More in the next part of this series.

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