When One is Not Enough

We attended some shows in New Mexico a couple of weeks ago. We had a great time with a friend who lives there and discovered a great grooming space, by accident, that made the weekend stress free. I have been having so much fun showing Danny this year. Feeling more a part of the dog show experience. Improving my handling skills has made for more challenges and growth than expected. I have also had the chance to watch our Bedlington as he makes his way back to the ring. The weekend also brought a revelation about my life in dogs. A source of pride ultimately turned out to be nothing to be proud of.

As I watched Odebt work with Peyton, in and out of the ring, my respect for her grew more and more, and my disappointment in myself grew, also. I am not someone often mistaken for a professional handler, but I can get a dog around the ring and have finished some dogs for friends over the years. I have had little problem training our dogs for the ring and have made it my mission to study other handlers, both amateur and professional, from ringside picking up pointers almost every time. Through my photography, I know that some people make a better picture with their dogs than others, and if asked, I could tell you what it takes to be a good handler. But what I could never have told myself was how incapable I was in being the kind of trainer/handler Peyton needed and the disservice owning only one breed of dog can be to your overall progress in the sport.

In the years before we acquired our Bedlington, much of our time was spent studying the breed. My parents had owned a Bedlington twenty years before and my mom knew people in the breed as well as many of the characteristics common to the breed. By the time Peyton came to live with us, we knew bloodlines and many of the breeders, at least by reputation. We were comfortable with our choice of breeder and delighted with the quality of the puppy that came to live with us. We looked forward to competing in the ring with other owner handlers and dreamed of making our new puppy a star. Everything seemed to be in place. How did my dreams fade so quickly?

The root of the problem was buried in my ignorance. From the first, Peyton was easier to train than our Kerries. He seemed more compliant, ready to learn and to please. It was exciting to see him master the show dog basics and I was, of course, bouyed by winning a five point major myself over those in the breed much longer. Watching our new dog move around the yard I was pleased he seemed to have all his parts in the right places. But slowly, over time, he became more and more reluctant to work for me in our adventures in the ring. He would curl up in his crate at shows and clearly not want to be there. By the time we stopped showing him, he was draggy, with his head down, visibly grinding his teeth, and refusing to participate at all. Looking back, I can see how I brought this on. Another friend in the breed, tried to tell me what to do to work through the problem. She said to let him be himself and let him be a Bedlington. I nodded my head, but obviously I had no idea how to go about it. Try as I might, I had no idea what to do with a dog like Peyton. I only felt anger and disappointment at his poor ring attitude and my failure with him. I had shown him like all our other dogs. After all, he was raised by us, in our home, trained by us and certainly loved by us. But he was not a Kerry Blue; he was a Bedlington. The failure fell squarely on my inability to realize that what I knew so well did not apply to the little lamb dog.

Peyton is more hound than terrier. Specifically, a sight hound. They are diametrically opposite of our Kerries. All my life I have seen my mother and father work with our dogs. Our breed is loud, boisterous and tough. They are forgiving. A Bedlington is none of those things. Especially, Peyton. Once you have meted out a slight, or an insult, or a disapproving attitude, you will not be forgiven. Many in this breed become withdrawn and will simply shut down. If this attitude is met with further pressure and dissapproval, like curing cement the little dog’s will hardens against you and he is no longer willing to work. This is the rift between Peyton and me. A common problem with people who have only had one breed thoughout their doggy lives.

I love all dogs as long as they look and behave like Kerries. Our Bedlington boy was not a Kerry. I worked him, played with him and tried to show him like a tough Irishman in lamb’s clothing. Peyton is an Englishman through and through, and I suspect proud of it. A lifetime of living with our primary breed taught me how to work with an assertive, outgoing dog. I entered Bedlington ownerhship armed with theoretical breed knowledge and some ring experience with friends’ dogs. Dogs under my control for two minutes in a ring. I lacked real knowledge of what this new breed was truly about. I neglected to ask myself if I was right for the dog. The practices and style that brought me success and pleasure with dogs didn’t work on this new one. But since I have only been involved with one breed of dog I was unable to make, or even grasp, the changes in method and attitude needed to be successful with a dog so outside my experience. Aren’t all dogs really very similar in their approach to life, and training? Can’t love, kindness and desire overcome a flagging attitude and wrest victory from the grip of defeat? Not on your life!

My mom and I had a frank discussion about whether to keep Peyton while driving back from shows last September. I don’t believe we need to keep pet dogs just for our enjoyment. Our lives revolve around showing our dogs and the occasional litter. If a dog won’t show, he’s got to go. Our breeder was not in favor of taking the little lost lamb back to her flock and my mom made it clear she would never give him up. He is hers to cuddle and love regardless of his dog show achievements. I have to admit I love him in a special way more than the others. Maybe because he is so different, so inward, so unlike me. Peyton went to Odebt in January of this year for a last attempt at trying to make him a show dog. Odebt has a sort of farm and a kind, gentle spirit and more depth of understanding dogs on their level than I will ever have.

Standing ringside in New Mexico watching our blue lamb dog gait on a loose lead with his head nearly all the way up, I saw what I had first seen in him. He wags his tail when Odebt looks down at him and she smiles. I cannot recall smiling at him once when he was mine to show. He has hugged judges in the ring on occasion and even beaten some dogs in competition. He is happy and wants to be at a show. He has Sunni, his Chow Chow girlfriend, and he backed Danny down ringside with his stiff tail and cocked head. I have been taught a lesson from watching the changes in Peyton and am sorry for him I was such a slow learner. My pride in owning and living with only one breed of dog has been replaced with a new respect for people who start with one breed and successfully make the transition to another. I am happy both Peyton and I have moved past this and are once again having fun at the shows.

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