Growing up, I loved Arabian horses and Collie dogs. As an 11-year-old military brat living in Alaska, I wanted a horse so badly, I kept manure in my closet so that I could get a whiff of “horse perfume” when I was in my room. Since I didn’t have a horse, I decided to train my dog to be a horse. “Linus” was my Pomeranian mix and the first dog I ever trained. He would carry my Jane West action figure tied onto his back while I “lunged” him. He learned the commands for walk, trot, and canter.
I also found a book in our school library by Rudd Weatherwax, Lassie’s trainer, describing his training methods. I taught Linus many tricks from that book, and it inspired me to learn more. My horse-crazy friend and I would play training games. We could not say a word while one of us tried to teach the other a trick. This game showed me how confusing it is for dogs to understand what we want them to do. It is apparent to us, but it’s a complete mystery to the animal.
Fast forward 25 years: Several dogs later, my Lhasa Apso of 13 years went to The Bridge and I began looking for another small dog. I had shown Collies in conformation, and I told one of my breeder-friends that I wanted a small dog that did not require massive grooming like a Lhasa. I also wanted a non-yappy breed that would be better-natured than my previous dog. She just happened to have a single Chin puppy and said that a Japanese Chin would be the perfect breed for me. “Wally,” my sable Chin, made me fall in love with the breed. I was teaching Special Education at our local high school at the time and I found a Therapy Dog group, K-9 Friends, to get Wally certified to come to school with me. Wally became the star of the school… but that’s another story.
I tried taking Wally to some performance events, but he always wondered why we were going places with all these dogs. He asserted his “chinnyness” and told me that dog sports were not for him.
Through K-9 Friends, I met many people involved in Agility and Obedience. This gave me a severe case of the “Performance Bug.” I tried taking my Japanese Chin “Wally” to some performance events, but he always wondered why we were going places with all these dogs. He asserted his “chinnyness” and told me that dog sports were not for him. This led me to my first competition dog, a German Shepherd Dog named “T-Bone.” With him, I learned about training for Agility, Obedience, Rally, Therapy, Water Rescue, doggy backpacking, and many other games.
By this time, I was the Training Director of our local obedience club. I was teaching Basic and Advanced Obedience every week and competing in Agility, Rally, and/or Obedience on the weekends. With that experience I was also the “go-to” person for JCCARE (Japanese Chin Care and Rescue Effort) for aggressive Chin rescues. It was a wonderful feeling to see a scared, non-trusting Chin turn into a confident and loyal companion for someone. Through JCCARE I also met many other Chin people, creating many friendships and doggy world connections.
Then, here comes 2020. A breeder-friend, Jan Lockyer, hoping for a bitch to show from her upcoming litter, ends up with four male puppies in January. Now she is wondering how to place four boys. Of course, I just KNEW I needed one of those pups. Earlier in the year, before the shutdowns were in place, I had attended a Beginning Scentwork Seminar to learn the rules and basics of scent training. Now I had a project while I am in quarantine! “Banjo” (Coyote Ridge Bluegrass Rambler) came to me at 10 weeks old and we got started.
I began with teaching Banjo how I am fun to play with and I am also the ever-important “Dispenser of Treats.” He soon began to anticipate training time. We would heel in the house. We would heel in the yard. We would heel in the pasture. Eventually, we would heel, sit, and stay while the chickens wandered around us. We started searching for birch oil—the scent used at the Novice level in Scentwork. Banjo would naturally use his paw to indicate scent, so I encouraged this behavior. (Was it me or was he just the cutest thing, sitting beside the box, patting it with his paw, and looking at me to indicate a find?)
Banjo currently competes in AKC and UKC events. In AKC he earned his Trick Dog Novice title when he was six months old, his Rally Intermediate title, and his SCN (Scentwork Container Novice) title by finding one of 10 boxes containing birch oil. He is also the only Chin ever to earn a SHDN (Scentwork Handler Discrimination Novice) by searching 12 boxes and finding my glove hidden in a box out of 10 empty boxes and one with the judge’s glove. In UKC he has competed in Altered Conformation, earning two Altered Reserve BISs, and he has his Novice Nosework titles in Vehicles, Interiors, and Containers. He is also the only Japanese Chin that qualified for UKCs Total Dog Invitational by earning a performance title and conformation points on the same day. He will be representing all Chins in Shreveport, Louisiana, this October. Heaven help us all!
Living in the country, I have done all of his training at home in the pasture. His Rally career at the Novice and Intermediate levels was beautiful, earning scores in the high 90s (out of a possible 100), then his independent “chinnyness” took over at the Advanced level where he found out he was off-lead. He is a smart little boy and has realized, “You can’t touch me!” (The joys of a Chin!) I am trying my best to outsmart him and teach him to WANT to heel off-lead instead of visiting with the judge and staring at all the butterflies in the show ring.
This fall, my goal is to begin training him for a TD (Tracking Dog). He may never make it as a Search and Rescue Dog, but I am never prouder of him than when I see him put on his tiny thinking cap and try his “little big boy best” to do what I am asking of him.
People often think that you must have a Golden Retriever, a Border Collie, or a German Shepherd if you want to excel in performance sports. I have the utmost respect for people as trainers when I see someone out there with a non-traditional breed in the performance ring. I know they are the REAL trainers! It can be done… it just requires a lot of patience, love, and treats. (LOTS OF TREATS!)