I’m a month away from engaging in an exercise in profound humility. I’ve signed Cleo and me up for the obedience trials at the Del Monte Kennel Club show on July 13th and 14th. Yes, yes, go ahead and remind me how many times I’ve bragged in this space about how brilliant and intuitive Cleo is. Let me remind you that she is still a terrier.
Most people are familiar with the OCD aspect of the terrier’s nature, if only from the Eddie Murphy Dr. Doolittle movies. Think of the Parson Russell Terrier who leaps repeatedly into the shot saying over and over again, “Throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball.” Bedlingtons, or at least Cleo, aren’t quite so disturbingly fixated. Nonetheless, there is still the element of distraction to be considered. Many’s the time that Cleo has failed to respond to a command as we’ve been working, and when I pop her collar, she turns to look at me with an expression that says, “I’m sorry, were you saying something? I couldn’t hear you because I was staring at that beetle over there.” Put her into a ring with a bunch of new dogs, spectators and other events going on all around her? My heart quails.
I’m going to lobby Pluis, our trainer, to hold some of our classes outside over the next few weeks. The event in July will be on grass. It seems a little unfair: Dogs who relieve themselves during the event are immediately disqualified. That’s not what concerns me for Cleo. I’m pretty sure that as long as she pees before we start, she’ll be okay; she’s not big into marking. But she does associate grass with playtime. Okay, she associates most things with playtime. Yet, she can be contained at our indoor classes.
Of course, the other day, she was a bit resentful that Pluis wasn’t paying enough attention to her. Usually, Pluis will acknowledge a dog’s longing looks with a gentle, “Yes, I see you.” This assuages most dogs for the time being. For whatever reason, Cleo had not gotten her usual reassurance of existence and worth from Pluis. She found her moment when we were practicing long-distance recall. We were the last in the class of about sixteen to go. Cleo is always reliable in the stay. When we go last, though, she can be hesitant to come across the wide floor, especially if any of the dogs have been extra-exuberant in their own recalls. But I had taken the opportunity of a late start to our class last Monday to practice recalls outside on the grass. Cleo had been impressive, even to me. So I confidently told her to stay and strode out onto the floor. Before I was halfway across, one of the working dog moms looked at me pityingly. She made an embarrassed gesture behind me. I turned around. Cleo was mincing her way toward Pluis. The closer she got, the more she lowered herself until, about two feet away, she was crawling on her belly like a soldier traversing open ground under fire. Still about six inches from Pluis’ shoes, she started turning her front-half upside down, paddling closer with her rear feet. As the top of her head hit Pluis’ toe, Cleo flipped her back feet around and presented her tummy. I mean really! It was an embarrassing display of subservience. Such a show would not go over well at an obedience trial.
|Rock climbing girl with Dad|
The outdoors is one great jungle gym for Cleo. Last weekend, John and I took her for our regular walk to the beach. We frequent a boulder-strewn spot these days where all three of us love to hop from rock to rock until we can stare into the tidepools (or, for some of us, wade in them up to our armpits). Between two rocky beaches is a cliff covered with iceplant. The cliff falls away sharply, at about a thirty degree slant, down to a narrow strip of rocks and sand fifteen feet below. As I picked my way up the slope to the top of the cliff, I heard John, several yards ahead of me, yell, “S***! Cleo!!” Running along next to John at the top of the cliff, she had suddenly decided that there was something interesting over the side. Without a pause, she simply went over the edge, leaping like a mountain goat from one iceplant foothold to the next. Because she was hugging the cliff, she was quickly out of our sight. Had she managed to control her descent the whole way? As John went back in the direction we had come, I ran forward, both of us trying to make our way off the cliff and down to the beach. “There she is!” John yelled. Realizing that she could no longer see us, Cleo had decided to return along the rocks to the beach we had just left. “Cleo, here we are,” John called to her, directing her up the sandy trail that led to the top of the cliff. With three bounds from rock to rock, Cleo headed up to him, but not along the trail. She went straight back up the side of the cliff. The three of us together at the top once more, I leaned down to pat her. “I have got to get you back into agility class,” I told her.
So I’m actually not all that concerned about being served a breakfast of humble pie come mid-July. Last year, it was at this same show that Cleo earned her Therapy Dog title. I was so nervous about that trial that I was nauseated and sleepless the whole night before. Yet here we are, almost a year later. My girl is a welcome fixture at school. The book has been published. And most of all, she is healthy, happy, beautiful. And oh-so-very loved by her mom and dad.