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The Fabulous Merry Prankster (OTCH, TD, UDX, NA)
by Patricia Gail Burnham
In June 1996 the first Greyhound earned the titles of Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH) and Utility Dog Excellent (UDX). The OTCH is a title that rewards precision. It requires that a dog earn 100 points by taking first or second placements in Open B and Utility B classes. The UDX is a title that rewards the consistent performer. It requires that a dog qualify ten times in both Open B and Utility on the same day. Our new titleholder is OTCH The Merry Prankster TD, UDX owned and trained by Julie Hill. Her call name is Lily. She finished her OTCH at the age of six. Lily is a red bitch rescued from an animal shelter as a puppy. Lily earned 101 OTCH points from April 1994 until June 1996 with six first places in Utility and five first places in Open B. She was High-in-Trial at two all-breed trials and at the Greyhound Club of American Specialty in 1995.
The following is an interview with her trainer, Julie Hill.
Q: How did you acquire Lily?
I adopted her from a Denver area animal shelter. I was on my lunch hour in downtown Denver and happened to pass by a corner where the shelter had set up an Adopt-a-Pet booth. I was in the market for a dog, had always wanted a Greyhound, and when I saw her, I immediately fell in love with her confidence and cockiness.
Q: How old was she?
She was eight weeks old when I adopted her and she does not have ear tattoos. She was the only Greyhound puppy up for adoption. I asked whether or not she had littermates and was told no. When I adopted her, she had a respiratory infection that took several months to clear up, and I am guessing that was why she was at the shelter.
Q: What made you decide to get a Greyhound?
My two favorite breeds of dogs are Bloodhound and Greyhound. I love the way both of these breeds look. I admire and am amazed by the Bloodhound’s scenting ability and the Greyhound’s speed. I also love the Greyhound’s elegance, gracefulness, and gentleness.
Q: What other obedience dogs had you trained?
Lily is my first dog. Five months after I adopted Lily, I bought a show-quality Bloodhound, so I’ve actually been training two dogs at the same level from the very beginning. Even though Lily and Lark are the best of friends and I can’t imagine not having either one, training two dogs has been very difficult.
Q: What training methods did you use?
My training methods changed a great deal over the course of Lily’s career as I learned what I was striving for and how to achieve it. She spent the first year of her life in pet classes, where I allowed her to develop a lot of bad habits. When I moved from Colorado to Washington, I enrolled her in a competition class that was taught by an instructor who emphasized ring preparation and procedure, attention, and proofing as a means of attaining consistency and reliability. After three years with that instructor, I trained for only a few short months, until I moved to Louisiana, with an instructor who emphasized attitude, willingness, and enjoyment. Since I’ve been in Louisiana, I’ve been on my own and have learned so much about dog training from Lily and Lark. I am demanding and insist on correct responses, but keeping their attitude up is just as important to me. I learned with Lily that if she were not happy, she would not perform. I use a lot of food, play, praise, and random releases to keep them interested and animated. I break the exercises up into their component parts and work on the pieces more than I work on the whole, although I probably should work more on the whole. I reinforce with food every behavior that I want, and when possible, ignore unwanted behaviors.
Q: What advice would you offer to other owners who are interested in training Greyhounds?
The advice that I would pass on to other Greyhound owners is the lessons that I’ve learned from my mistakes with Lily. First, watch the great handlers and dogs (no matter what breed) to get a clear picture of what a perfect performance is and work toward making your dog fit that picture. Second, don’t make excuses for your dogs. They are just as capable of working well as any other breed. Third, be gentle, respect your dog, and make it fun. If you are not smiling when you train and your dog’s tail is not wagging, there is probably a problem with your training relationship.
Q: What was the most difficult part of the OTCH?
The most difficult part was overcoming Lily’s signal exercise problem. It plagued us from the very first time Lily went into a Utility ring until the show before she finished her OTCH.
Q: How do you keep her motivated when she is showing?
During the week before a show, I try to make sure that Lily makes the right decisions. She hates to be wrong and it really deflates her. For example, I put dowels out for her go-out spot the first time that I send her so that she will not have a bad go-out that I will have to fix. If she does make a mistake, I ignore it, but the next time I will somehow steer her to the right choice. Outside the ring at a show, I toss toys for her, play tug-of-war, feed her, and do set-ups and releases. Inside the ring, I cheerlead actually more than I feel comfortable doing. Whether she is right or wrong, I praise her. I really believe she always gives me everything she is capable of giving on any particular day.
Q: How old was she when you started to show and when she earned her OTCH?
She was two and a half when she first showed in Novice and had just turned six when she finished her OTCH.
Q: Do you have any favorite stories or incidents that occurred during her training and showing?
My favorite stories come from the Open ring. Lily was a much better Open dog than Utility dog, but something always seemed to go wrong that cost us a high score. The first incident occurred the second weekend of showing Lily in the B classes. On Saturday, she won Utility for her first points, but came around the high jump in Open. On Sunday, she failed signals, but was really nailing her fronts and finishes so I was very hopeful about her chances of getting her Open first. After her Utility run, another dog had diarrhea in the ring. It was an outdoor show on grass and it was difficult to clean thoroughly. The clean-up crew did the best they could to scrape it up. They sprayed the area, then covered it with shavings. When we went into Open, my spirits soared. Lily heeled near perfectly, trotted out of her drop (walking out of her drop was her worst Open problem), and did a near perfect retrieve and retrieve over the high jump. When I went to set her up for the broad jump, she balked. I had to set her up right where the diarrhea spot was. Being the ever-fastidious Greyhound that she is, she refused to sit near the soiled area. I begged her. I pleaded with her. I tried to bribe her, but to no avail. She squinted her eyes, pulled back her lips, and refused to look at me. I moved from our usual sixteen-foot set up spot to the eight-foot mark. She still refused to sit. The look of disgust and disdain on her face was hysterical. I swear I could practically see her gagging. I envisioned our blue ribbon flying out of my grasp as I continued to try to convince her to sit. I moved back behind the spot to the ring barrier, and still she would not sit. Sweat was streaming off of my brow as I wondered why the judge did not excuse us. She told me to try the eight-foot mark again and finally, ever so reluctantly and slowly Lily sat — at a 90-degree angle to heel position. But it was a sit, so I left her there. She jumped the jump cleanly and easily and had a perfect front and finish. First place and High-in-Trial was a 198, second was a 197-and-a-half, and we won a runoff for third with a 195-and-a-half, after losing three points for misbehavior for her reluctance to sit. Our Open first would have to come another day.
Another favorite story is also about a blown Open first, although by this time, Lily already had the required three first places. Lily loved people and applause and at an all-breed show and trial in Mississippi, she was convinced that it was her moment. She had heeled really nicely, did a nice drop, and nice retrieve. As we set up for the retrieve over the high jump, the dogs started gaiting in the Group ring across the aisle. The applause was thunderous as Lily sailed over the jump. The crowd roared as she snatched up her dumbbell as quickly as anyone had ever seen. With a quick scoot, she was at warp speed as she soared back over the jump. In one-and-a-half strides, there was no time to stop at the wall that was me in front of her. She springboarded off of my shoulder, flying straight up into the air and knocking me back several feet, then settled down into a decent front. We lost three points for that performance, bringing us down from a tie for first place and High-in-Trial at 198 to an also-ran at 195.
Q: When and where did she earn her Tracking Degree?
Lily earned her TD in Washington a few months after her UD in the spring of 1994.
Q: How did you find tracking training as compared to obedience training?
I really love to track when the dogs are working well, but feel totally helpless and frustrated when problems occur. Lily is a frivolous tracker, tracking when and if she feels like it and quitting when it gets too hard.
Q: Are you training for the TDX?
I have trained her for the TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent), but don’t know if I will ever enter her in a test. It is very hard to track in Louisiana because of the heat and the bugs. In Seattle, Lily tracked well when I had random food drops on the track. In Louisiana, you cannot put food on a track that has any length of age because ants immediately swarm to the food. I tried to put a lot of articles out and teach her that an article equals food, but her drive is not the same as when she found the food herself. I still have a couple of ideas to try before I give up, but I am not particularly optimistic.
After this was written Lily earned her Novice Agility title as well.
Bio – Gail Burnham has written hundreds of magazine articles, plus two dog training books illustrated with greyhounds, Playtraining Your Dog in 1981 and Treats, Play, Love: Make Dog Training Fun For You and Your Best Friend in 2008. She contributed regularly to Celebrating Greyhounds the first five years, most notably the Kira series which was a finalist in the Dog Writer’s Association writing contest. She won a DWAA award for the poem, The Red Bitch’s Hunt, which was part of a series of poems about Coventry and the Red Bitch. Currently she is retired, still writing about dogs, and is is living a very active life with the descendants of the original Tiger.
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