The all or nothing dog...
When Glynis Smith got into agility, her aim was to socialise her Sheltie Sam. Steady and reliable, he wasn't fast but he was accurate, and he only needed one more win to reach Grade 6 before he retired. But, as we all know, once you've started agility, you can become addicted, and Glynis longed for something a little faster. She never knew what she was in for when she got Dixie.
I had been considering the possibility of getting another pup for a while and, after speaking to a breeder at a show, my name was third on a list for a male Sheltie/Collie cross whose elder sister was already showing promise. I was disappointed when there were only two males in the litter, but found out, when they were seven weeks old, that a female was available. It was Dixie who was destined to be my all or nothing dog.
She was never still. The house was strewn with toys, chewed socks, post, shoes and any clothing she could find. Anything she came across was fair game. It was at this point that I worried I had taken on too much and was just too old and less able to cope with this Duracell pup. To be honest, I don't think I felt so tired after giving birth to either of my children.
After four months, however, things started to fall into place. Dixie could be left during the day with no issues, and the rug was no longer a toilet. She slept all night.
But calm isn't a word you can actually put into a sentence about Dixie. Even when she's asleep, she's up and moving to another spot every 20 minutes. Hence, when she was 18 months old, I had to ban the dogs from my bed at night. I was simply exhausted.
It was at this point, I started to take her in a soft crate to watch the dogs in Sam's training class.
She could open the zip. I had to sit holding the zipper and drip feed her treats to try to keep her calm. Unsurprisingly that didn't work. We had to use a normal crate to keep her in but calm was missing - and still is as many folk who know her can confirm.
Born to run
On the 10th July, 2016, I tentatively paid my entry fees to run her at a Beachside show. This would be her first time in the ring. She was amazing - four runs, five faults in each. She was responsive, listened to every word I said, followed my body movements - and there's a lot of body to follow - and wowed the spectators. One of the Beachside ladies even made a comment on Facebook about my amazing pup.
But that was it.
By the time Dixie turned two, she had decided that this agility game was so much fun that she just didn't have time to wait for me. She would self-release, usually before I could even get to the first jump. For four years now, I have thrown most runs, patiently putting her back on that start line, where she will wait, release on her cue and run a clear round after already being E'd.
Between 2016 and 2017, she managed enough KC Jumping wins to go to Grade 4. She's still there!
At this point, I would just like to mention that Dixie has been hampered by a very accident-prone handler. Broken ankles followed by reconstructive surgery, smashed metatarsals and torn muscles, have resulted in me being housebound for approximately three years And, of course, there was also Covid!
So far in 2021, she's had one clear round at UKA which was the result of a re-run. I can only assume she waited because she already thought she'd had enough fun at the start in the first run.
She also has a little quirk of putting in an extra jump for good measure and, if things go wrong, she will take any jump trying to get the right one. I have to call her in and settle her.
Don't get me wrong
In the whole of 2019, she managed three KC wins - one with 5 faults - so she needs two more wins for Grade 5.
She has, however, made it to the league finals at T & A in every one of her competing years, just managing a handful of clears in the preceding 12 months to scrape in at 5th place. We've never won. We have always been E'd, but we get a lovely rosette for attending! When the league winners and finalist presentations were going ahead in 2019, there was an announcement over the tannoy that we had managed to get to jump 11 before being E'd. This in itself was such an achievement. And if we ever manage a clear round the clapping and cheering is such a lift to both of us.
In training she has a rock solid wait and usually doesn't put a paw wrong but, in the ring, she's an independent, deaf, single-minded, speed freak. Trainers and judges alike are astounded by the way she can do the complete opposite of what I'm asking even though I'm in the right place, giving the correct command and using the necessary body language. Recently I tried to turn her left after an A-frame. We were still clear with three jumps to go. I said left, my body turned left, my dog turned right and took a tunnel.
Many KC judges have spoken to me about this wonderful, stunning, amazing little dog who will go far once I have her undivided attention. She'll be seven in January and I'm still waiting.
We travel to many shows, the furthest being 63 miles away. We like to vary our pickup points for our Es. After all, variety is the spice of life so they say.
A glimmer of hope
We had one agility run with only 5 faults and two runs with a wait. I made up my mind on the very last run. If she broke her wait, then her lead would go on and she wouldn't get to run. I walked off, arm out, waiting to see her rush past. I reached my release point, turned my head, and there she sat, still where I'd left her, ears pricked waiting for her 'okay' like butter wouldn't melt. I was so shocked and pleased that I fluffed jump three and we were E'd, but I didn't care. It was the second wait of the day.
Life with Dixie is amazing, hectic, exciting and so much fun. I have no illusion that we'll ever gel in the ring, but I'll never give up trying. A 45 second run with my girl will always be a roller coaster ride or a complete car crash, of this I have no doubt. But in my mind, I see myself flying around on the green carpet at Crufts - but definitely without the Lycra - and Dixie taking the last jump and glory.
Right now this is merely a pipe dream but, whatever the future holds, I know I have the most loving, affectionate, happy, crazy, beautiful pup cuddling up beside me on the sofa each night, and I wouldn't change it for the world.
I'm totally amazed as is everyone who has witnessed this incredible transformation, long may it last.
About the author...
Due to health issues, she had to retire from work ten years ago and started agility two years later at the tender age of 53. After a few lessons, she was hooked and went on to compete with Sam and later Dixie. She tends to use a lot of distance control and hopes to continue for many years to come.
First published 10th October 2021
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