Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States

Author of the book "Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others," 2nd edition published by Dogwise Publishing. Canine Behavior Series at

Saturday, March 25, 2006

AKC--How about It? It's time for Pass/Fail Companion Dog (now called obedience) Titles!

The AKC does have teeth, and sometimes uses them for the benefit of dogs, though we're never all going to be satisfied. One thing I kept putting on the suggestion list for tracking when input was solicited was that handlers should be allowed to carry plain water on the track and administer it to their dogs anytime they felt it warranted without needing the judge's approval. Water is life to a dog, and timing can be critical. The handler should never hesitate to give it. Whenever I read the tracking regulations now, I say "Yes!" because it is now the rule.

I'm not exhibiting for titles any more, and never did breed. But I have been a member of a national breed club since the 80s that is an AKC member club. I joined that club because its breeders are The Best, Bar None. They take care of dogs of their breed in every way they can, which turns out to be quite a few ways. The last time I checked, the membership was about 900, and this is a breed that produces fewer than 600, often fewer than 500 registered puppies a year. But earns way more than its share of titles. I've had the breed since 1986, because of a great breeder who is one of many in the breed. The club has one of the finest rescues, and has done since before rescue was so popular. I wanted to support all that and be a part of it, so I joined. It's a group I'm proud to be numbered in. It doesn't make me a "member" of the AKC, though. Not even the club's president is that.

I came to dogs through animal welfare (note: not animal rights) volunteer work, adopting a previously trained German Shepherd who was a dream to walk with, and then getting a shelter Lab/GSD cross who was a 65-pound gyroscope on the end of a leash. I took him to class after having taught him basic cues on my own, and they got me where I needed to be with him on the ability to go for walks. Saint and I walked hundreds of miles together in his long life, and he was such a gentleman. When another dog approached, he would stand quietly at my side while I handled the other dog (or got some help to do so).

I learned a lot by training for obedience trial rules and exhibiting my non-registerable dogs in matches, and that's why I would like to see pass/fail obedience available with handlers allowed to actually handle (with words and body language, not physical guidance or treats) their dogs in such exercises toward structured goals. Maybe it could be Canine Good Citizen 1, 2, 3, and 4. 1. CGC test, 2. pass/fail Novice, 3. pass/fail Open, 4. pass/fail Utility. Or maybe it could be CGC, Companion Dog 1, Companion Dog 2, and Companion Dog 3. Hey, if AKC won't do it, maybe the American Pet Dog Trainers will. Didn't they have a Rally O program before AKC did?

AKC suffers from being too big. A ship that large is not quick to turn in the water. But when a smaller, lighter craft shows the way, sometimes the big ship can follow. The United Kennel Club, which is a privately-owned business, not a club of clubs, seems to be on the verge of starting to endorse Schutzhund-type events. Many years ago, the UKC had rules for pit dog fights. And no I'm not making that up.

I believe we owe our dogs a good life. I believe more dogs lengthen and save lives in the role of companion to a human or a family than in any other job. Assistance dogs for people with disabilities grew out of things individual humans and their dogs figured out on their own.

Competition escalates. It is the natural progression of competition. Agility started out fun and games and now look at it. Rally-O will go the same way. But tracking, which is neither scored nor competitive one dog against another, still has an atmosphere of everyone cheering everyone else. Why not? Their win doesn't keep you from winning, too.

Obedience--or call it Companion Training, perhaps--is the foundation of most other work with dogs. It develops a language between dogs and humans and keeps dogs from losing their lives due to their humans not having learned how to manage them. This needs to be available apart from a competitive sport, and it is within AKC's power to do that.

It needs to be available to all dogs, whatever their genetic heritage, as in fact it is available in training classes and matches. But when you get to AKC sanctioned events, the non-registered dogs get left out. I believe in the pure breeding of dogs when the breeding is intentional. But when it's a done deal and that dog has someone who wants to train with him or her, let's welcome them with open arms and get on with it!

Every dog/owner team who gets training strengthens the evidence that dogs in our communities are not only a good thing, they are a necessary thing. They are more likely to stay in training long enough to get solid control of that German Shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler, AmStaff or other serious breed if there is a definite goal to work for.

Heck, Labradors and Goldens need it, too. They may be less likely to bite (or they may not), but they are winding up dead due to overpopulation of their breeds in alarming numbers. This is especially true of Labs, far and away the highest number of all breeds in the US and often black-coated. If you want a big selection of amazing dogs to train, start looking among homeless black Labradors. Black coats are the shiniest, too!

People are realizing they need to train their dogs. Problem is, they think enrolling in a 6-week class, showing up twice and never practicing is going to somehow magically create that! Clubs raise money by conducting classes--money they need since trials operate at a loss. Opening up title opportunities and making it more fun for so many more dogs would bring in more volunteers. Clubs seem to be more short of volunteers than of training students, because people are looking for classes, but the problem is that they don't stay. Get them hooked with available advanced training, and they will.

AKC could help dogs, owners, and their own organization in so many ways by taking up the flag of a full program for dogs to advance in pass/fail companion training through the Utility level with the same types of talking and gesturing allowed in the CGC Test, agility and Rally-O, and with jumping optional. The CGC test and record-keeping are already in place to make this work for non-AKC dogs, too.

This won't be a popular comment, but obedience competition is dying. It is being left in the dust by things that are more fun to do and to watch. But that leaves a huge problem of dogs in these other events who are not under basic control! Yikes! To keep the serious obedience trial competitors happy, maybe these events could be structured so that every pass/fail dog who passes automatically becomes "point fodder" for the OTCH contenders.

I was motivated to keep training with my dogs by the availability of matches, though it was hard to find enough of them and still is in many areas. I'm rather independent, though, and tend to set my own goals. Most people will need more of a social network and structured titles to keep them motivated. And why shouldn't we have that? What great public relations for dogs and for the AKC (or whatever organization does it--but AKC has so many clubs and events in place that it would be up and running quickly through them). Many of us believe that education is the best way to solve most dog problems. What better way than getting more owners into training with their dogs, and KEEPING them in school until they reach some meaningful levels of learning?

---Kathy Diamond Davis