Last weekend I got to attend my first dog obedience trial, with H and the gorgeous Milo. It was a ridiculously hot day, and a long one for H and her pups, for their first foray into the ring. In the morning, she'd taken Flash the-not-so-little-anymore and they'd competed in the conformation show, with great success - Flash won Best Puppy of Breed!
Well done Flash!
The obedience trial wasn't until 6pm, so it was a long hot wait for H and friends. Fortunately a couple of friends and families came to support her - us Siberian owners are pretty much in awe of a dog that does obedience, since most huskies are renowned for being stubbornly independent - a great trait for a blizzard blown trail, not so much for the ring.
I was fascinated by the different breeds and the different trials going on - there was plenty to watch and some lovely dogs to meet.
Unfortunately, the trial didn't go as planned for H and Milo.
I didn't really understand most of what was going on, but just by comparing what Milo was doing with the one or two other dogs I'd seen, I could see that he was missing some key points. It was very windy, making poor Milo's big ears flop around in the breeze, and we couldn't hear anything the judges said. However, where other dogs sat or dropped flat at particular points of the various "heeling" exercises, H and Milo would pause and... nothing.
But I was just impressed that he could heel!! This dog is a winner in sled racing, and I'm used to seeing him flying along with H behind on a scooter.
Milo did complete an excellent "stand for exam" and a very good "recall", although his final sit was very slow. H was obviously mortified, but she laughed at herself and got through it without getting upset or cranky. Milo kept wagging all the way through, so obviously didn't think it was a terrible torment, just a bit hot and windy and distracting.
After Milo's turn, lots of people approached H and offered bits of advice and suggestions. It would have driven me mad, after an embarrassing performance, when all I could think about was slinking away for a quiet rage and maybe a good cry. H was amazing, listening appreciatively to everyone and even asking people to take a moment to demonstrate what they meant. In the end she decided to withdraw rather than complete the final part of the competition, since Milo was clearly not focussed and she had a long drive home. Given that Milo has made outstanding progress in sledding, from a bewildered first attempt to a first and second place winner, I have strong hopes for H that he will equally become a highly competent obedience dog.
Meanwhile, the first week of Iditarod has featured an exciting race for the lead position, with four-time champion Martin Buser leading for much of the way, and Aliy Zirkle taking the lead over the weekend. There are heavy snowdrifts across the trail, exhausting for dogs to push through, and slowing the teams down. Currently, Martin and Aliy are running with only 11 dogs, and two of the other teams coming up behind them, Aaron Burmeister and Jake Berkowitz, have 13 and 15 dogs respectively, so it'll be fascinating to see whether Aliy can maintain her lead.
Rookie Joar Ulsom, from Norway, is looking at being the first rookie over the line, and is currently resting at the Kaltag checkpoint with 13 dogs. Fellow Antipodean, Kiwi Curt Perano, is resting at the Eagle Island checkpoint with 14 dogs.
Most dogs running on the Iditarod are Alaskan huskies or hounds, bred for speed. Siberian huskies are slower, more economical in their food/work ratios, and well developed for sub-zero conditions. Alaskan huskies are not a recognised breed, but a group of dogs bred from a range of breeds for the fastest possible performance. Appearance is secondary to working performance, so they lack the beautiful coats and markings of the Sibes.
Mushers like Mike Ellis and Karen Ramstead, who run pedigreed Siberian huskies, don't try to win the race, but to beat the Siberian record. Currently, Blake Frekking’s Siberians of Minnesota hold the Iditarod record. Frekking’s handsome dogs covered the northern route to Nome in 11 days, 20 hours and 39 minutes for 42nd place in 2011.
Good luck to Mike in his attempt to beating this record this year!