Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Story of Wyatt and His C-ATCH

I am very proud of my little Wyatt, who earned his CPE agility championship title on Sunday. Wyatt is the first dog I have owned in my life. I am now 48 years old. When my wife insisted that we NEEDED a whippet, I was very resistant. We were pretty overwhelmed with the stress of trying to have a baby at the time. Dawn looked in a book of dog breeds and thought the whippet might be good for us. She found Ray Johnson somehow and went up to see what rescue dogs he had. Wyatt was given up by an older couple that could not handle him and his littermate at the same time. He did come with a bunch of commands and it was clear that his previous owner had played Frisbee with him and taken him to pet obedience classes. He paced around the house for weeks. It was clear that he was a very nervous and high-strung dog. We almost took him back after about a month because my wife and I were having a heck of a time trying to figure out how to deal with a dog. I said no because he was already so messed up, we just could not make him go through another transition. We took him to the local pet obedience class and he was so terrified he cowered between my legs and continually jumped on me because he was so nervous. I started running with him every day, which I quickly grew to love.

After struggling with his separation anxiety for a long time, we decided to get another older dog who was calm. By this time, we had started Wyatt with agility and racing and the dog sport bug had taken hold. I had taken to the Internet to research whippets and ended end finding his breeder who we ended up meeting at a dog show. She had a finished dog she had retired who she ended up giving to us as a companion to Wyatt. He was so pretty, so fast and agile, and so easygoing, we wondered if maybe he could win the AWC triathlon someday. That dog was Patriot and he has been a steadfast and calming influence on Wyatt. After using Clomicalm and doing behavior modification and having Patriot as a friend, Wyatt eventually got over his separation anxiety.

One thing about Wyatt is that he loves to work, he has incredible drive, and he is very smart (almost too smart). We used to give kongs stuffed with Charlie Bears and peanut butter when we left the house and I always wondered how they got everything out of them. One day I decided to watch. As Patriot patiently licked his Kong, I saw Wyatt continually picking up his Kong in his mouth and dropping it on the cement floor as the treats came tumbling out. He also became very attached to me, the guy who did not want him in the first place, and likewise he became a steadfast companion to me. Wyatt quickly learned obedience and agility but was so stressed at trials (he is afraid of other dogs and very sensitive to noise), we had to work many years to bring out his best when trialing. I am still figuring it out actually! As examples of his drive and intelligence, he barks before starting his scent discrimination glove practice because he is that anxious to get started. He jumps over jumps in the backyard on his way to pee just for the hell of it and will retrieve for long stretches of time.

We worked for 3 1/2 years on his agility championship and had to work for years on contacts. I retrained a beautiful contact but found that I could not get it at trials and I had to figure out lots of little different ways I needed to give him more support at trials so we could get successful contacts.

He has never been an easy dog to trial. There were many weekends when we got zero Q’s in agility or obedience and I would drive home discouraged. Meanwhile, Dawn and Patriot would have lots of ribbons to bring home as Patriot is much more consistent (but also slower and less driven.) Luckily, when we were “on”, it was just fantastic as his incredible speed and drive in agility was just a thrill that many only experience with border collies, Aussies, and shelties. We would NQ in novice obedience a lot too as he would go down on his sits or move during the stand for exam when he got fearful of the other dogs or the judge. One day, we got in the ring very early when the other rings had not started yet and ended up with a third place and a score in the 190’s.

We made steady progress towards our goal of a C-ATCH. Wyatt quickly got all his jumpers Q’s and also did very well in games that require working at a distance. But the standard class, with its weaves and 3 contacts was always the hardest for us. About a year ago, I started noticing some reluctance to play at agility but did not attend to it enough. Then at a New Year’s trial, he started to run out of the ring and also avoid jumps. I was crushed and wondered if we would ever get our C-ATCH. I initially blamed it on his temperment but figured out - with the help of an excellent sports vet - that he was having back pain. We took 6 months off and learned massage and how to properly warm up and cool down. It actually helped him a lot as he used to pace when we jogged (even when we first got him) and now he has a nice trot and a flatter topline. It was not until years later that I understood that his conformation (and temperment) were poor as he had a roach back and straight front. One prominent handler said, “What’s THAT???” when she saw him and there were some mean remarks at the racetrack as well when he fouled out as a D dog. I was able to course him for a while as there was no box to overstimulate him but eventually his black dog phobias got the better of him. Well, he recovered nicely from his back injury and we got back to work. In the meantime, I was able to teach him all of the open obedience exercises and most of utility, which he loves. We also worked on rally to help his (and my) ring nerves and he now has his RE and 4 RAE legs. He also started tracking as time permitted and he is showing a nice aptitude and keen interest in tracking.

This fall, we gradually racked up standard Qs even as the rules changed to require 10 standard Q’s instead of 8 under the old rules. Everyone also loves to watch Wyatt run and especially jump as he takes off early, lands late, and goes much higher than required! Finally, this weekend, he got his 9th standard Q on Saturday and his last Q on Sunday with some really nice runs. Sunday night, he seemed even more attached to me than usual as he snuggled up against my leg to sleep. He also followed me around the house and stood near the cellar door as he does when it is time to practice obedience and get some cheese. I was going to give him a break but it was clear he wanted to work and get his cheese. Throwing the dumbbell, he ran out even faster than usual and rushed back to me dumbbell firmly in mouth, almost sliding into me due to his high speed. I could not help being extremely proud of my little rescue whippet who loves to work so much with so much enthusiasm and then insists on getting under the covers with me on the couch snuggled between my legs for a well deserved rest.

To see a photo of Wyatt with his ribbon, click on:


To see a video of his C-ATCH runs this weekend, click on:



JULES & IKE said...

Congratulations!! I was at the trial on Saturday and had the pleasure of seeing Wyatt run and hearing your dogs "talk."

This is a heart warming story. I have my own boy with issues and I look forward to slowly working toward our C-ATCH (there! I said it out loud).

John Heffernan said...

Thanks Jules and Ike!!!

You go and get that C-ATCH!!!

John and Wyatt