Loki received his FeD (Dogtorate of Iron) this weekend. Iron Dog is a certification at our school, The K-9 Clinic. From the day I found out about this certification almost 2 years ago, I've wanted to Loki to go for it. I was determined to bring out his better (working) qualities and work through his anxious, easily-stressed temperament.
It's been a mental, physical and emotional roller coaster ride getting here. We've had most of the required behaviors for this trial for about a year now, except one--the send the dog to the car. So in April, I signed up for the prep classes to clean up all the behaviors and learn the "send to the car."
We had our ups and downs during training and I remember at one point Loki went through a rough period and I threw a pity party for myself claiming we shouldn't even try.
"Hey mom, try not to slouch. You're making me look bad!"
Out of the 11 dogs who took the prep classes, 5 passed the certification, 3 did not and 3 did not attempt it. That in itself is a testament to the difficulty of the trial. On the other hand, just going through the training itself is a testament to how well-trained and excellent all the dogs have proven to be both on and off the field. Loki and I could have just as easily failed as we could have passed. In fact, there are a few behaviors where Loki's success rate is about 60%.
Out of the 4 dogs in this trial, 3 are considered "naughty" (including Loki). The dog sitting right next to Loki in the above photo is considered not only highly dog-aggressive but people- aggressive to the point that dogs or people cannot get too close. Yet his handler is able to participate in this because this dog's obedience is so strong. During a prep class, Loki and this dog accidentally came nose-to-nose during a criss-cross recall exercise. It took one sniff and Loki knew he did not want a piece of him!
"Yo, mom! What's the hurry?"
Though the trial and certification doesn't mean anything in the dog trial world, I found it more fun but just as stressful. Unlike most trials, we were allowed to use rewards at the end of exercises. But on the other hand, unlike most trials, there are at least 4 dogs on the field trialing along with us which makes it difficult. Using rewards for completed and correct exercises relieved the stress I felt about Loki losing focus on me and being too focused on and stressed about dogs working alongside him.
"Mom, this isn't safe for a lady like you! I will rescue you!"
So what are the behaviors for an Iron Dog? Beside all off-leash heeling exercises with turns, sits and downs, the dog is also required to do distance work such as a recall with a down or sit halfway to me, one in which there is the distraction of other dogs running toward them as well. Also included are two "down-stay" exercises, one where the dog is required to stay in a down while you are out of his sight for 3 minutes. Off-leash agility, recall out of "play" and a "send the dog to the car" are also some other required behaviors. The car exercise and "hand signal/no verbal cues" distance exercises were our biggest challenge.
One day I told Mr. Wild Dingo who was watching us train and fail repeatedly at the car exercise: "See him screw up? We are so not going to pass Iron Dog because of him!" Ya. I was blaming the dog. And I'm proud of it.
"I'm getting in the car!"
Just like his mom, Loki's yapper never stops. Not even when he's running.
"I sure hope the keys are in it. The beach is only 10 minutes away."
Below is a video of the distance exercises. The entire trial was about an hour long. That's an hour of having the dog perform perfectly. The video below is 10 minutes for those who are as weird as I am about watching dogs work. I highlighted only the distance exercise and agility.
Our weakest exercise is now our strongest: send the dog to the car. We had to not only send the dog to the car from 30 feet away but call the dog out of the car and send him back in. For some reason, the second part, which is the more impressive of the two parts, wasn't captured on video, so I filmed it at home. You can see it here.
Update:The commands I give to Loki are in German. I use German because my first language is English, therefor when I give him a command, I only want to give him one word with no modifiers. In English or in your first language, it's too easy to modify your words, such as "down" to "lay down" or "get down." Using a different language makes it easier on the handler and the dog: one word=one meaning. The car command is "gein auto" which translates "get in the car."
Also you'll note you don't hear me call him during his off leash recall to down or sit half way. This is because I have a "soft" recall for him. He's a super fast dog and if I use his "hard" recall, he'll go so fast that he won't shut down. You'll note that I walk further than most because he can be too fast. In my and Loki's circumstances, being further away works to our advantage than being closer.
Words can't express how proud I am of Loki. He completed a nearly perfect trial. We screwed up one section and needed a re-do because of my inability to follow instructions. But Loki didn't screw up once. At the end, he knew he accomplished something. You could see it when he jumped with joy. One trainer recently commented, "He's a lot of dog." He was right. He's an Iron Dog!
Loki J. Starling, ABC, FeD