More than a month has passed since my wire fox terrier Trevor died suddenly of acute right-sided congestive heart failure at the age of 14. I picked up his ashes and paw print from the vet clinic two weeks ago when I took Zip in for an EKG following a weekend of accelerated heart rate. Life goes on in spite of loss.
As I carried the vellum “gift” bag containing Trevor’s cremains, the pouring rain made me think of my unshed tears and pain too difficult to express as I tried to confront my loss and sense of failure as a doggie caretaker. What could I have done differently that might have rendered another outcome? Insist that the vet treat more aggressively? Possibly. Would aggressive treatment have changed the outcome? Possibly. I set those thoughts aside and operated in displacement mode hunting through old photographs of Trevor I thought I could use for this post.
Trevor was my first dog who never wore a slip collar nor a prong. I specifically sought out a trainer who would let me use a Gentle Leader with Trevor, primarily because of his breed. This trainer also taught me how to lure a down rather than force a down. I felt strongly that a cooperative relationship with a terrier was preferable to an adversarial one, where the escalation of misbehavior can be the fallout of coercive training.
Finally, this morning I found the images I had hoped to share here of the wire fox terrier who was supposed to be my AKC agility dog. Instead, Trevor turned out to be the comedic relief in the competitive environment of agility.
We entered this particular show at Camp Jordan near Chattanooga, Tenn., at least twice. One year it rained and flooded the novice ring so the agility course had to be set in a different area of the park. Instead of an enclosed ring with orange construction fencing, the course builders simply used plastic tape to cord off the ring. All novice dogs are flight risks, but outdoors and a terrier?! Ha! That was a given! I watched as beagles sniffed their way around the course and Aussies or shelties, whether barking or spinning, got around the course successfully, because they are herding dogs bred to work with a handler. Terriers, on the other hand, are bred to work independently — away from the handler.
When I stepped up to the start line of the agility course with Trevor, I already had lost him. Instead of being focused on me or the first obstacle, he was looking around to see which direction to dash toward to explore once the leash was off. The judge generously gave novice handlers the option of calling their wayward dogs back into the ring, but Trevor was so far away in such a short time that excusing myself was the most graceful exit.
Around this time, the same trainer who helped me earlier with Trevor offered to help “collar condition” him for a better recall. This was after Trevor, out of sheer enjoyment, had raced circles around the basic class she was teaching outdoors. Trying to come from a strong place inside, I replied “I don’t think so. I really do not want to use a shock collar to make up for my shortcomings as a trainer. I just need to work on his recall more.” Remarkably, this trainer respected my position and did not pursue this route any further and we have since become friends.
At the agility trial the following year, the weather was sunny and pleasant if a bit warm. The first course we ran was novice jumpers with weaves.
Surprisingly or perhaps because Trevor was a year older, he actually ran the course with me and took an extra jump (possibly more), otherwise known as an off course. No matter. I was excited! Trevor stayed in the ring! There was hope! I eagerly awaited our standard run.
We waited and we waited, because Excellent, the most advanced level in AKC agility, was run first in the standard ring and then Open standard followed. It was well into the afternoon when Trevor and I finally had our second run. I had walked him multiple times to expend his youthful exuberance and my nervous energy.
I don’t recall much about that run except that the sun had warmed the afternoon to a comfortable temperature. So comfortable that Trevor ran into the chute…and didn’t come out. Rut-row! Instead he curled up and lay down in the chute. He wouldn’t exit the chute entrance. I had no alternative but to ask the judge to be excused. Then together, the judge and I helped Trevor out of the chute.
I continued to enter Trevor in agility trials, always hoping for a better outcome. He never lay down in a chute again, but I never ran him outdoors on a sunny afternoon either.
I changed our agility venue to United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), because I could enter Trevor in a class called Gamblers. In that class the handler has the dog perform obstacles in the opening 25-30 seconds for points. These obstacles can be performed in any order a maximum of two times for points. If the dog performs an obstacle more than twice, the judge simply does not award points. After a whistle blows, the handler then sends the dog to the “gamble,” an ordered sequence of three obstacles at a distance of 10-15 feet away from the handler in the lower level division.
USDAA Gamblers was a great class for Trevor, because he could make up his own course in the opening, and hopefully, I could collect him to attempt the gamble. We got ring time regardless of Trevor’s antics rather than a judge excusing us. One time Trevor ran out of the ring up the steps of the arena and returned in time to complete the gamble! Getting the gamble was a huge milestone! Unfortunately, Trevor did not accumulate enough points in the opening to qualify. Another time, Trevor demonstrated his ability to work away from me by being across the ring at the start of the gamble. He was performing an independent teeter! Even the judge was impressed with that.
Finally in the agility venue Canine Performance Event (CPE), Trevor qualified! Funny, I don’t recall the type of class, but I recall the sense of accomplishment and joy that my terrier clown had success at last. My wire fox terrier had gone around an agility course error free per the judge! And we had done it training sans shock and using neither prong nor choke collar!