Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Herding We Will Go! Wendy Morawski * Skidoo Boxers * Vallejo, California

I have to start off by saying THANK YOU to Reegan Ray and Diane Stephens for pushing the ABC to petition the AKC to allow Boxers to compete for AKC herding titles. Without their hard work, talent and “stick-to-itiveness,” this would never have happened.

My friend Melissa Sheehan was the first one to get interested in trying her hand at herding, and asked me if I'd like to go with her and her Boxer Ava for the Herding Instinct Test when two openings became available. I said sure, not really knowing much about the test.

The trainer who was to conduct the test was AKC herding judge Debbie Pollard. She said she had heard of Pip the Boxer in Southern California and George in Canada, but hadn’t as yet tested any Boxers. Anyway, I took Monica to be tested; she did super and seemed totally thrilled with herding. Ava also passed, so Melissa and I decided to sign up for lessons.

Monica was fabulous, and was enjoying every second of it and I think she actually impressed Deb who I don’t think was totally convinced of the idea of Boxers as herders.

But gradually, when Monica realized she wasn’t allowed to actually bring down one of the sheep, she totally lost interest. That’s when Monica’s daughter Suzie was tested. Like her dam, Suzie had tremendous prey drive, but I didn’t know if herding would hold her interest, either; you know Boxers – they are easily bored and even more easily side-tracked.

With Deb’s input, I decided to continue on with Suzie. After all, Monica was over 7 years old and deserved to call the shots on her own “hobby.” So we trained every week, rain or shine (in rain we were in a big barn). After a short while, I think Suzie started to really get Debbie's respect because she saw in Suzie the potential to be good at it – she had the drive needed but also would obey commands when given. Meanwhile Suzie had finished her Championship so it was a great outlet for us both. Suzie needed a job and I needed a pastime we both enjoyed.

The first two trials of the year were coming up and Debbie said she thought Suzie was ready to be entered in them, so my friend Dianne Haas with her dog Hooch and Suzie and I entered our first herding trial. This trial would be judged by two different judges and was a Pass/Fail. Well the big day arrived and of course it was super hot but we arrived with cool-coats, ice, water and shade clothes. Hooch was the first to be judged, he is a very happy Boxer who enjoys life to the fullest, we were out in a field for the judging and Hooch did the Boxer happy dance in between his rounds of herding. He finished to a big round of applause and qualified on day one. Next it was Suzie's turn and frankly she shocked me: she listened to her commands and people watching and seeing Boxers herd for the first time commented on how well she was working. Suzie finished to another round of applause from all the people watching, and she qualified, too.

Next day, basically the same routine and both Boxers qualified once again, so now Suzie and Hooch had their HT titles (Approved AKC Herding Tested) – the “baby” titles. I might add that Melissa, who had first got us interested, had bred her boxer Ava, so she had quit working her and had brought one of her other boxers. Unfortunately, like Monica, Melissa’s other Boxer wasn’t interested – kinda like conformation, some just don’t care for it. Melissa will start up again as soon as Ava’s pups are in their new homes.

Then Debbie told me there were two new trials coming up and she thought Suzie was ready as she was working the fence well, so we went for a more advanced lesson. Oops! Suzie was naughty and got into BIG trouble with Debbie. Instead of keeping the sheep together, Suzie chased one but even though Debbie yelled at her, I could see a bond of mutual respect forming between dog and trainer.

Hooch came down with kennel cough so didn’t enter and once again it was hotter than blazes, but off Suzie and I went. This time Suzie was perfect, she did the sit at the start while the sheep were let into the field and she waited until Debbie told her to start. Suzie had to herd the sheep between two panels keeping them on the fence line, halt and stand waiting to be allowed to continue, reverse the sheep and bring them back toward their shed, sit and wait while Debbie opened the pen for the sheep and then told her to come and sit while her leash was put on.

The judge said she was not only a very pretty Boxer, but worked better than any others she had seen, and my chest puffed out. One more trial tomorrow with a new judge.

It was now Sunday morning and about 100 degrees and after packing fans, ice, cool-coats, etc, we were off.  Same work pattern as the day before and if possible Suzie was even better. When one of the sheep decided to do a u-turn Suzie immediately brought it back to join the others.  Suzie qualified again with *Very Nice Boxer* written on her sheet by the judge. Suzie now had her PT and HT AKC titles. PT stands for Pre-Trial, so now she goes on to the REAL trials where she has to pen the sheep, move them and so on. All I know is it’s very involved and I really hope Suzie continues to like her job.

Suzie’s registered name is CH. Skidoo's In Your Face, HT, PT.  She is the first AKC champion Boxer to get herding titles plus the first owned by an ABC member…and you’re darned right I am proud of her!!

The Boxer – The Dog for All Seasons and All Reasons!