by Jay Tullis

We were smitten by the 3 month old puppy. Ivy von den Oher Tannen had an excellent show pedigree and was described by her breeder as a love bug with marginal drive. We decided to get the puppy and commit to getting her a Schutzhund title. We were somewhat familiar with the sport and thought it would be fun. Nadia Adams, the breeder, agreed to help us find the right resources to do so.

Ivy was our fifth German Shepherd Dog, so we knew enough about the basics to get through the early training. She enjoyed games and food so it was not hard. Ivy quickly adapted to life as an “estate dog” on our twenty acre farm. She was showing a lot more drive and socializing well. Meanwhile, I went to my first WDA trial. I watched one BH and was overwhelmed. I could only imagine how much training went into that performance. Professional help was needed now!

Nadia’s friend Sigrid Riess-Mundry agreed to help us when she was in town. Sigrid determined that I should work with Ivy since I was with her all day. That meant I had to fumble with the leash, clicker, food AND the dog! I’m not the epitome of coordination as was painfully obvious when I would try to mimic Sigrid’s fluid moves. My fingers were bleeding from being nipped while trying to reward her, my right arm was always reaching up to the sky for no reason, and I was exhausted from running the dog back up the hill to the car after each 5 minute session.

As we muddled through the winter, I devoured some excellent books on training. While helpful, they were also disheartening. Dr. Schellenberg, for example, stated that a pet owner with a low drive dog would have the most difficulty. (Gulp!) I still harbored the delusion that I could train the dog but have a professional handle her on trial day. Of course, I was soon put to rights on that. If I wanted a professional to handle her, she had to go off to boarding school for six or seven months. That wasn’t going to happen.

I needed more help than an occasional session with Sigrid. Enter Montell Brown, an experienced trainer, with whom Nadia co-owned a male she had bred. After training together for a few sessions, I asked Montell to take me on as a client. I had to commit to at least 3 sessions per week for a year. Although I trained my dog every day, Montell lived 40 minutes away. This was going to take over my life!

It did! This sixty-one year old grandmother began getting up at 0 dark 30 to meet Montell for tracking. Tardiness was not tolerated. Tracking is easier with dew, but getting out early also meant we’d be done before it got too hot. As we moved into summer, I became accustomed to crawling out of bed at 5. (And Ivy became accustomed to always getting up at 5.)

At first I just kept my mouth shut and tried not to do anything stupid, like walk over someone’s track (yeah, I did.) After several months, some of Montell’s buddies “in the life” began accepting me. In the IPO community, tracking is the gauge of commitment. I had scored well in that department. Montell said to track Ivy daily and I did. I have lots of space at home to lay tracks so I didn’t always have to drive. We enjoyed tracking and progressed rapidly. At 16 months she could nail an IPO 3 track with perfect article indication. I never took the fur saver off the dead ring.

Obedience was a different matter. I realize an uncoordinated novice with a privileged (my term) show dog is not a trainer’s dream. Fortunately, Montell has a sense of humor and I can laugh at myself. His imitations of me stumbling around were hysterical. Nadia and Hal liked to come watch for the laughs. It was so hard for me to do everything at the same time. The dog would just look away in embarrassment. Once I actually fußed into a tree! The term handler help took on new meaning – Ivy was begging Montell for help with her handler.

Montell was simultaneously training his dog, Hendrix , a Teejay von Willendorf son with tons of drive to go with his good looks. It was helpful to see each step of the chaining and understand why the exercise was important. They made it look so easy and Hendrix’s enthusiasm was so cool. We would get it together and then it was time to add the next step. That usually resulted in a whole new round of fumbling on my part and embarrassed avoidance on hers. I dreaded obedience some days. If Montell took her leash, she’d respond with perfect focus and wagging tail. Sadly, I was boring and inept, but dogs are forgiving and we’d eventually get it.

From the beginning, Montell told me that protection would be our hardest area. Nadia had told me the dog lacked drive. (Meh, I had a car, I could drive her places.) At first she would not bark and would only work in defensive drive. She was more interested in the whip than the sleeve. The game for her was trying to grab the popper, which she would time perfectly. I guess that is when most working dog people suggest you get a new dog or a new sport. After a bit she got the idea and progressed through the tugs, pillows, wedges and sleeves. She always seemed to enjoy it and had a surprisingly good grip. If she ever showed any uncertainty, we backed up two steps. I’m sure some of the helpers were rolling their eyes. Slowly, her confidence built and she could handle all the parts. Now we just have to put it all together.

In January, Ivy and I received our BH. I was so nervous, Dr. Landau marveled at my ability to do the entire routine on one breath (it was actually two.) Ivy could probably have done the whole routine without me.

I initially undertook this so we could do conformation shows. We had fun at NASS and she did well (SG4) but I must confess, I think my favorite part was being able to wander around a nice hotel with my dog. I love the people and watching, but I really enjoy working my dog more than showing her – probably because that double handling business is exhausting!

We actually are almost ready for an IPO 1, but I am going to wait. I no longer just want to pass, I want to score well. Ivy is a show dog and a working dog. We will earn our title, but the journey has been so much more. We are “in the life” and our bond of learning and working together will continue as long as we both shall live!