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The perfect score is 200, and the dogs are judged on precision, willingness and enjoyment. Fighting and biting are not allowed. The handlers are watched for gentleness, smoothness and naturalness. They are not permitted to fight, either.
In the open class the dog must heel free; drop on recall, which means that when the dog is being recalled, it must lie down on command, rise and continue to come on command; retrieve a dumbbell when commanded; retrieve the dumbbell over a high jump; do a broad jump; sit for three minutes with the handler out of sight; and lie for five minutes. No, there's no slipper fetching.
In utility, which is the toughest category, a dog goes through five tests. In the signal exercise, it must heel, stand, stay, lie down, sit and come promptly on signals. In scent discrimination, the dog must, when commanded, retrieve the handler's leather article from among five others, and the exercise is repeated with a metal article. In directed retrieve, the dog must retrieve a glove on command. In the directed jumping, the dog must go away from the handler in the direction indicated, stop when commanded, jump as directed and return to heel. By the way, a dog is disqualified in any of the three categories for going to the bathroom in the ring. Bad.
In Chicago dogs competing in both the utility and open exercises were classified as Super Dogs. The Super Dogs had to perform in three utility and three open classes (as obedience sessions are known), six in all, working four times on Saturday and twice on Sunday. They got a break at halftime each day when other dogs showed off by catching fly balls, running obstacle courses, pulling people in carts, etc. There was also a demonstration of hearing dogs, canines that assist the deaf.
The superest dog of them all was Moreland's Golden Tonka, a golden retriever that won the Classic in 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Unfortunately, Tonka died last year, but her legacy lives on in the number of goldens entered. The popularity of certain breeds has changed over the years. In the past, German shepherds, Poodles and Doberman pinschers have dominated the sport.
But dog obedience is somewhat democratic, if that's the right word. A dog without papers or pedigree can compete, as long as an AKC official certifies that the dog appears to have no mixed blood. This democracy embraces even the Basset hound, whose stubby legs make it tough for him to perform with �lan.
But one was entered in the Super Dog category in the Big Dog Dish—name of Goober, trained by Buzz Taylor of Lake Park, Fla. Goober is the only OTCH (obedience trial champion) Basset in history, and it's truly a thing of beauty when he goes over a jump that stands as high as his shoulder. One problem Bassets have is that they sometimes step on their ears when heeling.
Goober, who celebrated his eighth birthday just a week before the Classic, is multitalented. He sings, he's appeared on a TV talk show with comedian Jackie Mason and Johnny Carson's Tonight show has expressed interest. "Goober, sing On the Road Again," commanded Taylor. Goober sang, but it could just as well have been Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.
Taylor is something of a character himself. He's known as Dog Trainer to Palm Beach Society, and he says, "You can teach an old dog new tricks." He's also a columnist for Front and Finish, the bible of dog obedience. In the November 1982 edition of F and F, Taylor had an article entitled The Truth about Fleas in Florida. Other stories in that issue included Border Collies in Canada: All Is Not What It Seems!, Where Have All the Shepherds Gone? and Classic Pooper. But we digress. Heel.
Goober wasn't at his best in Chicago. "The old guy's a little slow today," said Taylor. He really didn't have much of a chance, anyway. The two favorites in the Super Dog category were the defending champion, Charo, a golden retriever trained by Diane Bauman of Sparta, N.J., and Dana, a Doberman pinscher who won the Classic two years before and is trained by Heather Armbruster of Grand Blanc, Mich.