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Sit. This is a well-behaved dog story. Actually, the story's about 189 well-behaved dogs and their people who journeyed to the O'Hare Exposition Center in Chicago late last fall for the 1982 United States Dog Obedience Classic. This event is commonly called the Super Bowl of Dog Obedience. If that conjures up an image of wags tailing dogs for photographs and interviews, drop it. Stay.
The Big Dog Dish, unfortunately, wasn't widely publicized by the press—newspapers dumping on dogs instead of the other way around—so you probably missed the results, which we won't reveal just yet. Beg.
Dog-obedience people are warm, friendly and down-to-earth. They are doctors, psychologists, engineers, lawyers, home-makers and teachers as well as professional trainers. Not one of them looked like Barbara Wood-house, the Englishwoman who's the Julia Child of dogs ("Walkie!"). They put bumper stickers on their station wagons that read: DID YOU SMOOCH YOUR POOCH TODAY? and DOGS ARE KIND TO DUMB PEOPLE and, this is an inside joke, DOG TRAINERS DON'T DIE, THEY JUST DROP ON RECALL.
But they do take their sport very seriously. They came from 32 states and Canada for the eighth annual Dog Obedience Classic, and the most any of them could hope to bring back was the 1982 Super Dog Silver Dumbbell and—give a dog a bone—a cash prize of $750.
Dog-obedience dogs are warm, friendly and down-to-earth. They are Papillons, Rottweilers, Belgian Tervurens and Poodles that look like topiary. Twenty-seven different breeds were represented in Chicago; 69 of the dogs were golden retrievers. Not one dog, however, looked like Lassie ("What is it, girl? A fire? Over by the old Thompson place?").
Dogs take the Classic seriously, too. After the first day of competition, Russet, a border collie trained by AnneMarie Silverton of Stockton, Calif., jumped out of his second-story window at the Ramada Inn. Russet played dead for a few minutes, and then was revived from shock. The next day, undoubtedly a little stiff, he fell from fourth to 11th place in the novice competition.
The Exposition Center, or O'Hare of the Dogs, was cold, forbidding and otherworldly, but 189 canines have a way of brightening up a place. The event was hosted by the Mini Obedience Association, which did a splendid job of making everyone and everydog feel at home. Chicago, it seems, is a hotbed of dog obedience. Each contestant received a handsome shellacked welcoming wreath of Gaines Dog Biscuits, pasted together, and if you have any idea how many hours went into that, speak.
The Classic is sponsored by Gaines, and dog-obedience people are very grateful for its support. The American Kennel Club has treated this dog-obedience competition as if it were a wet mongrel, so Gaines has been feeding it.
No wonder. Dog obedience, or canine citizenship, as some folks call it, is a growing sport. Mrs. Woodhouse is partly responsible, although she has reservations about obedience trials. Nevertheless, an estimated 100,000 pooches and their people participate in obedience trials in the U.S. each year. Those in Chicago were the cr�me de la cr�me, having placed high in the Central, Western and Eastern regionals earlier in the year. This year the three regionals will be held in Dayton (June 18-19), Las Vegas (July 9-10) and Greenville, S.C. (Sept. 24-25), with the super bowl scheduled for San Jose, Calif. in November.
There are three categories in dog obedience: novice, open and utility. In the novice class the dog and handler are judged on their ability to do six basic exercises. The dog has to heel on a leash while making a figure eight around two stationary humans; stand perfectly still, without shyness or resentment, while being examined by the judge; heel free without a leash; stay where left until recalled; remain in a sitting position for a minute, until the handler, who has walked away, returns; and lie down for three minutes, while the handler again leaves and comes back. There are, unfortunately, no events like gimme your paw.