Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sheep thrills!

by Louise Watson, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I’ve been involved in the purebred dog world for 40 years but have only had boxers in my life for the last 15 years.  In 2004, I decided to approach Cheryl Jennings of JEMS Boxers about her litter by “Jam” out of her beloved girl “Brier”.  I didn’t know Cheryl well, but we had mutual friends and I hoped that she would find me worthy of one of her pups.  Hands trembling, I dialed her telephone number, cleared my throat, took a deep breath and got ready to make my case as to why I would be worthy!  I needn’t have worried.  Those who know Cheryl know that she is a gregarious and warm person and she soon put me at ease.  And so a 12 week old flashy brindle boxer puppy made the trip to my home in Vancouver, British Columbia.  He was to be named “George”.  The support and friendship of Cheryl Jennings and Dianna Emmons (JEMS Boxers U.S.A.) throughout George’s “career” has been tremendous.  Dianna and Cheryl refer to George simply as “Alphabet Boy” in recognition of the multitude of letters after his name.

At the age of 10 months George was first introduced to herding sheep.  He was very enthusiastic.  Actually, truth be told, he was a little wild.  Fast forward to the current day and George continues to maintain his enthusiasm but has the necessary skills to work livestock calmly and effectively – without scattering them like popcorn!

Although not nearly as flamboyant as his namesake, Boy George (the lead singer of the band “Culture Club”), George does things with great flair.  George’s herding career has exceeded my wildest expectations.  George’s obedience and rally titles were also earned with multiple high in class awards.  But it’s in herding where he’s a bit of an over achiever!

George’s herding record to date:

·         #1 all breed Intermediate Canadian Kennel Club herding dog - 2010
·         8 High in Trial awards
·         4 Reserve High in Trial awards
·         12 High in Class awards
·         1 High Combined Score award (arena)
·         1 High Combined Score award (stock dog)
·         High in Trial awards won on both cattle and sheep
·         High in Class awards won on cattle, sheep and ducks
·         13 championship points earned to date (including his majors) – just 2 more to go!
·         7 Herding Excellent (HX) points earned to date – just 3 more to go!
·         Championship points earned on all types of stock used in CKC trials (cattle, sheep, ducks)
·         1st boxer to earn an Advanced herding title
·         Has earned Advanced herding titles on both sheep and ducks

George is trained and handled by Lynn Leach.  She is an AKC, CKC and AHBA (American Herding Breed Association) judge and is a much sought after clinician and travels extensively worldwide judging and teaching clinics.  Lynn and her husband, Jim, own Downriver Farm in the beautiful Fraser Valley in British Columbia.

George LOVES Lynn and to witness the teamwork between them is magical.  With Lynn at the helm, George has earned two scores of 98/100 – the highest scores Lynn has earned with a dog of ANY breed in her 20++ years of trialing.  Lynn, thank you so much for making my Boy George shine!

Herding competitors are supportive of each other and have been very accepting of George who, as a boxer, is definitely the odd man out among all the Aussies, Cattle Dogs, Border Collies, etc.  I will always remember a trial weekend when a group of fellow competitors said they adored George and wanted to wear “I heart George” T-shirts.  It was one of those weekends which makes you smile until it hurts!

I've spent umpteen hours in my role as a “hockey mum” chauffeuring George to lessons with Lynn and observing and learning.  All my time observing Lynn's interaction with George has definitely helped me in my current “journey” with the first dog I'm working with myself in herding (my dog, Jet).  However, “seeing” and “doing” are two different things and I've certainly stumbled along the way!  But now, after a few months, Jet and I are becoming more simpatico and the training frustrations are becoming less and the celebrations becoming more frequent.  One day you'll be euphoric about your beautiful run or training session and the next day your ego will be squashed like a bug!  This sport keeps you humble that's for sure.  But, it's the days when you and your dog are working as a team or when you make a training breakthrough that keep you coming back.

Unlike in conformation and other performance sports, in herding there is the additional factor of the livestock to consider.  The livestock are intelligent, thinking creatures.  They are affected by the weather, the time of day, the “draws” on the field, how they were treated by a dog and handler the last time they were worked, their perception of the dog, their confidence in the handler's ability to control the dog and numerous other factors.  Also, on the last day of a trial weekend, the livestock may be cranky and be more likely to challenge the dog.  These are factors which just don't come into play in any other dog sport!

In May 2012 Lynn Leach and I embarked on a 3 week herding road trip down the west coast of the U.S.  Lynn was scheduled to teach a number of herding clinics enroute – including a herding clinic for boxers!  It was going to be a real highlight of the trip and a breed first.  I was soooo looking forward to it!

Sadly, George was unable to participate in that boxer herding clinic due to the events that transpired.  A couple of days before the boxer herding clinic, Lynn and I discovered George having cluster seizures.  George had never had seizures before.  To make a long story short, George was diagnosed in California with a brain tumour by three different veterinarians (including a neurologist).  I was completely and utterly devastated.

Upon my return home to Vancouver, I took George to my own vet to discuss palliative care and the timing of euthanasia.  After examining George, my vet excused himself from the exam room and returned holding a pharmacology book opened to a particular page.  Pointing at the page, he said “read this”.  I read the indicated passage and things started clicking into place.  George’s seizures, goose stepping and stiffness were text book symptoms of Metronidazole (Flagyl) toxicity!  Since being diagnosed the previous year with Irritable Bowel Disease, George had been prescribed Flagyl and he was no longer tolerating it.  No brain tumour!

My vet has always been a superstar in my eyes and he really came through for George this time.  Unfortunately, George had been prescribed Phenobarbital by one of the vets in California.  The process then began to wean George from the Phenobarbital, a long process which in itself can cause seizures.  During that time, George was to be kept quiet and his activity was to be restricted to leash walks only.  Nine long weeks later, the weaning process was complete.

Lynn Leach spent the summer of 2012 in Europe teaching herding clinics and judging.  She returned back to British Columbia in time to work with George for only 2 brief training sessions and then we headed out on a road trip for a weekend of CKC trials.  We really weren’t expecting much from George that weekend because he’d been sidelined for so long.  But, with CKC herding trials being so few and far between, off we went!

George was dubbed "The Comeback Kid" by fellow competitors that weekend!  I was BEYOND thrilled to see George back working and enjoying his favourite activity after his recent trials and tribulations.  After such a long hiatus from training and activity, George’s stamina wasn’t great.  But he tried hard - and came through in spades.  He won the coveted award of High Combined Score!  His combined score for the weekend was a whopping 71.5 points ahead of the next highest scoring dog.  George also won a Reserve High in Trial, earned another 7 points towards his Herding Championship and another 5 points towards his Herding Excellent title!  To say that he surpassed our expectations would be an understatement!  Good Boy George!
The 2012 CKC herding trial season is now over.  The next opportunity to enter CKC trials will be in May 2013 and George will be 9 years old then.  And, God willing, George will be there!

It’s wonderful to see more and more people giving herding a try with their boxers.  Boxers are “wicked smart” and truly a versatile breed!

It may appear to the uninitiated that herding folk are crazy.  Why else would we don multiple layers of clothing and smelly rain gear to traipse out into a mucky field?  And to have our sometimes “overly enthusiastic” dog push the sheep into us - and sometimes over us!  To finish our training session with mud and muck in unmentionable places.  It’s not because we’re fashionistas that’s for darn sure.  It’s because herding is an addiction, that’s why.  Pure and simple.  And, thankfully, it’s an addiction for which there is no cure.

Photo #1:
“George” is also known as JEMS Culture Club CGN CD RA HA HAsd SDS Am. RA RLFI‑s HTDI‑s HRDII‑s VB VBX
By MBIS/MBISS Am. Ch. JEMS Pearl Jam LOM ex MBIS/BISS Am. Can. Ch. Stevenstars-N-JEMS Crown Royal DOM DOMC HIC
Bred by Cheryl Jennings (JEMS Canada), Dianna Emmons (JEMS U.S.A.), Marcella Mushovic and Beth Ann Mushovic

Photo #2:
May 2010, Laidlaw, British Columbia:  2 High in Trial awards (cattle and sheep), 1 Reserve High in Trial, High Combined Stockdog!  L to R - Judge Terry Kenney (California), Lynn Leach (Downriver Farm), George, Judge Steve Waltenburg (California)

Photo #3:
"The Standoff"

George (60 pounds) faces off with a North Country Cheviot ewe (180 pounds)

Score: George-1, Ewe-0

Photo #4:

Celebrating Boy George’s “Comeback Tour”!
September 2012

Our happiness about George’s wins took a definite back seat to our joy about his return to good health!

L to R - Judge Nancy Ward (Washington), Louise Watson, George, Lynn Leach (trainer/handler extraordinaire), Judge Ron Fischer (Washington)