Dogs are strange and beautiful creatures. It is well established that they were first domesticated no later than 13 thousand years ago, but more likely earlier than 30 thousand years ago. It doesn't take a leap of faith to understand that dogs have played an important role in humankind's success. They sounded warning when predators neared prehistoric human encampments. Later they joined us on the hunt to, track, flush, tire, hold, or retrieve the protein we needed to nourish our developing brains. They protected our flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. They chased away would be predators thus allowing us leisure time to develop agriculture and, later, civilizations. My dog is no less amazing to me and has played an important role in my personal development. As Margaret once commented early in her relationship with Chloe, "she doesn't care if my hair is brushed or if I've taken a shower; all Chloe cares about is if I spend time with her or not." I don't pretend to understand what motivates Chloe to want to be in the same room with us stinky primates or to stop chasing a deer when called, but she does; it could be that our cooing words, my rough play, or Margaret's gentle touch are incentive enough. With Chloe in our lives, Margaret and I have gained confidence in our relationship with each other — strong before Chloe, stronger now. Our dog has exposed our better and worst selves through grand successes and soul robbing failures, and, more subtly, through our small victories and minor setbacks. What confidence she has taught us, we hope to offer her.
Six months ago, while working with Lisa Maze, she suggested that we enter Chloe in some kind of active dog sport with the notion that competition would help build her confidence. She pointed us in the direction of sprint racing and Barn Hunt. After all, Chloe, when first off-leash, would dash off in full sprint trying lure Lisa's pack with her — poor Morvin would always look back at about 20ft wondering when he was going to get called back — so sprint racing seemed the ideal confidence builder for our energy-filled dog. To test the idea we did some lure coursing with Chloe at Performance Dogs In Action and her enthusiasm for chasing a plastic bag neared on crazy.
With this revelation we sought an all-breed sprint race and discovered All Breed Lure Sport Association run by Lucia Corace. Because Lucia is also is an approved Barn Hunt organizer and her sprint races often precede and follow Barn Hunt trials we decided to enter Chloe in Barn Hunt, too. We had no expectations.
Two months after Chloe's first Barn Hunt she earned her Open tile (RATO) and now we are heading to the Sonoma Fairgrounds to help her earn her Senior title (RATS). In two weeks we'll be in Carson City to help her either finish up her RATS title or to pick up a leg or two towards her Master title (RATM). All of our trainers are right, Chloe is a better dog because she is more confident. She is more confident because we work hard to help her build it. Road trips, hotel stays, tug play, wrestling, clear instructions, high expectations, competition, exposure to new things, training, training and more training have helped build her confidence and ours. Our dog is a reflection of our hopes and fears and forces us to stand toe-to-toe with the mirror she holds to us — not to be confused with the mirror that she plays with the alternate dimension Chloe — and have been given us the opportunity to build better selves. Dogs are strange and beautiful creatures but more amazingly, so are the people who work with them.