diamond in the rough

OTCH Interview with Christine Inouye of Hawaii

Interview by Collies Online

When did you start competing in obedience? Are you still competing?
I started competing in 1983 and am still competing.

What part of the country do you compete in?

I live in Hawaii, and compete only in Hawaii because it is too expensive for me to travel to the other states to compete. There are also quarantine requirements that have to be met in order for a dog to travel in and out of Hawaii.  Quarantine or titer requirements are the main reasons we don’t many outside competitors.  It also makes it harder to get a puppy from mainland breeders.

Pictured above: A-HOF, VCH, CH. & OTCH Ciera Crystal Blu Persuasion, UDX, CGC, HIC, TC, BPDX, AOM-1, "Bandit" (the first two and last two titles are from the American Working Collie Association)

Tell us about your Collie that attained the OTCH title
"Bandit" was the curious little girl with the black eye patch, who climbed up to peek out of the box even before her eyes were open.  She was a very alert and active puppy, who used to take rocks from the garden and drop them all over the sidewalk instead of playing with her toys.  She loved being with people rather than other dogs, and would often push other dogs away so she could get all the petting and attention.  I really think she thought she was a person.  

Miss Personality is what Bandit was all about.  Since she was three weeks old she had that “look at me” attitude no matter what she was doing.  I often felt that some of her creative performances in the obedience ring could be attributed to this very attitude.  You could never really predict what she would do at a trial by watching our training sessions.  The judge and the audience outside the ring were always the unknown factor.  It’s hard to say you have your dog’s attention while heeling when you see her looking at everyone outside the ring with her head up and tail wagging wildly, or following the judge between exercises trying to get them to look at her.  It’s amazing that we got so far as we did with such a lack of attention on her part. 

Bandit came from a breeding that had only one dog (her mother) in the her seven-generation pedigree that had any obedience title. She was my third dog/Collie, my third UD, my first homebred CH, second CH/UD, first UDX and first OTCH.  She was the fifth dog to earn the UDX title in Hawaii, the first breed champion of any breed to earn the UDX title in Hawaii and ninth dog, all breeds, to earn the OTCH title in Hawaii.  Nationally, she was the tenth Collie to earn a UDX title, and the fifth and only blue merle Collie to earn the OTCH title.

She was shown in obedience from the age of three years and retired when she was 10 years and five months old.  She won 14 all-breed High in Trials and 14 High Combined awards during her career, and failed to place only three times when she qualified.  After she retired from obedience, we went into agility, tracking, backpacking and carting.  She was able to get one leg in the Novice Jumpers Preferred class at 11-½, earned two backpacking titles, did carting demos, modeled dog clothing and was trying to certify for tracking when she passed away suddenly from an undiagnosed illness. 

Bandit was my constant companion and faithful best friend for over 12 years.  She did not earn the most titles or have the highest scores, but she put her heart and soul into every activity we pursued.  And she always did it with a smile.  I’ll always remember that smile and the immense amount of love, happiness and great joy she brought into my life.

When you started obedience training, did you intentionally set out to get an OTCH title?
When I first started training my first dog in 1982, I didn't even know what an OTCH was.  And I didn't find out what it was until five years later, but I didn’t have any interest in pursuing it at that time.  Not because I wasn’t competitive, but because I didn’t have the knowledge of how to get a dog to that point in training -- to be so precise and do the same exercises over and over again for years.  Even though Bandit was pretty consistent, I didn’t think I could get an OTCH until I was three quarters of the way to the title.

What were the qualities that Bandit (OTCH Ciera Crystal Blu Persuasion) possessed that made you think the title was attainable?
Bandit had great body structure and working attitude.  She had the physical attributes that would allow us to compete for the amount of time it might take to attain the title.  She also showed a tireless work ethic and the ability to adapt to all kinds of situations without stressing out.  She was eager to learn, especially where food was involved.  I think her goal in life was to work hard, have fun and eat as much as you can in the process.

How long did it take you to achieve the OTCH title?
It depends on what you mean when you say achieve the title.  If you count all training from the day she was born, it would be nine years and eight months.  If you count from the time I actively started doing obedience competition with her, it would be six years and eight months.

What were some of the challenges that you encountered in your pursuit of the title?
A big challenge was getting enough points to earn the title.  Hawaii has small shows in comparison to most other states, and they are almost all outdoors in the sun.  We also had far fewer shows at that time (mid 90s until 2001).  There were 10 shows in a whole year, which compares to a month or less of shows in other states.  Four of those shows were on another island, so you had the added expense of flying, hotel and car rental for a one-day show.  We do have a modified point schedule for Utility B, but the points for the Open B class are the same as the other 49 states, even with our much smaller entries.  Even a really good dog would take over two years of shows, and have to win at every show to get an OTCH (most dogs are already six-plus years by the time they get their UD).  To date, there have only been 14 OTCH’s earned by dogs shown in Hawaii.  So that tells you how hard it is to get that title.    
Another challenge was totally due to my dog's creative performances at trials.  She was a great practice dog, but trial rings proved that anything could happen when you least expected it.  She had a bad habit of doing crazy things on the jumping exercise in Utility (especially if it was the last exercise).  She would go out and sometimes not wait for a command, or sometimes she would look at where I was pointing and go towards it then veer off to the wrong jump.  Many judges just stood there totally shocked when it happened.  I always knew that if she turned and grinned at me, she was not going to do what she was supposed to. 

We always had a problem with scent articles and ran into a major problem when we were more than halfway to our title when she was attacked by a pitbull while we were out walking.  Luckily, it didn't do much physical damage, but it caused her to be afraid to put her head down while looking for her articles.  We went to several trials where she would just run out and circle the pile while drooling, then grab anything that was in front of her without checking for the scent.  We had to back track by making the exercise very easy, then increasing the difficulty, and then adding a lot of distractions.  She was able to get her confidence back, but it took almost six months to get there.

I think the biggest challenge was getting me to learn everything and execute while under pressure. My dog was probably handicapped by a handler who was not very fast (mentally or physically), not very coordinated or able to comprehend the mechanics without lots of repetition, trial and error.

The OTCH title requires winning placements and a certain number of points.  Describe the level of competition at the events you participated in.
I can only describe the level as it pertains to my location, as I don't think you can compare it with other areas where there are people who practically compete for a living.  I’m sure the level of competition is not as high as elsewhere, but we compete with people who are pretty much all on the same level.  The winners are not the same people all the time -- kind of rotating among several strong dogs.  At that time, we had only all breed shows, and the judges were almost exclusively from the mainland states, so we were judged by the same standards as dogs elsewhere.  With smaller shows,  there are not as many dogs, and not as many top obedience type breeds in the ring.  People get the breeds they like, and just train them and hope they can do well with them, rather than getting a breed specifically for obedience competition.  The top dogs we mainly competed with were Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Shelties, Corgis, German Shepherds, Poodles and a Rottweiler.  We basically competed against the same dogs for a number of years due to the small number of points available at most shows.   

Did you have any mentors or support in your pursuit of the title?

I had several friends that helped me train and gave moral support the entire time my dog was showing. We would meet at the park at least twice a week and help each other train, critique and keep things in focus.  I also had some help from three “professional trainers”: Judy Howard (Calif.), Linda Brady (Michigan) and Sharon Long (Illinois), who had all visited Hawaii for seminars.  I kept in contact with them after the seminars, as they offered to help anyone who had more questions/problems after the seminars.  And I certainly took them up on their offer.

If so, tell us how they were important to your process.
They helped me work out some of the bugs I ran into when we had already gotten our UD, but were not even halfway through our total points to earn the title.  They did a lot of email evaluation and offered options on what I could do to get through the problems.  They were all very generous with their time and advice, knowing how hard it was to get the information when you're thousands of miles away.  And there were numerous cheerleaders, both in Hawaii and on the mainland who gave us moral support and the extra push we needed to get over the humps (and there were a lot of them).

What were the key lessons that you learned along the way?
I learned to be patient, be humble and be fair.  A dog is a dog, not a machine. Do not give up because things aren’t going well.  Try and try again using a different approach.  Do not train when you are tired or angry, the result is usually not good.  Be flexible -- there is no training manual or method that works for every dog, every time. Always thank everyone for their help, no matter how small it may seem.
What advice would you give others in pursuit of the coveted OTCH title?
I advise newcomers to the sport to find a good trainer/training school and learn the basics really well before trying to earn any titles.  It may seem boring to be doing heeling, sits, downs, recalls over an over again, but everything in the upper classes is based on those things.  If you can’t do them well in the beginning, it only gets harder as you move up.  You can learn to make the same old things fun and more challenging by playing games using parts of the exercises.  Go to trials and watch what goes on before you ever enter a trial.  Volunteer to steward at matches and trials to get a feel for what the judges are looking for. 

For those people who might consider pursuing advanced titles, be sure to get a dog that is sound, both mentally and physically.  A dog that competes in the upper classes needs to be as structurally and mentally sound as a good conformation dog (perhaps even more so).  Dogs with poor structure will find it much more difficult to withstand many years of sustained running, jumping, turning and climbing required in many of the performance activities. You need to find a breeder who is willing to work with you to sell you a puppy/dog that has a fighting chance to become the next OTCH.   

I am a big stickler for sound movement and good structure because I compete in obedience, agility and conformation.  I need a dog that can make it through the long haul.  I’ve always asked breeders if they could sell me something pretty, but extremely sound . . . like it could take Group firsts to get its majors.  I know a lot of them thought I was crazy, but it’s really what I need to get where I want to go.  I had that problem before Bandit retired, and right now, I am on the lookout for a puppy bitch who fits this profile.  And I want a female to breed to save myself the time and expense (quarantine or titer requirements and shipping) of finding another one when I’m through showing the current one. 

The OTCH title is rare with Collies. What do you think the reason for that is?
I’m not sure about in the mainland states, but I know that in Hawaii, that most of dogs do not have the working temperaments to show for the long  time it takes to earn the title.  Also, the handlers may not have the fortitude to stick it out for so many years.  It takes a lot of time and sacrifice to work towards the title.  A lot of people are into multiple venues too, so less people concentrate on any one activity.  I have seen a number of really nice working Collies at mainland shows, so am surprised that more do not go on to try for the title.  It could be that in their area, they are surrounded by Border Collies and Goldens, who many times get the top scores, so they don’t win the class and get the points.  As with all things in life, sometimes it’s a matter of luck . . . being in the right place at the right time.

The Collie presents an impressive, proud picture of true balance, each part being in harmonious proportion to every other part and to the whole.

– from the AKC Collie Breed Standard

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