Wheaten Family of the Month
By Connie Koehler
Before going totally to the dogs upon retirement after 30 years in aerospace, the last 10 years of my career were spent as the program manager of two variants of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the U. S. Navy's frontline, strike-fighter aircraft. In all its various incarnations, the Super Hornet boasts the first truly multi-mission capability in the U. S. combat-aircraft inventory, allowing it to fly in multiple roles with a huge array of weapons against adversary land, sea, and air forces.
In the same vein, a dog breed that was developed over hundreds of years in Ireland—from whence my own heritage derives—as a multi-purpose farm dog that herded livestock, guarded the homestead and bagged the family dinner also possesses multi-mission capabilities to this day by virtue of its inherited DNA. Any training approach should thus be tailored to bring out the Wheaten's true attributes of "Not Just a Pretty Face," to borrow from the 2014 SCWTCA national-specialty theme.
So it was with my dogs. My first Wheaten, Katie, a rescue rehomed through our club in the mid-1990s, was a pet, although she did train with my obedience club through the intermediate level and earned her CGC certificate. It was my second SCWT, Mr. Magoo—Marymore Point Mugu RN CGC HCT-s—who launched us into the world of performance events in 2006, at the first-ever Wheaten herding day. At the tender age of two years, my boy, who had never seen a farm animal in his young life, revealed himself as a rock star with sheep during his herding instinct test.
Watching your dog successfully execute the function for which it was bred is the ultimate opioid for a dog owner. Magoo ultimately went on to earn a title through the American Herding Breed Assn. and was a case study cited in our national club’s successful petition for eligibility to compete and earn titles in AKC herding test and trials. Magoo, or Goober as he was affectionately known, also earned his AKC CGC and Rally Novice (RN) titles before a neck injury, sustained at age eight while training for his Rally Advanced title, permanently ended his sports career.
His younger "sister" (actually distant cousin) Bammie—GCH CH Marymore Circle of Friends THDN CGC—showed an early aptitude for obedience. At the age of five months, Bammie taught herself to sit, down and come on command while watching her big brother train for rally, with no prompting or training from me (but she did work for food). En route to her conformation championship, Bammie earned her CGC at a Wheaten club Fun Day with flying colors at the age of 18 months. While campaigning for her GCH, Bammie also completed intermediate and advanced obedience classes through my local training club.
Following the birth of her litter and completion of her GCH three years ago, Bammie returned to obedience training. However, she quickly tired of the routine and seemed bored with the entire concept. Wanting to find a job for my still-young, five-year-old girl, my memory was jogged by a 2008 presentation about Beach Animals Reading with Kids (BARK) at one of our Wheaten club meetings. BARK, a therapy-dog group whose first focus was as a library- and school-based literacy program for elementary-school children, has since expanded its repertoire to include visits to hospitals; women’s shelters; seniors facilities; and even colleges and universities during final exams to de-stress students.
As luck would have it, BARK was holding evaluations for candidate dog/handler teams just at that time in June 2015. The prerequisites were obedience training through the intermediate level or equivalent, and possession of a CGC title or certificate. Off we went to testing at a park in Downey on a June-gloom, Saturday morning. Bammie again passed with flying colors and found herself quickly immersed in library sessions with scores of new young friends. In four short months, she earned her AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN) title (10 visits), and after two years is closing in on her Therapy Dog (THD) title (50 visits).
Patsy—Connemar She Moves in Mysterious Ways RN TKN CGCA CGC NTD—Bammie’s daughter, is the pride of the pack in terms of versatility. Halfway to her conformation championship with one major win, her then-adolescent coat turned Marilyn-Monroe-platinum-blonde in color. After several frustrating months in the show ring as a result, I decided to concentrate on obedience while waiting for her coat color to mature. In puppy-manners class at five months, Patsy had shown a very early aptitude for her basic commands, including picture-perfect heeling on leash. It seemed worth an old college try.
Sure enough, Miss Patricia took to obedience like the veritable duck to water. She breezed through intermediate obedience, passing her CGC with ease just like her mom at 18 months. One month later, at the conclusion of her first advanced obedience class, she earned her Community Canine (CGCA) title. The following spring, she completed her Do More With Your Dogs (DMWYD) Novice Trick Dog (NTD) title—a combination of obedience, rally, agility, and anything-your-heart-desires that is a repeatable command—four days before her second birthday. Two months later, she earned her RN, with her title- leg score recorded at 98 out of a possible 100 points, finishing right behind two Australian Shepherds and two Border Collies out of 19 entries.
At their February, 2017, meeting, the AKC Board of Directors added the DMWYD trick-dog suite of titles to the AKC companion-dog title offerings, effective May 1. Those dogs who have earned trick-dog titles from novice through advanced levels are eligible until Dec. 31 of this year to be "grandfathered" into the new AKC trick-dog title levels of novice through performer. A couple of weeks ago, Patsy received her AKC Novice Trick Dog (TKN) title in the mail.
Back in the hunt for her conformation championship, more rally and traditional obedience are in the cards for Patsy's future as well. We are still attending advanced obedience class weekly, as well as rally practice on non-show-weekend Friday afternoons.
Mom and daughter also are girls who just wanna have fun. Recent local trips include Armed Forces Day at Torrance Airport/Zamperini Field—where our family airplane is based—to view warbirds and vintage cars at the Fly 'N' Wheels Museum, and also a dog-friendly cruise around the Port of Los Angeles (POLA), hosted by the Port authority. Car trips to local parks, nurseries to buy plants, and home-improvement centers are always on the program.
So get your Wheaten couch potatoes out and about, and start training those very bright minds. Let their innate talents guide you in your quest. You will find a whole new world like we did!
Connie is a past president of SCWTCSC, a past board member of SCWTCA, and is currently SCWTCA's legislative liaison to the AKC, advocating for responsible dog ownership at all levels of government. She is also a founding board member of Dog Owners of the Golden State, the newest of four AKC-recognized state federations in California.