After Lexi's wild behavior in agility class, we never tried agility again, despite her obvious talents for it, as demonstrated by her walks on the perilous pier. But I kept taking her to obedience, in hopes that she would settle down.
Lexi made a friend in that class, Balder, a Black Lab. His owner had trained many dogs before, and one day, having watched Lexi do one of her fabulous distance recalls, he said to me, “She's so good you really should go for a CD (a Companion Dog degree) with her.” He added that there were “fun matches” often held in the area. These were practice trials to allow people and their dogs to prepare for the real thing. “I'm taking Balder to one this weekend," he said. "Why don't you sign Lexi up too?” he said.
The minute those words left his mouth, it became my sacred duty to pursue the highest degree of obedience that Lexi was capable of. After all, this was no mere pet. She was an intelligent, extremely driven member of a working breed, who needed mental stimulation as much as I did. If I couldn't give her a flock of sheep to herd, at least I could put her through the series of trials that would result in an obedience title. Besides, taking tests was simple: you put in a certain amount of work; you took the test; you got a good grade.
What I found out at that first fun match, however, was that taking tests in partnership with a dog was quite different from taking tests in school. Suddenly I, who from first grade had been a relatively unruffled test-taker, became utterly stressed. Lexi did not help. She did everything I asked, but she did it with such intensity, with such barely-controlled excitement, that I feared that at any moment she might explode, which made me feel like I was about to explode.
During the group down-stays, the dogs are supposed to lie in a row, with the owners twenty feet away, for four minutes. Lexi never moved, but her ears were pricked so high and her muzzle somehow became so pointy and arrow-like and her eyes were so intensely focused on mine that she looked like she was about to levitate. By the time the judge said “return to your dogs!” I was shaking.
After a couple of these fun matches, which to me were anything but, but which she passed with points to spare, we were ready for a real AKC-sponsored trial. When the day came, I asked my husband to stay inside the car in the parking lot, out of sight of the ring. I was afraid that if Lexi caught a glimpse of him during the test she would lose all self control. Despite my nerves and her excitement, she got through the group stays just fine. When it came time for our solo exercises, she performed better than ever. Tail high and eyes shining, she heeled sweetly by my side, not rushing ahead, not lagging behind, sitting neatly whenever I stopped. She was a beautiful young dog, alert and excited but, for the moment, completely controlled. I heard appreciative murmurs from the crowd as we worked.
I was looking forward to the last part, the distance recall, because Lexi had always done it perfectly. This is how it works: you tell your dog to sit and stay, then you walk thirty feet away, turn to to face her, and call her. The dog is supposed to come straight to you, and sit in front of you.
At the judge's instruction, I asked Lexi to sit and stay. I walked away from her and turned around. She stared at me, trembling with eagerness. "Lexi, co-ome!" I caroled. And she catapulted towards me. Then, when she was about ten feet away, she gave a big grin, did a play bow, turned right, and leaped out of the ring.
A groan went up from the spectators as Lexi made the rounds, greeting man and dog, then disappeared into the crowd. Would she take off for the hills? Would I ever see her again?
"Lexi, COME!" I shrieked. From wherever she was, she heard me and she came running. She leaped back into the ring and sat neatly before me, wagging her tail, showing off her perfect recall.
Never have I received so much sympathy from so many strangers. The judge came towards me with an apologetic smile. “I hate to do this, because she was so perfect,” she said. “But leaving the ring is a disqualifying error.” I assured her that I understood.
We made our way to the parking lot--Lexi triumphant, me holding back tears--where my husband had witnessed the disaster. “Please take me home,” I said. And that was the end of Lexi's obedience career.
Years later, when I was taking Wolfie to obedience classes, I thought that nine-year-old Lexi might enjoy it if I signed her up as well. I used to do each exercise with Wolfie first, and then put Lexi through her paces. I hadn't seen her so happy in a long time. She pranced and strutted and demonstrated her mastery of everything. I could see her thinking, "I'll show these benighted fools a thing or two..."
After class the instructor, who did not bestow praise idly, called me aside. "You know," she said, "you could put Lexi in a show tomorrow, and she'd come in first." For once in my life wisdom prevailed. "Thanks, but I don't think so," I said. "We're in this just for the fun of it."