Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scruffy and Scrappy Go to the Races!

Words: Greg
Photos: Greg and Trina

Take a few dozen small, ferocious, mostly white-and-tan dogs and throw them all into a park for the day with some big toys, and what do you get? Terrier Fun Day!

We drove over the mountains to the big city and joined a group of terrier enthusiasts for this not-at-all serious version of a more serious Terrier Trials event. This one featured most of the same dog games as the real event, but without any real competition or prizes. And open to anyone who wanted to let their dogs try it. Our scruffy dog Zeek, being a proper terrier, was welcome of course. But the organizers said our scrappy dog Sprocket was welcome to come and play, too. And Baxter, the little rescue dog we'd brought over to leave behind, had a chance to play.

First event, the Races! No, actually, the first event was seeing a whole bunch of cute-yet-ferocious Jack Russell Terriers lined up in pens or being led around. I've never seen so many before. (Maybe I've led a sheltered life...) It was somewhat gratifying to see that the typical dog-butt-sniffing greetings were frequently punctuated with fierce growling warnings. We thought it was just OUR terrier who was prone to this kind of rudeness. But apparently, it goes with the breed.

The Races: Zeek had raced before. We strapped his muzzle on him and Trina shoved him in the back of the starting chute and shut the lid. The gate opened and half-a-dozen little furry maniacs burst forth to chase frantically after a plastic bag that was pulled along the ground by a string attached to a motor winch. Zeek was right there at the back of the pack, more interested in harassing the dog next to him than in getting the plastic bag.

Sprocket and Baxter took a turn with other novice dogs. We muzzled each one and stuffed them, along side four others, into their chutes -- despite their wriggling protests. The gate opened, and out burst a couple of the dogs, lunging for the runaway plastic bag. A couple more dogs stepped out of the gate, saw the two running and ran off after them. Sprocket stepped out, having wrenched his muzzle off, looked around, and decided to have fun running along with the dogs running after the dogs running after the plastic bag. While Baxter, poor little stressed rescue dog, just wandered out of the gate, into a corner, where he tried and tried to get his muzzle off. We rescued him from that, too, but didn't send him back into the races.

I guess we have to take the blame for this: Zeek got disqualified after a couple more races because he kept harassing the dog next to him -- something we realized we've been training him for. See, whenever Zeek runs, Sprocket, who is faster, runs along and harasses him, causing Zeek to snap and snarl at him. So by letting our two dogs run together, we had inadvertently trained Zeek to snap and snarl at the dog next to him. Oops.

Meanwhile, Sprocket loves to run with other dogs, and he was happy to do that with each race. (He was never happy with the muzzle rule -- not once did he emerge from the gate with it on.) He also never understood the point of chasing the plastic bag. And I guess I don't blame him. Now, if you'd have tied a live squirrel to the string, I'm guessing our dogs would have done better. (Though the Save the Squirrels Coalition would have had problems with that...)

Many of the other novice terriers were having similar troubles. Clawing at muzzles, running to owners instead of after the bag, or just looking around wondering what was going on. There were some puppy races, too, and they actually did great. They didn't need to wear muzzles, and the instinct was strong with some of them, who went careening off after the bag with no prompting. About halfway through the racing, they added pipe hurdles the course which made it even more fun for the experienced dogs, but which caused a few endos among the novices.

Next event was the Lure Chase. The same electric winch/plastic-bag-on-a-string setup. But this time, instead of a pack of dogs chasing the lure down a straightaway, it was a single dog chasing the lure that went through a series of pulleys that zig-zagged across the field. Most of the terriers were extremely focused on getting the bag. They would chase frantically as the lure zipped across the field. Their focus was even more astounding, since there were a couple dozen other terriers lined up on the side of the start area, all waiting for their turn and yapping, snarling, pawing and lunging toward the plastic bag.

Neither Zeek nor Sprocket saw the allure of the plastic bag. Zeek was more interested in barking at the barking dogs on the side of the course. (Are you barking at ME? I'll SHOW you who you're barking at!) Sprocket was off-put, too by the barking dogs, but seemed like he'd rather be somewhere else with just a couple dog friends, wrestling and playing happily. I did rattle the bag and he started after it, but when it hit the first corner, he kept going straight and started looking for something more interesting to chase, like maybe a squirrel.

While the Lure Chase was going on, the third event got underway, too. Zeek LOVES the Earth Dog trials! He gets to duck into a tunnel that twists and turns toward the big prize: a live rat! The faster the dog scuffles through the tight tunnel to the goal, the better his score. We weren't keeping score, but Zeek was still pretty fast. and the rat is safely in a cage, so no one gets hurt. The two rats didn't even seem stressed. I think they're used to their job.

Sprocket got to do a couple practice runs through a straight tunnel that he could see the rat at the end of. A good start, but though he loves to chase, he was only partially attracted to the mostly-just-sitting-there rat. Zeek, however, did run after run, happily dashing into and through the twisting tunnel to the rat at the end.

After a while, though, the course marshal told Trina to give Zeek a break. So she took him back to the field to try again at the Lure Chase. The plastic bag started moving out across the field. Trina turned him loose, and... he went running back across the field, right back to the tunnel with the rat. Nice.

The event finished up and we took our dogs across the large park to turn them loose. They almost immediately found a squirrel to chase, and hit their highest speeds of the whole day. We had a good time at the Terrier Fun Day. But unless they trade out the plastic bags for live squirrels, we're not sure we need to go back again. We'll just have to make due with the occasional squirrel and our bike rides.

Squirrel patrol:

The way we usually run. And me, getting back to it, even with just one functioning arm.


  1. The endo pic is a classic.


  2. Yeah, I feel bad for laughing at the poor little guy, but oh do I laugh at that shot...