Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Size matters

Belgians will always hold a special place in my heart but a number of factors came into play in 2014 after I lost Jamie and began to seriously look at another breed. Without coming right out and admitting I wasn’t getting any younger, I foolishly thought my dog training life would be easier if I downsized. My two previous dogs were Jamie, a tervuren who stood 25” at the withers, and Phoenix, a 24” malinois.

After 15 years of schlepping around big dog gear, smaller sounded better. Easier. Simpler.

Smaller crate. Smaller dumbbell. Smaller scent articles. (I threatened to weigh Phoenix' article bag but never did. On the occasion I had him work a double set in training, I swear the combined sets weighed 20 pounds.)

Besides, if I got a smaller dog, I could enjoy the pleasures of shopping for all sorts of new, smaller, gear. It’s not nearly as much fun when you realize your next dog can just use your current dog's hand-me-downs.

Phoenix's articles were already
second generation hand-me-downs
from Jamie.
I settled on an Aussie because in addition to being clever and adorable, the breed was safely smaller than my Belgians as well as safely larger than my initial shelties. This ensured I could spend countless hours shopping for new stuff because nothing I already had would be the right size.

Right? Of course, don't be silly. Remember that.

And so I was delighted when Banner joined me in the summer of 2014. He was a delightful little puppy who grew up to be a delightful little 19” dog. My plan to downsize appeared to be a smashing success.

Well, sit back and let me tell you how that’s working.

When it came time to teach Banner to retrieve, I discovered with dismay the battered old dumbbell I’d used to train Phoenix with fit him perfectly.

Well, crappity crap. The dumbbell in question was a hand-me-down to start with, having been used by Jamie first, then Phoenix. How in God’s name did a dumbbell crafted for my 60-pound tervuren fit my 40-pound Aussie?

October 2014
The big and the small of it

 I quit trying to figure this stuff out a long time ago. I don’t need anything else making me crazy.

Well. All right then. Theoretically this was going to save me all sorts of money. I wouldn’t have to buy a new dumbbell, right?

Outstanding in their field.
Technically they're sitting.

Of COURSE I had to buy a new dumbbell! You KNOW me. I can’t NOT buy dumbbells. It’s in my DNA. I am genetically programmed to buy dumbbells whether I need them or not.

Seriously. I HAD to buy another dumbbell. The one I’d used for training Jamie and Phoenix had seen better days. Having been through the careers of two dogs who didn’t exactly have soft mouths, the bit looked like it had been worked over by a rabid beaver. Plus, 15 years being thrown on cement, gravel, grass, sand, mud and once, possibly, off the roof of the barn, had left the ends les than pristine.

In case you’re interested, it’s an Invinc-A-Bell. When they say those things are unbreakable, they mean it. And this is coming from the person who has broken other types of “unbreakable” dumbbells.

“Training” dumbbells are not to be confused with “show” dumbbells. This was a distinction I didn’t learn until I had the Belgians, who were considerably harder on their gear than the shelties. Rabid beavers, remember? Pay attention.

“Good” dumbbells are the ones that only get used when you’re training or showing on a surface where they won’t disappear into the Black Lagoon on a bad throw or shatter on impact. They’re the ones that go into the show ring. They’re the pretty ones.

So Banner could use Phoenx’s “good” dumbbell, right? ‘Cause it fit, too, right?

Of course he couldn't use it! Are you sleeping? Try to keep up.

As we all know, once dogs are retired and/or pass on, certain elements of their lives become sacred relics. I simply could NOT use the show ring dumbbell Phoenix had used to earn his UDX and OTCh., no matter how well it fit Banner.

Bann deserved his OWN dumbbell. Besides, Phoenix’ had been ensconced in the Shrine Of Holy Dog Things that occupies the built-in china cabinet in our dining room. See? Dumbbells and collars for each retired dog.

The Shrine of Holy Dog Things

 To my credit, I haven’t gone bat-shit crazy buying dumbbells for Banner like I have with other dogs in the past. Anyone who’s shopped my club’s garage sale table at our spring trials knows the number of dumbbells I’ve test driven, only to pass on for other dogs to enjoy.

Since I already had the measurements of Phoenix’ dumbbell, I was able to order Banner’s without going through the hit-or-miss process that saw previous dumbbells stacking up faster than bodies in a slasher movie.

Every trainer knows dumbbells don’t just need to fit your dog’s mouth. They need to possess an elusive aesthetic of color and texture that will undoubtedly ensure flawless retrieves. In other words, they need to be pretty.

From left: the two white plastic dumbbells are used and abused, battered, scuffed and chomped
(on left, Max 200, also apparently impervious to breakage, on right, Invinc-A-Bell, on its
third generation of dogs with hard mouths); the gorgeous wooden creature was made by a
friend's husband who is handy with woodwork and is used in the ring sparingly;
the blue and white is from Training Treasures and is my standard go-to.

 Banner currently possesses two such dumbbells. One is a custom-made wood, crafted by a friend’s husband who turns out lovely one-of-a-kind creations. I gave him the measurements and said “Make it pretty.” He did. It is.  

It’s so dang pretty I am reluctant to use it at any site where the rings aren’t covered with cloud-soft matting, for fear it will break, even though it's very sturdily constructed and has shown no signs of collapse in the two years I've used it. (Remember? I break things labeled unbreakable. It’s a super power.)

The second one is a flashy little blue and white number emblazoned with a Celtic knot on one end and Bann’s name stamped on the other. Pretty snazzy. And it’s royal blue, which are team colors. If you ever need to find my crate set up at a trial, look for the blue crate cover, the blue gear bag, the blue cooler, well, you get the picture.

In summary, my downsized dog plan was an epic fail. My “smaller” dog uses the same size dumbbell as the Belgians. He uses the same size scent articles, too. By the time Banner’s training got to the point of teaching articles, I bought a new set out of pure defiance.

Don’t even get me started on crates.

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