Monday, January 6, 2020

Downsizing. Or not.

In 1975, I went to my first dog training class. I put a choker (required) on the family beagle, clipped a six-foot leather leash (required) to it, got in the car and my parents drove my  9-year-old self to class.

Cuz that’s how we did things back then. Dog. Collar. Leash. Good to go.

When I entered my first obedience trial in 1977, it was basically the same thing. My father put the lawn chairs in the trunk and my mother put sandwiches in a cooler and off we went.

Cuz that’s how we did things back then.

Flash forward a few years. (Just a few. I’m not doing the math.)

Now the list of gear I haul to a show is nothing less than staggering. Last year I bought a wagon (a freaking WAGON!) to haul it all.

Anyone remember the T-shirt that said “All you need to do obedience is a dog, a leash and a collar” on the front? On the back, it said, “All you need to do dog obedience is a dog, a leash, a collar, crate, lawn chair, cooler, floor mat, toys, treats, dumbbell, scent articles, gloves, backup dumbbell, scent articles and gloves, portable jumps, ring gates, dowels, wires, guides, chutes, targets and a SUV or mini-van.”


If you’re a thoughtful, efficient trainer, you like to have all your gear handy when it’s time to train – no searching all over your house and vehicle to find what you need. The easiest way to do this is put as much as you can in a gear bag.

Left to my own devices, I will go to train and leave the one thing I really need at home if it's not packed in my gear bag. (This condition is called CRS – Can’t Remember Sh*t. It’s chronic but not terminal.) By the end of the last year, my bag had evolved into its own weight-lifting workout. I needed a spotter any time I picked it up. I resolved to downsize in the new year.

Downsizing is not my strong suit.

Five years ago, I decided to downsize on breeds, too, cuz everyone knows a 19-inch Aussie would use much smaller equipment than a 24-inch malinois. Don’t ask me how that worked because it didn’t.

Banner is using third-generation Belgian articles and a third-generation Belgian crate. He eats less than the Belgians and is marginally less crazy and that seems to be the only ground I’ve gained in the downsizing department.

I wasn’t sure how successful I’d be at downsizing my training carry-all. I really liked my current gear bag. It had lots of dandy pockets and compartments. It was beautifully constructed and I couldn't fault it except it was huge. Once I loaded up all those pockets and compartments, I could barely lift the thing.

After years of schlepping it from car to training building to car to show site over and over, I developed a permanent list to the right to counterbalance the weight of it hanging off my left shoulder.

So I re-purposed a bag I’d been using as travel bag for humans. It was smaller but still had lots of handy, dandy pockets.  Before you ask, it was made by Duluth Trading Company and no, they don’t make it any more.

I took everything out of my old bag. When the avalanche quit cascading off the counter, it was time for a reckoning. Did I need three leashes, not including a Flexi, to train one dog? There was an assortment of collars: buckle, chain slip, martingale, micro-prong. Two dumbbells – one plastic, one wood – for every trial site bouncy-floor contingency, plus the battered plastic dumbbell that looks like a rabid wolverine went at it. I’ve tried for years to break it (shout out to Max200 – this thing is immortal) and use it for training on surfaces where I don’t want to throw the “good” dumbbells.

Several containers of treats. Toys – tug, ball, flippy, squeaky. Dog essentials – water bowl, towel, poop bags, wet wipes, paw wax, brush. Not to mention essentials for the handler – tissues, lip balm, pens, highlighters, ibuprofen, lip balm, diphenhydramine, mints, scissors, nail clippers, lip balm (apparently I’m concerned about a shortage), band-aids, contact solution and reading glasses. And the stuff no good trainer should be without – a copy of the obedience regs, my training journal and show record book.

I confess - at one point in my showing career, I DID manage to downsize. I just made it a point to crate next to friends who would have whatever I might need beyond the realm of a dog, collar and leash. This only worked as long as my friends went to all the same trials. Besides, I hate being that person who's always saying, "Hey, do you have a (fill in the blank) I can use?" The only time that's legit is when you need a poop bag. Otherwise, pack your own stuff, sister.

When it was all said and done, I didn’t get rid of much cuz leaving something behind is a damn straight guarantee that’s the one thing I’ll need the next time I train. My previous clunky bag had been re-organized into a somewhat streamlined vertical version. What had been spread out horizontally before now resembled an archaeological dig, with gear placed in carefully ascending layers according to need. It weighed about the same.

Downsizing. I’m doing it wrong.