Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | January 15, 2013

Obedience Trials

When I got our last pup, I had this idea we would bond on some deep level… like one of those great Boy-Dog novels of our youth, and so I looked into Obedience Trials. Our prior dog had been a Schipperke, and after losing the battle to suggest we really ought to have something more like an Aussie or Miniature Aussie even to the point of taking the family down to a house where a young, single woman was breeding Aussies and spending an hour or two… I gave that dream up. No, I don’t think it was the slobbery ball, or the amazing vocabulary the dogs had, or their gorgeous coats and hazel eyes. It was the moment went we got on to what sort of maintenance was involved. And the young breeder said the visit to the part was all well and good but not really enough.

“Oh, really?”
“Sure. I rent sheep”.
“You what?”
“Rent sheep.”
“As in rent to own? or just rent?”
“Nah. You just rent. Take the dogs out once  month and run them, let the herd those bad boys.”

Well… let’s just say that was the end of that. I don’t care how comparable the maintenance was the rest of the time, or the measured folio of her rather famous satisfied adopters (yeah… I pretended to not be impressed, but let’s face it, when you see a bonafide celebrity or three… you’re impressed something’s up… even if it’s only the price)… this just wasn’t gonna happen. I mean the truth is that no matter what anyone’s (mine) ambitions might be for how much they’re gonna do all that dog stuff, at the end of the day, Dad’s get up and go to work, and it’s Mom’s dog. Doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do when you come home… dog knows who’s on the case most of the time. And follows the master… or more likely mistress. So that was an agreement settled by losing.

Sure, we went out and got another of the same old same old… only he wasn’t and isn’t. First Dog is always first dog, and Buster… well…  he had his issues, but compared to Jib… he was a saint. Once Buster got something down, he had it down. Jib… he knows… he’s just not swinging with it. And yes, he knows in half the time… it’s just his own way that matters more… until he thinks you’re serious. And when he thinks that’s happening, heck… he’s there before you think of it. Dog is quick…it’s us who’re slow. Yes… he did have some physical ailments that they put him on steroids at an early age, and we do think that’s part of the problem. But the biggest part of this “dog problem” is we both work now… so it’s us.

But blame isn’t what got me started. Nah… I wanted to talk about what happened to this whole Obedience Trial bit. Fact is that when the Schipp Nationals were held an hour up the road, I went and watched the Obedience Trials. What a hoot it was! These are small dogs, so most if not all of the folks running their dogs were women. Except at request of other Obedience afficionados in the area, they’d opened this part of the Dog Show to other breeds… and this is where the guys came in. Now I’d never been to a dog show before in my life, and haven’t since… so I can’t rightly say what I’d expected or how this differed… only that I did watch that wonderful movie: “Best in Show”… which I highly recommend, and there were of course some traces of that here. Yes, folks will spend college education type money here! More power to them.

And that was the nice part about Obedience… it’s not about the foofy hair, the comb, brush and hair dryer… but about the athletics. And the more you watched, the more I appreciated the women and their Schipps. I mean every guy who came out with an Aussie, a Shepherd, a Lab, a Setter or whatever… they were wired up and intense – just like the caricatures in “Best in Show”. But the women would step up and while waiting for the starting gun, laugh and joke. Typically they’d say, “Oh… I don’t know how we’re going to do today… I mean, after all… it’s a Schipp…. he’ll do what he wants.” And that’s the truth. Those other dogs… man… they did it all, smartly, quickly… decisively. When one screwed up, the owner was as crestfallen (if not more) than the dog. But with the Schipps… it was always a crap shoot. Some did it amazingly well. The teeter totter was always a bit tricky ’cause they use the same one whether it’s a 100 pound dog or a 14 pound Schipp… and the little guys have to run out all the way to the end and then wait for it to fall… which takes a long time! And then sometimes midway through the zig zag… they’ll just decide they’re done. One dog just saw something off on the horizon that needed barking at… and so went over to give it a piece of the business.

And I guess in the end what I liked about it was how humbling this really is. And I admired the women. They worked every bit as hard as the guys, but y’know… they weren’t getting worked up about it. If ol’ Fluffy wasn’t doing it today, she might do it tomorrow. It’s a dog’s life and that’s fine. You get what you get. If I heard it once, I heard it a dozen times, “It’s a Schipp… who knows?” Somehow, it seemed these folks weren’t one with the dog, but meeting the dog somewhere in the middle. That’s kind of the way Jib and I work. I stay away from the attic chain, and he’s all right with that. I get close to the attic chain… and the growling starts. Oh… and he doesn’t like shadows, CD reflections on the ceiling, cracks in the pavement, garden hoses… and about 98% of the household items common to modern life. Especially when he gets edgy… meaning when anything starts to hang over the edge of a counter.. or he’s hungover, forgot his to drink his coffee… got bored waiting on the Fedex, UPS, Laundry, Postman, etc. or whatever guy is out there. Trash trucks lurk … everywhere.

Now you may not believe this, but the other night I caught Jib hard at work on a new book, “The Tao of Jib”. Animal has his fans, and like everything else, a prophet is not appreciated in his own country. Ask Jib, he’ll tell you we’ve been holding out on him. Vet thinks he ought to weigh a few pound less? “What’s he know?” Yeah. That’s what we’re dealing with. Anyway, you can imagine my puzzlement when a check came in the mail for him from Houghton… and advance from his fans. We meet them on the trail… and no…. we’re not numbered among them. “Grrrrr!” Oh… but we’re workin’ on it.

Ah… but what’s this got to do with anything? Yeah. I’ll tell you. From Jib’s pen to God’s ear, I’m telling you… folks miss one thing when it comes to this whole bit about their faith… and that’s this: It really is simpler than folks think. Yes, there are lots of things in the Bible folks don’t like or agree with. If they haven’t found them… then they probably haven’t looked all that closely. And yes, there are some I’m not real keen or comfortable with, too. Modern life makes things difficult… we’re not just talking about how I live my life, but how I live it in proximity and amongst others many of whom live entirely different lives… likely trying to compensate for what they think is wrong (and they don’t like) in mine!!!…. and many have no qualms about telling you how they don’t swing with what’s in the good book. And really, that’s okay… fine. Whatever. And so when I see a fellow like Piers Morgan – who I don’t watch – interview Rick Warren – who I don’t read… and one says to the other that the Good Book is seriously flawed and needs to be changed, and the other says that it forms his life… I get puzzled. See the way I look at these things is that the Goodness lies in a simple way… the Bible tells us how to keep impediments, obstacles and the like out of our way in our relationship to God. This doesn’t mean that if we keep them in our lives that we’re judged by others… or that we can’t make it to the end… “what’s impossible for man is not with God”… but only that we might be making it unnecessarily hard. Fairly, I think both Piers and Rick agree that they can and they will judge folks on impediments… only they choose different ones, and that seems to miss something of the point. But the world is wide, and some folks only know how to tackle things straight; others only from a more oblique angle. Which is my way of saying its not just the obstacles and removal, but how you take them on (or don’t) that may be a matter of addressing them that’s unique to each person. Sometimes… even letting something alone, living with it… is in effect a better first step towards management than the direct approach. I guess we just can never tell what’s really going on …even when are folks are adamant. Similarly… we might never know what NOT going on.

In the end, it’s not the judgment of the obstacles but the relationship we manage with God – no matter what. Just from the stories of the saints, it seems to me it’s clear there are those who never managed to overcome certain aspects in their lives we find objectionable or expect God to find objectionable. That’s our problem. Anyone ever wonder how many martyrs might have been gay? Frankly… can’t say I’ve ever thought of that… but imagine if I had, at that point like the Good Thief on the cross, it doesn’t seem to matter, does it?… The decision had been made, the life given, and that’s that. Worrying about the other attributes… well, the silence should be respected. And I’m fine with that. So perhaps the truth is that all of us have obstacles and are as disobedient as my good buddy Jib when we want. And all of us are good buddies when we want to be… we’re in our own Obedience Trial and often flunking. It’s what we do and who we are. Some are good at removing obstacles… others are not. Fairly… some obstacles are a lot bigger than others, and strength varies from person to person. God loves them all. Does it break your heart that someone would prefer the obstacle, or that someone can’t remove it? Sure it does. And in truth…. I think it breaks theirs, too…. in a secret place in their hearts. But maybe… sometimes the strength of their hearts is bound up in struggles we never see… but God does. That’s enough for me. We might never hear it said… or maybe even it’s a matter that today can’t or won’t be said. But the heart of God is on… but not in… the mind of man. Would that I could silence my mind and open my heart.

May we each of us as we zig zag our way towards the finish… make it clear… or enjoy a good scratch behind the ear if that’s what’s needed. God will save what He will; He will gather His own. And if you see differently, fair enough. I may not know a thing about obedience…. or maybe I do. I’ll have to leave that off for now… this is the best oblique manner I can manage. Jib has his own views…. Lord have mercy.


  1. As usual, a roller coaster stream of conciousness to a big splash of an ending. Well said, thank you!

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