An Unlikely Performance Champion

Wally's World

An Introduction

Posted by shana on March 9, 2011 in Uncategorized with No Comments

My name is Shana, and I live in Portland, OR. In 2005 my husband, Andrew, and I brought home two Great Dane puppies. I grew up admiring the breed, having a few neighbors over the years with the giant dogs. Danes are lovely dogs, with hearts as big as they are. As a child we had a Springer Spaniel, who lived to be almost 17 years old. My Danes were my first dogs as an adult, and I admit I made plenty of mistakes, starting with the breeder we purchased them from. But you live and learn. Through my Danes I have met many great people, some of whom have also had to learn the hard way about choosing a good breeder of purebred dogs. Choosing that good breeder isn’t easy either; its easy to be deceived, misled, and in the end, I don’t think there is a single long-time breed fancier that doesn’t find themselves burned by someone they thought was an ethical, responsible breeder, and even a friend. But that’s life, isn’t it?

In 2006, just a year into owning our first Danes, Andrew announced one day that he wanted a Tibetan Mastiff for his next dog. You have to understand, I’m the dog person, the one who has spent countless hours obsessing over dogs, learning about different breeds and dog activities, medical care and feeding, etc. My reaction to his statement was “A Tibetan What?!” I had never heard of this breed, and was sure Andrew must be referring to some designer mutt. But I looked them up and was immediately spell bound by their appearance. Huge, hairy beasts, ferocious and bold and they intimidated me, just reading about them. But we decided to check out the breed at the next big dog show, the Portland Rose City Classic, held every year in our hometown. The TM was a brand new addition to the breed listing having just been accepted into the AKC in the Working Group. In January of 2007 we sat in the stands watching the few entries trot around the ring. None of the dogs seemed to look the same – different colors, sizes, coat types – but they all were more amazing than we had expected. One bitch stood out, Drakyi Aura of Simba at Dawa. She was unlike the other bitches, a beautiful light gold, her proportions just right. Andrew announced he wanted one just like her. After the breed judging was over we hovered around, hoping to find out who this TM was. Her owner handed us a business card as he and her handler left the area. We filed it away, keeping them in mind as the years passed. Andrew and I talked off and on about TMs, and I visited the Rose City shows again over the next couple of years to see the TMs.

I admit I was very hesitant to bring one of these dogs home. They are, as one Dane breeder said “Very sharp dogs!” and gave me a look like I was crazy to even consider them. I had similar comments from people active in other breeds, like Cane Corsos. I was starting to feel even more concerned about the breed. Are they vicious? Dangerous? Untrustworthy? I had read, and re-read, the info at a million times. The information there explained they are a tough dog, strong willed, strong bodied, independent and fiercely protective. But also very kind to people they know, and safe around accepted strangers. I also knew, from experience training dogs, that even hardwired instinctual behavior can be curbed through consistent training. I spoke with a vast network of dog training professionals, some with experience in the breed and similar breeds. They all agreed, find a breeder with sound temperaments and socialize the heck out of the puppy, and I would be just fine. I was still concerned.

In the fall of 2009, Andrew once again made a dog proclaimation, “We should get a TM puppy soon.” Andrew and I are a good match, I would be inclined to have 10 dogs, while he thinks more moderation is necessary – he helps keep me in check. We had two Danes at the time, one of the original puppies, Mars (the other one, Minerva, unfortunately died from bloat at 3, and suffered from other health related issues), and a rescue Dane, Pixie, from the Deaf Dane Rescue in Eugene, OR. Three dogs, Andrew? Really? I was game, and surprised he was. But who am I to say no?! There were a lot of breeders to choose from around the country, but I wanted to stay close to home. After all, these are difficult dogs, I may need my breeders’ hands on support if we have trouble. I was also interested in showing in conformation, and having never done that before, was hoping to find someone close to mentor me in that area. So, remembering the beautiful Aura, we contacted Dawa Tibetan Mastiffs about a puppy. Amazingly, Aura was scheduled to be bred that breeding season. We met with one of her owners as a local show to talk about the breed, show puppies, and anything else I could think to ask. We met the stud, another local dog, CH Chario Bohemia Bal-Jul of Sierra’s Tibetan Mastiffs, whose personality was to die for. A fierce protector at home, out in the world he was down right playful! The breeders hoped for happy puppies like their daddy, and in January of 2010, they got their wish in 12 adorable, happy puppies. Wally was one of them.

I should have started this blog a year ago, and I did try, but new habits die fast and I just didn’t take the time to write it all down. Instead Wally has a Facebook fan page where he “talks” to his fans about his life. But now that he and I are about to start the long, long, did I mention long?, process of earning AKC performance titles in Agility and Obedience, I felt I should document this process more fully. Many supposedly good sources on TM ownership claim these dogs can’t be obedience trained. Agility? Sure they are physically capable of it, but any kind of off leash activity is beyond them. They make their own way through life, I’m told, choosing not to follow the petty whims of mere humans. But if Orcas can be trained to perform on cue, if Tigers can be trained to willingly comply with blood draws and injections in a zoo, then a dog, even an independent, strong willed dog, can learn to work with people. With that in mind, its time to keep a record, so other TM owners, and owners of independent dogs, can see what it takes to train a champion, and to see it can be done. I hope you enjoy following Dawa’s Where’s Waldorf, “Wally”, and I on our road to a MACH title, and if we are lucky, even an OTCH (though admittedly, Obedience competition intimidates the hell out of me!)

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Why Agility? And what about Ob....

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A Note From Shana:

This blog is a journal to record my progress in training a Tibetan Mastiff, known for their independent and untrainable nature, to compete at the highest levels of AKC Agility and Obedience. Succeed or fail, my hope is our journey is inspirational to my fellow TM owners, as well as a source of humor and humility for dog lovers everywhere.

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