Monday, August 26, 2013
I like to refer to my dog, Charlie, in a number of ways. He's my best friend, for sure, and in a recent column, a College of Charleston professor said he might have looked like a “sandwich” for a nearby shark.
But, soon, I'll be able to add “champion” to the list. Charlie will be competing in the “Who Let the Dogs Out? Wiener Dog Race” at the Charleston RiverDogs stadium this Saturday.
It's for a great cause, as entry fees go toward family and living donor expenses for Mary Ashley Barbot, a 10-year-old girl in dire need of a kidney transplant. Mary Ashley was born with congenital nephrodic syndrome and is, unfortunately, only a match for one percent of the population.
While Charlie will surely steal the show as the event's resident canine Secretariat, the star is Mary Ashley. But, I will say, I feel sorry for the RiverDogs grounds crew, who will have some work to do after Charlie tears up the field and his fellow competitors.
I expect him to take his first couple-inch step – because how long are his legs? – and never look back. I'll be positioned at the finish line and making a fool of myself for the sake of keeping my highly distracted pooch focused. There's nothing in the race rulebook prohibiting cartwheels and waving my arms like one of those inflatable things in front of car dealerships. Trust me, I checked.
C.C. Casale, owner of SouthPaw Pet Care and a dog and cat trainer and behavior consultant with the company, provided me with a training plan for Charlie to ensure nothing short of victory. Do you have a sense for how competitive I am now?
With a limited amount of time to practice, we were only able to get in about a week's worth of training. But, Charlie is a natural-born champion. I'm not worried. And, while my readers and potential fellow racers are captivated by this column, we're training. Boom.
Casale said Charlie should train on a similar surface to the race field. This is where my little man has an advantage. He's fast in the pretty poorly manicured grass of my apartment complex, so the neat lawn at The Joe will be a breeze.
Charlie is also in his prime. He's barely over a year old and he exercises daily. I'm certain he could be a forward for the Charleston Battery or the RiverDogs' starting shortstop. Get it: shortstop? Plenty more where that side-splitting humor came from.
Moving on. “Once Charlie will come reliably to you without distraction, lengthen the distance in small increments of only a few feet at a time,” Casale advised in one of her training bullets.
“As with all training, if he was providing the behavior requested, but then stops, one of three things are likely occurring which is hindering progress: you have progressed too quickly, the reward is not high-value enough or there is too high a distraction present. Make adjustments as needed.”
Nothing says “high-value” reward for Charlie like his dad going bananas at the finish line. That's just a fantastic time.
Casale shared plenty of other tips, but hey, I'm keeping the advantage with Team Charlie. I hate to call my readers losers, but if you're reading this and competing in the race on Saturday, let's just say you're the opposite of a winner.