Regular visitors to the Auckland home of dog trainer Tessa Finney know not to leave their shoes on her doorstep.
That’s because despite his prowess in competitive obedience, his golden retriever Labrador mix dog Teagan likes to take his shoes off and leave them in the middle of his lawn.
The Clevedon pair won their 150th obedience challenge at the end of June, something no other dog in New Zealand is known to have done.
“As far as I know, no other dog has 150 challenges, but that’s unofficial because there’s no registry,” she said.
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“He is that dog in a million, a true legend with the most handsome and honest temperament and an incredible willingness to work.”
Competitive obedience requires precision work from both dog and handler in a variety of exercises, from heel work and smell work to retrieval and holding in one spot.
In the ring, the dogs and their handlers move with the dog appearing to be “velcro” to the handler’s left leg, appearing to operate by intuition.
A slightly twisted seat or a few seconds of hesitation can destroy a competitor’s chances of classification.
An obedience challenge is awarded for a win or a runner-up with high points in Test C, the top class.
Finney had a career as an administrator before retiring, and her affinity for detail helped her succeed with her dogs, along with her patience and persistence, she said.
“The more you practice, the better you get, it’s just great.
“People say obedience is boring, but I’ve never been bored. Frustrated, yes, but bored, never.
Getting a dog tested for Standard C can take years.
It takes three challenges to earn the title of Obedience Champion and 20 challenges, 10 of which must be wins, to become a Grand Champion.
Teagan achieved grand champion obedience status in 2016, normally a career high point for any obedience competitor, she said.
But Teagan was only five years old then and still loved her job, so Tessa decided to try 100 dares.
“Rumor had it that very few dogs made it, and we would still have fun.”
In 2018 Teagan was named Dogs New Zealand’s Best Obedience Dog and in 2019 they won their 100th challenge and also won Best Obedience Dog again.
When Covid hit, shows were canceled nationwide, but with additional travel the two completed 21 challenges in 2020 and another 15 in 2021.
This year, they got the final eight.
It wasn’t easy, even with such a talented dog, she said.
There were times when ‘the wheels fell off’, including a spell where Teagan ran out of scent – an exercise where the dog has to find a rag with the judge’s scent on it from a line of rags identical, two of which contain a lure scent.
“We were on 147 challenges, and we went to a show in March, and he failed both days,” she said.
It was an awful disappointment.
“You go home and focus on training that element, that’s all you can do.
“You have to have incredible patience and be willing to go back and go back to the start, bring it back again.”
Reaching the top can take so long that the dog becomes too old to continue.
“I was so lucky that Teagan stayed fit and healthy. He was just over three when we entered Test C, so I had an advantage there.
Teagan loves his job and is a very consistent dog, she said.
But as a puppy, he was a terrible escape artist who loved mischief.
“He used to break into the chook’s race and pick them up, luckily no one was ever hurt, but they weren’t impressed and neither was I, I heard that scream, and the poor chook was sitting in his mouth,” she said. .
“He did the same with the rabbits, he would grab one and walk around holding it, he wouldn’t hurt them.”
Finney has two other dogs, Brenna, who is retired, and a youngster, Danza, whom she works in Test A.
She got into obedience and other canine sports to have fun with her dogs, and it’s that and the camaraderie of other competitors that keeps her going, she said.
“I made some very good friends,” she says.
“The first and foremost reason is to be around other people who like to do things with their dogs, that’s the main thing, you mingle with like-minded people.”
At 11 and a half, Teagan still isn’t ready to retire, so they can still attend a few shows, she said.
“He loves doing it, even if he’s a bit slower, I have to give him something to do.”