By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A dog's award-winning proficiency at obedience never would have happened without its disobedience.
"The first night I had put him in the kennel, he let himself and two other dogs out," said Ronda Murphy of her standard poodle, Bailey. "The next night, he let all of the dogs out. I realized he was too smart for his own good, and it was time to go to training."
Training began about four years ago for Bailey. The latest result is a first-place finish at a recent American Kennel Club competition. The AKX Rally Obedience National Competition, held this month in Tulsa, featured 168 teams from 38 states and Canada.
Bailey and Murphy finished in first place with scores of 99 and 98. The competition included tests of agility and obedience manifested in an obstacle course of sorts. As the handler moves through the course and gives commands, the dog is judged by its ability to maneuver the course and obey.
Qualifying for the national competition required four first-place finishes in lower class rankings at regional competitions, Murphy said.
"What people don't realize is that this kind of competition exists," Murphy said. "They know about Westminster, but this is about the athletic side of a dog, its agility."
Murphy, 48, is an experienced dog owner. She has owned all sorts of breeds, from miniature poodles to a Norwegian elk hound. For a while she raised and bred long-haired Daschunds.
But for the longest time, she wanted a standard poodle. After visiting a breeder, she chose a puppy that kept coming back to her. Her boyfriend ended up giving the dog his name: Bailey Black Bear.
"He looked like a bear as a puppy," Murphy said. "We had no idea that he would turn out to be the biggest standard poodle I've ever seen."
Measuring 29 inches at the shoulders and weighing 98 pounds, Bailey still thinks of himself as a lapdog. He has an outgoing personality and isn't shy in the least, Murphy said.
Bigger than toy and miniature poodles, standard poodles were bred originally as retrievers and hunters, she said.
"They aren't like the smaller breeds, where they chew (constantly)," Murphy said. "They don't shed, they are hypoallergenic and one of the smartest breeds out there. You see a lot of them at competitions."
Murphy found out early on how smart Bailey was, after his episode of letting the other dogs out. She started training him at the Tri-State Kennel Club in Joplin about four years ago, and got her first look at obedience and agility courses.
"When I saw what they were doing, I thought that I wanted my dog to do that, and I was hooked," Murphy said.
After showing off some good skills, other members recommended entering Bailey into some obedience competitions. After entering their first show in 2010, Bailey won third place.
"Now I'm really hooked," Murphy said.
After training hard for two years, Murphy and Bailey now train occasionally and compete often. Murphy sticks to competitions that are an easy drive away, so that Bailey doesn't have to sleep in a different place.
The national competition in Tulsa, held on March 15, was the first of its kind. According to a press release, the AKC Rally was held alongside standard obedience competitions.
Combining elements of AKC obedience and agility competitions, the dog and handler move through several numbered exercises. The handler gives orders and directs the dog across a specific route. The dog's run is timed, and finishing times become a critical part of the score, Murphy said.
Parts of the course include jumps, runs, stops and even walking a figure-eight around two dishes full of dog food ÑÊa dog that stops to check out the food is penalized.
This year's course offered a twist, Murphy said. A jump was positioned right after the figure-eight.
"It came at a weird angle," Murphy said. "Immediately coming out of that figure-eight is when we send the dog to jump. In an environment that's noisy, it made things interesting."
But Bailey handled it like a champ. His performance won him first place in the "excellent" class, the second highest skill level.
Bailey was born for such exercises, Murphy said. He takes to training like an athlete. Murphy said that in the mornings, he has a history of whining until he gets to go outside and work.
"He's so driven," Murphy said. "What makes Bailey so good at this is that he loves to do it. He gets really excited."
The process has also trained Murphy. She is now a board member of the Tri-State Kennel Club, which offers dog training and obedience classes.
As a self-employed property manager, Murphy plans to keep working with Bailey and another standard poodle she owns. Her miniature poodle also shows promise, she said.
"I never had kids, so these are my kids," Murphy said. "It's just like taking kids to soccer and wanting to see them go to state. I want my dogs to do the best they can."
Can my dog do that?
Possibly, said Ronda Murphy. If your dog is motivated by either food or a toy, then they can be trained.
"If they are either, then it makes them easily trainable," Murphy said. "If it's a motivator that gets them hyped up, ready to work, then as long as they are not too shy, they'll do well."
Tri-State Kennel Club offers dog training and obedience classes. More information can be found at joplindogs.com.