THE DAWN OF AN AGE
"One word must always mean one act or object for your dog and rigid consistency must always be adhered to in all your dealings with him"
Colleen M. Cooper
The history of the dog obedience movement in New Zealand extends over a longer period of time than most people would believe, although this challenging pastime has only developed into the organisation which we know today in comparatively recent times. However, since its inception, it has continued to grow from strength to strength. The dog obedience movement has grown to such an extent that it can now be sub-divided into three distinct sections: competitive obedience tests, working trials and agility events. Each of these three sections is briefly discussed below.
Competitive obedience tests can be further sub-divided into ribbon trials, open trials and championship tests, each representing a higher level of attainment. This area of dog obedience consists of give separate tests: Special Beginners, Novice, Test A, Test B and Test C, each of which become progressively more demanding. Challenge certificates may be awarded in championship Test C to the winner and runner-up, provided each dog does not lose more than 10 points out of a possible 300 points allocated to this test. A dog which obtains three challenge certificates (one of which must be an outright win) under three different judges, qualifies for the coveted title of New Zealand Obedience Champion. The tests are conducted in a competitive environment where precision work is essential.
Working trails consist of four separate trials also of increasing degree of difficulty. Companion Dog Trials qualify the handler and dog to progress to genuine working dog trials. Firstly, Utility Dog Trials, secondly Working Dog Trials and finally, Tracking Dog Trials where the dog must complete three tracks between 15 minutes and 3 hours old, over varying distances and terrain. A dog which qualifies each of the working trials twice with 90% or more of the points allocated to each trial under three different judges, qualifies for the title, New Zealand Working Trials Champion. In trialling, the dog's ability to work over differing terrain and conditions is of paramount importance.
The agility event consists of handler and dog negotiating a prescribed obstacle course against a clock, with penalties for faults and can be both exciting and entertaining. Agility events are conducted at four different levels depending on the expertise and experience of the dog. Obstacles include hurdles, ramps, tunnels, seasaws etc arranged in a course not unlike those seen at horse show jumping events.
Dog obedience tests and trials for German Shepherds (Alsatian Shepherd Dogs, as they were then known) had been conducted in New Zealand since the late 1920's. These tests and trials were conducted by the New Zealand Council of Alsatian Clubs under the general sanction of the New Zealand Kennel Club. The Council of Alsatian Clubs was permitted to issue competitors with its own certificates which ultimately lead to the title "Companion Dog Champion".
However, by the mid 1930's, the Council of Alsatian Clubs had declined into recess which left the individual Alsatian clubs to fight amongst themselves for dominance and recognition by the New Zealand Kennel Club. This situation continued, although interrupted by the war years, until 1950 when the New Zealand Kennel Club granted recognition to the National Council for Shepherd Dog Control. In 1952 a further division occurred within the ranks of the German Shepherd supporters and once again the individual clubs wrestled with each other for power and control. By the mid 1950's interest in the training of German Shepherds for obedience trials had waned.
Prior to 1955 some enthusiasm had been shown for dog obedience work in New Zealand. However, this interest was largely restricted to one particular breed, the German Shepherd. The New Zealand Kennel Club, as a result, had made provision within its rules and regulations for the conduct of dog obedience trials specifically for German Shepherds.
However, prior to this, articles occasionally appeared in dog club newsletters and journals. In 1949, two articles specifically related to dog training were published in the New Zealand Kennel Gazette. The first, entitled "Training the Alsatian", by Mr R Lewis, discussed dog training techniques related to the German Shepherd breed. The second article was related to a lecture which had been given by a Mr G Jackson and explained the basic principles of obedience training for dogs.
The earliest report of dog obedience for all breeds of dog appeared in April 1949 when a group of dog training enthusiasts joined together to form the Auckland All Breeds Dog Training Club. However, acceptance by the dog fraternity was not easy to come by and although the New Zealand Kennel Club wished the new club success, it did not provide official recognition of the club or its activities. This club gradually lost support, partially through the lack of New Zealand Kennel Club recognition of its work and as interest waned, it was decided by members that the club should go into recess.
In September 1954, an article appeared in the Marlborough Express concerning dog training in Blenheim. The article reported that the training was conducted by a Mr R MacGregor. Training classes were held every week and great interest was shown by the local residents. However, after a period of time, interest waned and eventually the activity lapsed through a lack of support.
In April 1955, a radio interview on training dogs was broadcast in the Auckland region by Radio New Zealand (then known as the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation). The result of this interview was the bringing together of a small group of people who ultimately formed the first dog obedience club for all breeds in New Zealand. Mr and Mrs G C Randall, having recently arrived in New Zealand from England, headed this movement. Together they instructed numerous dog handlers at several Auckland venues. Later in the same year, the All breeds Dog Training Club was formed in Auckland and officially recognised by the New Zealand Kennel Club.
On 11 February 1956, the Executive Council of the New Zealand Kennel Club officially adopted a set of regulations for dog obedience tests which were applicable to all breeds of dog. The new regulations were designed so as to closely follow along the lines of instruction which had already been given to handlers by dog training clubs and enthusiasts. The new regulations were published in March 1956 in the "New Zealand Dog World", the predecessor of the present "New Zealand Kennel Gazette" and duplicated the rules in force at that time in England.
During the next few years the dog obedience movement continued to expand with clubs being formed in many parts of the country. In September 1958, the New Zealand Kennel Club official register of recognised dog obedience clubs, comprised the five clubs which appear below:
- All Breeds Dog Training Club
- Canterbury All Breeds Obedience Club
- Dunedin Canine Obedience Training Club
- Hutt Valley Kennel Club
- Wellington District German Shepherd Dog Club
Concern began to be expressed regarding the possibility of a lack of conformity in the training of handlers and dogs. With the number of dog training clubs starting to increase rapidly and no central organisation established to co-ordinate that growth, the possibility of the development of differing standards, instructions and methods was very real. The result was the establishment of an unofficial committee within the framework of the New Zealand Kennel Club. On 13 June 1958, Mrs C M Cooper, Mr G Randall, Mr C Wilson and Mr H S Wilson, all of whom were actively involved in the dog training movement within New Zealand, met at the New Zealand Kennel Club headquarters, then located at Webb Street in Wellington and drew up a set of regulations for the control of dog obedience tests. These regulations (although since greatly modified) form the basis of the dog obedience regulations under which the training of dogs is conducted today.
The committee did not meet often due to the difficulties with respect to travel, the fact that no reimbursement of expenses was provided for and problems with the arrangement of suitable meeting dates. However a large volume of work still had to be done, therefore, all the existing clubs of the period unanimously agreed to the formation of an obedience association within the framework of the New Zealand Kennel Club.
On 20 June 1959, at the Annual General Conference of delegates to the New Zealand Kennel Club held in Wellington, an Obedience Sub-Committee was officially formed. Mr M K McDermott, then president of the New Zealand Kennel Club, stated that dog obedience should be given recognition and that the Executive Council had agreed to the establishment of an Obedience Sub-Committee to administer dog obedience matters in New Zealand. He stated further that the Obedience Sub-Committee would be permitted to promulgate, amend and delete their own regulations within the framework of the New Zealand Kennel Club rules and regulations subject to the approval of the Executive Council. Once the sub-committee had been officially formed and recognised by the New Zealand Kennel Club, six members of the dog training fraternity were elected. Those elected were:
- Miss J Brodie (Hastings)
- Mr N A Brown (Christchurch)
- Mrs C M Cooper (Ashburton)
- Mr J Duncan (Lower Hutt)
- Mr C Wilson (Levin)
- Mr H S Wilson (Auckland)
The sub-committee was intended to be an interim measure until a fully representative committee could be elected to administer to dog obedience matters. However the sub-committee functioned for five years before the situation was formalised and an elected committee representative of all New Zealand dog obedience clubs was formed.
The sub-committee was making steady progress although it was severely restricted by a critical shortage of finance. It was not until 1961 that the New Zealand Kennel Club Executive Council approved the sum of 50 Pounds ($100) for the sub-committee. This sum of money greatly augmented the existing funds which had previously consisted of only a few Pounds, the proceeds of a few Companion Dog Trials. The sub-committee recast the obedience regulations, arranged Companion Dog Trials throughout the country on a regular basis, promulgated an official judges panel and arranged for the printing of obedience challenge certificates.
The first ever obedience challenge certificate was issued in April 1959. The judge, Mr H S Wilson, was officiating at the Cambridge Kennel Club's championship show.
In 1959 dog obedience was included at the National Dog Show for the first time ever. Unfortunately no tests were held as the invitation merely provided for a demonstration of dog obedience. However, in 1960, obedience tests were included for the first time. By 1962 dog obedience entries at the National Dog Show had already risen to 100, thus indicating the rapid growth in the dog obedience world.
To be continued.