That Quality Of Stillness

by Jane Gill

At the Educational Seminar in November, I had one of those "aha!" moments that changed the way I look at Pyrs. Whit Coombs was discussing the Pyrenean Standard, and one of the slides that he flashed on the screen showed a Pyr settled down in the midst of a flock of sheep, alert, yet still. Whit talked about the need for flock guardians to be able to do this, since sheep panic easily. A dog that is moving rapidly will frighten them, and create a real problem. The ability to settle among the flock, to be quiet, yet alert, to move slowly and calmly, but to have the ability to explode into very quick action when needed--these are all traits that helped Pyrs to perform their traditional task.

Every dog is an individual, and I don't want to imply that all Pyrs are the same, but at the same time I feel this has some very strong implications for trainers.

For example, I had realized that Conrad and Marple both learned the Novice "Stay" exercises very quickly and easily. At first I sort of took this for granted, and just assumed that these must be very easy exercises to teach any dog. But then I started realizing that other people at my training club were really struggling on them. As I talked with other Pyr obedience people, I found that this is indeed a common Pyr trait, and one that we should value more. Remember, when you are competing in obedience, if a dog breaks its stay, that's an automatic zero on the exercise. Steady stays can be a fast 90 points on your way to a qualifying score!

The place that quality of stillness can be a downside, however, is on the "action" exercises such as heeling and recalls. Pyrs usually move slowly by choice. They can move VERY quickly when they want to, but they usually just don't see the point. But this slower pace can translate into lagging on heeling, and very slow recalls. We often compound the problem by just shrugging our shoulders and saying to ourselves, "Pyrs lag. They're slow. They don't heel," and giving up on getting what we really want on these exercises.

To make matters worse, we start moving slowly ourselves, as we turn and look back to see where our dog is. This is something I have been battling in my own handling for the last eight months. I would start a heeling pattern at a relatively slow pace. Then, as Conrad would lag, I would slow even more, and my left shoulder would turn back to him as I constantly looked to see where he was: behind me! The slower I went, the slower he went. Soon we would be going SO slowly, he would really get bored and start looking around at the landscape. Whew! Talk about lousy heeling!

What I had forgotten, and we need to keep in mind, is that Pyrs CAN move quickly. On heeling, this means that you need to really step out, fast enough so that your Pyr actually is in a trot to keep up with you. At first, you may need to use a tight lead to keep him up there, and a hot dog or toy at snoot level may add some zing to the performance. But keep moving! The other thing to watch is that darned shoulder. Don't be constantly turning your body to the left in an effort to see your dog. This is actually giving him "slow down" body language. Instead, try to keep your body pointed in the direction that you are supposed to be going. If you are using a tight lead, your dog really doesn't have two tons of choice on where he is going to be. You can still see where your dog is with your peripheral vision: remember, that head is pretty darn big! It's an easy target!

The other pay-off on moving quickly is that it makes it much more interesting for the dog. If you are moving quickly, and especially when you start doing turns and halts, he really needs to keep pretty close tabs on you. An enthusiastic voice and big praise for a job well done added to the mix can start to make heeling a fun, "up" exercise for your Pyr.

The important thing for me in all of this was that I realized I needed to change MY attitude about those motion exercises. I had evil voices chanting, "Pyrs are lazy, Pyrs are slow" in my head. I needed to say to those voices, "No, Pyrs are thoughtful. They are still. And they can move." And once I changed MY attitude, guess what? Conrad moved!

PS: If you doubt me, take a look at the video of Nancy Woodward and Cheryl Seigfried at the 1992 National. Two terrific performances, and both of them move VERY briskly indeed.

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