Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Visually Impaired Career Change Dog Wins Big in Obedience

Lizette and Mika
GDB career change dog, German Shepherd Mika (formerly Britt), with her adopter, Lizanne Kaiser, took top honors while qualifying for the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Utility Dog (UD) title. Each year, only about 30 German Shepherds in the U.S. complete the requirements for this title. En route to the UD, Mika won multiple 1st place titles. Also, Mika has earned a Temperament Certificate from the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, where she was top-scoring dog on the day that she earned the certificate. Even more impressive, Mika achieved these awards while having vision in only one eye. Her limited vision at times made successfully competing in the sport of AKC Obedience trials quite challenging.

Utility is the most advanced class in the sport of AKC Obedience. The dog, off leash, has to respond to the owner’s hand signals (no verbal commands allowed), and complete exercises in a number of disciplines, including scent discrimination, directed retrieves, jumping, and silent signal following. Some of the exercises require that the dog respond to commands given from 25-50 feet away, typically requiring that the dog would need good long-distance and peripheral vision and good depth perception. Per the AKC rules, the dog must walk on the handler’s left side, and the handler cannot repeat commands or signals. Since Mika is missing her right eye, she needed to pay close attention so as not to miss her handler’s cues.

Mika was adopted from GDB by Lizanne Kaiser and Broheen Elias in 2004. Mika was one and a half years old, and had completed a few weeks of formal GDB training before becoming a career change dog. When Mika was first adopted, she was fully-sighted, and she was fully sighted when she completed two lower-level AKC Obedience titles. However, when Mika started learning the advanced Utility exercises, she was diagnosed with “canine dry eye” (keratoconjunctivitis sicca or KCS). Despite various medications and a surgery, Mika's right eye still failed to produce tears. It was obvious that Mika was uncomfortable, and her eye would be susceptible to infection if it weren’t enucleated. Mika healed quickly post-surgery and began to reorient herself to having partial vision. Lizanne and Mika had to re-train a number of the exercises so Mika could better see the cues and perform correctly.

“Training and competing with Mika taught me a lot and helped me grow as a dog trainer,” said Lizanne. “I needed to be very clear and consistent in showing her what she needed to do to be successful. Mika sometimes took longer than other dogs to learn an exercise initially, and there were certain details where she was never going to be as precise as other dogs. But she has a strong will to do her best. I call her ‘my little worker bee’ because at Obedience trials she always gives it her all and gets the job done. Mika taught me that with the right winning attitude, you can achieve your goals and dreams.”

Mika, currently 7 years old and retired from Obedience competition, is now helping to train Lizanne’s newest dog, Dante (a rescued German Shepherd).

“We are so fortunate that GDB gave us the opportunity to adopt Mika,” Lizanne said. “Bob and Daphne Easton, her puppy-raising family, had already socialized her so well to all sorts of different people, animals, and situations. She came to us with a great foundation for AKC Obedience. I’d strongly recommend a career change dog for anyone looking for a dog for a performance sport. These dogs were bred to work and love having a job.”

Please note: GDB is no longer using the German Shepherd breed in our program. There are yellow/black Lab, Golden Retriever and Lab/Golden crosses available for adoption that would make ideal performance sport competitors; we encourage those interested in agility, obedience or sport training with a dog to apply on our website.

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