Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Road to AKC/Eukanuba : In Junior Obedience, Elliott Saddoris with his Lab Trouble learns to never give up!

This week we're highlighting several competitors who have overcome all sorts of obstacles to make it to the biggest dog show in the country -- the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. Today's focus is on Elliott Saddoris, a 17-year-old competing in the AKC National Juniors Obedience Competition with his Lab, Trouble.
Elliott and Trouble


Elliott has had to overcome many challenges. By the time he was 10, he had already suffered two strokes, which left him with only 40 percent of his vision and slurred speech. Elliott decided that he wanted to train a dog like his sister, so his family adopted a six-month-old lab puppy named Trouble.


Elliott has no vision at all on his left side, so how do you teach a dog to heel if you cannot see it? The two have worked hard and have had a great Beginner Novice obedience career with scores of 196 to 199!  Besides obedience, Elliott and Trouble are preparing for hunt tests next year and therapy work. Trouble is also training to be Elliott’s service dog! Elliott is a 10th-grader at Riverside High School in Greer, S.C.


This is the first year  the AKC National Obedience Juniors Competition is being offered and it will feature 54 juniors competing in three age divisions (Junior: Under 12 on the day of the event; Intermediate: 12 and under 15; and Senior: 15 and under 18). 


I had the opportunity to chat before the show with Elliott and his mom Annette Sizemore:


TDWL: So how DO you train your dog to heel when you can't see him?
Elliott: At obedience class, I've been able to watch Trouble in the mirrors that are on three of the walls. And if I turn my head all the way to the left, I can also see where Trouble's nose is pointing. I can usually tell by his nose if he's sitting straight.


When Trouble is heeling on a leash, I can feel where Trouble is based on how tight the leash gets, but it got a lot harder when he went off leash!  We still use the mirrors, and I also watch for shadows on the street when we train at home. I can also hear Trouble on the mats.  When we do a fast or about turn, we can hear the change of pace on the mats. Oh, the hard one was the figure eight!



Annette:  Connie Cleveland at Dog Trainers Workshop found this special dog for us. She searched for months for the right one. She is the one who has figured out how to teach Elliott to train his dog. For the figure eight, Connie had Elliott practice the figure eight without the dog for a long time. We also have to ask the judge to give a verbal on the recall, not a signal.

Elliott and Trouble have been training with Connie for 13 months and he has be introduced to almost every exercise through Utility!
Trouble practices scent discrimination by retrieving the dumbell that contains his owner's scent

TDWL: How long have you been competing?
Elliott: This is our first year competing. We showed in Beginner Novice A seven times and got six first places and one second place.  We showed in Wildcard Novice three times and we got a fourth and one first place!

TDWL: How old is Trouble now?
Elliott: Trouble is one and three-quarter-years old and since he is a rescue we did not have his exact birthday so we made it on April Fools Day!

TDWL: What is Elliott looking forward to most?
Annette: I'm sure that Elliott wants to do well, but when he found out that his class had a large entry, his response was, "Wow, think of all the new friends I can make!" So I guess making new friends at the show is what he is looking forward to the most!

TDWL: How is Trouble helping Elliott as a service dog?
Annette: Because Elliott can't see on his left side it is difficult for him to maneuver through crowds without running into people. Imagine a high school with nearly 2,000 students in the hallways between classes. Having Trouble on his left side lets people know that they have to give him room to get by. He is also a comfort to Elliott and an ice breaker.

TDWL: Does your sister also compete in obedience?
Elliott: My sister Sarah has a dog Sam, a wirehair Dachshund who also will be competing in the Beginner Novice/ Novice  division. She's a freshman in high school, training for a half-marathon, and she also started a facebook group called Adventures of Trouble!

Sarah and Sam just won HIT (High in Trial) at the North Georgia Hound Obedience trial in Atlanta in October!
Sarah and Sam
TDWL: So does performing with dogs run in the family?
Annette: I showed in conformation and obedience from 1983 to 1990. Got married, had kids and that's end of that story! I had a champion Corgi with a UD (Utility Dog title).

When we started this journey with this puppy named Trouble. I figured that either Sarah, Elliott's sister,  or I  would train the dog and Elliott would show the dog in Novice B for a lifetime. I'm being honest by saying that we are all amazed on how well Elliott has done training his dog. Elliott is learning disabled also. Even before the strokes he was struggling in school after the strokes it got even worse.

His speech never recovered well.  He reads at about a fifth-grade level. Elliott knows that God has a plan for him, and while we may not understand why he had a stroke and lost most of his vision,  Elliott keeps a smile on his face and he loves this dog! This rescue came into our lives and changed it forever. Elliott has dog show friends and dog class friends.  We went to Life is Labs (outside Atlanta) and picked up Trouble.  Can you imagine going to pick up a puppy named Trouble, and a Lab at that!

Trouble has eaten his fair share of things -- he seems to be able to read labels and he prefers to eat expensive clothes...  not the Walmart ones! The first night we took him to obedience class the kids where saying, "awww, he is licking the seat!" Until Sarah yelled, "OMG he ATE the seat!"

Oh, life with a Lab!  Trouble took the drain cover off right before a storm and our drain near the basement clogged with leaves! 130 gallons of water flooded into our basement.  That was a fun day! Not! A rescued puppy came into our lives and changed it.  Trouble is Elliott's helper, training partner and his best friend!

TDWL: Elliott and Annette, is there anything else you'd like us to know?
Annette: Elliott says that he knows that it took him and Trouble a lot longer than most people to be good at heeling, but he never thought about giving up!

Elliott: My words of advise to kids:  Never give up!  If a training method is not working, ask a trainer for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Stay positive with your dog. Have fun!

Great advice for anyone, Elliott! Best of luck this weekend to you and your sister!






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