For those of you who know me well, the first 2 years or so with Igo had been a bit of rough go. In March of 2011 I was shipped the BEST Malinois, or dog for that matter, that anyone could ask for. From the very beginning Vyper was special - and I bonded to him harder than I ever thought I could. He was the PERFECT dog for Schutzhund, Agility, Obedience, Dock Diving - anything I could imagine. So when, at 9 months of age, we discovered he had bad hips I was devastated. But thanks to an amazing breeder, and now a great friend, I was promised a new puppy to take his place. It was bittersweet, but I was still excited.
In July of 2012, my new puppy was ready to come home, but it was too hot for him to fly. That wouldn't delay his arrival though, it's never too hot to road trip across five states to pick out a puppy! So despite driving 22 hours in a 48 hour period, it was a blast; and after two sessions of puppy selection tests, I had narrowed my choices down to one of two little 8 week old male maligators. They tested the same, the only difference between the two was that they came from two different litters. Naturally, I chose the pup who shared Vyper's dad - I wanted another Vyper. So now that I'd made my decision, I had to name the little monster - out of the "I" litter, he would be called "Inigo vom Logan Haus", "Igo" for short. I had high hopes for my little monster, and no sooner did we get home, then training began!
It didn't take long for me to see, that another Vyper - he was not. He was healthy, strong, good looking, and full of drive - a picture perfect Malinois puppy - but he wasn't Vyper, and I had a really hard time accepting him because of it. Where Vyper was focused, Igo was not. Where Vyper was driven to work with me, Igo was not. Where Vyper was quick, and eager to learn, Igo most definitely was not. Vyper was uncanny in his ability to learn new things with minimal training (it was a continual joke, that I left training articles in his kennel at night for him to read and learn while he was put away), Igo quickly learned some rather choice nicknames thanks to his apparent lack of aptitude (it wasn't uncommon for him to show a behavior very well in one training session, only to act completely dumbfounded by the same behavior in the very next session). If it could be possible for a dog could have a learning disability - there were times that I would say Igo had one.
It wasn't just in training that Igo was a challenge. On a daily basis, Igo drove me crazy. "Watch your face, he headbutts" is something all of my friends have heard as we struggled with his social skills when greeting people. He was overly exuberant in everything he did - my family wanted nothing to do with him, and I felt I needed people to sign a waiver before letting him interact with them. There was never any ill intent in anything he did, but he was like a bull in a china shop - he even accidentally broke my nose one time after training!
Thus he grew, in the shadow of his brother, doing everything in his own way, and driving me crazy in the process. As 2 years old quickly approached, it became harder and harder not to compare him to Vyper - who at that age already had his BH, was showing in Agility and had titled in CPE Agility, and was competing and titled in Dock Diving. As best we could, Igo and I kept working and trucking along. We trained 3 times a week with our local IPO Club (Riverfront Working Dog Club), we trained 2-3 times a week in Agility, and (weather permitting) we trained 2-3 times a week at the lake for Dock Diving. I wasn't sure if we would ever be ready, but I had to give competition a try - after all, Vyper was a seasoned competitor at this age, and I was chomping at the bit.
In February of 2014, I entered him in the Dock Dogs competition at the Progressive St. Louis Boat and Sport Show. We tried for 3 days, without success, to get him to jump off of the dock. He loved to swim (I'd introduced him to the lake when he was 8 weeks old) and he loved to chase toys out into the water - but ask him to jump off a dock? Surely there was molten lava down below!
Barn hunt, on the other hand, came naturally to him - he's a feisty red tornado, and who doesn't want to try and kill a rat?! He qualified in one of his 2 attempts and received a leg (out of three needed) to earn his Novice title.
In May of 2014 we entered our first CPE Agility trial. I entered him in a trial hosted by a local club, whose members I knew, to take some of the pressure off of me. I purposely chose our first venue at an indoor soccer park - that way he couldn't get out of the solid walls surrounding the ring - unless of course you fine the ONE exit in the entire place. Our first attempt at an agility trial was almost an un-salvageable disaster. Thank god Taco and Vyper decided to have great days, so I looked like I did in fact belong in the ring as a competitor. But for Igo, clearly we didn't remember what Agility was.
Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged. Of all my dogs, not one of them was quite like my Igo. He was a knucklehead, a bull, a total goof, and really hard for me to get along with. I needed a break - and he needed someone more understanding to his quirks and motivations - together, we both needed to grow.
And then, seemingly overnight, things started to change. I don't know why, or what caused it - maybe there was a part of me that realized that I needed to try harder with him, to love him more, and accept him no matter what; maybe there was a part of him that realized I needed a team mate and not a sparring partner.
On a whim, I entered him in Gateway Dock Dogs Camp Bow Wow Splash for Rescues Dock Dogs competition, held at Eckert's Orchard in Belleville, IL. It was a pretty crowded venue, lots of people and dogs (competitors, adoptable pets, volunteers, spectators, and press). There were a lot of choices for Igo to make - and he chose to shine. Waiting in line we practiced obedience - he worked like a pro despite the distractions. Off leash on the dock, he was all work and ready to go - his first Big Air jumps were a respectable 11'6" and 12'3", ranking him overall 8th place in the Junior division for the weekend - not bad for a dog who wouldn't even jump off of the dock just a few weeks before. In Extreme Vertical, he really made me proud. I introduced him to the sport 6 days prior - so on a new dock, with lots of distractions, he didn't perform as well as he had in practice - but I have no complaints, and couldn't be more proud. He started the competition at 5' and had no trouble grabbing 5'2", 5'4", 5'6" and 5'8" - he missed 5'10", but it was close enough to set the bumper swaying while he fell empty mouthed. His effort though was good enough to land him 2nd Place over all for Extreme Vertical.
We continued to Dock Dive throughout the summer and into the fall. He attended various outdoor competitions and really started to find his groove on the dock. By the end of the season, he had earned his Senior Division Big Air Title and achieved a personal best jump of 19'7". In Extreme Vertical he surpassed 6' of height. He figured out Speed Retrieve on his first try, and in one competition he even had an improvement of one whole second between his first and second attempt! He competed as an Iron Dog (meaning he competed in Big Air, Extreme Vertical, and Speed Retrieve all in one competition) and even took Third Place overall.
He continued his forward movement in Barn Hunt, finishing off his Novice Title and earning 2 out of 3 legs towards his Open title, and even adding a few "High In Trial" recognition ribbons to his achievements.
His successes in Dock Diving and Barn Hunt were very encouraging for the both of us; but it was his Agility and his Obedience that we really noteworthy accomplishments. Each good run, and even some of his bad runs, made me appreciate him all the more - silly quirks and all!
We decided to enter out second Agility trial in October. While he was still his goofball, puppy self, there was so much more dog than I had just six months before. The few mistakes he made were sheer lack of experience , but mistakes or not - he was really with me, and trying his best! We qualified in two of our four runs that day, and gained a great experience in the ring. November brought another Agility trial, and three out of four qualifying runs, as well as a new title, were earned that day. He worked harder than I could have asked for, and I was prouder than ever at my special, silly guy.
Finally, December rolled around, and Riverfront Working Dog Club was having our annual Fall trial. This is something that the boys and I work hard all year for - it was going to be Igo's debut into the world of IPO competition. It was exciting and nerve wracking all at once - an almost 10 minute obedience routine, both on and off leash, with another dog and a few people on the field, and no rewards - but we both kept it together, we worked our butts off, and together we earned his BH title!
2014 with Igo was better than I ever imagined. He taught me why it can be detrimental to compare one dog to another, he taught me to be a better dog trainer, but most importantly he showed me what a wonderful boy he can be, as long as I give him the chance.
Here's to you buddy - thanks for shining through and clearing out the stars in my eyes!