The Competitor

Tyrone Kalogeresis reveals his passion for westies and how ‘showing’ became an integral part of his life.

“While learning about tracking with max, I discovered another sport that showed off the natural instincts of the westie – earthdog”.

“We drove to Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana to compete. We stayed in hotels, shared meals together, took long walks, and enjoyed each other’s company”.

One day my mother saw a commercial that featured a beautiful white dog. She fell in love with that dog but didn’t know what kind of breed it was. After visits to our library, we discovered the dog was a West Highland White Terrier. My mother insisted she had to have one, so we began our search.  We didn’t know anything about breeders, puppy mills, dog clubs or breeder referral lists back then.  We just found an ad in the newspaper for Westie puppies. We drove to the person’s house and saw the puppies she still had.  My brother picked out a puppy he really liked and said this is the one, this is Duffy.

Duffy grew up to be a wonderful Westie that was a joy and kept my mother company when she was home alone. I started to teach Duffy small stuff like sit, down, and how to walk on a leash. These wonderful times ended when Duffy was diagnosed with lymphoma and died at age seven.

I was devastated when Duffy died and I wanted to have another Westie, so I started to save my money. On September 10, 2001, a Westie pup came into this world that would change my life forever.

Max was an exceptionally beautiful puppy, and we quickly became attached. Max was supposed to keep my mother company when she was alone, however, that all changed when I received a flyer from the local Westie club about a tracking seminar. I attended the seminar with Max to learn about tracking and was amazed to see dogs using their noses to follow a scent put there by someone walking. I learned so much in those two hours that I was hooked!  I quickly joined the Westie club in my area and a group that tracked every Sunday.

While learning about tracking with Max, I discovered another sport that showed off the natural instincts of the Westie — Earthdog. When I started Max doing Earthdog, I had no idea how to train for it. I researched online about Earthdog and found a book by an Earthdog judge. I made my own tunnel out of cardboard and trained Max to enter the tunnel. Later I trained Max in a real underground tunnel that a club member had in her backyard. Max took to it right away. After all this training, I entered Max in an Introduction to Quarry at a test. When it was Max’s turn, he didn’t hesitate to enter the tunnel and barked up a storm at the rats. I was thrilled Max did well at IQ, so I entered him in Junior. Unfortunately, Max took too long to get to the rats and didn’t pass.

During the winter, Max trained more with his makeshift tunnel and got faster getting to the rat.  That spring, Max was ready for his next Earthdog test. Max tried going into the Junior tunnel, but it was full of water, and he refused to go any further. I was disappointed because I thought Max was going to get his first Junior leg that day.

The next day, the weather cleared, and the tunnels weren’t full of water.  The judges even put kitty litter in the tunnels to dry them out. Before the start, I was worried that Max wasn’t going to pass. When it was his turn to go to ground, I started to get nervous. I let Max go and told him to “Go tunnel.”  He went straight for the tunnel entrance, went in and to my surprise, he didn’t come back out. Suddenly, I heard him bark!  Max barked his lungs out and I shed some tears. When the judge waved me over to get him out of the tunnel, Max didn’t want to come out, but he finally ran out of breath and let me take him out of the tunnel. I was so happy for my little white dog, that I broke down and really let it out. I had never thought I could train a dog to do something and be successful at it. I hugged Max all the way back to the clubhouse, not minding the fact that I was covered in mud.

Max went on to earn his JE title several months after he earned his first JE leg. That was the first title I had ever earned on a dog, but it wouldn’t be the last.  We started to train for Senior, but we put most of our effort into getting Max ready for his first tracking test. When the time came, I thought we were ready, however, I was wrong. Max didn’t like the vegetation rubbing against his belly and couldn’t find the first turn. I didn’t give up on my little man. We got into another tracking test and same results. My faith never wavered in Max, and we moved on to the next test. This time Max did much better, but he couldn’t find the third turn on the track. Yes, I was disappointed to say the least, but I still loved my little white dog.

After three failures at a tracking title, we continued to practice with the tracking group every Sunday morning. One day, a member suggested I try obedience with Max. Why not?  I signed up Max for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) class just to see how he would handle doing basic obedience. To my surprise, Max took to it right away.

After Max earned his CGC, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue doing obedience. I really liked doing tracking and Earthdog with Max, but I wasn’t sure if he did.  As we trained in obedience Max started to focus his attention on me and was willing to work. During our lessons, our instructor urged us to consider Rally Obedience.

Max entered his first Rally trial. This whole new world that I was stepping into made me nervous and Max could tell I was nervous about it. My nervousness disappeared as we started the course and when we finished, Max had earned his first Rally leg. The next would be even better when Max earned 1st place!  I was hooked big time on Rally Obedience. Max would go on to finish his RN title the following month. I looked at Max and he looked back at me with love in eyes.

Tracking and Earthdog took a backseat, as we continued training in obedience and Rally. Max’s first two obedience trials didn’t go well for him, with Max not qualifying in either. When it came time for Max’s third attempt in Novice obedience, he didn’t disappoint. Max earned a nice score from the judge and a 2nd place. After that trial, it would be three years before Max finally earned his Companion Dog title.

Max continued his adventures in Rally after his foray in the obedience ring. Max earned his Rally advanced title in three straight trials. My mother was our biggest supporter. Every time we came home from a trial she always asked if Max got a ribbon. After Max earned his Rally Advanced title, mother took ill and died a month later. After her death, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue training and showing. My brother noticed I was quiet and told me my mother would be upset if I quit showing as she was proud of what we had achieved so I decided to keep going.

The Excellent level in Rally almost finished Max’s obedience and Rally career. His first time in the ring wasn’t pretty, but he passed. The next several trials, Max started eliminating in the ring, and moving slowly. I had Max examined by my vet and nothing showed up that would pinpoint the problem.  Finally, the vet tested his thyroid and it showed he had a low thyroid. Once Max got on the right medication, he was his old self in the ring and finished his Rally Excellent title.

With Max earning his Rally Excellent title, I decided to have Max earn his Rally Advanced Excellent title. This required showing in two different classes in a single trial, which Max had never done. The first few trials he didn’t fare well, but soon Max was double qualifying and finished his RAE title.

I was going to stop showing him in Rally and obedience and go back to tracking and Earthdog. However, I felt more in tune with my dog when I did Rally and obedience than I did in any other sport.  So, we never looked back. We drove to Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Indiana to compete. We stayed in hotels, shared meals together, took long walks, and enjoyed each other’s company. When everything was said and done, Max would be the first Westie to earn a RAE6 title.

While still getting RAE legs, a friend kept bugging me about finishing Max’s Companion Dog title. I entered Max in a show at McCormick Place in Chicago. Once we entered the ring, Max gave it his all and earned his second Novice leg with a 1st place.  Two months later he earned his Companion Dog (CD) title.

Once Max earned his CD and RAE6 titles the question that faced us is what to do now? We’d done all that we set out to do in the ring and Max was getting older and having problems seeing. I decided to enter him in Beginner’s Novice for a final hurrah in the obedience ring and then let Max retire on top. It took four obedience trials for Max to earn this final title. We would just sit together waiting for our turn, take long walks, share food together, and soak it all in one more time. These would become some of my fondest memories of Max.

With Max retired and enjoying the good life, I continued going to obedience and Rally trials. I would visit with friends, help at trails, help show other people’s dogs, and talk to judges about the sport and where it was going in the future. Deep down, I really missed training and showing a dog in obedience and Rally. Several years passed and the desire to show again was getting to me. I wasn’t planning on getting another Westie until Max was gone, but the desire and passion to show kept building. I drove eight hours and picked up a Westie I named Vincent.

Max became accustomed to having a brother and Vincent took a shine to Max. Right away I started training Vincent in obedience and he took to it quickly.  Max, Vincent, and I became one big happy family and we traveled together as much as possible. After Vincent turned one, we packed up the car and drove east to Westie Nationals for Vincent’s debut in obedience. I learned by my mistakes with Max. When Vincent walked into the ring the first time, he looked like he belonged there. He was green and a bit aloof in the ring, but he did well enough to earn a 3rd place. In the afternoon session he fared better earning a 1st place. Vincent would earn his third Beginner’s Novice leg at the Westie National Obedience trial with a 2nd place.

After a year of obedience training with a private instructor, I ventured back east with Vincent to try for his Rally Novice title. I was sad to leave Max, due the fact he was having problems seeing and I wasn’t sure he could take the long car ride. Vincent did well in his first two Rally trials with two nice 2nd place scores, but he saved the best for last. We had a couple days to ourselves to relax and hang together. When Friday finally arrived, Vincent was ready, but I wasn’t. I was super nervous, and Vincent could tell. I felt like I was going to blow it in the ring.  A close friend who was at the trial told me to snap out of it, walk briskly, but not in a rush and I would be fine. I took a deep breath, walked into the ring with Vincent and just started to do our stuff. When we walked out of the ring, I thought we did okay, but I was in complete shock when the judge gave us a perfect score of 100!  What a way to complete his title!

Once Vincent earned his RN, we shifted gears toward obedience. Vincent quickly earned two legs for his Companion Dog title with subpar scores…but he earned them. Vincent was still green having been in the ring only eight times. Vincent would prove me wrong once again. We drove 30 minutes to a trial and when it was our turn, I had no idea what to expect from him. We started off fine, but Vincent started to act goofy, and I had to give a few extra commands that cost us points. Sits and downs were last. This exercise always made nervous, but more so with Vincent. Vincent decided to be a good boy!  We qualified but didn’t earn a placement.  It didn’t matter; he earned his CD in three straight trials.

Vincent would go on to earn more titles in obedience plus titles in FAST CAT, Coursing, and Trick Dog. Max went with us to some events just so he could feel part of the adventure. When Vincent wasn’t showing, we would all hang out together. I will treasure those moments with my two little white dogs forever.

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