Georgia Smelser guides
Kuma, her 2-year-old shiba inu, through a training exercise at Jae-Mar-S Academy
of Dog Obedience
Photo by Jim BlaylockGeorgia Smelser sleeps with a bear in her bed.
The bear actually is Kuma, a shiba inu, a Japanese dog breed recently recognized by the American Kennel Club. Kuma means "bear" in Japanese.
Kuma, barely 2, is Smelser's third shiba inu that she has competed in obedience and agility competitions. She also owns Kira, 10, now retired, and Kuma's father, Codi, 8, who still competes.
"(Competition) is both mental and physical for both of us," Smelser said. "I get to spend time with my dogs and do constructive things with them. It is fun to spend time with them. I love being with them. Winning in competition is just a bonus. You really create a special bond with your dogs."
Smelser and Kuma qualified for the novice class of the second annual All Star Obedience and Agility Championships in Pennsylvania on Dec. 6-8. But because of the winter storm that hit the region, Smelser decided not to brave the ice in the mountains to attend.
To qualify, a dog must gain three qualifying scores of at least 193.5 at other competitions.
"Shibas are not traditionally an obedience breed, which is why it is such a big deal for him to earn the points to go to All Star," Smelser said. "In one weekend, he got three qualifying scores with a 197.5 average."
In the novice obedience class, dogs are required to perform the heel command, on and off the lead. A stand command is required in which the handler walks away from the dog and the judge touches it three times, and the dog should not move at all until the handler recalls it. After a recall command, the dog should come straight to and sit down in front of the handler. The sit and down can be the problem area for many dogs. They line up with up to 11 other dogs while the handlers retreat up to 40 feet away. They must perform a one-minute sit and three-minute down.
"He has never met a stranger or a strange dog. That can be the hardest part," Smelser said. Kuma tends to get distracted by other dogs in the sit and down line, or wants to play or lick judges when they come to examine him.
Smelser began training Kuma from day one at Jae-Mar-S Academy of Dog Obedience, where she now helps out with classes. Kuma has achieved more than her other two dogs at an earlier age. Smelser claims it has as much to do with her learning more about training as Kuma's eagerness and willingness to work and learn.
"It takes experience from the handler to know what you are doing, what you want in the end before you ever begin," Smelser said. "This is my hobby. Now that I have retired, I can spend a little more time with it. Part of it is me knowing more and where I want to go. When you know your end goal, it is easier to start."
Kuma has earned three High and Trial championships, which is the highest score out of all competing shiba inus at any particular competition. Smelser admits her lifetime goal was to win a High and Trial. He won one at the Shiba Inu National Specialty in Maryland and two more at the Australian shepherd competition, where he earned his all-star qualifying scores.
Smelser uses many training methods, but mostly positive teaching methods, she said. Food was the main incentive in the beginning, but now Kuma often performs for praise. But each dog is different and works best with praise, food or playing with toys as incentive.
As a 29-year Columbia County teacher, Smelser is familiar with adapting teaching methods to the pupil.
"Actually training dogs is very similar to teaching in school," Smelser said. "When I was teaching, you do have to look at the individual and you have to adapt with your training methods or your teaching methods to the different personalities of your pupil, whoever you are teaching, Smelser said. "It is the same basic process of showing and helping in order to accomplish a goal."
Smelser and Kuma train every day in some way, even if it is only for a few minutes. They attend one class per week at Jae-Mar-S. She uses three dogs as therapy dogs that are taken into hospitals, schools or nursing homes to interact with children or ill patients.
To keep Kuma active mentally and physically, especially on rainy days when he cannot run outside, Smelser keeps him active by teaching him anything and everything. A new trick he may use during his role as a therapy dog is taking a tissue from the box and bringing it to her without a rip. He also picks up paper from the floor on command.
Smelser got into obedience training nine years ago when her last Cairn terrier died. She could not bear to look at Cairn puppies, because she would burst into tears.
"I went to a dog show to look at the other breeds," Smelser said. "I wandered past the obedience ring and said, 'Wow. I want my dog to do that."'
Kuma has earned several novice titles and is working in the open and even on some utility-class requirements, including hand signals as commands. She does train him on the agility course, which is more of a game at this point. But Smelser sees herself as the liability in agility.
"I really enjoy the training," Smelser said. "I wish I had found the sport earlier. It is the best kept secret in town as a sport."
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