Music Sooths the “Savage” Beast
Chili came to live with me the day before her third birthday, in July, 2004. I had contacted Blue Ridge Border Collie Rescue (brbcr.org) when my first Border Collie was killed in an accident. Steve, one of the foster volunteers contacted me claiming to have the perfect dog for me. When I met Chili and saw her conformation, I was… dubious. I was looking for an agility dog, and Chili has a very long back, and is almost constantly in the Border Collie “crouch”. But my older dog, Lulu, instantly fell in love with her and convinced me to give Chili a try.
Chili immediately struck me as a very clumsy dog. She was obsessed with fetching, but would crash into things and literally fall over her own feet. Our vet and I deduced that having spent her first three years in an apartment and much time in a crate simply didn’t allow her to develop physical coordination. Consequently, agility was an uphill struggle. She was willing, but just not able. She was very excitable, and at trial would jump even flatter, dropping bars. We practiced jump chutes, did ladder work, box work and in and outs. Progress was slow, but her coordination did improve.
During all this, I went with a friend to a Canine Freestyle Federation titling event. I was fascinated! Although I had no desire to do obedience, watching the dogs perform heelwork artistically to music totally intrigued me. I could envision my Chili doing this- and being graceful! I attended a CFF training retreat and learned that the choreography is all about showing the strengths and beauty of your dog. The first few classes were a little frustrating- I had never taught a dog to heel. Chili had trouble focusing on me with so many other dogs around to “herd”. Then it happened… she realized that she could express her opinion about the music we were using. No, she doesn’t like drums and heavy percussion. NO! She doesn’t like bagpipes! NO! NO! NO! She hates some synthesizers and “electric” music! She blossomed and we grew as a team.
We have since performed many demos (distractions are not a problem any more), done therapy work at nursing homes, a burn camp for children and a reading program, competed at several freestyle trials (and she now is working on Level IV, the most advanced level) and have used freestyle skills to earn her Novice Rally title. She is also retired from agility, but happy “working”, all thanks to learning how to express herself. Blue Ridge Border Collie Rescue gave me a great dog, but freestyle allowed her to really shine.