While I am sure glad to get back a couple of hours of sleep at night, I already miss the excitement and the spectacle at this year’s Mondio Ring Nationals in Costa Mesa, right next to the O.C. Pet Expo that ended last weekend.
It was a great tournament, a difficult course and a hard, but fair judge. All of the teams showed extreme skills and sportsmanship and I hope, you had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the fruits of years of training.
A bigger than life blow-up elephant head marked the field as the biggest item of the playground objects scattered around. Every Mondio Ring tournament has a specific theme – there have been UFOs and aliens, flowers, even ranch themes with blow-up cows and horses. All of these objects are there to make the dog and handler team use their creativity and flexibility to master the different tasks. A level 3 course can take up to 45 minutes per team!
First, the team has to go through the obedience routine, which includes heeling with distractions, retrieving an object, which was a foot-long pen with ballons attached in this tournament, finding a piece of wood with the handler’s scent on it and a send out, where after the handler’s sign, the dog has to run 40 meters (over 131 feet) in a straight line. They also have to go through a food refusal exercise, where the dog is taunted with hot dogs, steaks or other goodies, while the handler is away. These are just some of the obedience routines.
The next phase is jumping – the dog has to jump over a hurdle (between 3.2 and 3.9 feet), a palisade (5.9 to 7.5 feet) and a long jump (9.8 to 13.1 feet). The handler may select the height between the minimum and maximum level and try three times for each jump. They will only score maximum points if the dog jumps the highest level.
The third and final phase is the protection part – it is also the most exciting to watch. Each trial requires at least two decoys, packed in a thick padded suit, so they won’t get hurt by the dog’s bite. During this part of the tournament, the dog has to protect the handler during one exercise and may only bite, if one of the decoy’s attack the handler, requiring utmost restraint and attention by the dog. Another exercise is the object guard, where the dog protects any given object, pointed to by the handler. If a decoy gets too close, the dog is allowed to bite, but needs to let go and return to the object, if the decoy drags him too far away. During one of the exercises, a gun is fired twice, to see, if the dog will let go or continues to hold down the decoy. These exercises are stunning to watch. They require combine courage, control, speed and fun, the training is long and the teams are committed.
Even though these dogs are trained to bite the decoys, they are not aggressive. In fact, if you were there, you were able to admire most of them up close while they took a stroll through all the people watching – maybe you even got to pet and play with them. Most of these dogs are Belgian Malinois, a breed not for the common household. They are high strung and require an enormous dedication to training and exercise. Many of them compete in more than one sport or have an actual job as a detection K9 or other working K9.
There are some other breeds playing this sport, though. That weekend, one of them was an American Bulldog – an unsual but welcome sight! We all enjoyed watching, as this often misunderstood breed displayed outstanding control and looked like having so much fun throughout the course.