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A Buddy Who Beat the OddS
By Regan Michelle White

Seven-year-old yellow Lab Simba of Littleton, Colorado is no stranger to success nabbing 3 perfect 200 scores in UKC and 3 perfect scores in AKC. Simba is most commonly known in competing circles under the registered name: OTCH, Chaseabout’s Dances With Lions UDX6 JH MX AXJ. Winning the 2006 AKC National Obedience Invitational against nearly 140 entries in the two day competition was no small feat, especially for a Labrador Retriever!

Of the 134 total entries there were 36 entered from the Sporting Group with only two other Labrador Retrievers. Golden Retrievers as usual, made up the largest numbers of entries within the Sporting Group with 20 entered. The competition was stiff and with a total of 680 points available on the first day, Simba held on to the top spot with a total score for the six rings of 674, only 1 point higher than a Golden who eventually received 2nd Runner Up. Simba has proven to be one of the strongest obedience competitors in the country and Simba’s owner, Renate Van Allen couldn’t be more proud.

Renate got Simba from Wisconsin breeder Mary Miserak, however Simba wasn’t Renate’s first Lab or her first foray into training. Her first Labrador was Tonda, now 14-years-old, who has always been a wild child. As Renate puts it, “Tonda just had way too much energy. I started training him to get him under control a bit and found that he was very talented. I just got hooked.” Renate found her beginnings in obedience training at a local class at the Humane Society. From there she sought the help and advice of local trainer Helen Phillips, attended several seminars, read lots of books and met lots of training friends on the internet. Most recently she has been reading Bobbie Anderson’s Building Blocks for Performance and Terry Orlick’s In Pursuit of Excellence. Renate says, “Both address issues of the head game and the importance of being in the right frame of mind when competing. Once your dog is all trained, it’s a matter of being in the right frame of mind for competition.”

And Renate works hard to keep Simba, and all of her dogs in the right frame of mind. Renate has five dogs. Her Lab Tonda and mixed breed Sumner are both 14 years old and retired. Her other dogs include, 7-year-old yellow Simba, 5-year-old Australian Cattle dog Cora and a 20 month old yellow Labrador puppy named Pindar. Renate trains her dogs 5 days each week on average, in generally short sessions of about 30 minutes per dog. Training varies quite a bit, particularly given the age and skill level range of her dogs. With her puppy, Renate focuses on play. She says, “My focus with my puppy is to lay a good foundation. All of it is really framed as a game; it’s all fun and games. We play but I still focus on teaching him how to heel, sit, stand and mark.” Renate adds that with her larger dogs, “I do quite a few run throughs focusing on heeling, fronts and finishes and pivots; everything to try and stay happy, animated and fast.”

Renate and her dogs typically show on average about one weekend a month throughout the course of the year. As Renate says, “We don’t show very often compared to some because I find that it’s hard to keep animated and stay excited when you’re competing that often. We don’t travel very much; doing maybe 25 shows a year and tournaments when the come.

In regards to Simba’s training and competing, Renate allows that, “His biggest challenge is focus. He is very easily distracted. I work a lot on putting him in the right frame of mind for competition. He excels at retrieving and he just loves to work and do anything with me. He also has the ideal body type for fronts and finishes. He has a short back and really knows how to move his body. He is truly well coordinated. He really loves to do everything.” Simba’s skill isn’t strictly limited to obedience either. He also does agility training, has some field titles and has just started tracking. Renate says, “It really doesn’t matter what we do, he just loves to do it. Training completely changes your relationship with your dog. It becomes so much deeper and you really turn into team partners. It’s a whole different level of relationship.”

When he isn’t training Simba loves to run and exercise. He and Renate go for walks every morning and go on hiking trips every year. Renate adds that, “He’s a really good dog on the trail. He just likes to hang out. He doesn’t like to be left alone and he hates when I have to leave to go to work. (Renate is a research physicist for the University of Denver.) He loves to play fetch and swim in the pool. He’s just a really fun dog.”

About the ability, aptitude and excellence of the Lab, Renate just can’t say enough. “I’ve stuck with Labs and Australian Cattle dogs because they are the first dogs I ever got and I just love them. Labs are just so high energy and have such great dispositions. They love to do everything that we want to do. My first Lab Tonka at age 14 is still the happiest dog I’ve ever known. I just love dogs that are up to taking on anything. Labs particularly have a lot of confidence. If they don’t know what to do then they keep on trying which is a big departure from my Cattle dog, who waits to figure it out before proceeding.”

Renate makes it clear as well that without her friends neither she nor her dogs could have figured out how to proceed very far with training. She says that, “you really can’t be a good trainer without good friends to discuss things with – from various training methods and games to seminars that you may have missed. It is extremely hard if not impossible to train dogs without involved friends and I am thankful to have a wonderful set. I’d particularly like to thank Terri Clingerman who has Simba’s littermate. Her aunt is actually the breeder. She is always extremely supportive, keeps me abreast of various breedings (including Pindar’s) and has gotten me in touch with lots of other quality trainers. I am extremely indebted to her.” Here’s to our March Lab of the Month who’s made it with a little help from his friends.

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