Every time I saw Dolcenea winning I was wondering how can someone do this with an akita? How determined someone must be? Could this be possible for all akitas and how can we build this trusting relationship with our dog and have fun?
Luckily , Dolcenea's mom, Debra Fletcher, was happy to share her experience with us.
Tell us a bit about you, dogs in general and the Akitas.
Deb: A bit about me... well let's see, I'm knocking at 50's door so I'm no young kid anymore. I reside just outside Denver Colorado USA on a small parcel of land. I love all kinds of animal's not just dog's, I have a couple horses, some chickens and geese. During my growing up years my family always had some type of animal living in the house, usually dogs, but only one or two at a time. Our four legged kids were only pets we loved, nothing anyone else would ever look at twice. Currently I'm living in the house with more Akita's than I can count on one hand.
- How did you meet the breed and decide to get one? How long have you been an Akita owner?
Deb: My love for Akita’s started over twenty years ago when I saw an Akita named “Jagger” in the Conformation dog show ring at a show in Eugene Oregon. I actually was able to pet Jagger and knew at that very moment this was the breed for me. He was stunning! (http://www.crownroyalakitas.com/jagger.htm) . After this encounter it took me about two years to finally decide on which Akita I wanted.
- Akitas have the reputation of being stubborn and independent dogs, is Dolcenea like that?
Deb: Absolutely! Let me reemphasize that… ABSOLUTELY! There are days we’re at an agility trial competing and mid way through the course Dolcenea decides… “nope -I really don’t feel like doing this today” and she will shut down. So we simply walk off the course, go back to our setup gather our things and drive home. It doesn’t matter if we’ve traveled 10 miles or 1,000 miles to get to the agility trial. When Dolcenea lets me know she doesn’t want to play anymore we stop.
- How would you describe Dolcenea;
Deb: Dolcenea is a typical female Akita. She’s a princess only doing what she wants if and when she wants - she doesn’t do anything to please mom. Dolcenea is aloof; she’s seen over 100,000 people in her agility career during all the agility trials we’ve traveled to throughoutthe states, so she’s pretty bored with them all.
Dolcenea is a very quiet Akita, she never barks; if she does you know it’s an emergency! When we’re at home she is usually sleeping somewhere in the house, not so much around mom, but somewhere on the bed or in her favorite spots. She loves her special kind of treats, but she is a very picky eater, and she is extremely soft mouthed. She will smell the item you’re trying to entice her with for a full five minutes before she places it in her lips. Yes I said lips, Dolcenea is very careful about what she puts in her mouth. Dolcenea is a very polite Akita, but she does love to hunt for squirrels in trees at the agility trials we attend. And of course she loves her belly rubbed. She is still “the hunter” as instinct dictates.
- Do you have experience in dog training or have you had some help from professionals;
Deb: I have taken classes in Obedience, Rally, Conformation, Star Puppy and general pet behavior over the past twenty or so years, each with different Akita’s I have loved. I started my agility career back in 2000 with my wonderful boy Bowen , he was 28” tall and weighed in at about 130 pounds. We attended several different agility classes together from multiple instructors, and of course we had to deal with breed bias. Unfortunately Bowen had severe health problems; hip dysplasia, pemphigus,just to name a few, so we only ran agility competitively for two years from 2003 through 2004.
I was also running another Akita (for a friend) named Marble at the same time I was running Bowen, but once again health issues reared their ugly head and Marble died in 2005 from osteosarcoma at the tender age of five. This is when I started my search for Dolcenea.
- Akitas aren't so athletic and energetic, how did you decide to train Dolcenea for agility, a sport dominated by border collies?
Deb: Agility started in the USA until around 1994, so when I started training Bowen in 2000 it was still a rather new sport and there really wasn’t that many “top dogs” or “bullet dogs” like there are today. Also back then we didn’t have the internet readily available to be able to find out who the top dog was at that time, so I never had the mindset that my Akita couldn’t do what I was seeing with all kinds of dog breeds. Back then all that was needed was the desire to want to “play the game” with my Akita partner, and the agility courses weren’t as hazardous as they are today. Again…..most trainers knew only that Akita’s were untrustworthy because not many owners chose to “train” for anything other than the conformation ring.
In 2006 I received the wonderful gift named Dolcenea from her breeder at four months of age, and this is when her agility training began. I set the jumps at 4”, put a 6” plank under one end of the A-frame to give it a wobble affect, dropped the dog walk to about one foot off the ground, set the weave pole bases to three feet apart, put a 2” plank at the middle of the teeter base so the teeter would only move slightly, and this was our first training course. I would train Dolcenea about fifteen minutes a day three times a week, then a little bit more on the weekend. But I never allowed Dolcenea to “work” the weaves by “S” bending her spine because I didn’t want any damage to her growing bones and joints. This is also the reason the A-frame, dog walk and teeter stayed close to the ground so there wouldn’t be any damage to Dolcenea’s growth plates or joints during deceleration.
Dolcenea is physically built to the standard of a pure bred Akita; massive head in balance with body, thick muscular short neck, moderate layback of shoulders, heavy bone, wide and deep chest, with moderate angulation, truly not built to run in agility. So for Dolcenea to achieve the level of titles in agility that she has today tells you that she is in great physical condition.
- Agility fans say that there must be a strong bond before starting agility training. What makes your bond with your dog so strong?
Deb: Each agility instructor sees/trains things differently, but I didn’t have a bond with Dolcenea when we started agility training. I was consistent in my training, with my commands, and made Dolcenea feel safe, our bond grew months after I had gained Dolcenea’s respect. She knew she was safe when “mom” was around, even when I would ask her to do these strange things of walking or jumping over really weird obstacles she had never seen before. Dolcenea did it because she felt safe, got lots of great treats, and mom made a game out of it.
- Do you believe the theories about "pack leader" are true and that you have managed to become her "pack leader" or there is something more complex and stronger than plain leadership between you and Dolcenea?
Deb: Actually I think it’s more along the lines of discipline between Dolcenea and me. Like I said earlier I gained Dolcenea’s trust after we started agility training, and I make absolutely sure she is NEVER put into a situation where she feels she needs to defend herself, or feels she will be injured or harmed by her surroundings.
- Besides the sport, how's life with an Akita?;
Deb: On any given day it is very quiet; they all sleep about 20 hours a day, come find you when they want their belly rubbed, or want a cookie. Then it’s time to go outside and play, and then they come back in for their naps. Pretty quiet and boring just the way we like it.
- How do family & friends feel about your dog given the fact that Akitas don't have such a good reputation..
Deb: Believe it or not, I’ve never asked, and frankly I’m really not interested. Akita’s are the breed I’ve chosen and I don’t condemn others for their chosen breed.
- If you could only teach your Akita 3 things, which would these be?
Deb: 1-respect for others in your surroundings, 2- but don’t let others walk all over you, 3-never worry mom will “always” take care of the problem.
- Did your life with the Akita have any surprises you didn’t see coming?
Deb: Yes, sheer size and strength. As discussed earlier Akita’s can be extremely stubborn, but when you add the strength of a bull to that stubbornness there can be devastating effects. I gained a very quick respect for the true power of an Akita with Bowen, he was not leash trained when I got him and he was absolutely terrified of every noise that he could not see. Having a 130 pound Akita drag you around a parking lot trying to crawl under your vehicle because the car door is closed is not a fun experience.
This isn’t an Akita, but it gives you somewhat of an idea of what I’m trying to point out here : video
- From time to time we read in the papers about Akita’s attacking people, why do you think this happens? Is it the dog's fault, the owner's or just bad luck?
Deb: Why does it happen you ask… ignorance of the owners plain and simple. It’s never the Akita’s fault, it’s always and I mean always the owners fault! Putting the poor Akita in a bad situation where it feels it has to defend itself since its owners were not paying attention, or don’t care, or are too stupid to figure it out. All Akita attacks are preventable.
- Do you have any aggression problems?
Deb: Dolcenea knows she doesn’t have to tolerate other rude dogs encroaching on her territory. She knows mom will not allow anyone to invade her space, touch her inappropriately, or without her permission, or try to cause her harm in some way. But Dolcenea is a true Akita in every sense of the word, and she will react to any given situation just like a true Akita should.
- Can you tell us your plans or goals for the future?
Deb: I’m currently in the process of training three Akita’s I co-bred to compete in agility. But this time I waited until they were mentally mature before I’ve started on the rigors of the agility arena. My three puppies Carmen, Cheyenne and Dakota (nieces and nephews of Dolcenea) are two and a half years old today. They know how to perform each of the agility obstacles, but trialing will come later.
As for Dolcenea’s future plans, we take one day/trial at a time. We have several agility trials coming up in ASCA, NADAC and AKC, and she’s also working on finishing an Obedience title, and a Tracking title. Since she just turned seven years old in March, we will continue to do this as long as Dolcenea is willing and healthy enough to compete. Once she lets mom know she doesn’t want to do it anymore, she will be retired to live the remainder of her days teaching the puppies the better parts of retirement life.
- Do you think akitas are suitable for everyone?
Deb: Absolutely not. Actually I would prefer that most people select another breed. Bringing home an Akita is a huge responsibility even more so than bringing home a new baby. Most people don’t look at it this way and that is when problems occur. Then the poor Akita is thrown away because the new owners don’t understand the undertaking they agreed to when they took that bundle of four legged joy home and it grew up to be a 130 pound full grown intact male Akita.
- Is there a short list of do's and dont's you would give to a friend of yours who would be interested in an akita?
Deb: Of course this response would solely depend on how well I knew the living arrangements of the person needing/seeking my opinion. I would say when approaching someone with an Akita to always ask the owner of the Akita before you approach if it’s okay to talk with their Akita, do not stare at the Akita, be respectful and don’t let your children use the Akita as a bouncing table. If they are seeking my opinion of getting an Akita I would suggest they find another breed more manageable to a family.
Debra Fletcher & Dolcenea, 93 titles and counting!
Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us.