From rags to blue ribbons
Written by DEBBIE ROGERS Sentinel Staff Writer
Tuesday, 15 October 2013 09:10
With 50 titles for obedience and agility - possibly more than any other dog of her breed in the country - it's difficult to picture Ditto's humble beginnings.
|Liz Gaulke and her dog Ditto pose for a portrait outside of her house in Bowling Green. (Photo: Kristen Norman/Sentinel-Tribune)
She was found running loose on the streets of Risingsun seven years ago.
Liz Gaulke took one look at the huge, white canine with the pink, lolling tongue and promptly adopted her.
Gaulke knew Ditto wasn't just some curious-looking, large mixed-breed dog who would probably have trouble finding a permanent home.
Ditto is a Dogo Argentino. The dog originated in Argentina, where they were bred to hunt big game, such as wild boar and big cats. In the United States, they are most common down south and in Texas.
Ditto's latest title is Canine Performance Events Level 3 sanctioned agility. She had to whip through tunnels, leap over poles and run - then stop suddenly at Gaulke's command - up a ramp, then speed down.
"She likes to work. She likes to do agility," Gaulke said.
The dog also competes in obedience and rally obedience.
The latter, Gaulke, said is slightly easier.
"It's bits and pieces of obedience. You get to talk to your dog," she said of rally obedience. "It's a little less nerve-wracking."
Ditto responds to the commands: sit, come, heel and stay. She also knows her way around the jumps, tunnels and walks of an agility course.
Gaulke has been involved in dog competitions since she was a girl and would seek them out to watch. She would travel to Toledo Kennel Club competitions, even when she didn't have any dogs in competition.
"I like it and it's something the dogs enjoy," she said.
"Dogs" - plural - is correct. Gaulke owns seven (plus two cats), and most compete.
She has two other Dogos and a sheltie, who compete. Several of her animals are deaf, a trait that runs in the Dogo breed, which is also only white.
Ditto was one of the first Dogos to get rally novice and obedience titles in American Kennel Club competitions. She was also the first Dogo to be dual-titled in rally obedience and obedience in AKC and United Kennel Club.
Gaulke volunteers for the Wood County Dog Shelter, where she helps place dogs who might have a little pedigree in them with rescue groups. She used to work closely with several rescue groups, but no longer does.
She and her brood can be seen daily walking on the campus of Bowling Green State University, where Gaulke is also employed as a custodian. The walks, she said, are a great way to socialize the dogs, who are often stopped by students for belly rubs and ear scratches.
There were many, many walks to get Ditto ready for competition - really, even ready just for a nice stroll in the neighborhood.
"She was a heathen. She was an awful dog," said Gaulke, with a laugh, remembering Ditto's puppy days. "I can see why someone didn't come to look for her."
She used "proactive" training on Ditto. For example, when they walked, Gaulke would carry a pocketful of treats. If another dog approached, Ditto would get a hot dog and learn to associate seeing other dogs with rewards.
Next up for Ditto is the more relaxing sport of vermin-hunting.
She'll be searching for rats during a Barn Hunt Assoc. event later this month in Grand Rapids. During the hunts, dogs search for rats hidden in a straw bale maze. It's a timed event, with levels of difficulty from novice to master, according to the Barn Hunt Dog Sport Startup website.
The rats are in their own containers and are not harmed by the dogs.
Later in the fall, Ditto will be competing for that 51st title.
Ditto is almost 8 years old - Dogos have a 10-12 year life span - but doesn't show any signs of slowing down, Gaulke said.
"She is a senior, senior citizen. It just depends on the dog. Some decide they're done at (age) 6, some do it until they drop dead."