Ritarra's Holly Berry, CDX
November 2, 1993- August 31, 2006
My dog is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
She maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
She leadeth me beside the still waters.
She restoreth my soul:
Now that Holly's too-short earthly life is over, all I have left to do for her is to cherish her memory. But I also hope and believe that because she touched and changed my heart, that a part of her remains alive within me and lives on in my own mind and spirit.
Joel and I brought her home right before Christmas on Dec. 13, 1993. She was my best Christmas present ever and that Christmas was one of my happiest because of her. She continued to be a joyful and beautiful presence in our lives every day of her life.
I don't think anything I can write about her can begin to capture her wonderful essence or convey what a joy she was to live with.
Me and my Holly girl at River Ranch
But here are a few of the things she did that I think reflect some of her quintessential "Hollyness."
When we first began going to obedience classes with Barbara Shapley at River Ranch, and Holly was one of a line of about 8 dogs doing a Down-Stay, she got up from her place on the end, leap-frogged over each dog in the line, then turned and gave them all a play bow.
We first knew she had herding instincts when she used to race around our miniature poodle Berry, do a drop in the grass like a lion on the hunt, then spring from her crouched position to drive a very unappreciative Berry toward us with bumps and nips. On her herding instinct test, the judge told me she was one of the nicest novice dogs she had ever seen, including Border collies--and later Holly easily got her first herding leg.
Holly passes herding instinct test with flying colors
When we were doing our animal therapy hospital visits and Holly saw another visiting dog being rewarded for doing tricks, she would start offering me the same behavior that the other handler was asking for, (speak, shake paws, down) in a very fast and perky way while barking to let me know she wanted her treat too. If I didn't crate her while training Monty, she would insert herself between us and do whatever I was asking him to do faster than he could--pushing him out of the way so that she could do a finish and get in place by my side, or she would bounce into a "down" or push him out of the way to come and "front"--because she wanted the attention and reward.
Holly as Animal Assisted Therapy Dog
With kids at housing project At Rehab wing of Northeast Hospital
Holly was very much a "thinking" dog and she made a great animal assisted therapy dog. There are some humans who leave this world without having contributed anything to make it a better place, but Holly truly left the world better for her presence here on earth. I will never forget her kindly forbearance with a stroke patient who kept grabbing and snatching at her and although I protected her from any real hurt, I think most dogs would have found his behavior far more alarming and intolerable than Holly did. Likewise there was a hot summer day when we were visiting children in one of the city's housing projects who wanted to have their pictures taken with the therapy dogs. All the young boys wanted their picture taken with the "K-9 dog" and again Holly sat good naturedly through the photo session as child after child draped his or her arms around her. Another time she visited a home for deaf children who were delighted to see her respond to their hand signals to sit, down, and come. She helped many brain damaged patients practice regaining the use of their hands and arms by doing a stand-stay as they brushed her, while others practiced walking her up and down the hall. One of our final therapy projects was visiting an adult day care center where most of the patients had Down's Syndrome and really loved Holly's visits. One day she delivered valentines to them by holding a basket in her mouth and going around the room with it. She also had a little bag of tricks that she performed for them and for people on a rehab unit at a local hospital that included searching for her hidden leash and retrieving it back to me. Another trick was retrieving the right toy from a group of toys. Right before we moved away the people there made wonderful good-bye cards for me and Holly that I have kept in a scrapbook that I made for both of my dogs.
Holly as an Obedience Dog
With a better more experienced trainer than what I was at the time, Holly could have gone far beyond the CDX that she earned with placements for each leg. She had learned all of the Utility exercises but due to some personal life circumstances I had a late start in showing her and being an older dog, she began to develop some spinal arthritis that made it hard for her to jump at full heights.
When I was running the GSD breed rescue group in Houston, the local ABC affiliate, Channel 13, did a story about our rescue program and the promo for the story that ran over and over that entire day was a clip of Holly doing a perfect drop on recall, trotting in with her head up and her attention glued on me. I played the tape in slow motion so I could really see the way she responded to my hand signal by doing a sudden brake stop, folding back into the drop just as she should, never taking her eyes off of me, then trotting in to do a nice front and her little flip finish. And she did that out in a park where we had never trained before with all kinds of distractions going on including a bunch of other strange dogs around her--I was so proud of my fur girl!
Obedience Class Sit-Stay at A Better Companion, which later became Dogwood Training Center.
Second Place in Open A
Then there was this incident I recorded in my training diary:
At one point some of us were just fooling around and decided to do something different with a Golden who is one of the top ranked obedience dogs in the country.
What they did was have his owner/handler set him up for a retrieve. Then she threw his dumbbell and while he was running out after it, she ran off about 20 feet or so to the right while someone else assumed her position. Most of us have run off while our dogs are returning to us but this was different because of setting up a replacement while the dog's back was turned. Well, her dog came running back, started to front, found his mom had disappeared and a stranger was standing in her place, looked really confused, took off running looking for her and of course people were milling around a bit to further confuse him - he finally found her and started running in circles around her very discombobulated to have the rules of the game changed on him.
Meanwhile I was very curious about what Holly would do in that situation so we set her up next. She picked up her dumbbell very fast, whirled and started back at a nice trot, head up, immediately saw from a distance that it wasn't me in front of her, looked around and located me where I was now standing at a complete right angle and about 20 feet away from the person in my place and never missing a beat, she made a big arc and did a perfect front! I heard someone say, "that's a Shepherd for you-they are just the smartest THINKING dogs!" And I thought, yes they are!
Once when I wanted to tell one of my dog friends all about her, I wrote the following description of Holly:
Holly's breed traits are high intelligence, curiosity, responsiveness, stable nerves/temperament, herding instinct, good nose, vigor, proper movement, love of play, physical strength, soundness, assertiveness, strong affections, confidence and an outgoing fun loving spirit. She is also extremely alert. When she was about six months old when we used to do our sit-stays out at Kingwood College, she was the only dog in a very big group of dogs who really alerted to people walking so far away they were the size of ants. She would watch anything that moved with intense interest. Although not an excessive barker, her hearing is awesome and she will bark an alert to any unusual sounds in or out of the house. When possums and armadillos were out and about at night, Joel and I had to sometimes crate her to keep her quiet.
With other dogs she is generally friendly and I have never seen her start a fight but if a dog comes up to challenge her, she is ready to meet that challenge. The only time I have ever seen her being fierce is when she was attacked and fought back. Before that incident I never suspected she was capable of being so ferocious!
Ms. Nosy--I call her Ms. Nosy not only because she loves to use her nose, but because she is so curious and wants to explore everything in the world. She goes out in the morning and both air and ground sniffs around the entire yard. When I began to teach her scent articles in an introduction to utility exercises, she learned them so easily she never made a mistake in selecting the right article.
If I take the dogs to the park and people are flying a kite or model plane she is the one who will run over to nose at them and check out the plane--then she will go after the plane and fetch it if I don't stop her.
At home, one of her favorite toys is her hard red rubber ball and one of her favorite games when we are relaxing and watching TV at night is to lie down with her paws slightly spread and to have me roll her ball between her paws so she can push it back to me with her nose over and over again.
Paw Power--She is very persistent about using her nose and her paws to manipulate things and to open doors, get her ball from under the furniture, etc. When I left the pantry door barely open, she nosed it the rest of the way, knocked her box of chewies off the shelf and extracted one which she happily carried off like a prize.
If I am slower than she thinks I should be in getting her breakfast or supper, she goes to her bowl and starts flipping it around with her paws making a big racket to let me know that she wants her bowl filled. If I am absorbed in something and ignore her, she tries pawing me.
When I have been really absorbed in something I'm writing at the computer, she has taken her big Shepherd paw and slammed it down on my computer keyboard!
One of her favorite games is to lie in wait by the side of the pool when I'm in the water with my sun hat on--so as soon as I'm close enough to the edge she can swipe it off with her paw!
Genevieve, Maya, Beverly, Holly and Monty
Then there was the day in our advanced obedience class we were playing a scent game where we had several cans and placed a piece of food under one of the cans and the each dog had to use its nose to find the right can, then knock it over and get the treat. A sheltie and a cocker found the right can but were so gentle pushing and trying to tip the can, they never got the treat in the time allowed. Holly was the third dog to try and she immediately found the right can and gave it a hard enough swipe with her paw to send the can flying across the room!
Pushy Bitch--She is also very sassy and full of herself and if one of my dogs dares to jump up on my back from behind I know it's her--not that she does this regularly--she has an uncanny sense of when I'll consider it acceptable play and when I won't. She wakes me every morning by standing and putting her front paws on the bed and nuzzling me.
She's very pushy to Monty--literally--she pushes him out of the way to pass him going out the door and often gives him a playful growl and neck bite on the way. If they are retrieving she gets very excited and if he beats her to the ball or Frisbee she growls, barks in an excited way, and bumps him with her shoulder.
Best Friends Holly (left) and Monty
She can't stand for any play to be going on without being a part of it. She can be sound asleep in another room and if she hears us playing with Monty out she trots and starts looking around for a toy to bring us or else steals his. Her favorite game is to grab a toy and have us chase her around the house, around the dining room table, etc. When she is very excited and wants to play she snaps her jaws and clacks her teeth.
She has just enough independence to enjoy being out on the patio by herself for awhile in the morning, watching and listening to the wind in the trees and the birds.
Move over Lassie--She is very verbal and talks all the time. She has an extremely expressive face and rivals Lassie in her communication techniques. She comes up wherever I happen to be and gives me a special intense look and short high pitched bark. If I ask her if she wants to "go out" she starts spinning in a circle and then runs to the door.
Beauty in motion--Holly is such a beautiful dog we never tire of looking at her. She has a clean sweet smell and when allowed to move at her natural speed she has a suspended gait that is just awesome--beauty in motion. When we go biking she moves like she's floating on air with her flying Shepherd trot and we can go very fast and those long legs just stretch a little further and move a little faster and she never has to break into a gallop to keep up.
The Golden Years
So the above describes the young Holly. She was very long-legged and when she was young and in shape she was phenomenally fast. I have never seen a faster Shepherd and seldom seen a faster dog. It was pure joy to watch her run. She was also a natural strong jumper. In old age of course her jumping and running and performance days were over. Recently I dreamed that she was running through fields to me at full speed just as she used to do and I woke up feeling nostalgic for those days. But for the most part, her older years were golden years for both of us. We were moving at about the same relaxed speed, sleeping later in the mornings, taking ambling walks with no training goals in mind, spending unpressured time together long past the need to impress or prove anything to anyone. And Holly retained her essential Hollyness-- she was a chow hound to the end and still enjoying play and games right up until her final days. She also kept what my daughter calls her general goofiness and welcoming goofy grin. As she grew older she was a little less independent and more affectionate--she became more of my shadow following me around and often settling down at my feet under my desk when I was working at the computer. She also shadowed Joel and Monty more and often moved from her mat during the night to sleep right next to Monty.
Monty and Holly (right) in Yellowstone, Aug 05
Eva, 2 yrs. old and Holly,12 yrs. old, Christmas Holidays, Dec. 2005
There were two songs that always made me think of Holly when I heard them. The first was really only a single line that went "Wild thing, I think I love you."
Holly was so well trained and generally well behaved and I enjoyed having her with me so much that I took her with me whenever I could, everywhere dogs were allowed, including to some outdoor restaurants.
So when I first heard Tom Jones sing the song below, the lyrics reminded me so much of Holly that for me it became her song.
"She's A Lady"
Well she's all you'd ever want,
She's the kind they'd like to flaunt and take to dinner.
Well she always knows her place.
She's got style, she's got grace, She's a winner.
She's a Lady. Whoa whoa whoa, She's a Lady.
Talkin' about that little lady, and the lady is mine.
Well she's never in the way
Always something nice to say, Oh what a blessing.
I can leave her on her own
Knowing she's okay alone, and there's no messing.
She's a lady. Whoa, whoa, whoa. She's a lady.
Talkin' about that little lady, and the lady is mine.
Well she never asks for very much and I don't refuse her.
Always treat her with respect, I never would abuse her.
What she's got is hard to find, and I don't want to lose her
Help me build a mountain from my little pile of clay. Hey, hey, hey.
Well she knows what I'm about,
She can take what I dish out, and that's not easy,
Well she knows me through and through,
She knows just what to do, and how to please me.
She's a lady. Whoa, whoa, whoa. She's a lady.
Talkin' about that little lady and the lady is mine.
Monty, Joel and Holly
Monty, me and Holly
In closing, I would just add that any thing good I have been able to do to help dogs and their owners was inspired by my relationship with Holly. Love for her started me down the training path and love for her and Monty changed me from a traditional jerk and pop trainer into a more positive, creative and gentle trainer. I have often regretted any early rough treatment I subjected her to before I knew any better, but I have never regretted a single cookie or gentle word or kind touch I have given her. I have sometimes referred to Holly as my alter ego. She was my obedience partner, my therapy partner and my teaching partner serving as my class demo dog. She was my daily companion and my fur kid. My love for Holly has not died--it lives on in my heart and her bright shining spirit will always be a part of mine.
Dog and Puppy Training
San Antonio, TX
contact via email
Association of Pet Dog Trainers
APDT member #6125