By Martha Faulk
Photo by Joanne Weber, www.furryfotography.com
Donna Rock is quite famous in both the obedience and the agility world. She achieved a MACH with her Doberman, Rock ’n’ Annie UDX, in 2006 and an OTCH title in 2008. She has been the subject of a documentary, a video story from a New Orleans TV station, and numerous videos posted on YouTube. Rock admits that she often attracts quite a crowd of spectators when she competes in either obedience or agility. When you see Rock in action, you will know just how special and accomplished she is.
Rock, who was born without arms, has had to develop unique training and handling methods. The question asked by trainers, handlers, and spectators alike is, “How does she do it?” The answer, according to Rock, is she has spent her entire life solving problems in daily existence, so dog training just presents a different set of obstacles to overcome.
Rock grew up on the family farm in Iowa and says she was treated just like any other kid, an experience that helped her to learn independence. After college in Kentucky and a few years in the D.C. area, she moved to the New Orleans area for a job as an accountant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since she now had a yard big enough for a dog, she thought about getting a puppy. She had thought about getting a service dog, but she really wanted to train her own puppy, and service dogs come already trained at about two years of age.
In 2000, Rock found Annie in a Doberman litter in Baton Rouge, and then looked into puppy training classes at the suggestion of her vet. Rock says, “I hated obedience for the first year, but liked socializing after classes because, being new in town, I enjoyed the opportunity to make friends. But after awhile, my trainer, Julie Hill, suggested that if I got serious and did my homework assignments with Annie, I could have an OTCH dog.”
Rock trained Annie in obedience by using voice commands, body movement, and signals with her legs and feet. She spits treats to Annie to reward her for correct positions and movements, and she throws the dumbbell with her foot. Hill, who has been Rock’s obedience trainer from the beginning, has coached and encouraged her through the OTCH all the way to the final eight at the AKC Obedience Invitational in 2008.
When Hill suggested agility training along with competition obedience, Rock added agility classes to her weekly routine. She says that she became obsessed with dog training “because it seems to come naturally,” and adds she “has always been a very competitive person.” Rock handled Annie to her MACH in just four years and has now retired her at age 9.
Two years ago, Rock acquired Hob Nob Rock ’n’ Roller, a Border Collie. Hill has given her valuable advice about keeping Roller focused, but Rock quickly realized that she must do more than spit treats at him to develop his speed and drive.
Playing tug and rewarding with play has created some special problems to solve since Rock can’t run with Roller and carry the toy at the same time. She tried carrying a toy on her shoulder, but that interfered with her upper body movement. She has trained Roller to play tug with a toy that has a handle she can hold between her toes, but is considering other options. One option is to place toys around the sequence or obstacle she’s working and release Roller to the toy as a reward. Another option is to have the toy tied at her waist for the dog to take and tug with when invited. Rock says, “It’s a constant learning process.”
She continues her learning process by taking seminars from such trainers as Kim Terrill, Susan Garrett, and Steve Frick, who have all been very helpful. Rock says it’s her job to take the training and handling advice and modify it for her needs. She has many goals for her talented Roller: a MACH and an OTCH, and also a Herding Championship. Roller is also learning to be Rock’s service dog and carry a backpack with personal items as he accompanies her to the office every day. Rock and Annie, and now Rock and Roller, show us all what true teamwork means at home, at work, and at play.
To see Rock in action with both Annie and Roller, visit these YouTube links: