In today’s post I am going to cover the IPO Newbie Mount Everest – the BH.
It took me not one, but two tries to get Brody’s BH, in part because of some preparation mistakes that I made along the way. So maybe by sharing my experience with trialing for the BH, I’ll be able to help you skip a couple of newbie errors and make it all go just a tiny bit smoother.
What Do I Need?
First things first, you will need a dog (duh), a fursaver collar, a leash that is long enough to fit around your body, and a scorebook.
Yep, that’s it.
Okay, okay, not it. But those the barest minimum essentials for trialing for your BH.
At least two months before your first trial, you need to order your scorebook and join at least one IPO organization (remember that super confusing post a couple of weeks ago?). To order your scorebook, you need to have your dog’s tattoo or microchip information handy.
If your dog is not yet chipped or tattooed, you need to get to the vet to get this done ASAP (most likely a chip at this stage if you’re in the US). You will not be able to get a scorebook or trial without it.
You will need a fursaver collar (links to some options on my Recommendations page), as this is the required collar for all IPO trials. You may also trial for your BH in just a flat collar if you wish, so I guess you don’t need a fursaver, but if you have plans of moving beyond the BH, you might as well get one.
You will also need a leash that is long enough to be clipped over your shoulder or around your waist. (If your favorite leash doesn’t have a ring on it to make clipping it easier, you can always get a keychain ring for it.) You can also put your leash in your right pocket while trialing, if you so choose. Whatever you decide you’re going to do with your leash, practice it before trial day! Unless you have nerves of steel, your hands will be a little shaky and uncoordinated come the day.
The BH Breakdown
Okay, you have everything you need for trial day, but what the heck is a ‘BH’ anyway?
BH stands for Begleithund or Companion Dog and is the prerequisite temperament and obedience test for IPO. You cannot obtain any further titles in IPO without the BH.
The BH consists of three parts – the written test (for you, not your dog), the obedience pattern, and the traffic portion.
The Written Test
Yes, you have to take a written test to earn your first BH. You only have to take it your first time, but you do have to receive a passing score.
The purpose of the written test, as I understand it, is to ensure that each handler has a basic understanding of the sport of IPO, the rulebook, and information about dogs in general.
There are few different versions of the test floating around, so I’ve linked to a few below. It is a good idea to read through the rulebook in its entirety, as well as do a little studying of the practice tests, because it would be pretty much the most embarrassing thing ever if you failed your BH on the written portion!
The Obedience Pattern
The second part of the BH is the obedience pattern, and it is a long one.
You will begin by checking in with the judge on leash – “Jessica and Brody, checking in for BH”.
You will then either go to the long down position, or the start line, depending on whether or not you will be going first or second in your pairing.
If you are going first, you will complete the heeling pattern above, first on leash. After you have exited the group on leash, you will turn to face the group, stop (your dog should take the basic position), and remove your leash. You then proceed to repeat your figure-eight through the group, then head to the start line, where you will do the whole heeling pattern over again.
After the you complete the heeling pattern for the second time, you will return to the start line to complete the in-motion sit and the in-motion down with recall.
In the BH, you are permitted to pause next to your dog for the sit and the down rather than performing them truly in-motion. This is entirely up to you, but I don’t recommend deviating from how you normally practice.
After the recall, you will either take the position for the long down, or check out with the judge.
Now, the judge will provide you with some guidance if you get lost, but I strongly recommend having a pretty solid understanding of the pattern before you trial.
I was so nervous at the trial where Brody earned his BH that I FORGOT the off-leash heeling portion. Just skipped right over it to the in-motion exercises. I had to be redirected by the judge and I was MORTIFIED. Don’t be me – practice your pattern (preferably without your dog).
The Traffic Portion
If you’ve passed the obedience portion of the BH, you and your dog will be permitted to move on to the traffic portion. This portion is intended to ensure that your dog is of solid enough temperament to not be a danger to the public.
You will have to navigate large groups of people, a person on a bike, a jogger, a honking car, and a neutral dog.
Your dog will also have to remain calm while tied out with the handler out of sight.
There is a fair amount of leeway given here, in my experience. The only thing that will cause you to fail the traffic portion is if you dog exhibits undue fear or aggression.
If you’ve made it through all of that, congrats! You’ve graduated IPO pre-school!
Seriously though, I know the BH seems like an enormous task. It did for me, too.
And I failed it once!
At our first attempt, Brody was quite young (the minimum age +1 day, actually), and he decided that visiting with the spectators was more interesting than the off-leash heeling.
At our second attempt (four months later), I forgot the pattern, but thankfully my dog was perfect, so we passed! Even though I had to do some things out-of-order…
How Do I Know if I’m Ready?
So, you’re clear on the above, your dog has reached 15 months or older, so now how do you decide if your dog is ready to trial?
If you are trialing on your home-field, this will be a slightly easier answer. Can you do a run-through of the pattern under distraction? If so, than you’re in!
If, like me, however, you are traveling to trial, the answer gets a bit more complicated. There’s just no way of knowing how your dog is going to react to working on a new field under trial conditions. My strongest recommendation would be to go to as many places as possible to work obedience – busy parks, soccer fields, etc… The more proofed your dog is to changes of environment, the better off you will be.
I honestly thought Brody was ready when we went to our first trial.
We were working on several fields around town, and while he wasn’t perfect, he looked pretty damn good. Unfortunately, he was not ready in the slightest, it turned out. On trial day, he looked like a stray I had picked up off the side of the road on the way there. It was so bad that the judge texted my trainer to tell on me!
After that, my confidence in my dog was pretty shaken. We worked our tails off for the next several months in preparation for the next trial, but I never did shake the nerves. No matter how perfect Brody was in training from then on, I harbored doubts about trial day.
Fortunately, come trial day, though Brody was over-the-top with enthusiasm, he was near-perfect in his obedience. We were given all “Excellent”s and “Very Good”s in our critique. Watching him then, nobody would believe me that he had left the field not that long before.
So, how do you know when you’re ready?
My biggest recommendation is that you wait until the pattern is PERFECT at home. Like Ivan at the World Championships PERFECT. Because, come trial day, you’ll have maybe 75% of that, if you’re very, very lucky.
At the end of the day, the BH is pre-school for IPO. But, being brand new to the sport, with my very first dog – I know it looks like a Mt. Everest-sized task. The good news is, even if you do fail, nobody cares.
Nobody is going to make fun of you. Nobody is going to look down on you. Because everyone has failed, at least once in their career. And as long as you’re out there, putting in an honest effort with you dog, what’s to criticize?
So try not to take it too seriously. Try not to get too stressed. Try to remember – we’re in this for the fun we have with our dogs! Keep that in mind, and the rest will fall into place.
Here are a couple of links to some resources that I found super useful in preparation for my BH.
Over the next couple of posts I’m going to go more in-depth into choosing your first trial venue, as well as ways to keep your dog happy and comfortable on the road and at trials, so be sure to check back soon!