Loving, Living and Learning With a Lowchen CDX

The current obedience career of my Lowchen bitch.

by Irene Bilney© 17 January 2010.


On Saturday 5 August 2006 as we drove towards Cranbourne for the Victorian State Obedience Trials the morning fog remained in the fields and at the edge of the freeway the wet grass glistened beside the road. I was pleased that in the previous week Nellie and I had worked in a downpour – in preparation for a future trial when I may need to ask my little Lowchen bitch to obediently sit and drop on damp ground.

Nellie came to our place at eight weeks of youth. I firmly had an obedience career in mind when choosing her from the litter bred by Ron and Joan Harrison, of Bunyip. Since the eighties I had been hankering after an obedience title for a Lowchen. I was encouraged by the fact that Bernie Wilkinson, Pamela Gelme and Pia Kirke all believed that “a Lowchen could do it”. No Nickers Nellie was to become the third Lowchen lady in my life. I was introduced to the breed in the eighties when I bought Tilcha Priden Prejudice (my Aly) from Pia Kirke (formerly Rosemarye D’Agostin). In those days I joined Southern Obedience and Aly showed aptitude for obedience - but we only ever entered fun days together. I was working full time and never set aside adequate time for training my Lowchen for trials – but remained convinced that she had the ability. By the time Aly gave birth to Ibapaws Strawberry I was no longer even a member of an obedience club and Strawb’s obedience training was minimal and geared to home needs and relationships. I gave dog training even less time as I had embarked on part-time university studies. However, an interest in obedience was never entirely shelved as my partner: Doug was training and trialling Gypsy – an associate Australian Cattle Dog. Over time Gypsy and Doug worked their way through the rings successfully to UD. I retired and finished my studies (teaching quals, lib. techn cert., a B.A, a grad. Dip. & a post grad. Dip.) and my next goal was to learn obedience skills with a Lowchen. One of my Lowchens had died of old age and the other was ageing so I yearned for yet another lively little Lowchen in my life.

I saw the litter at about five weeks of age and again at eight weeks when they were ready for Pia to give them their first clip. It comes as a bit of a shock to a Lowchen pup to be turned into a Little Lion Dog – with the clippers. Some whimper, some squirm but one pup seemed to take it in her stride. I played with that little bitch while her litter mates were groomed into shape for their futures. She seemed most bid-able – willing to interact with me and play – even “come” – though the old hands in the room declared her “coming” was merely my wishful thinking. Later that afternoon that pup set about charming Doug – and was she a competent charmer? I’d had my heart set on replacing my black bitch with another black bitch – but this was not to be. Our new pup was white with black and sable markings – and dark spots where her knickers should be – so, at home, I call her my No Nickers Nellie. That afternoon I took into my arms, my home, my heart, and my life Rondaglen Parti Fashion. At the first opportunity we took the new pup to be introduced to our dear friend “Sol”. I am ever grateful to Dr Alan Sultan who has so expertly treated all our animals for more years than I can remember. That day as I watched my tiny Lowchen cradled in our vet’s caring hands I was conscious that she had a name that was bigger than herself – and I wondered would she ever grow into it. The “fashion” in her name came from her sire (Aust. Ch. Bigglesmere Just’n Fashion imp UK) and from her coat colours she derived the “Parti” portion of her name. Pia made very definite suggestions that Nellie should be shown and bred. I didn't know about that. But I did know that Doug and I wanted to be adamant that this new pup would learn only in response to our positive inducement with rewards being offered or with-held so her desirable behaviour was being reinforced while we ignored any behaviour we wanted to discourage. Ever tried doing that? It isn’t easy to consistently relate to a dog in that way - all day - every day. However, it was with that good intent that we commenced training Nellie right from our first encounter. She didn’t miss out on discipline. She was schooled in more severe terms by Strawberry who decided that a pup should be taught to respect her seniors. Strawb seemed to believe a “nip in time saves nine”. Doug, always, claimed Strawb as “our 24 carat bitch”. In her games with our Cattle Dog and our old Korat cat Nellie twigged that size and weight mattered in the rough and tumble of life. Our animals prepared Nellie for the time when she became old enough to join the local dogs at the park for daily walks and fun.

Fun and games aside there remained my promise to Pia “to show” Nellie. Unaccustomed as I was, I did the showing and on 19 Feb 2006 our little Lowchen became eligible to have an “Aust. Ch.” added as a prefix to her name. I am grateful to Nellie's breeders for their encouragement. Thanks to Pia I was inducted into procedures for correct bathing, grooming, clipping and handling of a show dog. My Nellie took to the showring with flair and just loved strutting her stuff while I took to studying Jane Harvey’s helpful video about “How to Handle a Dog at a Show”- but I failed to put the theory adequately into practice. As I remained concerned that my inexperience was doing a disservice to my little Lowchen lady I went to the expert. I am especially grateful to Peter Frost for sharing his knowledge of dog behaviour and for expertly and generously piloting Nellie and me into ring craft - though regretfully I am probably not a great advertisement for his teaching – but with Peter’s friendship and guidance showing with my Nellie became fun. In order to show Nellie there had been several sharp learning curves to be negotiated and I thank the showing community who welcomed and encouraged us. Our steepest learning curve remains on going. It is mastering Obedience skills.

On 20 February 2006 – my 63rd birthday – Nellie retired from the showring (well almost). 

On the previous day she had earned her final point for championship status.  That was my best birthday gift. Nellie returns to the showring each time the Obedience suffix to her name is upgraded. Normally, now, in the hands of a far more competent handler: 8-y-o Kayla Gialelis. Thanks Kayla. Before my lovely Nell loomed a new ring in which no other Lowchen had gained a title in Australia (as of 6 April 2006 and still as of 17 Jan. 2010).  From her puppyhood the pair of us have worked with Glenys Biggs, of Frankston in the hope that we can prove that our Aussie “Lowchens can do it” – and master Obedience skills and perhaps even star as some of their overseas members of the breed do. In 1987 the USA had the first Lowchen CD - Charlie Brown. Nowadays the boasts of our breed are “Pistil Pete” in the States while Canada has “The Silver Bullet” - both Lowchens famous for their multitude of titles gained in a range of dog skills including agility, jumping, and the big O.

Nellie is now a 5-y.o mature bitch and we have been having weekly lessons for most of her life. It is our routine in the hope that Nellie forms good learning habits and is saved having to unlearn wrong behaviour patterns for trialling.  Nell displays aptitude.  I am hopeless. – I am sure I have (at least ) two left feet - and this is my first real attempt at training a dog for the Obedience ring. Nellie loves playing her obedience “games” and she adores our skilful and patient trainer.  I suspect Nellie “might give her tail” to gain a “bikkie” and praise from Auntie Glen for being “a good little Nell”.

Nellie just adores Glenys (and visa-versa) and she works with real vim and vigour at her obedience “games”. We elected to enlist the expertise of Glenys because she had skilfully refined the teamwork between Doug and his associate (Cattle Dog) so that they became a successful team in the obedience ring. I am, ever, very much a beginner in need of direction. That direction has been expertly, and very generously given by Glenys Biggs. My aim for Nellie was that she should learn correctly from the outset. I did not want to squander Nellie’s goodwill on any preventable errors in learning - because I can make enough mistakes for the pair of us. While Nellie has taken to obedience training very happily and readily I have genuinely found much of it a hard slog. Nellie is good at it – I am not – but my enjoyment of working in tandem with my Nellie completely overrides my lack of skill. At 63 it was a shock to discover my inability to discern left from right. I had to learn - to make – and to deliver adequate and correct hand signals to a small dog while at the same time myself maintaining an erect posture – not easy - as a Lowchen can’t wrap her head around at her handler’s waist level like the taller working dogs do in the rings. I had to learn to develop a consistent vocabulary and with my voice mimic dog-like moods rather than human speech patterns. I was to discover my tone was my major vocal asset for my dog's comprehension of “commands”. Despite my own ineptitude I was “itching to trial”. The gulf between lessons and a trial ring was negotiated for us by our participation in some twilight classes for beginners at KCC Park provided by Friends of Obedience (FOO) . I have enjoyed learning obedience with Nellie but when I took Nellie into my life I had probably forgotten most of what I learned many years ago with Aly in obedience clubs. I must say Glenys has needed to be super patient with me – for which I am sincerely grateful. I soon realised I had abandoned the comfort of strolling through my retirement days. Nellie's recent Christmas present was to be speyed. I decided to free my Nell from the trauma of seasonal cycles and false pregnancies so we may be free to have Obedience as our focus for our future relationship.

Between our successful days there were those others days. I remember times when Nell decided to take a short cut in the figure 8; or I spoke instead of silent signalling or I gave bad foot cueing to my mate; or I learned I had not proofed Nellie adequately against noise; or the heavens rained on our parade. Those were times I learned what we couldn’t do well. There were the problem venues – fields covered in problem dandelions and attendant bees or working beside the roar of pestilential motorbikes and those deafening days of the planes when my little Nell wondered why “do they have such very, big birds out here,” as she turned her beautiful dark eyes to the sky and tucked her tufted tail between her legs (“only for safety’s sake you understand – I’m not really scared while you are with me”) - as yet another low flying plane soared overhead in our airspace.

Nellie is a Lowchen. They are a Toy breed with a super-sized personality. They offer an owner a long-lived and loyal companionship, a unique appearance, regular bonding opportunities in grooming sessions and constant challenges generated by their cleverness. They are an ancient European breed of small dogs that traditionally are given a lion clip – and so they have bare bums and a mane of hair which is groomed to enhance their leonine appearance. Lowchens date from pre Renaissance times and were originally bred to be used as bed warmers for the aristocratic maidens with whom they slept. Secondary to their function as “hotwater bottles” was their duty to alert the Mastiffs to deal with unwelcome guests. Nellie relates to Mastiffs – even has a special friend: Vegas. The role of the Lowchen today is still that of a companion - whether as a pet or on show in the ring. In venturing into Obedience Trials Nellie is breaking new ground for the breed in this country. Lowchens are most agile dogs with a fast turn of speed. It is crucial they be taught “Come”! Their intelligence and willingness to please makes it a joy for their handler to work with a Lowchen.

What does obedience trialling ask of a dog? Initially Nellie learned to work while on a lead and gradually we dispensed with the services of lead to be replaced by rapore between my dog and me - as a working team. Most significantly Nell has learned to work at heel. Did I hear you mutter “dream on”? - no harm! She has learned to jump over solid, long and bar jumps. She happily retrieves, recalls, and responds to silent signalling to modify her position or take direction from her handler. She confidently stays for many minutes at a time with her handler away - in hiding. During her career Nellie has been introduced to working with a box, a mat, gloves, and articles made of leather, metal and wood. She enthusiastically seeks an article for me soley by my scent. To refine Nellie's heeling off lead is a life's work and – it may become an art form – a dance we do together hopefully – dare I say a dance of love? We constantly work under the watchful eye of Doug who expertly makes the sets of equipment we need as we progress through the various rings. I am constantly aware that Obedience challenges are ever before us in the future.

Our first Obedience Trial was at Southern Obedience Dog Club on Saturday 18 March 2006. Nell passed and came 2nd in the Encouragement Ring.

18 March 2006. Southern O.D.C. Inc. Judge: Mr T. Moore. Score 121pts. 2nd.

In the Novice rings Nellie's score towards her C.D. (Companion Dog) were:-

1 April 2006. Ballaarat DOC, Victoria Park. Judge: Mr. G Eades. Score 176.

21 May 2006. Mornington ODC, KCC Park. Judge: Mrs S. Stephens;  Score 185.

5 Aug 2006.  VCA Inc. Obedience State Trial, KCC Park. Judge: Mr R. Hanson. Score 188.

In the Open rings Nellie earned her C.D.X. (Companion Dog Excellent) in one weekend – as the results below will show.

6 Oct. 2007 p.m. German Shepherd D. C. of Vic. Inc. KCC Park. Judge: Ms R. Buckley. Score 184.

6 Oct. 2007 night. German Shepherd D. C. of Vic. Inc. KCC Park. Judge: Mr K. Ralph. Score 191.

7 Oct. 2007 Warringal ODC Inc. Latrobe University Grounds. Judge: Mr E. Howden. Score 177.

In November 2007 the President of the NSW Lowchen Club: Phillip Williams made the inaugural presentation to Nellie of the Lynne-Maree Williams Memorial Trophy for Obedience Dog of the Year.  That beautiful trophy was the generous gift of Bruce, Carolyn and Courteny Riddell in memory of  a very lovely lady. I sincerely thank the Riddell family, the club and the president.  It is a perpetual trophy which is in our safe keeping and has pride of place in Nellie's home still (as of Jan 2010).

At present,  Aust. Ch. Rondaglen Parti Fashion  C.D.X. and I are back in training to trial in the Utility rings in the hope of becoming a Utility Dog. (U.D.). So far we can't brag of a pass at this elite level. As Nellie is not the only learner in our team she cannot be blamed for all the days when a qualifying score proves to be elusive. Of the points deducted at various trials I lose more than my fair share. Despite the combined inexperience of the two of us we have been in the placings as you may see

19 April 2009. Croydon & District O.D.C. Inc., Judge: Clive Makepeace. Non Qualifying score, 3rd in Utility. 1.

20 Sept. 2009 Ballaarat D.O.C. Inc.  Victoria Park. AM Trial. Judge: Mr F. Brueckner. Score: 154. NQ (The nq was entirely my fault). 2nd in ring.


 20 Sept. 2009 Ballaarat D.O.C. Inc. Victoria Park. PM Trial. Judge. Mrs M. Deakes. Score: 154 NQ. 1st in ring.

25 Oct. 2009. Gisborne & Districts O.D.C. Inc. (A.M. Trial), Gisborne . Judge: Mr F. Valastro. Score: 139NQ. 1st in ring.

By way of explanation. Since we started our Obedience career the rules have changed. There is no longer an Encouragement ring- there was no “title” when we passed - we were just “encouraged”.  It has been replaced by trialling for a Community Companion Dog (C.C.D.) title for your dog.  In the later rings some of the skills and activities have been revised and altered. So Obedience skills before and current Obedience skills now may involve slightly different activities  - while still expecting the dog to respond to the handler with Obedience. For current information re Obedience rules and your “local” obedience club see the website of your State body. We are members of Northcote Obeience Dog Club.

A little note about obedience and “Titles”.  Strictly speaking C.C.D., C.D., U.D., and U.D.X are not “titles”.  They may, perhaps, be regarded as obedience qualifications and they are added as a suffix to the dog's name.  It is possible that a very well trained dog may be an Obedience Champion and earn a title. Such superb working dogs have an O.C. prefix to their names. (Dream on)!   To gain an O.C. the dog must work at least at U.D. level (after gaining U.D.) and must attain 5 scores of at least 185 out of 200 from either the UD or CDX rings - under 2 different judges.  We have no such title in our sights at present as our present challenge is with the rigours of the U.D.(Utility Dog) ring.  To me - the nice aspect of obedience trialling is that the dog and handler are actually competing for a score – not, really trying to outdo other dogs and their handlers – though that aspect does creep  into the allocation of placings. I thank the Obedience community for being so welcoming and encouraging.

Hopefully we now have a second generation of obedient Lowchens on the ground to work with an Ibapaws prefix. My dearest Glory (A.Ch. Tilcha Glory N Torino) gave me a litter of three beautiful babies and I am delighted to announce two are destined for the Obedience rings. The pups are now nine months (by the time this is published) and showing the flare for fun, beauty and the cleverness of their darling dad A. C. Bigglesmere Just N Fashion (imp UK). Skye (Ibapaws Juliet N Fashion) is the pup of a proud Liela Ivanoff - a most skilled and dedicated handler who “wanted one to work like a Nellie”. It is, already, a joy to see Liela and little Skye at work. Liela is bringing her along brilliantly. Thanks Liela. I hope to train my Tiffin (Ibapaws Torino N Fashion) in preparation for trialling later. Wish both of us and our little lions the luck of the Lowchen. I am ever hopeful. I'll try to keep you posted through the pages of National Dog the Ringleader Way. Need I say my little bitch is my pride and joy.

Irene Bilney,  © 17 January 2010.

I wrote this article  for the National Dog The Ring Leader Way magazine. It was first published in the liftoutBreed Supplement for Havanese, Lowchen and Bichon Frise.” See Vol. 13 Number 1-2 Jan/Feb 2010. See pp. 20 & 22 for the above article  – with trial results edited out.

Photographs by Pamella Aldersea.

I sincerely thank the editor: Wendye Slatyer for thereby promoting the breed I love so dearly: the Lowchen.

Irene Bilney, 24 March 2010

Ibapaws: the home of obedient Lowchen: My Lowchens love to play and obey

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Contact Details

Irene Bilney
Richmond 3121, VIC, Australia
Phone : 03 94281201
Email : [email protected]