Winner of WonderDogs 2005
A nose for winning
13 December 2005
By MERVYN DYKES
Perhaps you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but in the case of Mint the german shepherd, it doesn't matter - she probably knows them all anyway.
The nine-year-old from Sarelle Kennels in Levin proved it by coming out of retirement to win the 2005 TVNZ Wonder Dog title in style.
No matter that she had a pup of her own and fostered four others just six weeks earlier. No matter that there was no time to train.
When another dog that owner Rosemary Cleator had prepared for the contest had to withdraw almost at the last minute, Mint stepped into the breach.
"The other finalists were two border collies and a working farm dog," said Mrs Cleator.
"They were younger, faster and full of enthusiasm, but not as controllable. Mint, a bigger and heavier dog, is slow and steady - but she listens.
"When the collies got a command to stop, they took half the paddock to do it. Mint stopped immediately."
But Mint is no slug. She is New Zealand's first and only triple-discipline champion and was retired before she could pick up a fourth win.
The Wonder Dog contest was held over three days in South Canterbury 12 months ago. It attracted entries from Auckland to Invercargill, Mrs Cleator said.
After the heats, there were four dogs left in the running. Mint was the only one from the North Island.
"I had an idea then that she could do it, but you never really know what will happen. They had the dogs doing non-standard tests they had never struck before." But Mint was nearly undone by a Sally Lunn bun she was asked to retrieve.
"There was such a lot of icing on it and it was thinner and floppier than one I tried her out on just before. It must have tasted so good . . ."
Even the handlers were forced to do the unexpected. Mrs Cleator was told the water-retrieval test would be done from a kayak and she was given one to practise with.
Then, just before the event, it was switched for a row boat.
"I can't row," she said, "but fortunately none of us was very good at it."
Mrs Cleator did well enough and Mint soon had another title to add to those she amassed in her youth.
Although she is a champion in the showroom and for obedience and working trials, her best-executed events are scent and distance control.
This paid off for Mrs Cleator once when she realised she had lost her cellphone during a riverbank stroll the night before.
When she retraced her steps the next day, it took Mint 10 minutes to find it.
Mrs Cleator said she would probably never handle or own another dog as good as Mint in competition.
But of Saturday night, "there won't be a big party", she said. "Just a quiet night at home watching television."
We can guess which show.