On September 29, 2013, I awoke to a cool summer day. I leaned over the bedside and called to my long-coat Chihuahua, “Today is the day we have been training for these past three months. Izzy, are you ready?”
She looked at me as if to say, “Are you kidding, mom? I’m ready for anything.”
When I first heard about the Green Mountain Iron Dog Challenge, held in Vermont, I knew it was something I just had to do with Izzy. We love to show others that these little dogs can keep up with the biggest of them.
I knew it would be hard and very different from the training we have done for obedience. Iron Dog entails a timed, mile-and-a-half police-dog course, with wall-climbing, crawling through tubes, shimmying under a house, and going over jumps, as well as a water challenge.
The first step was to enroll Izzy in an agility class. She had to learn to go through tubes, go over jumps, and climb an eight-foot A-frame. Chihuahuas are very smart and athletic, and when asked they will put their heart and soul into whatever you ask of them. I was counting on this “give it your all” attitude to get through the next phase of Izzy’s training.
Past Iron Dog challenges required the dogs to go into waist-deep water to retrieve a floating article, so Izzy needed to learn how to swim. I started taking her into small streams to get her used to walking in different levels of water. I would throw treats that floated for her to retrieve. Once she had the hang of that, we moved on to a pond. I would walk out with her on a lead, luring her with the treat. First she would wade up to her tummy, but on the third day she swam out to me, and we had accomplished that goal. Lastly, we hiked every morning up mountain trails, and every afternoon we ran together, in order to build up stamina.
The day of the event was wild. There we were, Izzy and I, at an event dominated by German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Belgian Tervuren, and Dobermans. Izzy was the smallest dog, and the only Chihuahua entered.
This time the swimming element was replaced by a mud pit that we had to run through. The mud was up to my shins and halfway up Izzy’s body. We also had to go through a “smoke house,” a room filled with smoke machines. We ran on a sandy beach, crawled under a house, and used a rope line to climb up a steep ravine. We ran through wooded areas, going over jumps along the way, shimmying through plastic pipes, and climbing over barriers and walls.
Izzy never wavered, and we finished the one-and-a-half-mile race with a time of 24 minutes, finishing eighth in our age group.
As we crossed the finish line, I yelled out, “Chihuahuas can do anything!”—and the crowd went wild!