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Spectators often regard competitive obedience as an extremely serious dog sport. But for Sally Sherman, it’s all about making it as much fun as possible. And this positive approach is undoubtedly a big part of the reason her 10-year-old Golden Retriever “Boom” (OTCH6 Hi-Star Stealin’ All The Thunder UDX17 OGM BN GO RN) shows no signs of being ready to retire.

Boom may be the oldest dog competing at the 2023 AKC Obedience Classic, but this peppy partnership doesn’t plan on letting that stop them from being in contention for a top placement. The 10th AKC Obedience Classic takes place on December 16 and 17 in Orlando, FL. as part of the AKC National Championship Week.

A Long Line of Winners

Sherman has been training dogs for over 25 years. While she started in obedience with the goal of having a better-trained dog, she ended up getting hooked on the sport. Her first foray was with her Golden Retriever, “Ute.” Sherman had limited knowledge at this stage, and says that Ute, while a wonderful dog, had shoulder issues that curbed their endeavors.

Sherman’s competitive career began in earnest with “Zing,” her second Golden Retriever. “I was so lucky to be considered for a puppy out of a real performance litter in Texas,” she says. “I ended up getting an OTCH [Obedience Trial Champion Title] and a MACH [Master Agility Champion Title].” Zing was a special, sound, competitive dog who had a profound effect on Sherman, so much so that she decided to breed from her.

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Her next Golden Retriever, “Shine,” came from Zing’s litter of seven puppies. “Shine was an extremely special girl as well,” Sherman says, while holding back tears. Shine’s obedience career was outstanding. For two consecutive years, the pair placed seventh at the NOC. “Placing in the top ten is a real honor,” Sherman says. “She also earned the High Combined Award at the 2015 GRCA National Specialty, winning the Utility class and placing second in Open in very large classes (45 to 60 dogs).” Their strong partnership also extended to competitive agility. Shine was on her way to achieving a MACH before Sherman got a knee injury. Such was their bond that Sherman also decided to breed from Shine. And that’s how Boom entered the picture.

‘Boom’ the ‘Bag Lady,’ Famous in the Obedience Circuit

From the beginning, Sherman says that Boom had a special, sunny personality. “When she was five weeks old, she was out playing with the other puppies. She saw a garbage bag blowing in the wind and was the only one of the litter that went to explore,” she says.

That unique personality continues to shine ten years later. “In her early career, Boom would get a little stressed at dog shows,” Sherman says. She ended up finding a very unique remedy. “I found that letting her have a bag kept her happy.” Even though she now loves attending shows, she continues to gently carry around bags of treats in her mouth. Sherman says everybody on the show circuit knows Boom as “the bag lady,” and she has brightened many people’s days.

Much like Sherman’s previous Goldens, Boom is an obedience star. According to Sherman, Boom’s biggest accomplishment is her rankings with the Golden Retriever Club of America. “In 2021, she was the number one Toby-Trigger Utility Dog,” she says. The dog who earns the most points from placements throughout the year gets to have their name inscribed on the trophy. She was also the number one Golden Retriever for AKC High Combined, earning the highest scores across the Open and Utility classes. “She just missed being number one in High in Trials, too, by one point,” Sherman says.

Boom’s Legacy Continues

While she may be getting older, Boom isn’t letting her senior status hold her back, and certainly isn’t ready to retire. She continues to love being in the ring and won the Individual Utility and Open at the Florida State competition (“DOCOF”) this year.

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Sherman believes her positive approach to training strongly contributes to Boom’s enthusiasm for the sport. “I am a trainer that wants to see my dog having fun,” she says. “I put aside my fears and think about them and what they are thinking.” In particular, Sherman watches closely for the slightest sign of stress. If she spots this, she focuses on helping her dogs relax and have a good time.

Boom isn’t the only dog Sherman is competing with at this year’s AKC Obedience Classic. Continuing the Hi-Star Golden Retriever lines, Sherman bred from Boom and, this time, kept an energetic puppy, “Flare.” He is following in his mother’s, grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s footsteps as an obedience champion. At last year’s AKC Classic, the then-three-year-old dog won the Utility class.

Getting Involved in Different Aspects of Obedience

After over two decades competing in obedience, Sherman decided it was time to give back to the sport that has given her so much happiness over the years and applied for judgeship. “I have been judging for about a year now and am currently a novice judge,” she says.

At first, Sherman says she wasn’t enjoying being a judge and didn’t think she was especially good at it. She experienced a steep learning curve and felt very different from being on the other side as an exhibitor. But with the support of her fellow judges, it got easier over time. “Now, I’m at the point where I truly enjoy it, although it took a while. I had to get rid of my fears and anxieties about it first,” she says. “I’ve also met a whole different group of friends.” She cites her skills in logic and organization as one of the reasons she’s well-suited to the “judge mentality.”

Balancing Obedience Training with Work

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Sherman is truly passionate about the world of dog obedience, but also makes sure to balance the sport with other interests in her life. After retiring from a long career as a title insurance claims attorney, she realized she didn’t want to spend all her time training, and that she was missing the law. Last year, she found a remote position doing title research. “I’m at my happiest still being an attorney in some way, shape or form, so I’m not really retired,” she says.

But Sherman still finds ample time to train with Boom and Flare, and hopes Boom can place in the top ten at the upcoming AKC Obedience Classic. As long as Boom continues to enjoy competing, Sherman has no plans to retire her. As Boom gets older, she says they might even want a new challenge and try AKC Rally to keep her stimulated and mobile. “Me and the dogs think young,” she says, and that mindset will surely contribute to their success now and in the years to come.

The AKC National Championship, presented by Royal Canin, is the dog world’s biggest event of the year! Learn more about conformation and follow your favorite breeds at dog shows throughout the year. They might be competing for the coveted Best in Show title in December!