Elliott Saddoris, 17, and his two-year-old Black Labrador Retriever competed this past December in the first annual American Kennel Club National Juniors Obedience Invitational.
The event included 54 juniors and will air on ABC TV February 4.
Elliott has more trouble than most—he is totally blind in his left eye, yet he was the only junior to receive a perfect score in one performance. That was no small feat considering the elaborate maze of precision dog jumping, dodging and weaving required.
By the age of 10, Elliott had suffered two strokes that destroyed 60 percent of his vision and took away his ability to speak clearly. In addition, Elliott is learning disabled.
During training classes Elliott was set up with mirrors to compensate for his blind spots. The mirrors enabled him to see if Trouble was heeling and sitting up straight. Elliott’s speech is slurred but his hearing is intact. He can listen to the sounds of his dog’s feet on mats to monitor any change of pace during fast or about turns.
Dog competition runs in Elliott’s family. His mother Annette Sizemore showed in conformation and obedience from 1983 to 1990 with her champion Corgi. Elliott’s older sister Sarah, a freshman, enters competitions with her wirehair Dachshund named Sam. So, when Elliott said he wanted a dog to train, along came trouble. Trouble the Black Lab that is.
Connie Cleveland, founder of Dog Trainers Workshop searched for months to find the right dog for Elliott. Connie, whose background includes 10 years as Training Director for Dogs for the Disabled,also figured out how to teach Elliott to train his dog despite Elliott’s total blindness in his left eye. So, Elliott’s family adopted the rescue dog named Trouble when he was six months old through a boarding facility near Atlanta, Georgia called Life is labs.
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“Trouble has brought joy and companionship into our lives,” said Annette. “He is Elliott’s companion, training partner, helper and best friend.”
“I thought I’d have to do most of the training,” said Annette, “but after we first got Trouble, Elliott found out that I was working with the Lab and he told me he wanted to train Trouble all by himself.”
And so he has.
“Training Trouble to heel was the hardest,” said Elliott. “The easiest things were sit and down stays.”
Trouble has also received training as a service dog and therapy dog. He accompanies Elliott for shopping excursions and trips to the mall. As soon as all of the paperwork is complete and Annette and Elliott meet with school officials, Trouble will be allowed to walk beside Elliott in school. Because Elliott’s eyesight is limited it is difficult to navigate through the school halls. With Trouble by his side he will have a much easier time.
When asked how he is treated in school Elliott said, “Just like everyone else.” In a world where kids are bullied unmercifully when they are “different,” that says a lot about Elliot’s attitude and approach to life. “Elliott keeps a smile on his face,” said Annette. “He’s happy and makes friends easily.”
So, what kind of trouble does a dog named Trouble get into? Annette said he has eaten Xbox headphones, two phone chargers, dog beds, bowls, blankets, socks, crate handles and expensive brand name clothes. Annette told one story about the first night they took Trouble to obedience class. The kids were saying, ‘Awww, he is licking the car seat.’ Then my daughter yelled ‘Turn on the light, OMG he ate the seat.’ Another time Trouble took the drain cover off of our drainage system. During a storm the drain clogged with leaves and water backed up in the basement where three kids have bedrooms. We had to pump out 150 gallons of water!” Smiling she sighed, “Ah, that’s life with a lab.”
To keep up with Trouble, the disobedient Obedience dog, check out the open group Elliott’s sister Sarah set up on Facebook called Adventures of Trouble.
So what’s next for Elliott and Trouble after the February 4th AKC Juniors competitions on ABCTV? On February 11th they will perform at the Piedmont Kennel Club Show Place in Charlotte, North Carolina where they hope to earn their third leg for their companion dog title.