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The Small Dog Mafia, Part One

In Part One on this article, we introduce the "Small Dog Mafia" from Northern California.

Go to the USDAA Top Ten Standings for Gamblers in a given year (or better yet, Lifetime) and you will likely see several of the same names: Lisa White, Gail Mahood, Laura Hartwick, Arlene Watson, Deborah Ogg, gracing the C12/14/16 and P8/12 classes. Better yet, attend a USDAA trial in Northern California, and you will not only see several small dogs running P3/Masters Gamblers, but also acing a seemingly impossible gamble. The dogs are a mix of purebreds and All-Americans, and many are following in the footsteps of a prior family small dog as an amazing gambler. They are the Small Dog Mafia.

All members of the Small Dog Mafia have three things in common: they live in Northern California, they are small (that's a given), and they train with Jedi Master Jim Basic. Jim, who teaches distance seminars throughout the country, has been credited by all the Small Dog Mafioso as being a catalyst to perfecting their gambling skills.

The Early History

Arlene Watson, who currently runs a Pinchippet (MinPin/Chihuahua/Whippet), Sparkle (P8"), and Corgi, Ben (C12"), noted that they have a long tradition of small dog gamblers in [Northern California], starting with Gail (Mahood) and her Corgi, Flint, back when we were known as 'The Wee Gamble Dogs.' This was in the mid-1990's, and Arlene noted that Flint is one of the most accomplished mini-dogs in USDAA Gamblers history, being the first to earn a GCH-Platinum title and still ranked Number Five lifetime. Flint wasn't a natural-born gambler, as Arlene recalls: to quote Jim Basic, "Flint wouldn't send farther than Gails shadow at high noon on a summers day." But hard work and expert training yielded Flint and Gail the aforementioned accolades, and  at one point 19 consecutive Masters Gamble Q's.

Arlene Watson and Ben

Gail Mahood and Gwyny

Arlene started around this time with her Lhasa mix, Scully (1996-2010), who earned her Gamblers Masters and Performance Gamblers Champion titles. As Arlene noted, she regularly got the gamble, and a friend said she would have her Platinum if opening points and time didn't matter. She often walked through the opening, then turned on the jets when she heard the gamble horn. After Scully came Pinchippet, Sparkle, who is nearly 12-years-old and currently competes almost exclusively in Gamblers. "She likes agility, but loves to Gamble," says Arlene. Someone watching her gamble on a video with no sound would know exactly when the gamble horn blows because her body relaxes, her stride gets longer, and she knows where she is going. Sparkle-who earned GCH-Bronze and PGCH-Platinum-in addition to several showings in the Top Ten standings - is a dog that other Northern Californians point out as part of the inaugural group of a full-fledged Small Dog Mafia.



Lisa White, who competes with Beagle mix, Honey, and Chihuahua mix, Poppy, remembers a group of stellar dogs starting with Yukari Nishimura and MinPin, Belle, Arlene and Sparkle, Carol Bowers and Bernie, and Debbie Ogg and Corgi, Porsche. Lisa joined later with Honey, noting a group of several other small dog people who would congregate at trials.



Lisa started training Honey in semi-private distance lessons with Jim after it took her a year to get into the Masters level. "I knew I needed to get help teaching her to run at a distance," Lisa said. We discovered that Honey patterned well, and that really helped to get more distance on her. Jim taught us left, right, out, and getting lateral distance. While these new-found skills did not initially yield more Gamblers Q's, they helped in other events. And eventually the Gamblers Q's followed up and at age ten, Honey now boasts a near-50% Q rate in the class, and has held a place in the Top Ten Gamblers for the past four years. Honey has also earned her Platinum ADCH, Platinum LAA, and, now that she is running in performance, her Silver Performance Gambler title. Her younger sister, Poppy, has also capitalized on the Gambling skills, recently earning her Platinum Performance Gamblers title.

Laura Hartwick remembers these lessons at Jim's, back when she was training her now retired Cattle Dog/Chihuahua mix, OtterPop, with Jim's wife, Nancy Gyes. "Jim taught me all the dark secrets. All the little dogs who could do the gambles were in Jim's agility class before my class with Nancy. I would always try to arrive early to spy on them to see what unbelievable feats of distance they were working on. The awesomeness of those dogs!" Inspired by them, Laura started teaching OtterPop distance and she too became a Lifetime Top Ten dog. "Otterpop never really loved trialing," remarked Laura, "however, she loved gamblers and when the buzzer or whistle blew after the opening, she was on fire. A dog possessed. She always got the gamble." Laura now runs Gustavo, another small dog, but claims that he is not part of the inner gambling circle.

The Name

There are a few different versions of how the name Small Dog Mafia came to be. Lisa says that, "Jim will sometimes wander over to chat and tease us about being a 'gang' and would come up with different group names, gaggle, cluster, a murder of small dogs." Someone came up with "Small Dog Mafia" and it seemed to stick. Jim clarifies that the name originated with Southern California-based instructor and competitor, Mia Grant, "in response to a group of her students who were pestering her about distance training and gamblers."

Despite the Sopranos-themed terminology, Arlene thinks of the group as a small dog contingent of the Jedi Gamblers. "When one of Jim's distance students gets 15 Q's, they become a Jedi Gambler, wise in the way of the Dark Arts and able to wield an Out Saber," Arlene explains. She also notes that her Corgi, Ben, is merely a padawan. 

Tamar Fuhrer lives in the Los Angeles, California area, where she works as a Transportation Planning Manager for Metro, Los Angeles County's transit agency. She began training in agility in 2012 with her first dog, All-American, Murray (affectionately known in the Southern California area as "The Murr"), and quickly became hooked. Murray recently earned his PDCH and is relieved to never have to see a table again. She is also enjoying training Riff, her young Lowchen, who thinks life is a big frat party with everyone invited.   


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