Salina So Special was born on November 28, 2005. No one is sure how she got her name. Annette Israel remembers that one of her young daughters chose the name, but she doesn’t recall why she picked “Salina.” A couple of celebrities have been named “Selena,” but they were either well before or well after Salina’s birth. “Salina” is a city in Kansas (pronounced differently, with a hard “i”) and an island in Sicily, but neither seems a likely inspiration for a Canaan Dog’s name. It is also a “multinational publicity company,” a song by some band call The Get Up Kids, and a café near San Francisco International Airport, none of which seems at all relevant. So we’ll just leave it at that.
Salina has achieved success in a wide variety of activities, from performance events, to conformation, to promoting her breed, all while following her philosophy of Minimum Effort for Maximum Results/Food. Nowhere has she applied this philosophy more diligently than in the Rally Obedience Ring. Annette began taking Salina to Rally classes when she was a couple of years old. In class, Salina was the star pupil. She had no trouble completing an entire Novice course without a single mistake. But when it came time for her first competition in Raleigh, Salina wouldn’t even sit at the start of the course—she just looked up at Annette with an expression that said “Really?” Annette thought that maybe a change in handler would improve her attitude, but when I took Salina in the ring I got the same exact result. Why was Salina so good in class and so bad at a real trial? It was, of course, the fact that treats were plentiful in class and non-existent in the real ring. No food, no effort. Many years later we learned that Salina had truly achieved Minimum Effort for Maximum Results at this trial. She had finally earned a couple of qualifying Rally scores, and out of the blue we received a certificate for an AKC Rally Novice title. The title clearly required three qualifying runs, and I knew Salina only had two, so I called up the AKC. It turned out that Salina had erroneously received credit for her father Deke’s qualifying score eight years earlier in Raleigh. Clever girl. Note: It is much more difficult to get the AKC to deduct mistakenly credited scores than it is to get them to add mistakenly omitted points.
What changed in the intervening years that enabled Salina to finally (legitimately) earn her Rally Novice title? It wasn’t a change in attitude with maturity; Salina continues to follow her Minimum Effort for Maximum Results/Food philosophy. It was Jennie Larkin’s suggestion that we try World Cynosport Rally (“WCR”), which at first sounded like some heavily advertised prescription drug. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was an organization that allowed food in the Rally ring! The only downsides are (1) there are more stations than in AKC and UKC rally, and (2) there is a strict four-minute time limit for each run. At our first WCR trial Salina was fantastic. She methodically worked through all 18 exercises, with only an occasional pause for a reward. When she finished the last station the crowd, including even the ring steward, gave Salina an ovation. I thought that was very nice, if perhaps a bit much, until the steward pointed at the time clock, which read “3:59.62”. Salina had successfully finished the course with only 1/3 of a second to spare. Minimum Effort for Maximum Results.
Salina went on to earn her WCR and AKC Rally Novice titles. But her nascent Rally career came to an end at the AKC National Championship in Orlando in 2016. She was entered in the off-lead Advanced class, and the first day she put in a lackluster performance that only earned 80 points. The next day she barely qualified with a 71. I should have known, because all the signs were there, but I went ahead and ran her the following day. Sure enough, at the dreaded Halt, 1, 2 and 3 steps (three sits in a row) exercise, Salina sat the first time, then on the second “sit” command gave me the “Really?” look, turned around and casually walked out of the ring. Done. Three days later Salina was halfway through her six-hour shift at the Canaan Dog Meet the Breeds both when, above the din of thousands of people in the Orlando-Orange County Convention Center, I heard someone shout, “That’s the dog!” I looked up and it was the Rally judge from the day Salina walked out of the ring. There was nowhere to hide, so Salina and I had to cheerful endure as the judge gleefully related to her friend the story all over again.
Salina’s conformation career has been much less tumultuous, because after all conformation truly is Minimum Effort for Maximum Results. All Salina has to do is stand for a minute or two, move a little bit, and then—treats! As a result, she won Best Senior Puppy at the 2007 Canaan Dog Club of America National Specialty, and it didn’t take much longer for her to earn her AKC championship. Then she retired to have puppies and pursue other interests, i.e., food. But many years later, after we began showing our younger Canaans, Salina demanded to go to all the shows. She remembered that vendors were a ready source of handouts, and there was almost always leftover bait ringside. Minimum effort required there. But she was altered, so we couldn’t show her in most AKC events. In 2017 we noticed that altered dogs were eligible for the CDCA National Veteran Sweepstakes, so we entered her and she won the whole thing. She loved it. She could get food in the ring and still scavenge for extras later. She won the Veteran Sweepstakes again in 2018 and yet again in 2019, against dogs almost half her age.
In the interim we started showing our younger dogs in UKC events. At a large show in southern Virginia another exhibitor asked why we weren’t showing Salina. “She’s spayed” I replied, and the exhibitor then patiently explained how there’s a whole separate class in UKC for altered dogs, and they can also show in any veterans competitions. So I got up early the next morning and entered Salina in the day’s two shows in both the altered and veterans classes. After facing real competition all day long, Salina went home that evening with two Altered and one Veterans Best in Shows. That day she got plenty of treats, but she really had to work for her Maximum Results. Since then she has earned additional UKC Best Altered in Shows and a rare AKC Best Veteran in Show, and she won Best Altered and Best Veteran at the 2019 ICDCA National Specialty.
As much as she likes conformation, Salina’s absolute favorite activity is to represent the Canaan Dog breed at events, festivals and Meet the Breeds displays. And why not? Talk about Minimum Effort for Maximum Results, all she has to do is sit on a table and have the admirers come to her. She’ll happily work for hours, for the occasional treat of course, after dogs a quarter of her age have been exhausted. Salina has introduced thousands upon thousands of people to the breed while anchoring Canaan Dog booths at (among many other events) the National Dog Show, broadcast on NBC on Thanksgiving Day, and at the AKC National Championship in Orlando, during both of which her displays won highly-coveted awards in just the past couple of years. For lifetime service to the breed, Salina herself won the CDCA Dog of the Year Award for 2018.
Because she is so food motivated, Salina is very easy to train. So we’ve continued to look for new things for her to learn and do. Certain activities on their face violate Salina’s Minimum Effort for Maximum Results philosophy. She has totally failed Herding Instinct Tests after realizing that it is much too difficult to convert sheep on the hoof into mutton on the plate. Lure coursing was greeted with even more disdain, although Salina over the years has proved more than capable of chasing down real rabbits and squirrels. Although we took a couple of agility courses, that’s hard on an aging dog’s body and it isn’t keeping with Salina’s philosophy—too much work for the return. I’d heard about Barn Hunt (a.k.a, Find the Rat), and I was always looking for shows that offered an instinct test. Our introduction to Salina and Barn Hunt was somewhat embarrassing, however. One evening we were sitting in our living room with guests, and Salina was extremely interested in the coat closet at the far end of the room. She kept sniffing and pawing at the closed door. At first we didn’t think much of this, given that Salina had often gone “shopping” in the closet for food left in a purse or briefcase or, even worse, in a coat pocket. But that evening Salina was so persistent that I got up, walked over to the closet, and opened the door. Salina immediately dived into the pile of bags, shoes and other detritus on the closet floor and came out with . . . a live mouse. Needless to say, we were hesitant for years after that to invite people to our house.
It wasn’t until a few years later that Salina entered her first official Barn Hunt Instinct test. The test consisted of a hay bale maze with three fully enclosed tubes at the end, one of which was empty, one of which contained rat litter, and one of which contained an actual, live rat. Salina naturally passed the test in her usual style. She unsurprisingly wouldn’t sit at the start of the test, but once released she found her way through and over the maze of hay bales and immediately and without hesitation stuck her nose on one of the three tubes at the end. Knowing that two of the tubes were empty I foolishly asked her “Don’t you want to check out the other tubes?” She looked up at me with the usual expression that said, “Really?” and walked off in apparent disgust. I therefore called the tube she had nosed. Sure enough, it was the one containing the rat. Even with my delay to quiz her, she had the fastest successful run of the entire day.
I wasn’t familiar with Trick Dog, but after Salina earned her first Best in Veteran Sweeps I noticed that the local all-breed club was presenting Trick Dog tests. I quickly scanned the rules and saw that food is allowed in the ring. Plus, because Salina already had her Canine Good Citizen certificate (she officially has two—we think she “stole” her first one from her father too), she only needed to complete five tricks. That’s all I needed to know. We entered, and sure enough, Salina aced the test, completing 10 tricks in less than 10 minutes. Yes, 10 tricks. Although she only needed five, why stop when you can get an easy treat each time you do something?
While she continues to follow her Minimum Effort for Maximum Results philosophy, as Salina approaches her 14th birthday she is getting more strategic in her application of that approach to life. She recently received her Farm Dog Certified title, which requires two qualifying runs through twelve exercises designed to simulate the challenges of working on a farm. While none of the exercises is particularly difficult, no food rewards are allowed. One of the exercises requires the dog to wait quietly while the handler feeds livestock. On her first run, Salina was perfect—she calmly and patiently waited while I fed a goat. But she was clearly watching carefully, because during her second run the following day, when I turned my back on her to feed the goat, Salina immediately went for the bucket of Goat Chow. Fortunately, a dog rewarding herself during a run didn’t result in a DQ.
Even though Salina is almost 14, she is as alert as ever. She’s still the first to pounce on spilled food, and she’s always on the lookout for someone else’s stray kibble. So we have to be careful, and nowhere is safe from her scrutiny. Anything remotely food-like that is left in the car will be thoroughly and destructively examined by Salina for nutritional and/or flavor value. Fast food trash is particularly delicious. A couple of years ago we stopped for milkshakes on the way to a show. When we arrived at the show site, Cynthia put her half-finished peach milkshake in the front seat cupholder when we briefly left the car to talk to some friends. When we returned just a few minutes later, Salina was in the front seat and the milkshake was gone. The cup was still in the cupholder, and the lid was still on the cup, but the cup was empty. Without creating a mess or spilling a drop, Salina had managed to loosen the lid just enough to get at the good stuff. Ever since then, the front seat of the car has been a potential treasure trove for Salina. The assorted seat barriers we’ve installed have uniformly failed to prevent her from scavenging there. The UKC shows after this year’s ICDCA National Specialty were outside in beautiful weather, and we left Salina and the rest of the crew in the well-ventilated car while at the site, after first removing all conceivable edibles from the vehicle. One time when we returned, several people came running up—“We’ve been looking everywhere for you. Your windshield wipers have been going almost since you left!” That was odd, because the car wasn’t running, and it hadn’t rained for days. A brief examination of the front seat, however, provided the answer. Salina had penetrated the latest seat barrier, and while snuffling around had (1) stepped on the fancy “Start” button on the console, which activated the car’s auxiliary power system, and (2) knocked the wiper controls to “On.” It was either an accident, or Salina was annoyed because we hadn’t left her any tasty trash to consume.
The car is not the only place Salina has learned she can apply Minimum Effort for Maximum Food. Cynthia will never forget the time when Salina chewed a hole in her Patagonia parka hanging in the closet to get at the treat left in the pocket. I will never forget the conformation suit pants Salina has chewed through to get the bait remnants in the pockets. Even worse, she’s always willing to try new “foods.” Dryer lint and used makeup wipes have been on the menu in the past, so laundry room, bathroom, and hotel room trash cans must always be out of reach. Once I withdrew $140 from an ATM, which I shoved into my nylon briefcase instead of placing the bills immediately in my wallet like I should have. You can see where this is going. When I got home, I made the additional mistake of leaving my briefcase on the floor in our home office. Before I knew it, Salina had pulled out the seven $20 bills and thoroughly shredded them. Many have a taste for money, but this was ridiculous. Fortunately, (1) Salina didn’t actually like the flavor, because she didn’t swallow any of the money, and (2) our bank was happy to replace the shredded bills once taped back together (which is how we know that Salina hadn’t swallowed any bits).
Some things, however, can’t be taped back together. We recently stayed at an all-suites hotel while attending a dog show. Salina likes these hotels, because she can have her own chair or sofa to sleep on. She can also hope that someone forgets to put away a trashcan. One morning Salina wasn’t entered at the show, so she stayed in the suite while the other dogs competed in the breed. The trashcan was locked up in the bathroom. A couple of hours later we returned to the suite, and the floor was covered in shredded . . . something. What had Salina done? What was all over the suite? Then it hit me. Our friend Brittany had left her suitcase in the living room area of the suite. Like many female dog handlers, Brittany used her bra as a conveniently accessible place to keep bait while in the show ring. That made her worn undergarments irresistible to Salina, who had methodically removed them from the suitcase and then carefully and thoroughly shredded each one. It was an expensive treat for Salina, who was forced to turn over all of her previous sweepstakes winnings to Brittany, and it was highly embarrassing for us. But I think it was all worth it for Salina So Special, who always does things her way.
 Her fancy name is now Multiple Best Veteran in Show, Multiple Best Altered in Show, Best Veteran and Altered in Specialty Show, Multiple Best in Veteran Sweepstakes, Canaan Dog Club of America Dog of the Year, AKC Champion, UKC Altered Champion, Eastland Salina So Special, Canine Good Citizen, Rally Novice, Trick Dog Novice, and Farm Dog Certified.