Keeping up with the theme of this past weekend’s San Diego trip I get a lot of people on my social media asking me what USMRA is, no it’s not a branch of the Marine Corp, though I know the acronym is similar and confusing. USMRA stands for the United States Mondio Ring Association, the sport along with many others originated in European countries and is very popular still out there. The USMRA is a member of the American Working Dog Federation (AWDF).
Other ring sports include:
- French Ring
- The mission of the USMRA and AWDF is to promote, conduct and administer Mondioring trials held to the FCI standards.
- To promote proper and humane training and handling of all dogs that participate in the sport.
- To promote sportsmanlike conduct at all Mondioring activities.
- To promote education about Mondioring by establishing nationwide trials open to the public as well as participants.
So what is Mondioring exactly?
I have been involved in the sport going on 4 years now, I live on the ranch that holds trials each year and twice a week we have club training, but unfortunately, I do not have a dog of my own to work. With 2 of my own dogs that deserve my attention, I can’t afford a 3rd high octane working dog. It’s not fair to me, my dogs, or a working dog I would get. Everyone knows I’m chomping at the bit to get a dog of my own, and they all ask me when that will happen. Though I don’t participate as a handler I do participate in many other ways and watch from the outside looking in, so that’s why I feel like I’m qualified to explain this to people who aren’t circling the sport or been around it their whole lives. SO let’s dive in!
Here is my elevator pitch on the sport. Mondio is a competitive sport that demonstrates obedience and personal protection at different levels through a series of exercises. Different from the other ring sports, Mondio practices with many distractions like what may occur in the real world outside of the arena. Strangers approaching loudly, shaking hands, toys, and food on the field to deter a dog. It’s all about control and training.
Therefore I love the sport, as someone who suffers from anxiety these days (who wouldn’t with all the mass shootings and human trafficking) I find I look over my shoulder everywhere I go and always have Beowolf by my side. Beowolf is not trained in personal protection at all, but he has an incredible judge of character and will literally push me off the sidewalk is someone sketchy is passing. However, the training for Mondioring is designed around that. In obedience classes, I find I started using the same commands and training techniques I see in the arena and it really helps with keeping him close.
Really this is a hobby for many people in the sport worldwide, for some, it’s their full-time job and they’ve made a career out of it but for many, they come home from working 9-5 and pull out Fido for training.
Who can participate?
Well right now there are still new regulations being formatted to evolve with the sport, however, USMRA participates in International events such as “Worlds” which is a worldwide trial for the top 6 in each country for each level. As it stands here are the criteria for dogs participating:
- All new registrants must be purebred and registered through an organization. *This rule is in dispute amongst everyone so it may change*. This includes all breeds! The most popular are Belgian Malinois, German shepherds, and Dutch shepherds “Dutchies”. But can include large and small breeds from American Staffordshire terriers and Pugs to Cane Corso, Rottweilers and St. Bernard’s. If it’s purebred and has teeth, it can work! Currently, mixed breeds can participate but cannot place.
- All dogs are to be intact (Not spayed or neutered). *This rule is also in dispute* Females can get away with this as you can’t obviously see the uterus from the outside and nobody does a physical to check, but males are harder to fool the judges. If you want to participate but your dog is neutered, there are things called Neuticles which are testicle implants, this is cosmetic surgery so be aware and do your research.
- Behavior- Dogs don’t need to be outgoing and super friendly though that makes life easier for everyone, for those of you who have aggressive or sketchy dogs, this also may be the sport you can participate in. The sport teaches you how to control a dog who is “on a bite” and teaches your dog an “off switch” it will also teach your dog an “on switch” too so they are less likely to take matters into their own paws. Since the dogs don’t intermingle and many handlers are familiar with an intense personality, nobody is judging you! I know of several dogs are only like their handler and nobody else, when on the field the dogs learned this is time to work and after that, they are put away. Contact your local club coach for a consultation if you are interested in pursuing the sport with your dog.
- Healthy- Vaccinated and in good physical health. The sport is a sport for dogs, not slavery, so the health and well being of dogs are the first and foremost top priority. Limping dogs, dogs with cuts or torn nails, health issues are not permitted and will be asked to leave the field. Many handlers will pull their dogs the morning of competition if they are subpar on their health, for many handlers in the US these are pets first and a working dog 2nd. So health is always a priority.
*As regulations change I will be updating this post. The coach for the Santa Clarita Mondio Club is close to those on the board committee so all changes, I will be among the first to know. *
There are 4 levels of Mondioring that are all based on the level of training for the dog. It’s not based on age like shows or other sports but where the dog is in training, the higher the level the harder it gets, and more exercises are involved. Again this sport is designed to build a bond and boost confidence in a dog, not deter it, so putting a dog in a level it’s not ready for is STUPID.
This is the beginner level, for young dogs or dogs just starting in the sport.
- Healing without a leash
- Absence of handler– Dog is in the “Down” position while the handler leaves for 60 seconds. The dog must stay put until handler returns and releases the dog from the down position. There may be a ball or toy thrown to distract the dog, but this is at a distance so it’s not too hard.
- Retrieve– Basically a single game of fetch with a “personal item” likely something you’ve been training with. Dog retrieves the item, then comes back to sit in front of the handler. The dog has 15 seconds to complete the task. (Below is Oj Knighten and Dude. Oj is a handler and professional dog trainer in Los Angeles County, see his Instagram)
- Hurdle– The height is based on the standard for the level, which is 0.8 meters.
- Face attack with Baton– The “Decoy” stands at a distance and wave the baton lightly, these sticks make a clattering noise and their bark is worse than the bite. The handler sends the dog to bite the decoy and after 10 seconds the handler gives the command to stop. At which point the dog must stop and either guard or lay down, then the handler can call the dog back or walk over and Heel him away.
- Defense of the Handler– This one is fun, it’s very interactive with the handler and the decoy. The Decoy’s job is to be very annoying and will try and get your dog to bite, however, the dog is not allowed to bite until the decoy hits the handler with both hands. He must use both hands and it must be clear and audible for the dog to understand, at which point when he bites after 5 seconds the handler will call off the dog at which point the exercise ends the same way it did with the face attack.
Level 1, 2, and 3 consists of all exercises in Brevet, with additional exercises.
Must pass each Level twice to be certified and advance to the next level *Same goes for levels 2 and 3*
- Send Away or Send Out- This is like the fake game of fetch. The dog is sent to retrieve an item and once he passes through a certain threshold the handler is to call him back. He is to return to a heel position.
- Positions– Handler is to command the dog to change positions from a distance. Sit, Down, Stand. In any combination. The judge or field assistant will tell you the combination during the exercise.
- Food Refusal– As the name says, handler leaves the dog in a Down position while someone tosses food in front of him. The dog should ignore the food, licking or eating results in failure of that exercise.
- Little Wood– Only level 2 & 3. The handler is given a small piece of wood to rub his scent on it, then across the field will place it in the middle of 3 other identical pieces of wood. The dog is to sniff out the scent and retrieve the correct wood.
Jumping Exercises: You can select the height your dog jumps, but you get more points the higher the jump.
- Palisade– Level 1- 1.8-meter height; Level 2- 1.8, 1.9, 2.0, 2.1; Level 3- 2.2, 2.3m
- Long Jump
- Hurdle– Level 1- 1.0; Level 2- 1.1; Level 3- 1.2 (Below is Francois Massart a french handler/ decoy/ professional dog trainer in Temecula, CA. See his Instagram)
- Face attack with Baton and obstacle– Only Level 2 & 3 are with an obstacle (something for the dog to jump over like a tunnel or row of water barrels)
- Face Attack with Accessories– Only Level 2 & 3. An accessory is a bundle of objects the dog should run through to get a bite. (Below is Allison a handler and Decoy check out her Instagram)
- Flee Attack– The decoy is running away, and the handler sends the dog after the bite.
- Stopped Flee Attack or Call Off– Only Level 3. Same as Flee attack except handler is to call dog back before it contacts the decoy, the dog should return to a heel position.
- Search and Escort– Only Level 2 & 3. Basically, a game of hide-and-seek with the decoy, the dog should sniff him out and bark until the handler comes and gives dog next command. Then the dog should stay with decoy’s every move and prevent him from escaping via a bite, a lot of dogs are trained to walk between the legs of a decoy making it harder for an escape.
- Object Guard– Only Level 3. The object can be anything and the dog is to stand and guard it against the decoy who is trying to steal it while the handler is out of site. The dog should initiate a bite within a certain distance from the object, then let go to return to guarding the object.
So how do we know who wins?
The best part is it’s a paired team sport, nobody competes against one another, everyone upholds the most sportsmanlike conduct. We all cheer and clap for each other and help everyone out, tips, videotaping and taking pictures among other things. Each exercise is scored on a point system, everything is worth a certain amount of points and the judges remove points as needed. In any event either everyone can pass, or nobody can, it all boils down to each individual team. It’s just you and your dog on the field, all your training and hard work come down to what happens on the field.
What’s the reward?
Eternal GLORY! Just kidding but seriously everyone competes for a title for their dog and bragging rights. There is no prize money, though, every trial has raffles and you can win some dope stuff! Like I said earlier in the post, this is a hobby for pet owners as well as professional trainers, but everyone has the same amount of fun! Not to mention opportunities to travel for trials and meet new friends.
Do the dogs like it?
Do they ever! This is a sport designed for dogs, many thrive in this sport especially mouthy energetic dogs like the herding and working breeds. Most were bred to do exactly this and many owners admit that on their days off the dogs still want to work. You can hear excited cries as the dogs are on the field, they can’t control themselves and are eager to get out and work. They were born to work and do something, sure maybe the obedience part isn’t as fun but their reward in a “tug” or ball is well worth it, not to mention many decoys refer to themselves as a human tug.
What if I don’t want to compete?
There are many pet owners who don’t compete with their dogs but come to training just the same. We are a community of dog lovers who all mostly have the same breeds and can relate. We talk, we laugh, we eat and work dogs! There is no rule that says you have to compete if you train, in fact, if Valentine was able or Beowolf was younger I would participate in training but wouldn’t do the competitions. Like I said it’s a hobby and a fun one at that, creates a bond with you and your dog, teaches you about handling a powerful dog and builds both of your self-confidence! Contact a local club for any questions. *If you don’t plan on competing then a mixed dog can participate*
What if I don’t have a dog?
That’s not a problem as neither do I. You can volunteer at trials, help with your local clubs offering services and such (snacks and in my case I am the Vet tech on duty). If you’re interested in being a decoy the best part is this is an equal opportunity sport, both men and WOMEN can be decoys! Even I have taken a bite from one of our dogs in the club and let me tell you, it’s a major rush! I would do it more, but we have plenty of decoys to help and the coach doesn’t want me to get hurt since I need to be on my feet all day and I’m out of shape to handle the stamina and weight of the suit.
Where can I check out an event?
Trials are held throughout the year by various clubs, this is nationwide as well as worldwide! National events are held in the spring and the International World’s championship are usually the first week of October. Trials are really fun as each one has a theme so the club decorates and makes it as interesting and unique as possible! Click on this link to see when and where there is a trial nearest to you!
Check out this video of Jessica and Khaleesi from the USMRA Nationals April 13th. She is a level 3 competitor from our Santa Clarita club. Jessica is a teacher and Khaleesi is a family dog!
So I won you over and you want to know how to get started?
Santa Clarita Mondio Club Southern California.
Hope you like this post, come check out a trial if you’re ever in the area!