Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rally Nerves and Successes

After our double-NQ disaster on October 14, I was determined that we'd do better at the next trial on October 28.

The raised signs had proved particularly troublesome for Pongu, as he'd never seen such things before and was frightened by the eye-level signs, so I made up some fake Scary Signs and drilled Dog Mob around those things until they could both comfortably ignore the signs indoors.

After a couple of days, when they could ignore the signs in their usual training area, I moved the signs outside and constructed a pop-up mini Rally course in the alley behind our condo. Bonus: a nearby restaurant had an enormous vent that sometimes blew into that alley, creating a second distraction that duplicated the noisy fan which had also thrown Pongu off at the October 14 trial.

It turned out to be an enormous hassle to get that thing set up, and even at half past midnight (the hour when I took the above picture) there were people wandering through my fake Rally course constantly, so we didn't use it that often. I think it helped, though, and it didn't take too long for Pongu to get used to the raised signs in this context as well. (Crookytail, of course, was never bothered by them at all. Not much rattles a Crookydog, other than SEPTA buses.)

In addition to prepping the dogs, I had to prepare myself. My own ring nerves were a much bigger problem than Pongu's had been -- he was willing to work through his issues, but I hadn't been willing to struggle through mine. So, in preparation for this round, I downloaded a couple of super catchy songs into my iPod and just put them on repeat, running them through my head over and over to block out all other thoughts.

I also tried to convince myself that "it's just for fun, these scores are meaningless, it's not about the numbers" but hahaaaa like that ever works. Please. You put any possibility of an honors ranking in front of a lifelong azn overachiever, she's gonna gun for that score. Fortunately, Pongu feels the same way (or at least appears to do so enough that I can impose my interpretations on him and not feel like a liar), and as long as I've got one nerd dog who's willing to share my nerd goals, it doesn't matter if the other dog wants to take a more laid-back approach.

So off we went to our trial! Crookytail still didn't have a reliable left pivot and Pongu was-and-is generally unreliable in scary new environments populated by scary new people, but whatever, it was as good as it was gonna get in the time we had.

Both dogs were entered in two runs apiece. My goal was for Pongu to earn two Qs with 190 points or higher on each run (which would enable him to earn a Level 1 Award of Excellence) and for Crookytail to just have a good time and not get too stressed out. Crooky hates competitions anyway -- he doesn't do well under pressure and he thinks it's dumb that he can't play with all the other dogs -- so I wanted him to just hang in there and hopefully not pee on any signs.

As it turned out, this venue didn't have any raised signs -- they were resting on the floor the same way they do in our regular class -- so all that scary-signs prepwork was for nothing. Oh well. Better to be over-prepared than under.

Dog Mob did very well. I'm proud of them both.

Pongu was a little shaky and distracted by over-vigilance, as he is wont to be in new environments, so we lost some points on repeated cues (3x each run) and on the first run I also dropped a treat, which cost us another 3 points and taught me a valuable lesson about the need to have big, easily grasped treats in my pocket when I'm all fumble-fingered with nerves.

Crookytail was... Crookytail. He popped up on every one of his Sits, which cost 1 point each time and was commented upon by both judges, but was nevertheless an improvement over his dropping into constant unwanted Downs (he didn't do that once!), and he did a lot of lagging and sign-sniffing during the Heeling portions of each exercise. APDT Rally has an extremely generous definition of "Heel position," so that didn't cost us too much... but honestly, it should have. At best, what Crooky was doing might count as "loose-leash walking on the left," but I wouldn't consider it anything close to an actual Heel for about half of each run, and I feel like grading it the same as a proper Heel devalues the performances of the teams who did do close, correct Heels. So even though the lax grading benefited my dog, I would have preferred a stricter definition that put more importance on proper performance of the exercise.

I feel pretty much the same way about Crooky's crookedy Fronts and diagonal Downs. He did the exercises on the first prompts, and that's all that counts... but they were really out of position. These are just minor nitpicks, though, and it feels ungrateful to even mention them.

Because the important thing is that Dog Mob did really, really well. Pongu didn't melt down; by the end he even seemed to be having fun. He earned his RL1 title with an Award of Excellence and took second place in his final run of the day. Crookytail held up nicely in the trial environment (he did get a little stressed and dispirited that he couldn't play with the other dogs, and by the end of the day he was wilted on the ground in complete exhaustion), picked up two Qs, and even earned third place in his second run. (Technically he only tied for third place, and there should have been a runoff to determine the actual placement, but since the other team had left a little early to outrace Hurricane Sandy, Crookytail "won" by default. Hooray!)

So there we are! All our goals met or exceeded, and even a couple of placement ribbons to take home! TRIUMPH!!

Dog Mob's next trial, which will also be their last for the year, is in early December. There's only one run at this trial, so Crooky has one chance to pick up an extra Q and earn his RL1 before the year ends.

If he makes it, great. If not, no big deal. There'll be more trials next year, and we'll be going to them. Because Pongu, at least, is not stopping at his RL1.

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