Meanwhile, Pongu's Rally career proceeds on a bumpy but generally upward trajectory.
We've been drilling harder lately, and with greater focus. It's starting to pay off. Our Q rate in Level 3 has improved from 0% to 50% in the last couple of trials, and when we do Q, we've been getting good scores -- 207 on our first successful run, 206 on our second try. We're still battling broken Stays and some reluctance around unfamiliar jumps, and the Recall Over Jump is a particular bugaboo because it combines both of those things into a single exercise, but I'm seeing definite improvement and I'm beginning to believe that we may be nearing the end of this particular plateau.
The Saturday before last, we did a double trial at the Positive Motivation Training Center in Washington, New Jersey.
This was a pretty big trial (almost 50 teams entered) with some excellent teams creating stiff competition for placements. Pongu earned Qs in 4 of his 6 entered runs (NQ'ed once each in Level 2 and Level 3 on, you guessed it!, a broken Stay and a jump runout) and took home two placement ribbons. It was an unfamiliar venue, and we got there so late that they were breaking down the Level 1 course when we arrived (the judge graciously put it on hold long enough for us to bumble through the course blind and cold -- we scored a not-so-stellar 198, but I'm just grateful we got to run that course at all!), which contributed to Pongu's uncertainty and wobbly performances early on.
But he recovered and gave me some good runs with happy start-line smiles, and earned his first-ever Level 3 Q at this event, so I'm more than satisfied with our performance overall.
Then last Friday we went back to the Bella Vista Training Club for another shot at ARCHX. This time, we got it -- along with Pongu's RL1X2 and RL2X level championships, another Level 3 Q (and first place!), and a perfect score of 210 (and first place again!) in his last Level 1 run of the night. We did NQ one of the Level 3 runs on (yep) a broken Stay during the Recall Over Jump, but whatever, I can't get too upset about that when Pongu did everything else so well that night.
Fewer than 100 mixed-breed dogs worldwide have earned the ARCHX. Pongu is muttpuppy #97 to do it. And yeah, I'll admit, I was secretly hoping we would squeeze in there before the hundredth dog did, and it was close enough to make me worry!
But earn it he did. And despite the venue being hot and filled with distracting bugs (including a big slow bumblebee that Pongu chomped right out of the air when we were waiting to begin our first run) and loud scary fans, he held it together well enough to pull a string of good scores on all his qualifying runs: 204, 205, 206, 208, 210.
I am so, so proud of my little crazypants. Anxious scaredybutt Pongu is out there competing, and sometimes winning!, like a Real Dog. He's on equal terms with everyone else now, even if he is a bonafide basketcase nutjob.
The next goal on our list is the ARCHEX. To earn that title, Pongu must get 10 QQs of 195 or higher in Levels 2B and 3B. We're not even in Level 3B yet, and we struggle with earning consistent Qs in both Level 2 and Level 3, so QQs at the higher levels may elude us for a while. I'm not really worried about the scores; when Pongu qualifies at all, he generally does so with plenty of room to spare score-wise. But NQs continue to be a problem, so I would be surprised if we get the ARCHEX this year. More likely, we'll earn it sometime in early 2014.
But that's okay. Eventually we'll get it. I'm in no hurry. As far as I'm concerned, Pongu has vaulted himself into the elite ranks of Rally, and I'm inclined to enjoy the rest of our journey for as long as we can. We've worked through the toughest part of the road; we've done the heavy lifting of convincing an anxious dog that the ring can be an enjoyable place sometimes. Pongu can do the exercises, and he likes the game. That was the hard part, and now it's (mostly) behind us.
While I imagine we'll have plenty of challenges and setbacks ahead, I'm still inclined to say that after this point, we're in the fun part of Pongu's Rally career. He's got the skill and, more often than not, he can muster up the courage. Now it's about chasing perfection.