Sunday, November 10, 2013

CDSP Trial at Bella Vista, 11/9

One thing I often say (probably more often than I should) is that being involved in dog sports is a little bit like being involved in a Lifetime Channel bad relationship: abuse abuse abuse and then a glimmer of good and glorious sweet true love, just enough to keep you going through another round of abuse because you think "this time it'll be different."

Pongu took home a 193 (third place) at yesterday's CDSP trial to finish his CD-C with a string of three okay-but-unexceptional scores in the low 190s. I'm proud that he has his Novice title in obedience now -- a goal that once seemed unimaginable for us -- and I'm looking forward to trialing him in Open next spring.

At the same time I have to admit that I have a lot of mixed emotions about our showing yesterday. It pointed up a number of trouble areas and reminded me that as far as he's come in the past year, Pongu still is a fearful dog and always will be. I will never be able to take for granted that he's bombproof. He isn't. He still falls apart with very little prodding.

And it tantalized me with siren promises of just how good he could be if I keep working at it (and/or if I had a better dog, which is a devil voice that I shall do my utmost to ignore. At least for the next few years).

And it gave us our two worst NQs ever.

So, on to the recap.

Yesterday's trial was held at BVTC, a venue with which Pongu is very familiar and where he's normally pretty relaxed, or anyway as relaxed as crazypants dog ever gets. However, deer season recently started in our area (on the way home we passed several enormous pickup trucks with two or three freshly killed deer apiece strapped onto the back), and there were a lot of people shooting guns on the properties around the training facility. Not hunting, but doing target practice -- and doing so much of it that the percussion of shots was unending and you could actually smell the gunsmoke drifting across the fields.

Pongu did not like that. He was more of a wreck than I've seen him in months: shaking, drooling, wild-eyed, totally unable to focus. It hearkened back to our bad old days starting out in Rally last year. He calmed down somewhat as the day went on, but he was never in good form that entire trial.

Nevertheless, he held it together enough to eke out a Q with a score of 193 on his first run, finishing his CD-C title. We lost points on more anxiety-driven mistakes like Pongu jumping into me (and knocking me back a couple of steps) instead of doing a clean Front after his Recall Over Jump. He also popped up into a Stand when the judge spoke, which hit us for more points. argh.

That was the only Q I was going to get out of him the whole day.

Midway through Pongu's second run, he flipped out and ran wildly around the ring for a solid 20 seconds or so. I have absolutely no idea what set him off, other than general anxiety. It was between exercises so it didn't cost us anything, and I got his focus back after a couple of prompts, but it wasn't a good omen of things to come. (An alternative view, though, is that he was able to calm himself down and become semi-functional once I started asking him to work again, so looked at from that perspective, it's not all bad.)

Right before we set up for the Recall Over Jump, a metal shutter rattled loudly on a window directly behind Pongu. He did not want to have his back to that shutter, and he was super tense holding his Stay on the far side of the jump. So this time when the judge spoke, he broke his Stay and took the jump and that was an NQ.

However, the judge apparently forgot to write this down, because when it came time to read off the scores and pin the class, she had us down for a score of 196, which was also first place and High In Trial. I had to shamefacedly admit that no, actually, we NQ'ed that run, and watch in agony as the big glorious HIT ribbon moved down to the next person who had actually qualified.


Pongu's third run was even worse. Once again he turned in a performance that had a couple of minor flaws (lagging on the Figure 8 was particularly bad that time around) but was overall pretty good... until he POOPED IN THE RING right before setting up for the Recall Over Jump.

That was a total wtf moment, because Pongu does not have housebreaking issues. At all. Ever. He hasn't had an accident since he was five months old. He has always been flawless in other people's houses and rental cottages and every training or trial facility we've ever visited... and then he just laid a massive stinker right in front of the jump.

I have to think that was another anxiety issue but I honestly don't know. He isn't sick. And he's never been anxious enough to poop himself at a trial before, even though he has done it a couple of times out on the street. So I guess Pongu must have been even more frightened at that trial than he was letting on, and that makes me feel bad that I didn't see it.

(As an added humiliation, I don't know what our final score would have been on that run because he didn't do the Recall Over Jump so that part didn't get scored, but based on the points we lost up till then, I believe it would have been in the neighborhood of 195, maybe better. argh x3.)

Here, for posterity, is the Poop Run:

So... that was that. Pongu finished his Novice obedience title and he gave me humiliations galore. He came infuriatingly close to capturing a HIT on his second (or third, depending on how you're counting) obedience trial ever... and then he didn't, because he was a nervous wreck, but he almost did it even though he was a nervous wreck, so I still don't know how to think about that.

On the way home I stopped at the Valley Forge rest stop and got him some chicken nuggets from Burger King. I feel like overall that day deserved a three-dollar box of chicken nuggets. It wasn't a Barclay Prime filet mignon day. But it was a chicken nuggets day.

That (probably) concludes our competition obedience trialing for 2013. I'm planning to make our debut in Open next spring, and hopefully progress to Utility in the second half of 2014 too.


  1. Congratulations, but with reservations. I, too, had a somewhat anxious dog that was a successful competitor. I think that if my dog had displayed such stress and anxiety early in the day, I would have taken her home and not asked her to continue. I kept telling myself to work with the dog I had, not the dog I wish I had.

  2. Yep, that's definitely a sensible way to handle it!

    With Pongu, what seems to work best is repeated exposures with small (but cumulative) successes that get big celebrations, so I tend to push him onward (and eat infinity NQs along the way). I'm still not altogether sure whether I made the right call at that particular trial, but that approach has worked well over the long run and he did seem calmer as the day wore on, so... I think if I had to do it over again, I would have done exactly the same thing. His scores and demeanor improved, other than the NQ faults.

    So yeah, I'd have done it over again. Except for giving him a whole lot more time to potty before that last run, that is!

    But you really do have to know your dog. I am dead certain that the approach I take with Pongu could backfire badly for a different team. Constant pushing works for my dog, but it works because (a) he trusts me a lot; and (b) I seriously honestly do not care anymore if we NQ, and learning that there's no penalty for failure -- only celebrations for his little wins -- has seemed to improve his confidence greatly.

    Therapeutic failure and massive self-mockery. That's it, that is my ultimate recipe for success.