Another trial, another mixed bag. That seems to be our theme this fall.
In my quest to finish Pongu's ARCHEX title this year, I entered just about every November and December trial I could find within a three-hour driving range of Philadelphia. Among them was the Versatile K9 trial up in Andover, New Jersey, which I entered even though historically Pongu has done worse at this venue than any other we've tried so far.
To be fair, we only trialed here once before: back in March, when a different club held a triple trial at that venue. I entered Pongu in three Level 1 runs and three Level 2 runs (we weren't doing Level 3 at that point), and it... well, it didn't go too well.
On that day, Pongu had a total meltdown. He didn't like the ceiling fans, he didn't like the heating system, he didn't like the creaks from the walls. He didn't like anything. We Q'ed in one Level 1 run and one Level 2, and everything else was an NQ. We even NQ'ed in Level 1 because Pongu completely froze and panicked on the course.
I finally just scratched him and went home before attempting our last run. That is the only trial where I've scratched a run because Pongu's stress levels spiked so high that even I, dedicated practitioner of the Brute Force NQ technique, had to acknowledge that my dog was not going to learn anything good from being allowed to fail in the ring. (I've scratched us from Level 3 a couple of times because I got over-optimistic when really we had no business trying to run Level 3, but that's not remotely the same thing.)
So it was with some apprehension that I signed up to do another trial at that venue. Pongu's craziness aside, it's actually quite a nice venue -- the hosting clubs have always been super nice and well organized, and I've never had the smallest complaint on that front -- but it is a single-ring facility, so double trials can stretch into long days, and the drive there involves prolonged stretches on single-lane highways where it seems like I inevitably get trapped behind the world's slowest little old lady driver.
But we made it, and we proceeded to do... not real well, overall. It was still a small venue with creaky walls and horses outside and, at this time of year, gunshots echoing through the distance. (Also, for some reason, there were a ton of ticks crawling around. Pongu picked up three ticks just walking on leash through the potty areas.)
Despite his increased confidence over the past few months, Pongu was still pretty anxious here. He broke his Stay on the first Level 1 bonus exercise, costing us those ten points, and was generally a mess. Lots of double cues when he froze up and didn't hear my first prompts, lots of bumps during heeling where he tried to crowd into me for reassurance, and then a slightly higher-than-usual number of our usual persistent little errors like crooked Sits. He whined and squeaked and flinched through all his runs, right through the end of the day.
But he took all his jumps -- the Send-By Jump, the Recall Over Jump, and even that pesky dreaded Off-Set Jump -- and he held the Stays that would have caused us NQs instead of just point losses, and we ended the day with six Qs out of six entered runs.
The scores weren't pretty. 197, 199, 199, 202, 203, 204. Only two placements: a fifth place in Level 2 and a third place in Level 3.
Still, it was a 100% Q rate in a venue that had been prohibitively difficult for him in the past, doing exercises that had also been prohibitively difficult in the past. I'm willing to count that as a success.
Plus: ponies! Barely visible in the background here (it's the brown blur through the fence boards), but still.
It was a very long day, but we finished it two QQs closer to ARCHEX, and with the knowledge that Pongu has it in him to pick up triple-Q legs even in the venue that was the very hardest one for him this year. That'll come in handy next year, I hope.