On Saturday, Pongu and I went to the Oakes K9 Rally trial at K9Jym in Colmar, PA.
scores were mostly pretty good, if not quite as stellar as last
weekend's. Our heeling needs a lot of work, particularly in a trial
environment, and the Figure 8 With Distractions is somehow a lot more
distracting at a trial than it ever seems to be in training. Scores:
208/209/209, 207 (repeated cue)/204 (two food bowl sniffs!)/205 (partial
credit on retrieve bonus exercise). Placed in exactly half his runs,
because it was a big field with some highly competitive teams -- not quite
to the point of needing a 210 to place, but close! -- and gave me cause
to reflect on how wonderfully absurd it is that I can be disappointed,
however slightly, when Pongu "only" places in half of his B-class runs
and "only" nets third to fifth place. There was a day, not that long
ago, when I was ecstatic if he placed in any Championship-level run.
got two more QQQs knocked out, bringing our total to eight; it is now
theoretically possible (but unlikely, because it's not a great venue for
him) that we could finish Pongu's MX at his next trial on March 30th.
important to me than any ribbon or placement, however, was Pongu's
attitude at this trial. The venue wasn't new for him; we've trialed at
K9Jym several times before. But the facility had recently been
renovated, and the new setup threw off several other dogs who, like
Pongu, had only seen its earlier incarnation.
seem to bother him too much, though. Pongu wasn't that stressy for his
first couple of runs. He wasn't on the top of his game either, but we
did decently well.
During the lunch break we went back to sit in the car and I reread Suzanne Clothier's Bones Would Rain...
and thought about how lucky I was to have these moments with my dog,
relaxing together in the early spring sunshine, playing a game of
cooperation that challenged both of us and our shared skills as a team. I
thought about how lucky we were to have come into dog sports during a
time when motivational training was widely accepted and highly developed
and available to us both locally and online. Because none of this would
ever have been possible for Pongu, or me, if we hadn't had the help of
so many patient, knowledgeable teachers showing us the way.
And when we went back in, Pongu was -- again! miraculously! -- smiling, happy, and relaxed.
Our scores were actually a little worse on the second go-around, what
with his sudden interest in the food bowls and a repeated cue in Level
1, but those were mistakes of enthusiasm rather than stress, and I will
take them with joy.
As for our Level 3 run, I had
forgotten our dumbbell at home and the bonus exercise on the second
Level 3 run was the retrieve. I didn't have a retrieve object. What I did have was a fuzzy squeaky toy that Pongu had earned for placing in a previous run.
I threw that out there, and he grabbed it and brought it back to me for
a few steps, then tossed it aside and came in empty for a clean Front
and nice finish. We got 5 of the 10 possible points and finished the run
with a 205. And I was thrilled with that, because just a few
months ago, there is absolutely no way that Pongu would have touched,
let alone nearly done a proper retrieve with, a strange new squeaky toy
he'd just gotten a couple of hours ago.
enthusiasm for being in the ring is still fragile and fleeting. He's
still not a stable or particularly confident dog. It's easy for him to
get overwhelmed and shut down. But I've never seen him as happy as he
was the last two trials, and it seemed to me that his relaxed state
lasted longer at this trial than it did the previous one.
That's a victory that goes far beyond ribbons.