Apparently, beating the game with Pongu's ARCHMX unlocked an exciting new chapter for us. New Game Plus: Challenge Mode!
Sunday saw us at iQ Agility in Bloomsbury, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from the Pennsylvania state line. I had entered a second day's worth of Rally trials just in case we didn't finish off Pongu's MX on Saturday, and once we did, I wasn't too sure about waking up at 4 am to venture out on a second marathon day of dog competitions. Two days back-to-back is a lot for both of us.
But I decided to go (even though I slept in until 5:30) because a fair number of our friends were going to be there (peer pressure ftw!) and it was my absolute number-one most favoritest judge, and also I was really curious about the new venue. It was not one that I'd ever seen listed on a trial premium before.
We rolled in pretty late, because (a) I slept in until 5:30 (only in the insane world of dog sports does sleeping in until 5:30 on a Sunday morning screw you for the day, but there you have it); and (b) I got in a fight with my GPS, which kept insisting that the fastest way to get there was to take Broad Street/Rt. 611 for 47 miles through the entirety of Philadelphia and up through many, many miles of suburban strip malls and big box developments and stoplights.
Broad Street is never the fastest way to go anywhere except crazy, so I steadfastly ignored the GPS's squawking until we were well up on I-95, and then I forgot what the rest of the route was supposed to be according to Google Maps so I had no choice but to let the GPS take over. At that point our progress slowed down dramatically and I got to take a long, scenic detour through rural Pennsylvania until we got back onto 611/Easton Road and it was just boring big box developments and stoplights again.
But EVENTUALLY we got there.
And it turned out that the venue was in an old horse barn that still smelled strongly of horses. The crating area was in some of the old straw-littered stalls. The barn had a metal roof, upon which rain drummed as we entered, and an artificial turf floor upon which another dog had peed during one of the early runs before we arrived. One wall abutted a chicken coop, where a rooster crowed all day long and hens squawked as they laid their eggs, and another wall was next to an open, fenced area where chickens pecked and guinea fowl clucked and geese honked and clacked incessantly.
There was a sheep, too. A very big, very smelly, very vocal sheep. All the dogs were super excited about that, but the herdy dogs had their minds particularly blown.
So... that was a Challenge Mode trial and no mistake. Everybody got to do some heavy-duty proofing and distraction work. Dogs who normally run perfectly wandered off and snuffled at the chicken coop door and got distracted by the enticing chorus of sheep-and-geese noises coming from the other wall.
Pongu, predictably, regarded all the noises as Harbingers of Certain Doom and was a complete wreck. In a perverse way I found it pretty encouraging, though, because where "complete wreck" used to mean that I had absolutely no dog in the ring, or that he'd dodge the jumps or break his Stays or otherwise totally crash and burn, now a "complete wreck" performance for Pongu means that he needs some repeat cues and does crooked Sits because he's trying to hide behind me and lags during heeling.
It means we get ugly runs with ugly scores. But -- at least on that day, in that venue, which was in some respects the most difficult one we've ever visited -- Pongu earned a Q on every run. More than that, he mostly scored in the low to mid-200s. Not great, by any measure, but a much better definition of "disaster" than we've ever been privileged to have before.
His last run of the day would, in fact, have been a perfect 210 if his dumdum of a handler hadn't forgotten that the Stand-Stay recall is to Heel position and not to Front. I goofed up and had to re-do it, knocking our score down to 207 and ruining what would have been the only perfect score for any dog that whole day.
So overall Pongu did not-great but also, at the same time, GREAT!! Sometimes I really need to step back and remember that yeah okay his heeling is not spectacular today... but a year ago I would have wept for joy to have the problems that make me gnash my teeth today.
I am mostly planning not to keep our ribbons now that we've gotten our MX. Pongu has so many Q ribbons and even so many placement ribbons that I'm just out of space to hang them all. At this trial, he placed in five out of his six runs, but I only kept one of his blues, and that mostly so that I could take the pictures in this blog post. I was so proud of my little crazypants muttbutt for performing so nicely in a tough venue that I wanted to get a shot of him wearing blue at that site.
So I kept a ribbon for that. I think it's an especially nice one.