Friday afternoon saw us back in New Jersey, this time at the Lower Bucks Dog Training Club's evening Rally trial in hopes of finishing off Pongu's AKC Rally Advanced title.
I cajoled the Spousal Unit into driving because twice now I've gotten pulled over and ticketed for expired registration, inspection, and/or emissions stickers on our car. (Well, last time I got a ticket. The time before that was when our car got towed because the City of Philadelphia does not joke around about expired registrations.) It is not my responsibility to do those things, but somehow Peter never gets pulled over for the expired stickers. I am the only one who gets ticketed for those things and they're the only things I ever get ticketed for.
So, given that this was a short trial and should hopefully be the last time I have to drive anywhere before the emissions and inspections stuff gets updated, I bugged him to drive. And, of course, we got no tickets.
To my mild surprise (because I expected traffic to be worse on a Friday evening leading into a holiday weekend), we got there on time. The training facility was slightly hard to find; our GPS system was off by about half a mile when we finally got to the correct road, and the training center is located in a residential neighborhood where it's not visible from the street. But after a couple of missed passes, we found the place.
It was a nice, low-key, well-run trial in a matted indoor facility that was comparable in size and layout to most of the single-ring WCRL venues we've visited. The Rally trials were split off from the obedience trials (which were being hosted on Saturday morning/afternoon) and the entry numbers were about comparable to a medium-small WCRL trial in our area. The Excellent and Advanced B classes each had about 20 entries and the A classes had 7 or 8 entries apiece. Both Novice A and Novice B were around 10 each.
The venue was not too crowded or noisy and there weren't any weird environmental quirks that I could see, so I didn't think it would pose any huge challenges to Pongu other than being a new place he had never seen before. He seemed pretty okay when I brought him in to look around (as much as scaredybutt dog ever is), so I wasn't too worried about a major meltdown.
And then there was a curveball, because there's always a curveball.
We were the last team to go into the ring in Advanced A. While we were "on deck" in the designated waiting area, the working dog suddenly ran out of the ring and charged straight at Pongu. Nothing serious happened -- they exchanged some snarks and snarls, and Pongu tried to snap at the other dog but missed because I was grabbing him -- but it was a little disconcerting.
I've been to a pretty good number of trials and I've never seen a dog break out of the ring to charge at another dog. I've seen plenty of zoomies (in fact, one of the dogs at today's trial got NQ'ed for zoomies), and I've seen dogs check out of the ring to wander around aimlessly because they were too bored or stressed to continue, but I've never seen a working dog leave the ring to go at another dog.
My luck, the first time it happens, it happens to us when we're waiting to begin our run. And since we were the last team in the class, there was no opportunity to let someone else go ahead of us and give my dog some time to calm down. There wasn't anybody left to go. So we got called to the start line as soon as the other dog had been leashed up and led out of the ring.
Miraculously, Pongu was completely unflustered. A flapping plastic bag will destroy him for an entire day, but it took him maybe 30 seconds or so to get over the other dog running out of the ring at him. After that he was just back to his normal level of stressy insanity.
One thing I'll say about Pongupants: after years of training with newly arrived foster dogs in the house, and other people's random pet dogs at the dog park, he is really good at ignoring dogs who interrupt him while he's working. He just yells at them to quit bothering him and goes straight back to whatever he was doing. I have seen him yell at other dogs without breaking his Sit-Stay, and then turn right back to me with a big proud smile at how he is a Good Dog (and, of course, clearly so much better than that other dog, because being better than other dogs is one of Pongu's primary concerns).
So we did our run and we lost three points on a crooked Sit and a couple of heeling errors and we finished with a score of 97 (because this time I did not forget to pause at the end of that goddamn Sit-Stand-Walkaround, haHAAA!!), which was good enough for first place and capped off Pongu's RA.
Three trials, three Qs, bam, done. If not for my 20-point disasteration on Pongu's first run, he would have gotten 97s in every one of his attempts at Rally Advanced A. Given the circumstances of this run, I'm especially proud of Pongu for doing so well on this one.
(The contrast with our long, slow, painful slog to the RL2, incidentally, is striking. Either AKC really is that much easier than WCRL, or we're actually getting better at this stuff. Ha!)
So that finishes our quest for the RA. I entered an insurance trial on the 27th, but we'll probably scratch that one since I don't need an extra RA leg anymore and it's an outdoor trial. I don't have a ton of confidence in Pongu's ability to work outdoors at this point.
We'll start working on our Rally Excellent in May, which ought to give me time to train the handful of new exercises that we might face.
And then I can start scouring premiums in search of trials that offer nice title rosettes.