After last Saturday's trial of disaster, I almost scratched from the World Cynosport trial that we had entered on May 11. It was a single set of runs, the drive was almost two hours each way, and since Pongu got his MX, I've felt little to no urgency about competing in WCRL.
Besides, after Saturday's trial, all I really wanted to do was stay home and feel sorry for myself and reflect on how my fearful pound dog was never going to do obedience and wasn't even all that good at Rally and what was even the point of trying when we were so clearly never ever going to get anywhere. I wanted to curl up in a pity cocoon and even drop out of our online classes because we were just taking up a slot that should probably go to a team with some prayer of not embarrassing our school someday.
But I also wanted something to take away the bitter taste of failure, and a low-stakes WCRL trial was a pretty perfect option on that front. Also, this was the one and only Rally trial that this particular club was ever going to offer -- due to a change in their lease, the club was losing their space and being forced to disband at the end of May -- so it was a golden opportunity to expose Pongu to another novel environment, this time with more support (treats and praise!), a longer exposure time, and no worries about me mucking up unfamiliar exercises.
So I packed our show bag and set my alarm and trundled out to New Jersey on a bright and sunny Mother's Day morning.
Our first run was... not good. Not awful, either, but I had Squeaky Stress Dog on the start line and he was very distracted and we had a fair number of bobbles. We were probably working on a score somewhere around the 203 to 205 mark when I got us NQ'ed by missing an entire section of the course (three signs! my personal best! truly, it was brilliant).
Oops. Anyway, the other two runs were better, as Pongu started settling in and became a little more comfortable with the environment. We pulled a 207 in Level 2 (repeat cue), finishing just out of the ribbons on time, and a 209 in Level 3 (heeling fault) for first place in that class.
More importantly, by the end of the day, we felt like a team again. I had my happy partner dog back. We were not flawless, but we were certainly better, and I felt good and happy about that.
Fast-forward a week!
Yesterday we had another AKC Rally trial, this time at the Leesport 4-H Center with the Berks County Dog Training Club. We had entered a trial on Saturday, too, but that one was outdoors so after much waffling I scratched our entry, since I had no reason to think it would be any better than our previous outdoor trial and I just wasn't up for a repeat performance of Disconnected Dog Is Disconnected.
So this trial was pretty low-stakes, overall. We had no chance of finishing our title -- at best we'd get our second leg -- and since we were the only team entered in Excellent A, we were guaranteed a spiffy blue first-place rosette as long as we qualified, regardless of score.
It was a good thing, too, because getting there was a major pile of stress. The trial was scheduled to begin at 2:30, with the walkthrough at 2:15. We left Philly at noon for what should have been an hour-and-fifteen-minute drive. On a Sunday afternoon, heading west instead of east (now that Shore traffic is beginning to pick up and making eastbound 76 a disaster on weekends), I figured that would give us plenty of time to arrive early, get Pongu acclimated to the trial site, and put in a nice run.
Only... not so much. Traffic was a disaster, the car was almost out of gas (and since the first westbound service plaza on 76 has been closed for eternity, there was nowhere to buy gas on route), we ended up making a frantic detour to a WaWa somewhere in Reading that then caused the GPS to pick an alternate back-roads route to the trial grounds, and all in all it was a spectacular ride of wonderment that resulted in us arriving midway through the walkthrough.
Upshot was that while Pongu did not exactly have to do a cold run in a new venue, it wasn't too far from that, either, and our performance was accordingly pretty wobbly (although a million times better than it would have been a year or 18 months ago, so that's nice).
Also the course setup was pretty tight and unforgiving for bigger dogs. There was maybe 12 feet after a jump to go into a 270 left turn, which is not enough space for Pongu (who is a clumsy jumper) to land, come back into Heel position, and be in a good place to do a turn. Another jump on the course had the dogs landing about 15 feet from the ring entrance and directly facing it, which was not a problem for Pongu (because the one good thing about my fearful dog is that he will not run away from me in a stressful environment, ever, no matter what), but caused about half the dogs I watched in the Excellent B class to either NQ or lose major points because they saw that ring entrance right in front of them and just kept on running to the exit until the steward blocked them in.
So in that respect it was kind of a rough course for us, especially since we're not used to the smaller AKC ring dimensions. We also lost a bunch of points on Pongu's Moving Stand-Walkaround, because he took a couple of steps forward, ended up crooked, and I gave him a second cue to stop (possibly unnecessary, but it costs nothing for a repeat command in AKC, so whatever). I think that was just a stress issue, as we do not normally have trouble with that exercise; anyway, it cost us probably a good 3 points or so on that run.
We finished with a very fair final score of 94. It wasn't a great performance by any measure. But it was good enough for first place, because we had zero competition. WOO.
This was supposed to be an outtake but I kept it because Pongu's expression makes me laugh (and all that gray on his chin makes me sad). There were a bunch of flies coming up from a little bitty creek behind those rocks, and they kept buzzing around his head. He held his Stays but couldn't help staring at the flies.
It's probably going to be a few months before we finish Pongu's RE, since there are no good opportunities for us to trial in AKC for a while. The one trial I was considering in June is almost certainly full by now (I emailed the trial secretary to ask, but no reply yet) and we're going to be away on vacation during the July trials, so that means our next opportunity to knock off this title will be in mid-August.
Which is fine with me, really. Maybe by then we'll be in a better position to actually earn a ribbon in an AKC ring.