We started our new rally class. This one encompasses all the levels whereas the prior class was just AKC novice level. I was really looking forward to it as I do with all classes Risa and I sign up for. After all, we need some practice time so we’ll be ready to compete again. Plus it’s a great way to spend an evening with my dog. 🙂
I was a little concerned about what to expect. It’s not a clicker class (neither was the last one) and it can be pretty crowded in the building. Fortunately, there was only one other class going on. I was able to relax a bit more since there were fewer dogs wandering the ‘hallways’ between rings.
Risa was a bit nervous at first despite having taken classes there before. The last few times we were in the building we were competing (or at least participating in a fun match). Those events were far more stressful than a class and I think that effected her mood. However, she was quick to gain her confidence back. She even surprised me by successfully maintaining focus with me and not checking out after every single click/treat. Of course she did feel the need to look at her surroundings and that’s completely fine. There were new dogs and new people to be concerned about. 😉 For the most part, however, her focus was pretty darn good! Our hard work is paying off!!
She had a minor reactive meltdown when one of the dogs passed us as we were milling around. Risa wasn’t the only one who reacted and she was quick to recover. She paid little attention to the new dogs overall. Risa was even good about ignoring the Lab who really wanted to come and say “Hi.” Ri did look at the Lab a lot but never gave any signals that indicated she was super stressed out. The Lab’s owner was also very good about keeping her dog a good distance away from Risa which I appreciated.
The class was split into two sections: a ring for the novice dogs and handlers and a ring for those of us working towards our RA (Rally Advanced) titles. There were two dogs in our group and three in the other. Nice small class size. We set up our own course to run and then got ready for the run throughs.
We did our first run through on leash even though the advanced courses are done off lead. Due to poor planning on my part, I fumbled with the leash a lot and even dropped Risa’s treats during that course. As much as I like the ‘safety net’ of a leash. . .I was ready to get rid of it! I am a much better trainer without a lead. Mainly because we don’t practice with it!
I did our second run with Risa completely off leash. Surprisingly, she was far more attentive sans leash than she is with it on. I did lose her a couple times but a quick “Ri!” was usually enough to get her back with me. She really seemed to enjoy taking the jump yet didn’t lose control despite her apparent glee.
During one of our runs, one of the novice dogs in the next ring started barking like crazy. Risa was right by the ring gating. . .and off leash. I’ll admit: I panicked. There was really nothing stopping Risa from jumping the fencing and going for that dog. I reached for her collar quickly (though I never actually grabbed it due to my fumbling fingers) and cued her attention. This is one of the few times I reacted more than my dog. Risa postured and got tense but that was about it. She reconnected with me quickly and I gave her several treats and praise while she sat with her back to the distracting dog. We then went back and finished the course without any other issues.
During our next run, our classmate wanted to practice the Honor station as they will be attempting to earn their RE (Rally Excellent) title the same weekend we’re trialing. There wasn’t really a great spot in the course for them to do this so they were smushed near the start line and very close to one of the other signs. I was a little concerned about Risa having this other dog on the course with her. However she had shown little interest in him earlier and I figured it’d be a nice distraction to train around.
At the start line, she refused to sit straight at my side. She sat at attention but her butt was swung way out. I motioned for her to get in heel position again and she sat the same way: diagonal. I knew why. The other dog was close and she didn’t feel comfortable turning her back on him. No big deal especially since there is no set position your dog has to be in at the line. When we got near him later on in the course, Risa paid him no mind at all. 🙂
One of my concerns in the upcoming trial is the broad jump. Risa had never seen one before and I was uncertain she would recognize it as a jump. They didn’t set one up on the course we ran but there was one in an empty ring nearby. During one of our breaks, I took Risa into the ring to have her attempt it. No problem. Her form wasn’t great (but I don’t know what distance the jump was set to) but she cleared it easily. I had her try again and she was fine.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with Risa’s performance at class. She was calm and collected. Her focus on the task at hand was good and she worked like a champion. It’s amazing how she’s willing to let go and be less anxious when she’s working with me. Somehow, I feel we’re much more connected with the leash off. No physical tether. . .just our bond.
We’re certainly not ready to trial yet. I need to keep working on her focus. However, I feel much more confident about trialing her again without a leash on. I am concerned about barking dogs and other distractions. If I feel the need to grab her collar in the ring to prevent a potential problem, I’ll take the NQ. But if we put in the time and effort, I think she’ll be fine.