Hard Work Pays Off

Risa with her New Title rosette, Fourth Place rosette, and qualifying ribbons.

This weekend, Risa finally earned her AKC Rally Advanced (RA) title. We’ve been seeking this title for a while. Almost exactly a year ago, Risa earned her RN in AKC Rally. Since she seemed to be doing so well, I decided to keep going. I signed her up for the show in April last year to start her journey towards the RA. It was not pretty but she did earn one Q over that weekend. Risa was so distracted and stressed out. I debated giving up on rally with her completely. It was only after trialing her in APDT Rally that I decided to give AKC another chance. I simply vowed never to trial her at that particular location again. It was too much for her to handle.

So in November, we trialed again in AKC. Both of us NQ’d on the first day (Risa walked across the broad jump and I missed a sign) but I saw improvement from the last time we worked in such a crazy place. The next day she qualified with another decent performance. She was still distracted and did some sniffing in the ring but I saw a lot of improvement.

After that trial, I stepped up our game even more. I worked really hard on increasing her focus and attention on me. I also wanted to make heeling itself more enjoyable. Between working on precision stuff, I started rewarding more with vigorous petting and fun games. We’d play tug or start games of chase for focused, attentive heeling. I even had her do some heelwork before dinner and used her meals as a reward. This not only built in joy for the behavior, but increased her drive to be with me. I became more of a reward.

We entered a trial over the weekend in the hopes that she could finally finish her RA. The day before the trial, they had open ring time so I signed us up for a chance to play around. We couldn’t bring food in the ring so I had my pockets stuffed with toys. I allowed Risa some time to sniff the ring before I asked for any behaviors. I cued her to “Go sniff” and then followed her around the ring. She had an opportunity to investigate the space and I hoped that would help keep her nose off the ground during the actual trial. I worked her on several behaviors afterward and rewarded with tug, tossed toys, and petting. I didn’t reward with a game of chase for several reasons. I was concerned about taking out the rally signs or running into the jump. 😉 But mainly, I didn’t want Risa to get so incredibly revved up that she lost control and resorted to zoomies. It does happen rarely and, given the situation, I decided to avoid the chance that it could happen. I was also able to set up her crate in an ideal location where she was less likely to get a lot of people and dogs walking by.

The morning of the trial came and I was excited. My least favorite station to see was not a part of the course. No off-set figure 8! I will admit that I was happy to see it wasn’t there but I had practiced for it and was a bit bummed we wouldn’t get a chance to prove we could do it. I walked Risa around the show site to allow her a chance to get comfortable but otherwise, I kept her crated. This particular location is very crowded and tight. It just takes so much effort on my part to keep Risa at a safe distance from other dogs that she spends most of the day in her crate relaxing. I don’t think she minds, though. Every time I checked on her, she was curled up and napping in her crate. I’m sure her Thundershirt helped some but, even once I removed it, she seemed totally fine.

Because we were located so close to the ring, I didn’t have to get her out too early. When the dog ahead of us was waiting for the dog before them to finish, I got Risa out. We stood near to the ring gating so that I knew the area around us would be relatively dog free. I mostly rewarded her for looking at me rather than drilling her on behaviors. When it was our turn to enter the ring, I was starting to feel like a bundle of nerves! I really had nothing to worry about, though. Unlike most of our ring entrances, this one went off without a hitch. Because I’d practiced how we’d start so many times over the last several months, it was old hat for Risa. The only thing I did differently was hold her collar after I removed her leash and handed it to the ring steward. People coming towards her makes Risa a bit nervous and I didn’t want to have to call her back to me and reset if she felt she needed to move. She never broke her sit and it only took me a second or two to get her focus back on me after the steward left.

Once the judge told us “Forward,” it was beautiful. The first four signs on the course were magical. Risa was with me. She was completely focused. She did the signs almost perfectly. As I walked along the gating at the far end of the ring, I smiled to myself. “This is great! She’s doing WONDERFUL!” As we made the left turn towards the jump, it fell apart. Risa’s nose became glued to the jump and she wouldn’t stop sniffing. (I noticed other dogs spent significant time sniffing that jump as well so there had to have been something on it.) I was able to get her attention back and recue her over the jump but she was now a bit unfocused. She wandered a bit but not too far. Once I got her back and refocused on the task, the rest of the run was quite nice. We scored 92 points and got our final qualifying leg. Risa did not earn a placement but I didn’t care. She did it! We did it! And we finally looked like a cohesive team!

Even though she’d finished her title, we had still signed up for two runs. I could have moved us up to Excellent but I had made the decision not to long before I’d even sent in our entries. Excellent courses have the Honor Exercise. That means that while you run your course, there is another dog doing a sit or down stay out there with you. Then you and your dog also have to do a sit or down stay while another dog does their run. Given Risa’s history, I do not feel comfortable asking her to do that. So we stayed in Advanced and did a run for fun!

By the time we got in the ring Sunday, I was done. Everything seemed to move so slowly on Sunday and we didn’t get into the ring until almost an hour later than we had on Saturday. I was tired. My back was bothering me from standing around so long. I just wanted to get in the ring, get it over with, and go home!

Despite not being as into it as I usually am, our run on Sunday was also very nice. Risa was focused from the get go. She was attentive to me. There was much less sniffing and wandering off. And, if she did leave my side, it was relatively easy to get her back. Her score on Sunday was a 94 and she got fourth place.

I am so glad I didn’t give up on AKC Rally. It is incredibly difficult and exhausting for me to compete in AKC with Risa. The shows are crowded and extremely busy. I know it’s hard for Risa to concentrate with all the activity. But she did it! I’m not sure whether or not we’ll continue to show in AKC Rally. Starting in April, there will no longer be an Honor Exercise in the Excellent level so we could. I am just undecided about it. Certainly, it’s hard for us showing in AKC. But if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere! 😉 However, I think it’s time for a change. I’m going to start working on freestyle again (and some APDT rally) for our competitions in the summer. We’ll give AKC Rally a break for the time being.

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
This entry was posted in AKC, Dog Sports, Fear, Rally, Reactivity, Thundershirt, Training. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *