When Risa and I started training for rally 6 or so years ago, I never thought we’d get this far. She was never particularly attentive during the exercises and I always joked that maybe I would try rally with her when she was 10. Once she’d slowed down a bit. Even then, an RA was the highest level title I thought she’d achieve. They still had the honor exercise in Excellent and I couldn’t risk Risa having a bad experience in the ring if a dog came over to say “Hi” while she was honoring. AKC eliminated the honor a couple years ago. We had the option of going further. And we did.
After our disastrous last AKC showing in January where we were excused from the ring, I knew I needed to get Risa back into classes. It is just too hard for her to focus on me amid such craziness if she’s not exposed to it on a more regular basis. We started attending classes again and I stepped up my game with her training at home. We also had a lot of fun at the C-WAGS trial which I think helped as well.
Even so, I was a bag of nerves on Saturday. I couldn’t help but remember how bad our performance had been the last time we’d stepped foot in an AKC ring. I forced myself to smile and have fun regardless. The course was difficult and the judge very strict (my favorite type, truth be told). The first sign was the “Send to Jump” where you must send your dog to the jump from 10 feet away, stay 3 feet from the jump at all times, and have your dog back in heel position before crossing the plane of the jump and moving forward. Risa tends to be hit or miss on this one. I never thought I’d say this, but I was thankful she wandered away from me after we started. It set her up perfectly to take the jump! She spend some time seriously sniffing in the corner and I had to retry that sign because she sat after the pivot once I finally got her attention (it was the “Left Pivot – Forward). She then missed the second jump because I cued her to take it too late. Once I got her past the next sign, she was on. Her “Stand Dog, Walk Away, Down Dog, Call Dog Front, Finish” into the “Down In Motion Walk Around Dog” was particularly beautiful. Her score, however, was just barely qualifying: 71. I didn’t care. She Q’d!
After our run Saturday, one of our competitors came up to me to tell me how happy Risa looked out there. I absolutely glowed inside. I have always wondered whether or not Risa enjoys rally. The fact that several people came up to me to comment on her joy and good looks makes me certain she’s having a good time out there. Given her history, this makes me prouder than just earning the ribbons and rosettes.
I wanted her to Q on Sunday so badly. I had seen and been coveting the beautiful RE ribbon they had at the trophy table. The course was much easier on Sunday and Risa was much more attentive. She did not do as much sniffing on the ground though she was more distracted by scents in the air and the sights around her. (I don’t know if maybe she could smell that my mom was there and that was why she was checking things out more. It’s possible. But I asked my mom to come so it’s my fault if that was why. 🙂 ) I was a good handler and I cued her early enough on the jumps that she took them both with ease. However, I screwed her up on the sit-stay at the end. There were several signs on the course where she needed to stand. My stand cue and my stay cue are too similar. When I cued Risa to “stay,” she began to stand up because she misunderstood my cue. I knew instantly what I had done but it was too late. I recued the sit and the stay and we finished the course. She earned a score of 86, second place, and her RE title. It only took her four visits to the ring to earn it. Fewer than it took her to earn her Advanced title. I am so proud of her!
With knowing she had the potential to title this weekend, I wasn’t sure where we’d go from here. While AKC is not my favorite venue to trial in, I was saddened by the prospect of not being able to trial close to home. We travel long distances to compete in freestyle and other rally venues. It’s always been nice to stay home and trial in AKC. I was hesitant to consider going for Risa’s RAE, though. We trial so infrequently and need to have double-Qs each outing, I figured she’d be 13 before she would earn the title! After some serious thought, I decided we are not done with AKC Rally after this weekend. I am going to continue trialing Risa. We are going to attempt to earn legs towards her RAE though I have no intention of finishing it. If we do–AWESOME. But we’re just in it for fun and something to do close to home at this point. I may look into trying Beginner Novice with her. My only concern is that the judge has to touch her and she’s not a huge fan of that. It is something we can train for, though, and not nearly as risky as a long stay among dogs. 🙂