I should have known better than to expect as much from Risa as I did this weekend. New competition location and we hadn’t even practiced the entire routine. Not to mention we had two routines to do one of which wasn’t even really choreographed. I had just started putting together solid sequences and working with Risa on them 2 weeks prior and the only place we’d practiced those was in the basement. I knew two of the behaviors I needed her to do were weak and would probably fall apart in the ring. What I didn’t realize was that everything was going to fall apart.
I thought we’d have an easy time at our heelwork to music routine. Risa isn’t really a heelwork dog but I just wanted to give it a go. Something less pressure and more fun. Advanced is hard but it’s not too difficult to title in beginner. I remember how bad our musical freestyle beginner routine looked and figured we had a good chance of getting a title in heelwork to music over the weekend. I also know that Risa just loves freestyle and I don’t have to worry about her checking out during the performance like she does in rally. I assumed far too much.
I can no longer say “Of all the things I worry about in regards to Ris’ performance both in and outside the ring, she never runs out of it.” Because that’s exactly what she did during her HTM (heelwork to music) routine on Saturday morning. I don’t know what caught her interest but she was airscenting the entire time. It wasn’t long before calling her back failed and she left the ring in pursuit of the interesting smell. Disqualified. I was, at least, able to get her back and eventually convince her to do a few behaviors. But it was too late. Thankfully, I knew that her HTM routine mattered less to me. It gave her a chance to be in the ring before we attempted her Advanced musical freestyle routine.
Because she left the ring, I made sure to change things up a bit. I wasn’t sure if she had scented her reward on the table and that was what caught her nose so I kept it at her kennel instead. I also brought treats with me to the entry gate to reward her for focus and a couple behaviors before we entered the ring. Her musical freestyle performance was better though I still lost her a couple times. Overall, she just seemed really flat. Not the crazy thing I’m used to working with. We did not qualify. I was not surprised. The advanced level is HARD and with that much lack of attention and failure to complete the required moves, it wasn’t enough.
The next day I kept up my routine of treats and warmup before entering the ring. I also noticed that, as soon as we approached the ring gating, I had my dog. Risa was focused and attentive to me. She knew what was coming. Even so, she still didn’t quite have it in the ring. The distraction still proved to be too much for her and her performances were both flat. There was no running out of the ring this time at least. But she wasn’t the bubbly high-energy dog she usually is. We managed to earn a leg in HTM beginner though I think it was an even uglier performance than our MF beginner title runs 4+ years ago. (Granted, the training facility was relatively empty when we did those as they were videoed.) Again, no leg in MF advanced but that was not surprising. Too much disconnected dog and lack of reliable performance.
Despite the poor performances, she still managed to take home 3 gold medals in every run except the one she left the ring (as that’s a disqualification). We also earned a prize for high-scoring mutt (and no, we weren’t the only mutt team there), high-scoring musical freestyle advanced, and high-scoring heelwork to music beginner. It wasn’t a bad outing and I did have a really fun weekend. Freestyle people are so supportive and wonderful to hang out with. It’s also so enjoyable to watch the various performances. Unlike OB, rally, and agility where everyone runs the same course; freestyle is unique to each team. I cannot help but love the comeraderie between all the competitors. We celebrate everyone’s successes. We not-so-secretly root for the dog who ran out of the ring the day before to just stay in the ring this time and then whoop and clap when they finish the performance together. It’s not like any other sport we compete in and I love it for that.
I’m not sure exactly why Risa failed to perform as well as I would have liked this weekend. It’s fairly obvious that her lack of knowledge of each routine, especially the HTM one, really hurt us. We both do better when we know what is coming and what is expected of us. While we may have been able to squeak by without it at the lower levels, that is not going to fly in advanced. It even bit me in the butt in our beginner routine. I also know her gut has been off a bit lately and she’s been incredibly itchy (she has flea allergies and the bugs have been BAD this year). She may not have felt quite like herself and that may have been a factor too. I also know she was TIRED by the time we got to our final routine for the weekend. I was too. It was a long weekend.
Our next competition is coming up quickly. We have just over a month before that one. I had considered seeing if I could still enter her in beginner HTM for one of the days and try and finish her title. However, I have decided that we really just need to focus on one routine for now. As it is, I don’t have nearly the amount of time I’d like to practice with her. I need to work on getting her advanced routine nailed down so that maybe we can earn a leg (or two) towards that. There is no way she’s going to earn her Championship this year. But that’s fine. We still have time. 🙂 And it just gives us more opportunities to hang out with our favorite freestyle friends!