What Normal Feels Like

Risa with her spoils from the weekend.  Not pictured: Super Proud Mom!!

Risa with her spoils from the weekend. Not pictured: Super Proud Mom!!

This weekend I trialed with Risa in obedience for the first time. I did this for several reasons. Main reason: why not!? She’s my first dog; we might as well try anything we can. One of the others was to prove ourselves by doing a more precise sport that is treated with a bit more prestige by those in dogsports. The final reason was that I wanted to give us a break from the pressure of rally. Attempting to earn RAE legs is hard and I wanted a chance for us both to get success in the ring again. Going back to lower levels helps us both succeed and feel better about where we stand in AKC sports. 🙂

I’ll talk about how we did in the ring later because, to me, that is less important. Risa was an absolute ROCK STAR all weekend. It was amazing to trial with her this time. She was comfortable and confident. She didn’t even bat an eye while in the presence of so many dogs and people. The entire weekend, she did not have a single reactive meltdown. There were plenty of opportunities to do so. An Airedale took a long sniff of her rear and a Golden put his head into her crate doorway (major lapse on my part there). She was quick to re-focus on me and move away if a dog was getting too close and all I had to do was call her name. In fact, she wanted to sniff and greet most of the dogs there; her nose magically magnetized itself to several dog rears as they passed. 😉 I did let her meet one dog who she seemed to have significant interest in meeting. Fortunately, he had been in the tricks class I taught and I knew he would be “safe” for her to investigate. I was not wrong though I did have to call Risa away when she looked like she was getting a bit uncomfortable. Just in case.

Before our time in the ring, I tried to let her do what she needed to do. I allowed her to sniff and check things out. Mostly, she wanted to look at me and get treats. I started to get pretty nervous when it was almost our time in the ring since we have very little experience in obedience. We don’t really train for it and the most we’d done in preparation for it was a 5-week course on Beginner Novice. I decided, in lieu of nagging my dog (which I have stopped doing ringside), I would get down on her level and pet her. Risa flopped over onto her shoulder and eventually rolled onto her side and back while I rubbed her down. Her tongue was lolling out of her mouth and she was just so happy! I couldn’t believe this was my dog. The neophobic, dog-reactive, anxious fuzzball who I had to watch like a hawk to prevent problems was wiggly, loose, and relaxed. And petting her and seeing that goofy face helped me calm down too.

One of our “trial buddies” who I have hung out with since our early days in rally even commented on how much calmer and relaxed Risa looked all weekend. Even if we hadn’t taken home rosettes and qualifying legs after this weekend, I couldn’t have been happier with Risa’s performance. Especially since the hardest part about trialing for us is getting to and from the ring! Not so this weekend. It was nice to be able to let my guard down a bit and not have to worry about something bad happening. It’s possible she just feels more comfortable in that building since that’s where we train and we’re there quite often. But I think it’s more than that. The building is a totally different place on trial day. No, I think she’s just more comfortable and confident that I won’t let anything bad happen.

When she was in the ring, she really rocked it. Her heeling was still unfocused but much better than it was in the past. Especially since in both Beginner Novice and Pre-Novice there aren’t sequence signs every 2-4 feet. Just long stretches of heeling which has typically been the hardest for Risa to do. Sunday’s heeling was much improved over Saturday’s though she did miss several auto-sits on Sunday. In all four events, her recalls were rock solid. She may not have a great real-life recall but her set-up ones are beautiful to behold. She flies! Ris also rocked all her sit/down stay exercises and didn’t lose a single point on any of them. She could use a bit of work on her stand for exam since she moved her feet after the judge touched her both days. Fortunately for us it’s only an NQ if she moves before or during. And, considering how afraid of strangers she still is, I would rather see her make an attempt to follow the judge after being touched rather than shying away. 😀

She qualified in both Pre-Novice and Beginner Novice on Saturday. Her score in Pre-Novice was a 178.5. She took 4th place in Beginner Novice with a score of 195. On Sunday, she scored 191 in Beginner Novice and took home a 2nd place prize. Her Pre-Novice run on Sunday did not qualify. Unfortunately, our lack of proper heelwork/focus training reared its ugly head on the heeling pattern. It was late in the day and most of the building had cleared out. You would think this would be better for Risa. Less chaos. It isn’t. It actually makes it easier for her to pick out something to be distracted by. In this case, a dog hanging out just outside the back corner of our ring. As soon as I saw the dog there I knew it would be a problem. I was a bit annoyed the dog was there but, honestly, they had every right to be. And it’s not their fault that I haven’t trained Risa well enough to keep her focus with a dog that close by the ring. I would have rather had twenty dogs there than that one. 😀 I can say one good thing, however. Risa approached the dog with curiosity not reactivity. So it’s just something we need to continue to work on. That’s all.

We also participated in a fun event: Rally Relay. If I had to describe it in one word it’d be “chaos.” Maybe that’s just because our team wasn’t really sure what we were supposed to be doing. But it was a lot of fun. I was impressed with Risa’s ability to focus on me and the task at hand even with our teammates in the ring and in close proximity. She never once attempted to sniff them while we were working. And there were several times we were practically right on top of each other. Like doing a tandem serpentine!! Chaos! It really was a lot of fun, though, and I hope I get a chance to do it again next year.

It was a great weekend overall. I had the great pleasure of trialing under some awesome and super-supportive judges. I got a chance to hang out with friends and some of my students. Several people came up to me to discuss canine freestyle and showed interest in doing it. Yay! And, most importantly, Risa was a rockstar all weekend. I am so incredibly proud of how far she’s come.

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.
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