Last Saturday, Risa earned her RAE title in AKC Rally. For those not familiar with the qualifications, a dog must compete at both the Advanced and Excellent level at the same trial and qualify in both (at least 70 points out of a possible 100) ten times to earn this title. We did it. We did it in 11 tries. We only NQ’d once; the first time we tried for it. It was that day that I decided we needed to work harder on focus and we took a year off of rally.
The RAE was the title I never thought we’d achieve.
I remember, a year or so after Risa joined the family, watching our dog trainer work towards the RAE with her dog. At the time, AKC didn’t allow mutts to participate so we were out of luck. Risa wasn’t ready anyway. She was still super fearful and dog reactive. I didn’t even think a CGC was possible, let alone the RAE.
The Excellent level of rally also still contained the Honor exercise which I would never have asked Risa to do. During the Honor, one dog did a sit or down stay on the course while another team completed it. I couldn’t risk an altercation if a dog came over to visit Risa.
A few years later, AKC decided to allow mutts to play some of their games. Shortly after that, they eliminated the Honor from the Excellent level. Both decisions opened the door of opportunity for us to try.
We struggled with rally. I often wondered if Risa enjoyed it at all. I even attended a seminar with Jane Killion who stated “This is really aversive to her and I don’t know why” when she watched us train in rally. There were several times I almost gave up on it. But, like so many things with Risa, giving up has never been an option. 😉 We struggled. . .but we persevered. I worked hard on incorporating more play and fun into our sessions. I bumped up our work on focus. I took online courses through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy to increase my skill level and figure out how to make rally more fun. The change was amazing. While Risa still lost focus on courses occasionally, it was much more brief and she was able to get back on task quicker. I had a dog with me more and more often. As we got closer and closer to those final RAE legs, I was finally proud of our performances.
I have to be picky about where Risa trials; she’s had some bad experiences in a couple venues. We could have finished our RAE sooner but I decided we’d finish it on our home turf at our club’s January trial. It also happened to be the weekend of Risa’s 12th Birthday celebration.
Our winter has been mild this year but it finally got cold in December. Risa’s had arthritis for several years but, this year, age finally caught up with her. She’d been hesitant to jump into the car and was starting to barely make it up on the bed. She slipped twice on linoleum flooring and came up on three legs holding her left rear up off the ground. Then she tried to jump onto the bed one morning and her back end didn’t make it. 🙁 Risa finally got old. 🙁 🙁 🙁
It was 2 weeks before the trial. I took her to the vet and he recommended laser therapy. She’d had two treatments before our big day. Friday before her first shot in the ring, she jumped up into the bed and (barely) made it! It was improvement but I was still worried about trialing her. I decided to make it her decision. If she got to the trial site and said “no way,” we’d try again another time. I wanted our final leg, our title run, to be fun for us both.
That morning, she wanted to work. She was smiling and happy so I decided we’d go for it. I wasn’t able to get her to warm up like usual; she wouldn’t do certain tricks I know she loves to do. I knew it was because it hurt. She did great on her Excellent run though I could tell clearing that second jump was hard for her. By the time we got in the ring for Advanced, she definitely wasn’t feeling 100% but she still wanted to go. I think she chose with her heart and not her head. She was more distracted but still did her best. We qualified in both runs: a 94 in Excellent and a 96 in Advanced. We earned our RAE title.
The moment was bittersweet. We did what I never thought we’d achieve. I honestly never thought we’d try. But, every time I was about to give up, a door opened that encouraged me to proceed. We did it. WE DID IT! But now we were done with AKC rally. 🙁 There was no higher mountain to climb. And I had to finally admit that my dog was getting old and was far closer to retirement than I ever thought possible. Even though she was able to work and enjoy herself to earn that final leg, I wasn’t going to ask her to do it again. I had hoped to just run her for fun the next day but I knew she was done. She stayed home on Sunday and didn’t trial.
Her arthritis has only been worse since. The laser treatments haven’t helped and she’s starting to be more panicky about going to the vet’s office than usual even though she enjoys the treatments themselves. Her doctor prescribed some Tramadol to help ease the pain. It’s still not enough. 🙁 Our next step is consulting with our TCVM vet again and seeing if some acupuncture will help return my smiley girl to her usual self.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with Risa over all these years it’s that we don’t give up. We will find a way to make it happen. 🙂 That’s just how we roll.