We’ve Come a Long Way

Anytime she can play in the water is a good time for Risa.

Anytime she can play in the water is a good time for Risa.

It’s been a while since I last sat down to write anything here and a lot has happened. My Windsprite puppy, Kyu, turned a year old in June. His Birthday gift was a road trip for freestyle private lessons (Risa came too). In July, Risa and I celebrated 11 years together. She got McDonalds fries (naturally) and we took a trip to her favorite river. While there, we met up with friends for a walk and ended our fun with dog time! All the dogs got to run free and investigate and do dog things off leash. Risa refused to act her age and, despite having been on a long walk beforehand, raced around with everyone like she wasn’t old OR broken.

In July, I took Kyu to his breed specialty where he surprised the heck out of me by taking Winners Dog AND Best of Winners in the conformation ring. This was only my third time showing in conformation and, in all honesty, I didn’t expect him to do well. I knew he wasn’t quite built to standard and I didn’t get him as a conformation dog. I was very happy to see him doing so well, though. Maybe we’ll do more conformation in the future. 🙂

In August, I held my second ever freestyle event. It was a labor of love and a lot of work. It was hard to take the time to get everything ready for the competition AND prepare my dogs for their performances. (Needless to say, housework was definitely on the back burner during this time.)

On top of that, I had made the decision to retire Risa from competition. It was not a decision I made lightly. I had always said I would let her tell me when she was done but I decided that I’d rather she stop while she’s still enjoying it instead. Besides, I could already tell that certain aspects of competing were no longer fun for her. She started becoming reluctant to go back in her crate. After long days at a trial, she was really tired and would get crabby with Kyu (which he doesn’t deserve). As much as she still was enjoying going into the ring and playing with me, the other parts of trialing were starting to become too much.

Still has game at 13.5!

Still has game at 13.5!

I’d also started to notice some frustration from her in training sessions. Sometimes things seemed less clear to her (possibly due to hearing loss?). She was more willing to disengage which has always been an issue anyway. There were also times I saw some physical issues that made me think it was time. Some minor stumbling in her rear or hind end weakness. And her ability to work for long periods was definitely waning.

I knew her remaining time in competition was short. To be honest, we were on bonus time as it was since I wasn’t even sure she’d return to the ring after her back injury. After earning her Veteran Championship, I toyed with the idea of going for the Veteran Grand Championship. Her scores had been high enough at the Championship level; all I had to do was add a bit more time to the routine. I decided to give it a shot. She earned her first leg towards the title via video competition with me not even preparing for the additional time added. I had hoped she could earn those final two legs at our home competition. Since long days in a crate were tough on her, I decided to run her home at lunch so she could have time to nap without distraction.

I didn’t feel like I’d adequately prepared her for the event. I wasn’t sure she could pull it off. But this was going to be her last live competition regardless. It’s simply become too much to ask of her at her age. If we couldn’t finish the title, we’d try in video. But I really wanted to do it live.

Her performance Saturday was great. The changes I’d made in the routine to clarify what she needed to do helped immensely. The addition to the routine at the suggestion of friends at our private lesson with Diane Balkavich was also a win. Taking her home at lunch proved to be a very wise move as she was well-rested for the competition on Sunday.

RFE Musical Freestyle Veteran Grand Champion Risa with her awesome huge rosette.

RFE Musical Freestyle Veteran Grand Champion Risa with her awesome huge rosette.

As I stepped into the ring with her for the last time, I started to let my emotions take hold. I managed to force them back, however. Risa didn’t need that extra pressure. She didn’t know it was the end. And I wanted it to be about us. Together. Everything we’ve been. I didn’t want to focus on it ending but celebrate that it happened. As we danced, the crowd applauded and Risa’s spirits lifted. She’s always done better with applause and she absolutely rocked it. It wasn’t a perfect performance but her heart was in it. What a great way to end a spectacular career. She earned her Veteran Grand Championship. Even if she hadn’t, I couldn’t have asked for a much better last competition with my girl.

I still managed to hold it together through the rest of the event (probably because I was in charge of it and had so much on my mind). I finally broke down a bit when my friends handed me a retirement gift for Risa during lunch. What a touching gesture and one I won’t soon forget. It was worse once I got home and read the enclosed cards. I was a sobbing mess.

It’s hard to end this chapter in Risa’s life. Training and trialing has been so much of our past 7 years together. It’s been a challenging and exciting ride. I never wanted it to end. She’s been such a spectacular partner. I certainly won’t stop training her; she enjoys it way too much to take it away completely. I’m also hoping to complete the AKC Tricks titles with her but those are low-pressure and don’t require long stays in a crate. The pressure is off now. She can take it easy. If she’s still around for our freestyle competition next year, I’ll put her in the non-titling class if she’s still in the mood to dance. She’s welcome to do it if she still wants to but I’m not going to force her into it.

We’ve had a hell of a ride together. Thank you for everything, Risa. I couldn’t have asked for a better dance partner.

Veteran MF-GrCH Dancing Cavy’s Pain in the Butte W-FDM/MF MF-M Vet InS/E R-FE/N PCD BN RAE RL1 (AoE) RNX CA CGC WCX3

Saturday’s Dance:

Sunday’s Dance:

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 Back Problems, Canine Freestyle, Conformation, Diane Balkavich, Dog Sports, Dog Training Seminars, IVDD, RFE, Thoughts, Training. Bookmark the permalink.

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