It’s been approximately 10 months since Risa and I have competed in rally. We attempted to earn our first RAE leg in January but fell short of expectations. She was excused from Advanced. I decided to switch gears with her and go to something easier so we earned our Beginner Novice title and attempted a few legs for Pre Novice (we earned one leg out of three attempts). Freestyle, of course, is always on our competition schedule but that is far from easy these days!
We’ve taken two classes on focus through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy and I was hopeful the work we’ve done through that would pay off as well. We’d never stopped practicing rally; we are enrolled in a run through class through the local training club. I love the class, Risa enjoys it, and it gives us a chance to work in an environment similar to the chaos of a trial.
Today’s trail was at a location we hadn’t been to in years. It was where Risa earned her first leg in rally EVER. I figured she’d be okay; she’s come a long way since then and she was okay the last time we trialed there. Except she was much more reactive to dogs back then.
When we arrived, she was “okay.” Not 100% comfortable but not panic-stricken or overly worried. I walked her around after we got set up to let her get her bearings and check everything out. I didn’t ask her for anything. I just let her look, sniff, and do what she needed to do. It was her acclimation time. I then put her away and gave her a break.
After her break, I got her out with the hopes of working with her a bit and doing some of the focus exercises we’d learned in our online classes. She was doing well until a photographer was taking photos in one of the nearby rings. She saw the flash and she panicked. This is a dog who loves to be photographed and is not afraid of the camera flash. She is, however, afraid of lightning. I think it must have been just enough to send her over. Ris started to panic. I felt bad; she wasn’t really that nervous about the environment and had absolutely no issues with the tons of dogs around (which, for her, is HUGE). That flashing set her off though and she never really recovered.
I could have taken her home. It might have been a smart move. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to have a dog in the ring with me. I didn’t think she was going to work. But I decided to give it a shot anyway. Part of me is happy we gave it a try. Part of me is chastising myself for being a “Bad Mom” and not taking her home immediately when she got panicked.
Despite my concerns, she actually performed really well. Better than usual, actually! Her ring performance was markedly better than it has been in recent memory (outside of freestyle). She was stressed but she was working. When we walked into the Excellent ring and I let her off leash, she did take off to investigate. I called her back and she eventually returned. While she was off sniffing, I told her (out loud) that we were going to NQ before we even started! It wasn’t the prettiest run but she did well. She even nailed the three steps back in heel position. I couldn’t believe that. She rarely does it right when we practice it (which isn’t often). Then she’s panicky space cadet dog in the ring and she nails one of the most difficult signs on an Excellent course. :O We got a lot of nice compliments from our competitors on that one. Ris took 3rd place with a score of 90.
She didn’t take off running in Advanced, thankfully. There were more stationary behaviors where I lost her attention (she kept checking for flashes in that other ring) but she still did really well. She took 4th place with a score of 99; the highest score she’s ever received in rally. And she got her first RAE leg.
Our two runs:
I’m incredibly pleased with her performance. There has been a very obvious improvement in her ringtime behavior. Her focus IS better! I’m getting less of a wandering dog. I am, however, sad that she was so panicked outside of the ring. She really just wanted to leave and was pretty clear about it. I’m not sure we’ll trial there again (and I’m thankful I only signed us up for the one day!).
Next trial is at home base. I can’t wait to see how well she does in a couple months. We’ll keep working on focus; it can only get better from here!