Thanks! I'll try not to be too boring.
This past Friday we trialed at the Bella Vista Training Club outside Harrisburg. It's a very nice facility that usually draws a moderate-sized, friendly, and supportive crowd for the Friday night Rally runs. It's spacious and usually not too crowded, so Pongu has done pretty well in the past there.
Unfortunately this most recent trial was not one of his better visits. It was an unseasonably hot and humid day, so all the dogs were hot and grouchy, the bugs were out in force, and the club staff had turned on enormous standing fans to cool the place down.
Pongu doesn't do well with fans. Or bugs. Or anything the least bit out of the ordinary. He came out of the box squeaky and stressy, and our day got off to a real bumpy start.
On his first Level 1 run, Pongu broke a Stay on the bonus exercise. Breaking a Level 1 Stay is brutal
. It's the kind of mistake that foretells disaster ahead: if Pongu can't keep it together on a Level 1 run, I know we are in for bad times. Also, that mistake cost us all the points for the bonus exercise, so we ended up with a final score of 197, the second-worst score we've gotten this year, and the worst we've done since February. Inauspicious beginnings, boy howdy.
Our Level 2 run was even worse. This ring was full of flies that had come in from a nearby field. Pongu has an obsession about chasing flies. He can ignore them when he's happy and focused, but it's hard for him. He absolutely cannot
ignore them when he's anxious -- he runs around chasing them in the same frenetic desperate way that some trichotillomaniacs obsessively pull out their hair to relieve stress. We NQ'ed on the first sign when I pulled him off the course because trying to get him to focus under those circumstances was hopeless.
Level 3 was yet another failure. It was a whole lot better than our Level 2 attempt, because at least we made it halfway through the course before NQ'ing, but I knew it was going to be a bad run when Pongu sat down to do some stress scratching at the start line, and indeed so it was.
Slow, laggy, unfocused. Pretty much the only good thing I can say about this run is that his Sits were mostly in the right place and I might have gotten two nanoseconds of actual attention Heeling at some point. It's not the worst
run we've ever turned in, not by a long shot, but it sure ain't much good.
In World Cynosport Rally, you are permitted to feed your dog on the course at certain specified signs. However, time counts for placements, and in the regular classes you can't feed your dog while moving. Therefore, whenever you feed your dog you're losing time, and as a result serious competitors tend not to treat on the course because it slows them down. For that particular run, though, I already knew from the get-go that we were not in contention for placements, so I treated Pongu every time the rules allowed.
You're also allowed to use verbal encouragement on the field and can give your dog simultaneous verbal/signal cues (these have to be given at exactly the same time though, or else you get dinged for repeating cues). Throughout this run I was more or less training on the course -- lots of treats, great big hand signals, etc. -- because Pongu was squeaky and stressy and I already knew we'd be lucky to hobble through the course with a qualifying score at all. It helped a little; he started to perk up more and squeak less as we got further along.
But even a crappy score was not to be. We were wobbling along, not pretty but passing, until Pongu ran past the jump uprights; that's the instant at which we NQ'ed. I sent him back to do it again so that I could treat him for getting it right on the course (we'd already screwed up that run, no reason not to use it as a Teachable Moment for the next one), but he moved forward on the Stay and
knocked the bar on his second try, freaking himself out completely.
By the end of our third lousy run, I was thoroughly demoralized and on the verge of scratching our remaining runs and going home, because I always have a million other things to do and what is even the point of sticking around just to suck mightily.
But first I took Pongu outside to just sit in the sun with him and walk in the grass and look at the flowers... and take a bunch of deep calming breaths which I needed pretty badly right then.
He seemed to be feeling better after we'd been outside for a while, so I asked him to do some Heeling and some Stay drills, and he executed those beautifully. You can barely see him in the picture below, and that's the point.
He ignored the bugs. He ignored the bees. He ignored the neighbor setting off fireworks or shooting cans in his yard or whatever that guy was out there doing that night.
And he was happy. Happy and snappy and quick.
So we went back in and did the rest of our runs, and this time Pongu was able to work. He pulled high scores in his second set of runs: 209 in Level 1, 208 in Level 2 (taking that godforsaken jump, the continual bane of our existence, perfectly for the first time ever
in a trial). We NQ'ed in Level 3 again but at least he did better than he did on his previous try. We'll get it someday.
Overall it wasn't our greatest trial, but it also wasn't our worst. I'm proud of Pongu for taking that Level 2 jump smoothly, since he's never
been able to go over a strange jump without massive hesitations before. Normally it looks like the double botch on the video of our Level 3 attempt.
And I'm proud of him for recovering so nicely after a real shaky start. It's a much bigger mid-trial improvement than he's ever pulled off previously.
Progress! And another QQ toward ARCHX. Two to go.