When Squash was wee and in his first obedience class, we learned the name game thusly: Say his name; if necessary, move closer and say his name again; if still necessary, lightly touch him while saying his name again; mark/reward when you get the response. That technique has served me very well over time with Mr. Nosypants Tunnelvision, For Whom the World Sometimes Fades Away. However, the one place where it most definitely will not serve anyone well is inside the ring at a rally trial.
Let me back up a hair. Squash fans might remember that earlier this year Squash received his Rally Novice (RN) title through the AKC (the same weekend we did the Barkie Birkie, no less). You may also remember that in the spring we competed in a rally trial held by a different organization, American Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). Before the APDT trial,I had been working very hard on Squash’s tendency to get highly distracted in novel environments. We took trips to pet-friendly businesses and stood around practicing attention and heeling. We stood in parking lots. We stood in corners. We stood near registers. We heeled past all sorts of fascinating new shiny things, me doling out Premackian rewards (like getting to sit QUIETLY near of a cage full of budgies and watch them for awhile) left and right. And it paid off: He was more “on,” more attentive, and less distracted than I have ever seen him in a trial.
And I walked right past a sign on the course, earning us an automatic NQ. *facepalm*
The World Cynosport Rally League (WCRL) has since taken over operation of rally trials from APDT, and they held a trial this weekend. One of the things that is a bit different about WCRL rally vs. AKC rally is that WCRL offers more trials for each level over the course of a weekend and an individual dog can run multiple legs (courses) in a single day. Typically we have run a single course in a weekend at trials. Otherwise our performance on the second course tends to be subpar. But time marches on, WCRL trials are few and far between around here, and I was looking for a challenge so I decided to sign up for 3 trials on Saturday; two in the morning and one in the afternoon. We’d never done more than one course in a day or been at a trial all day, so I was prepared to play it by ear and scratch one or more runs if Squash was getting too tired or stressed, but I wanted to start working out of our “one and done” mold.
But, OH SUMMER… I had really slacked off on making time for my preparation. And it really showed. As we began the first course I could already tell that Squash was going to be really distractible, and almost as soon as we started he forged out to see something shiny on the wall. I said his name. I took a step closer and said his name again. And then I automatically reached out and touched him… which got his attention but is also an automatic NQ. *facepalm*
I knew what I had done the second I did it, but I decided to run the course anyway. But I was already very disappointed in myself for screwing my dog out of a potential Q over something really stupid AGAIN, and I went to a bad frustrated place in my mind where I inadvertently kept doing things like choking up on the leash until it was tight and repeating cues over and over. In short, it was a little bit of a disaster.
The second course was right after the first, and I was determined to redeem myself. Squash was still a bit distracted, but he was more responsive and I managed to pull myself together and be positive. I did enough retries, and repeated enough cues (a HUGE downfall of mine as a handler and a BIG no-no in WCRL rally), and had enough taut leash moments to make it close… but we squeaked by with a Q. And I could not be prouder of our lowest score in the class. Because instead of spiraling ever downward, we managed to get our shiz together. Just barely together, but together nonetheless.
At that point I was feeling pretty ok and decided to stay for the third trial, mostly just for the experience. Honestly, after NQing once and then getting the lowest qualifying score possible, there really wasn’t anything worse that could happen in the third trial anyway.
The third trial was a few hours after the second, most of which Squash spent just chilling/sleeping in his crate. We periodically went out in the parking lot to work on attention and some of the skills that had been giving us problems, and as usual he was absolutely flawless during warm-up, which tells me that I give off some sort of weird vibe in the ring I need to straighten out. Anyway, by the time we stepped into the ring for the third time, he was really, really tired. He had stretches of being very “on,” but he also had more than one moment where he just sort of wandered to the end of his leash and stared blankly off into space for several seconds. And it was in a different ring than the first two runs, which meant new shiny things to be distracted by. But, at the end of the run we Q’d and with a higher score than the second run (still last in the class, though, aheheh). And even if we weren’t fancy about it, I’m still excited that we got two Q’s! We just need one more for our Rally Level 1 (RL1) title in WCRL!
So I’m incredibly proud of this dog. He had a lot of “firsts” this weekend, but he really kept it together through a very taxing day. I learned some stuff about myself, was reminded how hard I have to keep chipping away at that dang distractibility, and realized I have to figure out what I’m doing that throws him off in the ring. I was reminded how much heart this boy has, what an amazing dog he is and how much I adore him, and know that even if we will never be that perfect team with a perfect score, we are perfect for each other.
Today was just a day to chill, play in the backyard, go on a sniff walk, and chew bones. Then this week, back to your regularly scheduled mushing!