Friday, February 10, 2006

Laev's First AKC trial

We did it. We went to Laev's first AKC trial.

Laev had done an APDT Rally Obedience trial before, but this was her first AKC Obedience trial. I was not anticipating great things. In fact, I had told my sister that I would probably take her to the trial for the environmental experience but pull her before our class.

But she was acting mostly sane at the trial grounds, looking around and chewing her Bravo!-stuffed Kong happily, and so I decided to go ahead. But I didn't want it to become an ordeal with bad memories for Laev if this were destined to be a bad day. "Wait," I said to the judge. "Before we actually enter the ring, I have a question." If things were not going well, could we ask to be excused?

He told me that we could ask to leave only if the dog or I were sick. I told him he might be sick watching us. He said then that if she were uncontrollable, he would excuse us. I could work with that, so we entered the ring and set up for the heel pattern.

Oh. My. Gosh. Was this the same dog who couldn't do a thing this week? She watched me like a hawk, matching my strides exactly. She sat crooked, as usual, but who cares? She was HEELING in the TRIAL RING with me! And it was raptly attentive!

After a moment, Laev decided that our heeling was boring. After all, I was clearly forgetting to treat her or pull out her toy, and we weren't going very fast. So she began coaching me verbally, giving crisp little barks to remind me that I owed her a cookie or a tug. I smiled and kept going.

We finished the heel pattern and I played enthusiastically with her while the human Figure 8 posts got into postion. Then we started heeling around them. She completely ignored the humans, instead focusing intently on me and giving me a sharp little bark every three seconds. "Mom! You're walking too slow! And you forgot to treat me!!!"

The judge directed us to line up for the recall, and I was so delirious with Laev's success that I obeyed. Then the ring steward pointed out that we needed to do a Stand For Exam. Ye gads -- the stand. Off leash. Oh, boy.

I removed the leash and told Laev to stay. I left, apprehensive. I turned and watched the judge approach Laev, not from the side as most Novice judges do, but almost directly from the front, blocking our eye contact and meeting her at a much more difficult angle. But Laev just wiggled her front feet a bit, sniffed at him, and then looked at me and wagged. "Okay, Mom, I know you've been pretty absent-minded thus far, but I *know* I always get treats for letting these dweebs touch my back and waiting for you. C'mon already!" I returned and praised wildly.

Okay, heeling off-leash. We set up and started. Laev did very well for the first half of the pattern, but the stress of the new environment and the long period without primary reinforcement (tugging or food) was starting to show. She began to fade a little, drifting away from me, but she returned to attention as I did an about-turn and caught up nicely. We ended with her sitting crooked, of course, but otherwise qualified.

I knew I was stuck in a "visualize success" moment and not really living this.

Okay, now it's finally time for the recall. I leave Laev with a happy, "Sit!" and walk 35' or so away. (We were in a Utility-sized ring.) I turn and see with some amazement that she's still sitting. I call, "Front!" and I can *see* the nitro fuel ignite. Laev leaps forward with a stride that Man O'War might have envied.

I brace. As she races down the entire length of the ring, I can do nothing but anticipate the impact.

But Laev has mercy on me and catches herself slightly, giving me only a relatively light thump as she bounces back into a front. If our judge had told us to "finish" right then, it would have been a qualifying exercise, I think. But Laev could hold that front only a second, and then she couldn't take any more and left me. She did not do zooming laps around the ring, to my great relief, but only trotted a few feet away to sniff the mats. Yep, stress; there's nothing exciting on those mats, but she needs to sniff something.

We were excused, and I stuck a can of squeeze cheese into her muzzle and treated her all the way back to our little waiting area. I just couldn't believe it. Even though she'd left me at the end of the recall, she had held it together for an entire routine and given me some really beautiful heeling.

"Tell me you got some photos of that gorgeous heeling!" I said to my sister (also competing that day) and mother (who was also present to watch).

"I didn't have a camera," Mom said blankly.

Aaaargh! My camera was at the top of the bag!!!!

Several people complimented us on Laev's performance. I told them, "Yes, yes, it was far, far, far better than what I expected! I'm thrilled! The only bad thing is that we didn't get excused from sits and downs!" I honestly hadn't thought we'd make it that far.

We re-enter for group exercises and line up. Laev is the first dog in the line, the one on the edge of the ring (the other side of the ring is a brick wall). I leave her with a cheerful, "Sit!" and walk away.

She stays. She gives me nice eye contact and she stays. Time passes. Still staying! I can't count seconds. Still staying.

A blur of motion crosses the left edge of my vision. It repeats. Crud, crud, crud....

Laev's seen it. Her head snaps around, trying to track the motion. Where is it? What is it? I'm guessing this must be a bird, trapped in the building. It's fast. It streaks back again--

Laev explodes into motion, charging past me so fast that I don't have a chance of stopping her even though I see her coming. Fortunately there are already four people standing at the ring opening and together they block her. She turns, considers leaping the ring gating and spectator chairs, and I catch her collar.

She'd missed the sit-stay by a couple of seconds.

Okay, we'll try again. We resume our place in line and I leave her in a down. She looks at me for a few seconds and then her head is yanked away. I didn't see the motion this time, but Laev sure did. She darted again, and this time I caught her.

"You need to get a dog with some more prey drive," drawled the judge, "and you can leave."

Ah, well. I have never practiced stays with exciting moving things nearby, not at all, and I really didn't expect to do nearly as well as we did, so I didn't much care that she blew the stays. We can try again later, but this was a pretty good first showing for a dog who's just under a year old and a pretty slow developer.

After the trial had completely ended and all judging, persons, etc. were gone, I took her back into the ring for some quick and simple heeling with tangible rewards, just so she knew that it was possible to get good stuff in the ring, too. Then we went back to the car. Tomorrow we have tracking and bitework, two of her favorite things, so she needs her beauty sleep. :-)


vicky said...

Congratulations! She will become a great worker!

How did Shakespeare do?

And, I have heard 'stories' about obedience trials in the US, where so much as a 'good dog' or a pat is grounds for kicking you out. Is this true? You know I'm from Canada.

Laura said...

>> How did Shakespeare do? <<

He disappointed me, frankly, but I still love him. :-) He stunned with with a "sit on recall" instead of his usual super-reliable drop, something I don't think I've seen in two years. I think he's telling me he doesn't like competition!

>> where so much as a 'good dog' or a pat is grounds for kicking you out. Is this true? <<

Eek! Positively not, at least not in AKC, UKC or USA trials. You may not give verbal or physical praise *during* an exercise, but between "Exercise finished" and "Are you ready?" you may certainly pet, pat and coo.

I allow Shakespeare to bounce up as a tension release between exercises, which he sorely needs, while I play-slap his face. (It's pretty obvious we're playing, so no judge has called us on physical correction yet, tho' in theory it's possible.) Between Laev's on-leash heeling pattern and our figure-8, I spun in a circle with her bouncing around me, petting her head and neck, so I could keep her attention and keep her looking to play with me. All legal, and definitely better for an active young dog than sitting quietly while the stewards cross the ring and take their positions!

So as long as you choose the legal moment to give feedback, it's certainly allowed.