Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trial/Workshop Report, Day 3 (Sunday)

Well, never let it be said that I was too proud to post my humiliation....

Sunday's weather was supposed to be colder than Saturday (which had gotten quite cold by the end of the day) and chance of rain had dropped to only 10%. So much for the forecast; we watched tracking from beneath an umbrella and at least the good news was that it was possible to eyeball the track in the wet grass, if one lined up correctly. It was a drizzle, not a hard rain, but damp enough. :-)

Shakespeare tried on his track, he really did, but he walked over one article and cast hugely on the second and third legs. When he reached the article marking the end of the track, he happily picked it up and brought it to me -- a very nice article retrieve, except I've only ever trained an article indication and have never asked for a retrieve. I have no clue where that came from, but I laughed and thanked him and went to receive my critique. No, we didn't pass. I didn't really expect to, given the previous two days, so that wasn't too bad. I'd done the tracking to be well rounded and to take a shot at the title for him; this weekend was for Laev.

No dogs passed tracking, actually; even the dog trying for his SchH3 who had done so beautifully the previous two days failed after his second turn, just stopped tracking and couldn't restart. Scores for the day were 57, 51 (Shakespeare) and 10. Ouch!

We arrived at the trial field and I was told that Laev and I were first up for the BH. That was fine with me -- no waiting and no time to develop nerves! I pulled her from the car, aired her, and did a brief warm-up. She wasn't awesome in the warm-up, but she was functional, and we went to report to the judge. Long down first, he said, so we headed to the flag marking the down. Laev didn't seem to be minding the drizzle much (good dog!), but when I cued the down at the flag, she merely crouched; I walked away knowing we had no down.

Indeed, as I saw later by the video, Laev sat up almost immediately. I caught a glimpse of her in my periphial vision as I was watching the working dog and noted that she seemed awfully tall...! But if she stayed in a sit, we'd at least get partial points, so I just watched the other dog and waited. She did remain in the correct location for a long time, but finally she broke and began to wander and sniff. This was a first -- always if she's broken it was to run to me -- but I collected her and kept her beside me.

That was probably a good thing, after all, because a moment later, the working dog left his handler and started for us. This had never happened before and it got my attention in a hurry, because this particular dog has displayed dog aggression since about 12 weeks of age. The handler generally keeps good control of him, but when he left during the off-leash portion and came for us I expected an attack and a serious one at that. I grabbed Laev's collar and stepped in front of her possessively, hoping he wouldn't come through me to get her.

He didn't really care about me, but to my happy surprise he slowed and came in a non-aggressive manner, just acting like a pushy adolescent. He just wanted to shove his face into Laev's! But I didn't want that, either -- I'd never seen him make friendly overtures before and I didn't trust that nothing would happen -- and so I circled Laev, pulling her behind my legs as I moved, and I grabbed a handful of shepherd scruff and stiff-armed the two dogs apart. Laev was quite good for the first few seconds of his approach and then she decided that she'd had enough ("too much shepherd in my face!") and growled and threatened. Quite honestly, my pulling her about certainly didn't help, but given what I knew, I wasn't taking any chances of close contact. The other handler arrived and collected his dog, and I leashed Laev and moved away.

It would have been REALLY nice right then to take Laev away and let her blow some stream for a few minutes, but there is no down time here, and I had only the space between the honor down and the start of our heeling pattern to regain my dog. That space is supposed to be covered in "controlled heeling," but we did it in controlled bouncing and playing and happy talking. Hey, if he failed us for not heeling there, we weren't going to get it elsewhere without that moment of decompression, so.... /shrug/ But the judge said nothing, and when I reached the center line Laev dropped immediately into heel position and sat. Oh, I love this dog.

Her heeling was perfect. PERFECT. I had originally intended to smile as a conditioned reinforcer to Laev, but the smiling was very soon merely a reaction rather than a deliberate action. It was nice, just like it's supposed to be. My shoe came untied, but I just hoped I wouldn't trip; I wasn't interrupting this. Through the group, she was awesome, we turned and started off-leash. And then things started to fall apart.

The dog coming at us had rattled me as well as Laev, and I wasn't thinking quite as clearly, I suspect. I also suspect that I should have spent more time specifically planning my verbal and physical reinforcement between exercises, because I sure did skimp when I had my opportunities. Laev generally does better with tasks chained together rather than broken up with many reinforcements, but this is a long routine to go with no intermediate feedback, and I should have taken the time to chat with her between the group heeling and the center line again. Laev started to waver in the off-leash heeling but self-corrected mostly; I gave her a second cue only once. My leash slipped from my shoulder and around my waist, and I stepped out of it and kept going. My loose shoe began slipping in the mud, but I didn't dare stop to fix it, lest I break Laev's thin concentration. She held it together until we turned toward the honoring dog, where I got nervous.

The first time we passed the honoring dog, we were on-leash and Laev was brilliant, so I didn't sweat it. This time we were off-leash and she was shaky, and I decided to turn early to keep some extra distance between us, in case Laev eyeballed him. (After the incident a week before, when the offending dog turned toward us while Laev was down, her eyeballs popped and she got very tense.) So I turned and headed up the field. Laev went very wide on the about turn, self-corrected, and then caught up to me. I halted, and instead of sitting Laev dove into the ground.

I don't know what she found, but it was tasty. I think she was actually eating something. I took her collar and pulled her away, but she couldn't take her eyes off the spot. I eventually had to lead her by hand to the start point for the next exercise (and nearly kicked off my slipping shoe to work barefoot), where Laev left me twice to run back to the goodie spot. On our third and final try, Laev didn't leave me, but she moved beside me in a way that could not possibly be called heeling and then she failed the sit out of motion miserably. Zero points for that exercise and no chance at the down out of motion, either.

The judge's critique was short and to the point. "Excellent" he called the first half of our routine, but he said we began to lose control in the off-leash portion and that the dog sensed me becoming nervous (you think?! /grin/) and then failed.

We failed the BH. I don't even know how to comprehend that; we failed the BH, the entry-level temperament/obedience test. Ouch.

I wasn't alone, though. Not one dog passed anything that day. Seven failed BHs in all (no traffic test needed, so the trial ended an hour or two early), and no passing Schutzhund titles, either. It was NOT a good day for anyone. It wasn't that the judging was awful -- we just didn't have it that day.

It did make me wonder, though, why I'd ever thought it was a good idea to blog Laev's work and establish relationships with people from around the world who would want to know how we'd done. /grin/

A friend watching (whose dog also failed in another phase) wondered if there had been a cache of dropped hot dogs from someone who'd been training on the field early that morning before the trial. I don't know if that's the case or if Laev just found some droppings from a critter or who knows what, but I can announce this: We will be adding heeling over dropped food to our training repertoire. :-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good on you for not letting yourself be pressured into corrections or anything you didn't want to do! (And for posting about it.)

I look forward to reading about your successes in future. ;o)

Aase Lange
Oslo, Norway