Thursday, May 31, 2007

What I Did On My UDC Vacation, Friday

The IPO tracking was in the morning, in beautiful thigh-high alfalfa fields. Judge Roar Kjønstad (Norway) was tough but fair, approaching the dogs on the articles to check positions before calling the handlers to approach.

The BHs were supposed to be later, but we realized there wouldn’t be time for them and decided to have them following tracking. Huzzah! Even less waiting! So we all traveled out to the trial field.

The judge checked tattoos and microchips and impartiality well away from the trial field, near where a couple of conservationists gathered gear and started into the tall grass. Laev watched them with keen interest and I turned her away, moving her down the hill away from the temptations. “Don’t think about the grass. Don’t think about the hill. Don’t think about the rabbits.”

Then we went to the field, checked in, and I went to set Laev up for the down. She gave me beautiful attention, hesitated a little in going down – “But, Mom, long downs are boring! Aren’t we going to do something fun?” – and then I left her. Count about forty paces, stop, stare straight ahead. Imagine dog in mind’s eye, lying quietly in place. Watch other dog working, visualize Laev in place.

Roar Kjønstad reversed the standard heeling pattern to use left turns instead of right. No problem, except that it caught us off-guard (the poor first competitor learned on the field as she turned). I watched, waited, thought happy thoughts about Laev’s attentive heeling. She was going to be so ready to work when it was our turn–

A jingle of collar! I turned and saw Laev barreling toward me at high speed. I called a warning to the other competitor, who was setting up for her final exercises, and called Laev, who passed me, circled and came in. I downed her and held her while the other dog finished. What had happened? I hadn’t expected trouble in the down.

Well, Laev was the first dog in that corner, and apparently we hadn’t scared off all the critters. When I watched our video that night, I saw at least a dozen instances of Laev jumping about, obviously hearing something in the grass, and twitching. Her ears were working, her mouth was open – she was ready. And finally, with what I can only describe as the incredibly anthropomorphic, “If I stay here I am going to be bad, so I’m going to Mom,” she bolted for me. A better decision than heading into the grass, yes! but a little hard on our scoring. And so near the end, too!

Okay, time to set up for our heeling. Laev gave me such lovely attention as we moved to the center of the field, but I was in no mood to appreciate it – I was upset by the blown down, and the video and photos show it. Bad Laura. So Laev started with only two-thirds of a handler.

She did well, in the beginning – her heeling was a little wide, but she had nice attention, at least. Change of pace when well, we finished the L and headed into the group. That went pretty well, just one quick eyeball at a group member and then we reversed and sat. Off came the leash, and for the first time in 250 paces or so I could speak to the dog. “Good girl,” I said. “This is the fun one. Stay with me. Are you ready?” Laev’s off-leash work is almost always better than her on-leash work....

But this was going too long with a zombie handler. I hadn’t even done any real praise during our brief respite. Laev was getting tired of my failure to produce a toy, a treat, or even a smile, and she started drifting. My nerves caught me and I tensed more. It felt like slow torture. Laev drifted more, still nominally with me but no longer a dance partner. And then we turned left, directly toward the tall grass....!

Laev froze up during the last part of the L, staring off across the meadow. I gave her an extra, “heel,” but it didn’t take. There was a lot of world out there, and most of it more interesting than the unsmiling alien beside her. I took a deep breath, kept myself from touching her, tried to remember if we could ask to be excused, and waited. And then Laev looked back at me, and I said, “heel,” and we kept going.

I *should* have praised her hugely at the end of that, but I didn’t. (Zombie handler.) Instead I set up quietly for the last exercises and looked to the judge. Our routine was feeling so awful to me...! And when he said, “Thank you,” I thought for a moment that we were being excused, that he didn’t trust us to try the last two motion exercises. But then I realized that he was merely signaling us to begin.

The video shows clearly that Laev recognizes my moment of uncertainty and begins to sniff the grass in avoidance. Again, I *should* have spoken to her, given her a brief pet and then paused before starting the next exercise. But instead I simply said, “Heel,” and started, leaving Laev hesitant behind me. A second command brought her to me, and we did the sit out of motion successfully. But the same thing for the down out of motion – no break in stress (granted, we usually practice the sits and downs as one long chain, but I should have recognized that I’d already violated our contract) and Laev needed a second command to start with me. I downed her and kept going.

I turned back at the edge of the long grass and saw Laev looking across the grass, not at me. I hesitated a bit longer than the standard few seconds and the judge’s signal, waiting for Laev to glance back, and then I called her. She ran for me, veering left...! But she made the correct decision and corrected her path, coming to sit crookedly in front of me instead of heading up the hill to rabbit-land. I breathed again. “Fuss,” and she circled me to heel position, adding a gruff little bark to protest my handling. At least that part seemed to be a crowd pleaser.

I snapped on the leash and went to check in, my mood black. Then we went to wait in the shade, where the judge gave our critiques. Laev had good temperament, he said, great willingness to work, but was distracted.... Parts were excellent, but other parts.... We did not pass.

After the other obedience routines, we went to town for the traffic testing. Laev did not participate, as she hadn’t passed the first part. The traffic testing was more intense than I’ve seen elsewhere but very reasonable; Laev would have had no problems with it, if we’d gotten that far.

Then we went back to Progress City for the breed survey (fit for breeding tests evaluating conformation, temperament and working aptitude). That’s where we set up the second silent auction. And finally we went to our catered judge’s dinner, where Roar Kjønstad talked on temperament, evaluation, breeding to improve faulty temperaments, etc.

I went back to the hotel and watched the video. “Ye gads,” I said, looking at Laev’s twitchy down. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know this was going on.”

“Yeah,” Alena said, “we were all glad you had to have your back to her, or you would have been really nervous.”

I was starting to feel really awful about having failed the BH, but some part of me recognized that at least part of it was due to tiredness and I put myself to bed.

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