Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Trial Report -- DPCA Nationals

First, for those of you wondering how I'm able to do two Doberman Nationals in the US in a single year, let me mention briefly that the United Doberman Club and the Doberman Pinscher Club of America each hold a weeklong national show.

Today I took Laev to her first AKC Open attempt. I hate AKC Open, I really do. I like all the individual exercises, but I despise the group stays with a passion. This is why Laev has had her CD for a while and yet has never done Open.

But today, we tried Open. Fortunately, I iterated a few minutes before we went in the ring that we weren't out to do well or even necessarily to qualify today, that I just wanted ring time and that I considered our entry my donation to the club's trophy fund. It wasn't that I didn't think we had a chance; Laev actually did very well last night when I took her to a local store for practice in a strange environment, nailing her out-of-sight sit even while a store employee invited her to come and see him. She twitched, then settled back into her sit and grinned to herself. "Nope! I'm waiting for Mom!" So I returned, treated, and then took her to greet him, which they both enjoyed. So I knew it was theoretically possible.

Real life, though, doesn't always follow theory.

Bad stuff first: The moment we entered the ring, Laev disconnected and looked sniffy as she gazed about. She was slow to set up, looking a bit vacant about the eyes, and I knew we weren't ready. But we had to begin, and so we started forward on the judge's order. Laev heeled about 10 steps and then disconnected again, heeling wide, sniffing the air and occasionally the floor, and then she left me altogether -- something I did NOT expect today. She didn't try to bolt from the ring or anything, but she was very interested in sniffing a particular corner. Who knows why?

She wanted to reengage during the figure 8, but she just couldn't quite swing it. I think if I'd had five seconds to down her and cue her into heel again, she'd have had it, but I didn't think of it before the judge's order and she couldn't quite make the leap while moving.

Laev missed the drop on recall. She normally has a lovely drop on recall. This was her stressing out and trying to return to me, I think. She did drop nicely into heel position and for the first time seemed to know what she was doing. Too bad she skipped the down in order to recollect herself with me!

I was actually happy with the retrieve on flat. Laev ran eagerly out to the dumbbell but knocked it with her foot as she reached it, and the dumbbell flew out the back of the ring -- through the ring gate, by the sniffy corner. Oh, no! Laev ran promptly to the dumbbell, stretched her head through the gate, and started to bring the dumbbell back in. Oh, no, again! I had visions of the entire ring gate returning to me. But Laev paused, worked out how to fit the dumbbell through the hole, and brought it to me. The front was crooked, but I didn't care; she was totally on task and thinking! Yay!

Move to the retrieve over high jump. Again, Laev did everything okay (imperfect front again). But she was getting frustrated and stressy again; I'd had to down her and cue her into heel position for the setup. Hmm.

The broad jump was the final exercise, and Laev did NOT want to set up for it. She actually trotted over to the boards as we moved to our place and began to sniff them -- very odd! I called her back, popped her into heel, and sent her over the jump. She jumped acceptably but got lost, hesitating rather than coming directly to front. Silly dog.

There was a pattern to all this madness; Laev needed about one minute when we entered the waiting area to settle and focus. Last night at the store she needed 30-60 seconds each time we switched aisles to be on again. Each time we went to a new location within today's ring, she unfocused again. We need more new locations in our training! She doesn't have fast-focus in new locations.

Now, the good stuff, because there was good stuff too.... When we entered the obedience area today, Laev got very tense, and then she downed herself and looked directly at me. I was so pleased that she had put herself into a calming focus-down on her own! Even though she wasn't "on" yet, she had downed herself and checked in. She really did try to focus all day, even under tough circumstances.

One story: another handler, moving around us, stepped squarely on Laev's tail. Laev yelped and jumped and got frenzied for a moment, as this reactivated all the stress she'd been unloading, but after a few seconds of jumping she was able to settle on her mat again. The handler was very apologetic; she had seen the butt and walked around, she said, but she hadn't even thought of looking for a tail! Ah, the perils of a natural dog. :) Laev recovered, though she was more sensitive about touch for a few minutes.

Other good stuff -- I already mentioned the dumbbell problem and solution, which was nice to see. And a fellow competitor commented that Laev had a very happy face while running to me, where many of the dogs were offering a lot of appeasement behaviors in the ring. (Laev was stressed, too, which was why she missed the down, but she wasn't worried about me at least.)

And I stayed calm while things didn't go well. I didn't think of everything I could have done to help her (quick down, hand target, etc.), but I didn't get upset and make things worse. That's a good thing. (It helped that I didn't have high expectations for today, but still, I get more nervous trialing Laev than any other competition or hobby I do!)

In the bigger picture, Laev was MUCH calmer than normal in the trial area. Even though it was tight quarters, with strange dogs bumping into each other in the way I hate, she never hackled or got worried about another dog. I was very pleased with that. And while we were a part of the 80% of our class which NQ'd, my dog and I had happy attitudes about the whole thing and we enjoyed our outing, which is what matters.

(EDIT: I don't mean to say that Laev normally hackles when she sees other dogs, of course! I meant that even in startling situations -- as when two dogs come around a blind corner and physically collide, as happened yesterday -- she just shrugged it off, whereas before that would have resulted in a bit of hackle as she jumped back.)

It was sad that we had to end the day on a bad note. I signed Laev up to donate blood for the DNA databank, and the blood draw workers restrained her in a way that made her very uncomfortable. I informed them that I could hold her safely, but they didn't buy it. I kind of understand that -- when I tell my vet that I can control the dog, my vet knows me well enough to believe it, while to these folks I was an unreliable stranger and they don't want to be bitten -- but Laev did not appreciate having a total stranger straddle her and wrap her head while another stranger tried three times to find a vein in her neck and finally moved to the leg for more attempts. She was upset enough by it that afterward she hesitated to take a treat from the worker -- which says volumes, considering Laev's appetite.

So Laev, bursting with pent worry, kind of exploded from the blood draw area, jumping on me and careening at the end of her leash. I didn't have a toy to hand her, which would have given her an acceptable outlet for the energy, and so she looked like a bronco for a moment. I didn't mind, really; I knew what was driving it and I knew that she'd be okay in a moment. (I did feel bad when Laev, recognizing my sister, jumped up and bashed her cheek with a giant schnoz.) But someone came and told me where I could buy a pinch collar at the show, which was sad; it was just a stressed dog dumping energy. I said that Laev would settle when I asked, and indeed she did, but the damage was done; she'd looked like a crazy out-of-control dog. Ah, well. I can't control everything.

So Laev left on a more stressy note, but if I log more location miles, it shouldn't matter in the long run. And we didn't do well in our first AKC Open attempt, but that's okay; after watching the line of obviously stressed dogs in the stays, I'm not sure if I care enough to do it. I want to go on to Utility, but I just hate those Open group stays. It's not an example of real-life function -- I would NEVER leave my dog alone in a stay with a bunch of strange dogs in real life! -- and I don't think it's safe. (Even today, I had brought a backup person whose purpose wassimply to call Laev out if it looked as if there would be an altercation in the ring.) I think obedience should be about teamwork, not nerve-wracking out-of-sight stays. (End of soapbox!)

I need to find some UKC trials; I prefer their honor stays and single group stay. Laev's not done any UKC yet.

But I learned something today, and I hope that Laev did, too. And we had a good outing. Yay, dog sports!

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