“Clear eyes, full hearts, CAN’T LOSE!”
For those of you who don’t know, this is a reference to one of my favorite tv shows about a high school football team, the coach, his family and a small football-crazed town in west Texas.
Last Friday, Winn got to have her own Friday Night Lights moment by being a rally girl. Granted, her rally girl duties were very different from those highlighted in the TV show, but she had fun nonetheless.
For the last several months, Winn and I have been participating in Rally Obedience classes. Rally is an obstacle course set up with 10-15 stations, each station involves some sort of obedience trick. Sits, downs, turns, change of pace, weaving through cones in different patterns, changing direction and combinations of any of the above, all while remaining in a perfect heel, can be found in a Rally course. It has been a great way to reinforce all of the training that we have learned in her previous puppy and manners classes.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, Winn and I entered our first rally trial. I wasn’t expecting much from our performance, I thought of it as another training and socialization opportunity. She (and I) would be introduced to a new environment with lots of dogs, their owners and the noise, excitement and stress that goes along with an enclosed dog sporting event.
That was a long day. I got there early to find a place to set up her extra-large crate and we ended up being the last dog of the day to compete. It reminded me of sitting around at a swim meet when my kids were little. You wait and wait and wait for your brief time in the ring. Winn was so good that day. I stayed by her crate and read a book. We went out a couple of times to walk around, do a few commands and then come back in. By the time it was our turn, she was relaxed and comfortable with the noises and other dogs around us. She did everything she was supposed to, I was the one who almost blew it for us. I walked right by station 8 (with Winn in a perfect heel of course) but when I approached station 9, I knew something wasn’t right. Fortunately, I figured it out in time and was able to go back and re-approach the sign with only a small penalty. Even with error, we finished in first place and got our first qualifying leg toward her title. Now we just needed to do that two more times!On Friday, we did it two more times!
During the first trial, just seconds before it was our turn, the dog in the ring ahead of us decided to mark (pee on) the second to last sign of the course. His handler was mortified, it’s an automatic disqualification and he quickly got his dog out of the ring. As Winn and I stood off to the side, there was a flurry of activity and excitement. The area and the sign were sterilized and the judge came over and made a point of telling me that he had moved the sign. I wasn’t all that concerned about it being distracting but maybe it was. Winn was a little off and didn’t follow my commands as well as she usually does but we qualified, and then waited and waited and waited for our next trial.
Winn napped most of the afternoon, so about 30 minutes before our group was up I took her outside. On the way out, a dog lunged and barked at her, scaring the bejeezus out of both of us. When we came back in, she quickly squirted into the safety of her crate. I let her stay there until our number was called on deck, but at that point, she had no intention of venturing out again! I tried everything; different treats, different voices, my friend came over with cheese but she wouldn’t budge. As I continued to try to lure her out, I nervously watched the progress of the dog in the ring. I was coming to the conclusion that we would have to withdraw from the trial, and I was now trying to picture how I was going to get her out of the building.
Suddenly I realized that the spot she got barked at was close to the opening of her crate, so I grabbed the sides and whipped the crate around to face another direction. Winn stuck her head out to take a look, and thankfully decided that all seemed safe, so we quickly headed for the ring. We walked right in with no time to think about what had just happened and managed to have a nearly perfect run. It was our best performance of our three trials, and she got her AKC Rally Novice title!
As I was packing up our gear, I was chuckling. When I was standing in line to check in for our second trial, there was a gentleman behind me asking a lot of questions. He wondered about novice and I told him we were in that level. He was curious about doing it with his dog and said he would come back to watch us. As Winn and I were navigating our left 360 turn followed by a right 360 turn, I caught his eye and saw him smiling. He stopped us on our way out and said “beautiful dog, you looked like you were driving a beer truck”. Hands down, that’s the funniest thing anyone has ever said to me about my giant puppy!
Over the next two weekends, we are doing four more trials with World Cynosport Rally. The signs are the same as AKC Rally, but I can reward her in the ring. Winn does really well with rewards so I think this will be a little easier for us as we continue to build our skills.
We are having fun, and I’m so proud of my little rally girl.
“Clear eyes, full hearts, CAN’T LOSE!”