I’ve been dog training a lot lately. I mean, A LOT.
Maisie and I are still diligently working toward becoming a therapy team. I must admit, I’ve been ready to throw in the towel a couple of times but then I take a breath and try to focus on how far we’ve come. We are sooo close, my greatest hope is that we will be able to wrap this up and get working very soon.Winn and I have been doing a different kind of training. We’ve enjoyed Rally Obedience and she has earned her Rally Novice and Rally Intermediate titles. We are at a stopping point with it for now because the next levels all include a jump and that is not good for her until she’s about two years old.
Since Rally has helped us form a great foundation as a working team, I decided to learn about what was required to earn an Obedience title. I observed a few trials when we were at Newfoundland National and the Beginner Novice level seemed to be a good match for our skills. Winn would be on leash and rally signs are laid out for the heeling pattern. It all seemed doable for us, but I would be limited on commands and signals, which is very different from Rally. In Rally, I can talk to her and encourage her as much as I want, not so in Obedience.
I printed up the rules so that I could have a clearer picture of what I should be doing and scheduled a couple of short sessions with our Rally trainer. The two exercises that I was worried about were the Figure Eight and the Sit for Exam. Both involve strangers and Winn can be a little shy.
In Rally, the Figure Eight is done around cones and we easily go around them with no trouble, even with food bowl distractions near our path. This test requires two strangers to stand facing each other instead of cones.
The Sit for Exam requires me to put her in a sit/stay then stand 6 feet in front of her while the judge approaches her and gently touches her head. Up until now, I have stood next to her while she is meeting a stranger which over time has gotten much easier for her.
We met with our Rally trainer to practice all of the exercises so that I could get used to doing them with the obediance guidelines. There are specific positions to hold my hands, some exercises allow one phrase of encouragement and others don’t. Most exercises allow either a verbal command or a hand signal, not both. All of that is new for me as a handler and Winn needs to be comfortable heeling next to me while we work our figure eight around people as well as having the judge approach her without me by her side. We had people from the training center help us and after practicing several times, we both were a lot more comfortable with what we needed to do.
Last weekend we entered a show to give it a try and we did pretty well! The funny thing for me was that it was held at a sporting facility that for many years was one of my lacrosse carpool destinations. My son played indoor lacrosse every winter with the same group of boys during grade school and middle school. When I walked in with Winn I had a major deja-vu moment. The crating area was in one of the basketball courts and the rings were set up on one of the turf fields. I couldn’t believe it! I sent my son a picture and he recognized it right away. My husband advised me to not let Winn lose her mouth guard. That made me chuckle.
Winn’s crate is pretty big and I found a great spot next to a Great Dane and her owner that I’ve seen before at trials. Once our hang out spot was situated, I wanted to walk her around on the turf so that she could get used to it. That was a new experience for her. We have always been on hard or padded indoor surfaces and the turf has a very different feel. I wasn’t the only one curious about how the dogs would do on turf, I watched mixed reactions from many of the other dogs and handlers around us. All of us had the same fear that they would feel free to potty on the turf, but I don’t think that happened. At least I never saw it happen which was a relief.
On Saturday, I entered us into a Rally Intermediate trial to use as a warm-up since we work well together in Rally and followed that with two Beginner Novice trials. Winn was great in Rally and scored a 98 (we even had a Figure Eight to navigate), one of our best scores! I quickly put her in her crate and went straight to the walk through for the first Obedience trial. We were the first dog to go, so I hustled back to get her and did my best to keep calm while waiting for the judge to call us into the ring.
We did pretty well, but the Figure Eight was the tough one for us. Winn kept stopping to smell the shoes of one of the stewards and I’m pretty sure I gave her several voice commands to keep us going. Fortunately, that didn’t disqualify us, but we did lose 8 out of 40 points on that. She lagged once (walked behind me) in the heeling pattern but every thing else was perfect on her part. The judge let me know that I should use a different hand position on our recall for our next trial but she congratulated us for qualifying (scoring 170 or better) on our first try! We scored 188 1/2 out of 200 and were the only ones in our group to qualify so I was really proud as we left the ring.
We did even better the next time around. We lost only 2 points out of 40 on the heeling, 4 points on the Figure Eight and 1/2 point on the recall (my hands were in the right position but my head bobbed a little) for a score of 193 1/2. She was perfect for Sit for Exam and the Sit Stay while I walked around the entire perimeter of the ring. Once again, we were the only dog in our group to qualify and I was so happy to score in the 190’s. I really didn’t expect that! We ended the day with three blue ribbons, which are fun tokens for the day, but two qualifying scores in Obedience on our first two tries were the best prizes in my opinionOn Sunday we entered 1 Rally Intermediate trial and 1 Obedience trial. Day 2 has proven to be more difficult for us as a team in the past and we were definitely more sloppy. We scored an 85 in Rally which I think is our worst score ever, but I really didn’t care because I was just using it as a warm up for our Obedience trial. The Figure Eight was a challenge, Winn actually stopped to stare at one of the stewards and I had to give her a quick tug to get her going again. Our heeling didn’t feel as crisp as it should have and I bobbed my head again on the recall, but we did qualify along with one other dog. We scored somewhere in the low 180’s and got second place. I forgot the score because all I really focused on was that we qualified and got the title (3 qualifying scores under 2 different judges)!I have to say, I really enjoyed the Obedience work. It’s a new challenge and Winn and I have a good time working together. We hung out with some friends who we’ve seen at previous trials and I connected with someone to start training with for Obedience. I’ve haven’t found someone in my area and this woman told me she teaches at a dog club not too far from my house so I’m planning on checking that out next month. She and her Doberman had such a perfect Figure Eight that the judge complimented her. She gave me a couple of tips but I know that we need a lot more practice to better master the timing, pace and focus that it requires.
As a special reward for Winn, when she does well in trials I whip through the Chick-fil-A drive thru and get her a small box of chicken strips. She loves them and now she knows what that red box is. On Saturday I was feeling so good about our success that I bought two boxes so that she could have one after Sunday’s trial as well (they are closed on Sundays). When we got home Sunday, I made her pose for a picture with all of her ribbons and then I went to get her reward. I opened the refrigerator and it was gone! I knew immediately what had happened. My son Thomas had eaten her chicken! I hollered down the stairs at him and he stared up at me like I’d lost my mind when I told him that was for Winn. His response was a logical one. He said, “I thought food in the refrigerator was for eating.” I had to laugh, just a little. Winn did find the empty box, and tore it to shreds looking for her prized chicken strips, but I found some chicken jerky in the dog treat bin that she also thinks is pretty delicious. That made her happy and was good ending to a very successful weekend.