Friday, March 13, 2009

Is it show nerves? Or what?

I know this is a Min Pin blog, but I'm going to talk Dobes a bit. So sue me if you don't like it.

Last weekend, I entered Cala the Doberman in the Columbia Kennel Club show both days. She has her Rally Excellent title and I decided to try for her RAE, which is the highest level title you can currently get in Rally Obedience. It requires you to qualify in both Advanced and Excellent on the same day (double Q or QQ) 10 different times under at least 3 judges. On the surface, the outcome seems good. She QQd both days, so got her first two legs and only needs 8 more for the title. Sounds great, right?

But here's the rest of the story. She was very stressed, especially in her first run of the day each day (Excellent). Disconnected, not giving me attention. I had to redo a station in Excellent on Saturday and she ended up with a 94 from a very lenient judge (100 is perfect, you lose 3 points when you retry a station, so she only got 3 other single points off but it should have been more). In Advanced on Saturday she was much more relaxed and we had a very nice run for a 98.

Sunday morning's Excellent run was pretty much a disaster. My dog who normally loves this sport actually left the ring. Okay, it was a poorly designed ring, with a jump heading directly toward the gate. But she went out and I had to call her back! We had to repeat two stations, we *missed* a station (which should have been a non-qualifying score but the judge failed to see it and wouldn't change her book). She ended up with an 86, by far her lowest score ever. Advanced was marginally better, but she was still very low for what she is capable of, a 92. All together a rather upsetting day.

See, here's the thing. Some people do dog sports because the person is totally addicted, and if the dog doesn't like it that much, well, as long as they're Qing and the dog isn't completely miserable or being hurt or abused it's not that big a deal. In fact, sometimes dogs start out not real thrilled but end up really enjoying what they are doing. So I actually understand that point of view but I'm not one of those people. For me, if a dog sport is not fun for the dog, why do it? It's not about me, it's about us as a team. And if Cala has decided that showing in Rally is stressful and unfun, I'll quit with her. Not worth the money and time to trial a dog who is not having fun.

But then again, could there have been other factors affecting her performance? She had her yearly shots earlier that week, and she was a bit loose stool-wise. She seemed really flat all weekend, not her usual screaming self. I was limping from my torn calf, unable to maintain my usual speed and flow on the course, and concentrating on keeping my balance. So I couldn't commit totally to her mentally or physically. The show site is hectic and noisy.

Not long ago, Linda Baschnagel came to give a tracking seminar at CCSC, and she said something profound. She said never give up on something based on one bad experience. Before changing your training, try something at least twice. If you get the same bad results on two different days, then you can start reassessing what you're doing and modifying your program. But dogs, just like people, are allowed to have bad days or even bad weekends. So maybe Cala has decided that actually showing in Rally isn't fun. Or maybe one of the reasons I've cited affected her. I'll try her again at a different show. If she shows the same level of stress and upset, I will probably drop her from Rally competition. But I'm not going to do it based on one single weekend.

Oh and as a postscript, I also had Viva, the 11 1/2 year old, there acting as courtesy dog. The courtesy dog facilitates the flow of the Excellent class by doing an honor down for the first entered team to work, then doing the Rally course itself for the last team, while that last team does an honor down. She is on a new series of joint supplements to help with her spondylosis and she did so spectacularly well and had SO much fun that I'm thinking of bringing her out of retirement to try for her Rally Excellent title. In her case I have no reservations except physical ones. She LOVES to work and hates being retired.

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