After an interesting evening in a tent with a dog that had never gone camping nor slept under nylon before (and around and around she paced on and off all night...), we were up for our first run at 9 am. I appreciated our show host (Debbie DeCosta) and her insistence on the fun and positive aspect of rally obedience, as well as taking into consideration the space that some dogs need to put forth their best performance. Indeed, she actually she excused one dog from the warm up area when the dog in the ring was too distracted - as well, she allowed the ring dog to begin again once she had refocussed and settled down.
Our first run was a bit of a sniffing fest - the floor was much more interesting than me, and I just couldn't get her working until the final few stations. Highlight of the run was the sit - down - sit station, which in Sophie-land is translated as "station should now read "sit, down, stare at handler like you've never heard the word sit before... wag tail.. then roll over and beg for a belly rub.. flap your front paws around.. grab forefoot and chew on it.. roll back into a down position and stare some more. then flop onto your side and continue wagging tail... then finally, with a bit of physical prompting and the fifth hand signal, pop into a sit and then try to jump on your handler". My stifled giggles led Judge DeCosta to comment and compliment us on maintaining a positive attitude and smiling throughout - how could you not grin though?
The following two runs were much smoother. Our second run was lovely - Sophie was focussed and intent, and I was much better at maintaining her attention at the heel (as well as smoother about feeding at "legal" opportunities. (CARO rules allow you to give treats at stations when the dog is in a stay position - a great way for green dogs to start trialling!) Had a few deductions for repeated commands and tight leashes, and the judge commented that I'm not consistent about providing instruction on what Soph should be doing... interestingly, this is a flaw in our agility runs as well. I need to remember that I can cue "heel" when leaving a station, instead of simply expecting her to continue heeling. Regardless, this was a qualifying run and I believe we ended up with 5th place and a score of 193.
Our Third Run, I was tired and a bit distracted at the slightly rushed pace of the trial - meaning I made several handler errors and nq'd us. I started to go back through a set of weaving cones when I didn't need to (judge was generous and didn't nq us, simply calling it a "repeat"), as well as omitting a sit when calling to front (this was a call to front, followed by a moving swing finish ie there was no sit after the swing back into heel position, you started moving again once the dog was back on your left) - I was concentrating on keeping Sophie moving forward after the swing, and completely forgot to get that sit in the call to front. DOH! NQ #1. On the last station, I moved a bit too quickly and the judge called it a "Fast" heel, NQ #2. So it goes - Sophie was a good happy worker throughout and I have no complaints!
Many thanks to Jen and Emily for video and photography of our weekend - all three runs can be viewed via this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=545PtIbj8oA
Final thoughts: Rally has been a great confidence booster for both Sophie and myself. It is also a great way for me to fine tune my training skills - agility, you can get away (to some limited extent) with fast and loose training. Rally requires more careful precision throughout and breaking down behaviours into discreet training steps. (And yes, I know that teaching obstacle performance in agility - esp. on contact obstacles - requires the same precision, but once the dog reaches obstacle proficiency there is less need for continuing precise work to maintain successful performance) This past weekend has also shown me that for whatever reason, I feel MUCH less ring nerves in the rally trial environment - I hope that continued success in this venue will lead me to relax in the agility ring as well.
Many thanks to Andre Yeu and Mirkka Koivusalo of When Hounds Fly! for their Rally classes ad ongoing support, as well as to Emily Fisher, Jen Durst, Elsie and Arlo the zenhound for their support and encouragement (as well as chauffeuring, stellar videography and photography, and agility mannequining in the past!) You all rock!