'/> The PR Gang: First Time Out

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

First Time Out

It’s been 10 days since I've given you an update and since then we've also been to our first show. I'm not going to tell you what happened yet so keep reading all the way to the end. Have to have a build up you know!
After the fun match we went back to some basics and worked quite a bit on distractions. I live in the historic district of Old San Juan so we've always got a lot going on in the city. There are always lots of tourists as well as locals and of course plenty of dogs, some with homes and some without. I decided to do more training around town instead of just at the park. We walked around town doing sits, about turns, 360's, recalls and all sorts of stuff. Must have been a site to see! I probably looked like a crazy woman not knowing where she was going. I started out with some really good treats, Roxy loves chicken, and off we went. Simple sits were really easy but I did them a lot just to make sure she was always paying attention to me. Changes of direction are helpful too since your dog really doesn't want to bump in to you and it keeps things interesting. If it gets dull, Roxy completely shuts down, there are many more exciting things to see, sniff, eat etc. She finished up the week really well and I was much more confident about her attention span with more people around.
An important detail in Rally is footwork, the handlers’ footwork. I found it helpful to practice moves at home without the dog. Danes are so big you can give a lot of clues to your next move by your body language as well. For example, it you're going to turn left, look to the left and start to turn your shoulders as well. This gives your dog a cue before you actually make the turn. Your hands are important too. Where am I going to put my hands for the finish left or right? It's something you have to experiment with on your own dog to see what works for you both.
During the lead up to the show, which started on a Thursday, we also went to an actual Rally class run by a trainer friend of mine. We got to run through a whole course several times which was great practice. Roxy had never been to a show before and hadn’t been back to school since puppy class so I was anxious to see her reaction to lots of dogs and people milling around. She was a little edgy at first and really wanted to always be in sight of her good friend Huey, a brindle Dane. Once she got used to the surroundings she was Ok and I was really pleased with her performance on the course. I used treats since this was just a practice run and I wanted her to have fun. In actual competition you can’t bring anything like food or toys in to the ring but you can talk all you want to your dog. Some people actually promise “cookies!” to the dog. Whatever works!
The first day of the show, we arrived fairly early so Roxy could have a chance to check out the whole scene. It was a small basketball coliseum and it was packed. We headed upstairs to the second level to set up our crate and the rest of the gear. This is one disadvantage of having such a large dog; I could have put several smaller dogs and their crates in to the space it took for just us! However, saying that, it turned out advantageous because we were looking out over all three rings and also had room to warm up without bumping in to people and their dogs.
Since this was our first show and I have never put an AKC obedience title on another dog, we were entered in Novice A. Novice A and B were the same course so all the competitors walked the course at the same time. I was fairly confident that we were ready and I knew that Roxy knew how to do everything. We were the first team to go in Novice A. The judge asked if we were ready and then said, “Forward”. We were on our own now to negotiate 14 stations. Roxy was paying attention nicely although I did have a retry at the third station. A retry is a deduction of 3 points and you’re allowed two retries per station. I didn’t get flustered and she did it perfectly on the retry. She was really looking at me and doing so great I’m sure my heart was pounding. I kept telling her she was doing great and we finished with what I thought was a very solid first run. Guess what? It was good enough for a score of 95 out of a possible 100 and we won first place. Our first qualifying leg to the title and I was over the moon. Roxy’s friend Huey finished a very decent round also and was second. We had our picture taken with the judge and he congratulated us on our first ever Rally run. We had three more days to show and we needed two more qualifying scored to receive the title of RN, Rally Novice. I was so psyched!

Sadly, it was not to be. Each successive day, there were more people and more dogs. Roxy seemed to take it all in stride and warmed up each day doing exactly as we had practiced. Every day we entered the ring she was so distracted by what was going on outside the ring she just couldn’t pay attention. After Saturday, which was the second day we did not qualify, I was almost in tears. Why had she performed so well the first day and then totally spaced out the next two days?
On Sunday night after another non-qualifying day, I received an email with two photos from the first day. They were our winning photos. Proudly I showed them to my husband and son who were not there to see the win. It was only when my son commented, “Look Mom, there’s no one around the ring”, that I realized however much we had trained; none of it had been in such a busy atmosphere as a show. Roxy simply could not concentrate with so much going on.
We’re headed back to Rally class this week and will continue to work with distractions so I can learn to be a better handler and Roxy can learn that Mom is best!
So that’s what’s happening on our little island. Until next week, Train, don’t complain.

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