I was taught early on in my "dog education" by Annelise Allan that there are many things more important in life than titles, than ribbons, than qualifying, and even than finishing a course. The important one today is the partnership that allows for competing in these dog sports.
I decided to enter Buzz in the MMBC's UKC Rally and Obedience trial last weekend. We showed up on Sunday, we warmed up, and then I forgot how to cue one of the behavior's we'd need. This is a recurring theme for me since Buzz has gone deaf. I've had to get creative with my cues because there is only so much I can do with my hands. Thankfully, I normally teach the behaviors well enough to be reliable so I run through the cues I think it may be until I get the desired response. It only took three tries on Sunday (I know, I know... write them down, write them down, but this is so much more entertaining) to figure out how to cue the running call front (which is actually "you have permission to leave your sit/stay and chase me"). So I get over that hurdle, put him away for little while since we were the second to last dog to run and watched the other teams. As it is with any trial, there were some excellent teams marked by the excellent handling and relationship evident from outside the ring. I'm always awestruck by these teams and want to congratulate each and every one. Often times I do approach and express my genuine appreciation for their dedication after they've exited the ring and thoroughly rewarded their dog!
Buzz and I had a beautiful entrance into the ring, beautiful set up, and he was working brilliantly for me.
Left Turn--a little bit of an almost collision, but nothing major
Halt, 90 degree pivot right, Halt--he worked this one so nicely
Halt, Leave, Call dog front while running, Finish Right, Halt
And that's where we ran into trouble. I'd kinda forgotten his fronts were semi-broken. I hadn't been able to figure out if it was a training issue or a pain issue. He has seemed reluctant to do a tuck-sit and thus has been doing a back-up sit which is not part of front position criteria. He seemed to stall for a bit when he was supposed to front, so I cued sit and he did a back-up sit, quite a ways from me. I told him how silly he is and cued a right finish-which he did correctly.
Halt, 1, 2, 3 Steps Forward
More problems. Too many sits. I got a slow sit on the initial halt. A no sit after 1 step and some dancing feet. He wanted to perform, but for some reason he just couldn't.
I have to say that I love this judge and would show to her again in a heartbeat. I simply told her that we're done and Buzz and I made our way to the exit. He can still heel well and likes to move, so we weaved through the cones on our way out. After we exited, the judge said "I'll just mark him as sick, he was ill." I smiled as Buzz and I made our way to our crate. I fed him as many treats as he wanted, gave him water and just loved him up. The same thing I do after every run we have, regardless of the outcome.
I approached the judge after the class was over and thanked her again for letting us leave so easily. She made a comment about teams falling apart and "pushing onward." She complimented me on my choice to leave the ring. I figured it was a good time to tell her that he's nearly 13 years old, probably completely deaf, and gets to make the choices these days... not that it would have changed my decision had the situation been different.
I know there are many people who disagree with leaving the ring, for whatever reason that may be. My own feelings on the matter are that I have to be my dog's own advocate, I need to pay attention and respect them. If they're uncomfortable for whatever reason and I don't suspect staying in the ring will improve the situation, then I will make the choice to leave. I've made a lot of mistakes in training and trialling my dogs, but this is something I feel strongly about and the more I've practiced it, the easier it's become. I'll be honest and say the first time I left the ring it was less than graceful. In addition to that, leaving the agility ring is typically far more acceptable these days. Leaving an obedience or rally ring can be a challenge due to the nature of the sport. I've left an obedience ring exactly twice and a rally ring probably the same. It has gotten easier to make the right choice every time I commit to it.
I arrived at the trial with a sound, happy, cooperative partner. I left with the same dog, in the same state. He still trusted me to make decisions on his behalf, and he trusted me to listen to him.
Thank you Annelise, for instilling in me the importance of chicken parties-even if I've deviated from the original intent.