Another couple of days’ travel, and we arrive at the Specialty site. We’re a couple of days early, so we have time to walk around the area and play in the water. What a magnificent place for a Specialty! The beach is white sand. The water deepens nicely but 60′ out is still walkable. Stitch and I go swimming with no expectations, and she’s coming along very well. She may actually do the 60′ retrieve! Over the last week, she’s started to forget about feeling insecure about the water and has started getting really excited about retrieving her bumper. If she fails, she may fail on over-enthusiasm, but I’ll be a lot happier with that than if she wasn’t interested.
I should also be practising obedience, but I’m hot, and I’m tired, and I just don’t bother.
Today’s the day. She’s going to pass! Well, actually, no WAY she can pass this. Unless she passes. I’m a basket case. I’m trying to be calm but I have no idea what she’s going to do and I still can’t focus.
It’s our turn. We go into the ring area for our 3-minute warmup. I’m not focused, and neither is Stitch. Three minutes isn’t going to cut it. “Let’s just do it” I say to the judge, and that’s the last bit of thinking I do. Whatever the judge says to me, I respond by giggling. My fingers are numb. This is ridiculous.
The first exercise is the Underwater Retrieve. I have to ask her three times, but she pulls herself together and gets the article. One down.
The second exercise is the 60′ bumper retrieve. I know she’s going to anticipate, so I tell her twice to stay, pretend I’m throwing it to make sure, tell her again to stay, and throw it. Nice throw, 60′ out. I tell her to get it, she does! She walks calmly out, launches herself, goes the whole distance, grabs the bumper, and brings it… 57′ back. Three feet away from me, just as she comes out of the water, she suddenly drops the bumper, looks to her right, drops her butt, and takes off like a bat out of hell. Out of the ring, along the beach, up the grassy slope, up the mountain, up the mountain, up the mountain… I call her once, then just shut up and watch. In my heart I know she’s not going anywhere – she’s just not heeling. She’ll be back. And sure enough, at the last instance before she disappears forever into the Appalachian forest, she spins and runs back just as fast.
The judge kindly says she thinks someone made a noise nearby, which caused her to drop the bumper and go, and since I only called her once, she’ll give us another chance. Well, OK, thanks, if you’ll buy that, I will. Personally I think she was OK until she got totally wet, and then two weeks of too little exercise caught up with her and she just had to RUUUUUUNNNNNNNNN.
Now, having had Stitch do something totally unexpected, seeing her escaping into the wilds of Maryland, having her come back, and being given another chance, I’m totally gibbered. I ask her to stay once and pitch the bumper again, and, jet-propelled, she races out and retrieves it.
Non-qualifying, but, as I hoped, she failed through too much enthusiasm, not too little, and I knew she wasn’t ready for this. I’m happy with her. I’m less than pleased with myself. I have to give myself a good talking-to tomorrow or I might as well go home.
We watch more of the water trial the next morning. I work a bit on my speech for the afternoon, which helps me settle down. I make a decision to pull Stitch from Obedience later in the week, which settles me down more.
In the afternoon we do a four-hour clinic. This is the first time Stitch has done anything like this. She’s very good when she’s working. When Scuba’s working, Stitch demonstrates her poor ability to handle being ignored. I REALLY need to work on this.
The first day of Agility trials. Scuba and Stitch are both entered in Novice Jumpers With Weaves and Novice Standard. Scuba got one AKC leg in Standard eight years ago, and this is now well below her level of expertise. It’s still hot. She goes in JWW and does her usual competent but fairly uninspired job. Qualifies. I have no idea what Stitch is going to do. She loves agility but she’s never run a full course before. Between my talking-to, my clinic, deciding to pull her from Obedience, and running Scuba, I seem to have arrived at the Agility field ready to run my dog, though. She’ll do what she’ll do and she’ll have a good time doing it. All I have to do is stay on course and stay ahead of her, and with any luck she won’t head for the hills again.
And she doesn’t. In fact, she does a lovely stay at the start line while I lead out, hits every obstacle, hits them fast and accurately, slows to stay with me for the weave poles (which she doesn’t know how to do on her own yet), and ends up under course time, Qualified, with a 2nd in class.
Scuba Qs again in Standard, which includes jumps and weave poles as well as all the contact obstacles – teeter, dogwalk, and A-frame, and gets 4th in class. I’m even calmer now, as Stitch obviously isn’t going to fail every single thing she’s entered in all week. She CAN do this. I’m thinking of staying ahead of her, and remembering the course. She stays, I lead out, I send her, she takes off and runs the course at top speed. She hits every contact on every obstacle. One small problem. I neglected to tell her that one of the ramps was a teeter. She ran it and went off it about five feet in the air. A lovely run, Non-Qualifying for the dangerous dismount.
By golly, I think my little girl is going to like Agility!
The second day of Agility. We start with JWW again. Apparently I’m not quite awake. I take Scuba in and, in the middle of the course, ask her to go five different directions at once. She manages to hit every one of the jumps I ask her to, but since only one of them was the correct one, we NQ. I’m able to settle down, though, and think of this as amusing, so it serves to settle me down rather than wiring me up. Stitch gives me another amazing run and another Q. Wow!
In the afternoon, Scuba Qs one more time with a 3rd in class, and that’s her first AKC title.
I need to remember to tell Stitch about the teeter. As everyone else sweats and grows sleepy in the heat, I can feel her revving her engines. I better remember to tell her about ALL the contacts, while I’m at it.
I lead out, and then I ask her to run. She takes off like she did in the water trial. She’s flying. I can see wings sprouting from her shoulderblades. It’s like riding a racehorse, like throwing a lariat on a train. She’s in control – barely. I’m waiting for her to lose it and take off, but she doesn’t. I’m holding on by my toenails. I manage to keep my cues mostly ahead of her, and remember to remind her to hit the contacts and slow for the teeter. She does. My fingers are tingling. Wow! What fun we’re going to have next year! She’s going to teach me a whole new level of handling! Another Q, and the end of a fantastic two days. Six Qs in 8 runs. Stitch needs a lot of work in Agility. Her times don’t reflect her speed, because she’s sloppy and wide on all her turns, yadda yadda yadda, but suddenly I’m talking about a Competitor. A whole new level. My baby needs a pilot’s license!
The next day is VERY hot and VERY, VERY long. Thank goodness I pulled Stitch from Obedience. Scuba qualifies in Novice. I didn’t get her score, it’s perfectly adequate but not inspiring. Today she’s looking like a 9-year-old dog.
My first Rally trial. Scuba does it again. I blow right by a sign, but remember it from the walk-through before I get to the next one, so we’re OK. Take Stitch in and forget my brain again. I’m thinking about getting through the course, not about getting the dog through the course, but I guess she made a stab at each exercise because she Qs as well.
Then we run over to the hotel for the Canine Good Citizen test. Brain still not engaged. She gently sniffs at one of the distraction dogs and instead of asking her calmly to mind her own business, I’m chanting “Stitch, Stitch, Stitch” and giggling again. I can hear every student I ever had screaming “STITCH WHAT? **TELL** HER SOMETHING, DON’T JUST NAG!” When I leave her alone with a tester for three minutes, from out in the hall I can hear her whining and yipping through the whole thing. When I get back in the room, though, I discover it was one of the distraction dogs, not her, and she passes! Stitch CGC, her first title (or award, or whatever AKC want to call it).
And from there, Scuba goes to the conformation ring. She looks awful. She’s so tired her head is down, and she doesn’t lift her tail once. Why didn’t I pull her? Duh. I need a keeper. Well, she’s done now, she can sleep for two weeks now.
And then we go to the beach for a swim, and from there directly back to the trailer. They each get a little massage, a good dinner, a cuddle, and we’re in bed by supper time.
One final day, Stitch in conformation – 12 to 18 Month Bitches. The breeder’s handling her. Both Elaine and Stitch do a good job, but Stitch is hopelessly outclassed. In a ring full of adult-looking bitches, she looks like a 5 month old puppy. Note to self: Do not show Stitch again until she’s at LEAST 4 years old! On the good side, in my experience, dogs who take a long time to grow up also take a long time to grow old. We all sleep the rest of the day, except for Stitch, who spends most of the day wrestling with Leroy on the floor of the trailer.
One more day of conformation, but we’re not entered. We can’t leave because the trailer’s boxed in – not that I want to. We wander around the grounds, sleep, watch a bit of the show, sleep, swim, sleep. Scuba’s feeling better. Paula and Gert win Superdog – an excellent role model and a deserving team.
On the way home, we go across Lake Michigan on the ferry again. This time Scuba gets to spend the day in the trailer, while Stitch wears her Service Dog In Training cape and comes on the ferry with me. This really puts the cap on the trip. She’s excellent, unobtrusive, walks with a loose leash everywhere, doesn’t bother anyone, even the kids running by. I watch two different movies in two different rooms and she lies quietly at my feet during both of them, picking up and handing me her leash when we’re done. We spend some time in a lounge working on picking up other things – papers, my shoes, coins, plastic bags. We go out on deck and she puts her paws up high on the guardrail and watches the seagulls for a while. Several of the crew comment on how well-behaved she is. My baby’s growing up.
We stop in Minneapolis and I buy a recumbent tricycle. I’m tired of having no way to run the dogs except the ATV. I have friends who jog with their dogs, and if I can ride the trike, we can go along. Also, if I’d had a way to exercise the girls, I’m betting Stitch wouldn’t have had to spread her wings in the middle of the water trial.
Scuba: A, as usual. For the first time I see that she’s getting old. She’s NOT old, she’s a very young 9, but I need to start remembering that she isn’t young any more.
Sue: D+, barely a passing grade. I paid FAR too little attention to helping the dogs get through the hard week. Did a good job of getting mySELF through it – slept almost enough, ate properly, stayed cool as well as possible. There’s an agility handling seminar next month, I need to sign up and start thinking seriously about what I’m doing instead of fussing about what the dogs might be doing.
Stitch: A, a surprise. In general, I was right about some things she wasn’t ready for (obedience, water trial), but overall she was ready to rip in several areas I hadn’t given her credit for. She showed amazing talent and desire in Agility. She gave me more than I deserved in Rally and CGC, and she really shone in her Service training. Besides that, the month of enforced closeness, no TV, no bills to pay, no telephone to answer, no computer online, really helped us focus on each other. I appreciate her more than I ever have, and she – well, she has discovered me as a source of fun. Now if I could just get her to stop dropping all her toys in my lap…