When I think of a ring performance that demonstrates a great dog and handler relationship, I usually think of a dog that is animated, performing with confidence and a nice level of attention, perhaps a wagging tail, and bright happy eyes.
This past weekend I learned that sometimes a performance that is a testament to an excellent dog and handler relationship can actually look very different.
Dean, Tessa, and I headed back up to Tyrone to compete in our second live Rally FrEe event. Tessa was signed up to compete in Intermediate for the first time, and Dean was signed up for one Intermediate run, to try for his third Intermediate leg.
It was a very dreary day. It was cloudy when we left and by the time we got to the turnpike, it was drizzling. Some time between our arrival at the event and lunch, it started to rain very heavily and that didn't really let up until late last night. With a threat of thunderstorms in the area, I wasn't sure if Dean would be able to perform or not, and so I was very grateful that his run was early.
Dean went out there and he gave it everything he had! He was a bit distracted. He was not entirely comfortable in a live competition setting. I could tell by his demeanor that he knew it was feeling potentially stormy. But he worked through it. He never quit! He did start moving toward the entrance at one point, but after watching the video I saw that he thought I had released him.
And he did some really nice stuff. There were some short stretches of beautiful heeling, he did a beautiful 360 left pivot, he did some very good Free Choice work. He tried his best on every single exercise, even on those where he missed the mark a bit.
When we came off the floor together, I honestly didn't care if the run qualified or not. It was a rousing success in my book. I know how much Dean struggles when competing live, and when working without food in the ring. And he did it!
And that was when I realized that a great dog and handler partnership is not always characterized by high animation and riveted focus. Dean stayed with me and did his best because he understood that was what we were doing out there together. He kept his head in the game as much as he possibly could, and he truly did the best work he could under the circumstances. I could never ask him for more.
He may not have been super animated on the floor, but the joy was apparent in his eyes afterward. He was glowing! It was clear that he understood that we had accomplished something important together and he was as pleased as he could be!
Here is the video of our run. I have added a few captions. If you saw the video that I posted of him last April you will see that he has improved a lot. Even his comfort level in this situation is markedly better.
To top it off, the run did qualify! We squeaked through with exactly the amount of points that we needed! And that earned Dean his Rally FrEe Excellent Title (for Intermediate level!)
Big congrats to Dean Dog, RFE-X !!!!!
Now we really have our work cut out for us! Some of the Advanced exercises are super difficult! We will be busy this winter! And enjoying every minute of it!