This is an accomplishment that I never intended with any of my dogs (maybe 50 total, between all of them, but not 50 with one dog!), but I am beyond pleased that Tessa and I have done this together!
Of course, it makes me think back to when Tessa first came here and I remember that she was terrified of me, and then - as soon as she realized that she had found safety in this house and on this property - she was intensely afraid to leave the property. I remember the tiny, tiny baby steps that we had to start with when we began training and how it took quite a lot for her to trust me even a little.
A snippet from an early blog about Tessa's training:
After Tessa had been here almost a week, I was inspired to try some noodling around with a jump with her. I don't mean that I set out to train jumping. She is nowhere near that point. But I decided to see how she would be near a jump and start to make her comfortable with the piece of equipment.
I set up a jump, with the bar set at 4, in my living room. Of course Tessa was wary of it, but she very willingly approached it since I had a handful of chicken.
Chicken! This girl adores chicken!
I walked toward the jump and handed pieces of chicken to Tessa (from behind me as I faced away), as we approached the uprights. When we got close, she stopped. I put a piece of chicken on the floor right where she was and then I put a piece closer and I sat on the floor and looked sort of away from her. She slowly moved in and took it. I put a piece right next to the bar, but still on her side. She slowly moved in and took it. I noticed that as she moved in for each piece, she didn't back off once she had taken it.
Finally, I set a piece on the floor on the other side of the bar. She put one paw over the bar and ate it. She stood there. I put another piece down where she was and then one just ahead of her. She ate the first one then put her other front paw over the bar and ate the second piece. I did that until she had moved forward to the point where she still had her back paws behind the bar, but she was streeeetching forward to get the chicken off the floor. We took a break, she ran into the living room and hit the sofa, I got more chicken and she came back all on her own.
We did what we had just done and then I put a piece far enough ahead that she would have to get a back paw over to get to it. It took a few seconds and a few extra pieces where she was, but she finally got one back leg over! Then we got the other one over!
She liked that. I could tell. She didn't get happy or excited, but she was VERY interested. I went to get more chicken and this time she stood in the fireplace room and waited for me with a very interested look on her face! We did that three more times. Neither of us wanted to quit.
My girl! This was just the beginning and we have come so, so very far! Although, to this day, chicken is still her all-time favorite! Some things never change - but mostly those are the good things.
"Title chasing" has something of a bad connotation among dog sport folks. Many hear that and think of handlers who put undue pressure on their dogs, who blame their dogs for their own mistakes, or who put chasing titles above the well being of their dogs.
In spite of that, I will shamelessly admit that I adore "title chasing" with Tessa! With one clarification - for Tessa and me, "title chasing" always includes: putting Tessa's well being above my personal goals, avoiding putting undue pressure on her, and striving to honestly recognize that Tessa and I are both fallible beings and that we are striving to do our best, not be perfect, in our performance together.
This began at our very first Agility trial. It was a NADAC trial, and we were waiting outside the ring to go in for our third run of the day - a Jumpers run. Tessa had surprised me all day long with her obvious enjoyment of being at the competition venue. I had expected a dog with her background to be nervous in a new place full of strange people. From the moment we walked in the door together, Tessa lit up, obviously very happy to be there. This was unexpected, but very welcome!
Before going in for our first two runs of the day, in Regular Agility, I had practiced the mindset that had been necessary with Speedy, Maddie, and Dean. "No pressure to qualify, just go out and enjoy our time together. I appreciate whatever we do out there." In fact, from running Dean, I had trained myself to almost pretend we had already NQ'ed before we even got going.
But as Tessa and I waited our turn outside that Jumpers ring, I looked at her and I saw a happy girl who was clearly anticipating what we were about to do with obvious pleasure.
On impulse, I said to her out loud, "Let's try to qualify!" Not with a "we must do it or we FAIL!" kind of motivation, but really with a, "how fun would it be to actually try to qualify?!!?" attitude.
Tessa's eyes met mine, and I could tell from Tessa's demeanor that she was "in"!
So, we did that. We went out there together and we tried to qualify. You see, I didn't have to worry about Tessa's comfort level - she was very comfortable. I didn't have to give her the kind of support that I had needed to give my other dogs. Tessa was positive that she wanted to be out there doing what we were doing! So, we ran for it - the Q.
It was an amazing experience. We ran with everything we had. We didn't Q. But it didn't matter in the least! We had put everything that we had out there and we had gone for it.
And it was exhilarating!
And for Tessa and me, particularly in Agility, which is her favorite thing in the world to do, we have always done that. We go out there with everything we have and we give it what we've got.
"Title chasing" for us isn't as much about the titles as it is about the experiences that we have going for them.
But the titles do serve as goals to strive for. They help me to structure what Tessa and I do together. And we both gain a sense of accomplishment throughout the process.
Moreover, Tessa thrives on the challenge that comes with trying to meet a particular standard in whatever kind of ring we walk into. I am not a high-pressure handler, but with Tessa I can focus as much on success as I do on her when we are performing in a particular discipline together.
And that is why earning 50 titles with Tessa has been one of the best accomplishments of my entire life!
We have all kinds of titles, too. Some are from live competition venues, some are from video competition venues, some are from non-competitive video venues. To me, they all have the same inherent value because all of them present their own challenges to Tessa and me as a team.
Of course, my favorite of her titles is the one we worked toward for 5 years - her CPE C-ATCH. That took more work and training and preparation and dedication and pure effort than any title I have ever earned with any dog. But, Tessa being Tessa, it was also the source of absolute joy for both of us most of the way.
Her Freestyle titles mean a lot to me because Tessa is not a natural Freestyle dog, but she has been willing to put herself into that because I asked her to.
And Parkour has become our newest love. She and I have been going into the woods together for years - earning Parkour titles with her out there is perfection!!
Here is the video of Tessa's Walk Around Tango, which finished off her CRO Dance Division Pre-Bronze Title:
And here is the video of Tessa's third All Dogs Parkour submission for her Level 4 Title. We did this at a park that had been a favorite of Tessa, Speedy, and me when we used to hike together!
Someone on a forum where I had shared this news expressed interest in seeing these titles written out, with an explanation, so here goes . . .
I put the highest titles in each discipline/venue first, and then the titles that preceded it in parenthesis, and then I provide a brief explanation of each:
(Preceded by: CL1-H, CL1-R, CL1-F, CL1-S, CL2-H, CL2-R, CL2-F, CL2-S, CL3-H, CL3-R, CL3-F, CL3-S, CL4-H, CL4-R, CL4-F, CL4-S)
Explanation - CPE Agility, all four category titles (Handler, Standard, Fun, Strategy) at Levels 1 - 4, and then the Championship title at Level 5.
Explanation: Cyber Rally-O, Level 1 Title, Level 1 Title (2) (Now defunct, but we did earn it when it was being awarded), Level 2 Performance Division (Meaning: Dog works on both sides), Level 1 Champion Title
Explanation: World Cynosport Rally, Level 1
Canine Musical Freestyle
Explanation: First and Second Levels of Cyber Rally-O Dance Division
DCD-CH2, DCD-CF2, DCD-Ent3, DCD-MI2
Explanation: Dogs Can Dance Challenge - Championship, twice, Classical Freestyle, twice, Entertainment, 3 times, Musical Interpretation twice (so, this is a total of 9)
Explanation: WCFO Freestyle titles Beginner, Novice, and Intermediate (WOOT!!!), and Heelwork to Music Beginner
Explanation: Rally Free, Novice and Intermediate in both Regular and Alternate Divisions
(NTD, ITD, ATD)
Explanation: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert Trick Dog
Explanation: Novice Parkour Dog, International Dog Parkour Association
(ADP-1, ADP-2, ADP-3)
Explanation: All Dogs Parkour - Titles, Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4
And we aren't finished yet!! Tessa and are still running Agility, playing Parkour, and I expect that we will do some more Cyber Rally-O Dance Division Patterns and Dogs Can Dance Challenge performances. We are still having fun - so, why not?
This month of October marks Tessa's sixth "Anniversary Month" with us!! This is the month when we celebrate the day I met her, the day I brought her home as a foster, and the day we officially adopted her. Earning our 50th Title together during this month makes it extra special.
Tessa on a recent Parkour outing at Colonel Denning State Park