Tuesday, April 23, 2013

First Rally FrEe Competition - Reflections - Tessa

Tessa has loved Rally FrEe since her first class in December.  Tessa loves competition.  I knew that Tessa was going to love this particular competition - and she did.

Tessa is a delight.  She wants to be out in the ring, working and performing, and that is something that I have come to rely on and enjoy.  She truly is the perfect canine performance partner.

A big part of the reason why I decided to get into this was to give Tessa "her own" sport.  Every one of my dogs has gotten to be the first at something.  Speedy got to be the first dog I've ever competed with in anything.  He got to pioneer Rally and Freestyle.  I had the honor of Miss Maddie as my first competition Agility partner.  Dean was the first to title in NADAC Agility and Cyber Rally.  Even Sammie earned the first Tricks Title in our household!  When Rally FrEe came along, I saw it as something that Tessa could be first at.  And even though Dean ended up going along for the ride, technically Tessa was the first that I competed with, and the first that I titled with.  Important - no - but a fact that I like - yes.

But then it turned out to be more than that.  I am starting to see Tessa gain more confidence through this sport.  I am starting to see her relax into her natural gait and move very beautifully.  I am seeing her right work improve notably.  And I am seeing her enthusiasm increase even more!

This truly is something that she loves.

And while I am starting to take Tessa's love for competition sports for granted, I have to pause and think about how much she had to overcome to be able to have that love.  She had to learn to trust me even the tiniest bit.  She had to learn how to follow a lure.  She had to learn how to offer a behavior.  She had to learn that it is safe and good when I move my hand or arm toward her.  She had to learn to stop hiding and try things that she was afraid to try.  She had to learn to be comfortable riding in a car.  She had to learn that a crate is not an utterly terrifying place to avoid at all cost.  She had to learn to work with other people in her general vicinity.  She had to learn how to shift out of survival mode to relax and have fun - and I think that might have been the most difficult lesson of all for her.

When I watch videos of Tessa bouncing along, tail waggling, eyes sparkling, doing this and that, and then eagerly moving on for more, I marvel at the fact that she was the dog to whom I said, "it would not be fair for me to ask you to live the life I would ask you to live".  I've never been happier to be wrong about something.  She savors every second of the life that I've had the honor and privilege of being able to share with her.

Tessa and I have work to do!  She performed exactly at the level to which she has been trained to perform and I am 100% proud of her for that!  And now it is time to start to gradually raise the bar.
  • We need to build more fluency into a good many of the Novice exercises - the paw raises, the stands, the duration leg weaves, etc.
  • We also need to begin to diminish hand cues for the Novice exercises.  According to the rules, subtle hand cues are acceptable, although verbal is preferred.  Right now verbal is a bit beyond Tessa's reach, but subtle hand cues are a very reasonable goal.  From there we can consider moving to verbals.
  • We need a few more nice looking Free Choice behaviors.  I don't want to try to do anything super fancy right now, but more varied simple tricks would be a nice way to round out our Free Choice options.
  • And, of course, we now need to start training (the extraordinarily difficult) Intermediate exercises.
It is my goal to try to go all the way through this with Tessa.  I believe she has the potential and the desire.  It will be quite a lot of work, but it is very good work that she and I will enjoy together.  It will have the added benefit of building our Freestyle skills, but I also consider Rally FrEe to be a worthy sport in its own right.  Tessa and I will enjoy it for its own sake, and consider any help to our Freestyle to be a bonus.

Tessa's Traditional Ribbon Photo with her first Rally FrEe Q ribbons . . . 

And a second shot.  I actually prefer this one, even though it's not as stylish.  I like her expression in this photo.

That's my girl!

Now on to Agility at Periland next weekend for Miss Tessa and me!

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