Well, we didn't have our best trial this weekend, but it ended on a very high note. We got our first NQ, had a few mediocre runs and no perfect run, but at least there is a good sign of hope at the end. Here's how things went:
Round 1: Jumpers Level 3
Nothing went especially wrong in this round. He didn't drop a bar and he didn't miss a jump or anything like that. The problem was that he was just crawling along the whole time. At one point he slowed down to a walk. There was one place on course where you had to take a far tunnel entry instead of the one right in front of a jump, and I thought there would be no way I could get there for a front cross so I was planning to pull hard away from the jump. Well, Jonah was so slow I think I could have walked out to the front cross in time. I don't know if he was nervous or just unexcited or what. He got the job done for a Q and 3rd, but it was not an excellent run.
Round 2: Snooker Level 3
Our first NQ! Again Jonah came out lackadaisical. He ran past a jump he would normally take, and in fixing it I got flustered out of my plan. He hopped on the table but it wasn't live, so we continued. We got through the opening alright with a 5-7-7 and then I front crossed the weaves to enter the tunnel, the number 2 obstacle. He went right behind my back and took the far side of the tunnel, ending our round. I have no idea why he did that. He knows he shouldn't go behind my back, and that far entry was significantly more out of the way then the close one. I know my handling was unclear right from the minute he missed the jump in the opening, but I'm still a little befuddled about this incident. Anyway, I knew if he was not fully confident I needed to make an extra effort to be positive so I cheerily called him to the table, taking a jump on the way. I don't think he knew that he screwed up, and I treated him as if he'd had a good run. We still got a yellow ribbon, since most people didn't qualify (3/8 level 3 dogs qualified).
Round 3: Colors Level 2
After our first two runs I was very happy to have a straightforward, level 1 and 2 course. It was short (9 obstacles), and only needed one cross. There weren't big off course challenges or anything. So, of course, I took it a little bit for granted and thought I could take a bit of a break. Wrong. The first half of the course went well but slow again, with Jonah barely jogging across the dogwalk (but nailing his contact!). Then there was a final line of four jumps, barely offset. The third jump could only have been maybe three feet to the right of the previous jump. So, I just ran down the line assuming that he would take the jumps next to me, as he normally does, but he ran straight around that third jump. We stopped, got him turned around and over the finish without an off-course, but I have to say I was disappointed. Again, I tried my very best not to show it to him. It was a Q and 2nd.
Round 4: Standard Level 2
At this point I was a little bit down about the whole trial. I had a headache and neither Jonah nor I seemed to be having a great time. I was thinking that maybe I wouldn't enter any new trials for a while. But, instead of resigning myself to another mediocre run, I told myself that I had to stay positive and do something different. So, we did our usual warmup jog outside and then went and jumped the practice jump a few times. This time at the practice jump I pushed him around a little to get him more in play mode than work mode. Then, while we were waiting, I pretty much never broke eye contact with him, and we just did sits and downs and hand taps and paws to keep his mind on me. When we were about to go into the chute, the gate person joked about how it was too bad I didn't have my dog's attention (sarcasm). Then, when we were next to go, we went into the chute and I started messing around with him again. He was getting excited and actually started barking at me. Usually I'd rather he didn't bark, but at this point I was alright with it. As I said, I just wanted something different. When we went in the ring, he wouldn't sit to set up, but I just kept buzzing him up and didn't worry about it. As soon as the electronic timer said, "Go," I let him go and he was off like a rocket. We went down the line of (offset again, this time with no problems) jumps, he raced into the tunnel with a rear cross, galloped across the dogwalk as fast as I've ever seen him, raced into his 2o2o, ate up the weave poles, cruised around a pinwheel, leaped up the A frame and ran beautifully down the other side, flew over a jump and into a tunnel and then...ran by another jump. We regrouped, and he jumped it, tipped the teeter happily and charged over the last jumps to the finish line. As for the missed jump, once again I thought I didn't need to support it since I ran right by it (I was maybe 5 feet away), but I was wrong. I keep handling the way I would like to be able to handle, and the way I can handle on a good day, but I need to remember that he's not his best at trials. Then, when he's doing well, that's not a sign that I can slack off. It's a call for me to handle even better so we can have a completely great run and not have to stop his momentum to turn around after a missed jump. Overall, though, I was exceedingly happy about this round. As we were walking out a few people told us what a nice run it was. Q and 1st, even with having to turn around for the missed jump.
What I learned from this last round is that I can create energy. It's hard for me to do once we're out on course, but if I take the time in the chute to get him excited, it makes a difference. Up until now, I've never known if Jonah will come out fast or slow. At this trial I was about to give in to the fact that today was just a slow day. I'm really glad I tried a different approach, though, because it taught me to be proactive if I want to get a faster dog.
Now, having said all that, I studied statistics to feel somewhat guilty about claiming causality after one run. It's possible he would have been fast without my roughing him up. It's possible that, if I'd roughed him up in the previous rounds he would have been slow, anyway. I do know now, though, that it's worth playing with. When I've tried in the past to play with him at trials it has seemed to stress him out, but I think the real attention and eye contact made a real difference. It's something that I'll have to try lots of times to know how to use it best. I need to write the instruction manual as we go along, but at least we have a new tool.