Today was the first day of the Sarasota Obedience Training Club trials. Scorch and I were entered in Novice A, which started at 8am. My boyfriend was quite a trooper about having to wake up at the buttcrack of dawn in order to get there and get set up. Especially since we'd never been there before, I wanted to arrive early to have enough time to set up and acclimate Scorch to the venue.
I worried unnecessarily. Scorch took to the new location like a champ. He's always excited to be anywhere, so he had his usual couple of happy attacks but overall, he was calm and composed. He didn't have a single snarky moment with any other dog, even though a German Shepherd in a crate near us exploded with barking a couple of times.
Before I knew it, it was time for the walkthrough of the heeling pattern. The judge, Mary Happersett, was very brusque, efficient, and professional. She took time to talk to all the handlers and make sure they understood how things needed to be done. Scorch was the only Border Collie in the class. Competing along with us were a Boston Terrier, two Dobermans, two Shelties, a Newfoundland, a Standard Poodle, and a Flat Coated Retriever.
We were fifth to enter the ring, so I had four novice runs worth of nervous fidgeting, practicing with Scorch, and trying not to visualize possible disasters. We saw the Boston have trouble, a blue merle Sheltie excel, and another couple of tough runs.
While we were practicing, Scorch stopped sitting when called to heel. He would get into perfect position, and remain standing. We worked on it for a couple of minutes but he was still showing a concerning ratio of not-sitting to sitting.
I barely had time to contemplate that issue before they were calling for dog and handler 104. We lined up at the starting line and I called Scorch to heel. Crooked. So we turned a small circle and made some adjustments. I wanted to start out on the best note possible. Then the judge smiled and asked if we were ready.
"Ready!" Scorch's eyes locked onto my face.
"Heel!" And away we went. I'm not sure exactly what happened; I'll have to review the video... but at the first halt, Scorch failed to sit and walked a circle around me, coming back into heel position and sitting. Again, I didn't have much time to process what happened, because then it was time to forward.
And I had him.
All of a sudden, I had Scorch's full attention. He was bright, animated, and the subject of much admiration and conversation ringside. Or so I heard. I was in my own personal heaven, heeling with my heart dog, moving as one team.
We eased into a slow, steady pace, and he slowed rather than trying to sit! A big accomplishment considering we hadn't been able to practice that crucial part of heeling much due to my back. When I returned to a normal pace, he transitioned right with me. Turns were nice, and then time for a fast. He bounced along next to me happily. Halt, and then time for figure 8. I kept up a mantra in my head, "Watch their shoes, watch their shoes." Keeping my eyes on the stewards' shoes allowed my shoulders to give Scorchie cues about when to speed up and slow down. He bumped me a little when he was on the inside but otherwise was excellent.
Leash off and to the steward. I am much less worried. Time for stand for exam. Scorch stood promptly and held steady. 30 points in the bag; he didn't even shift a foot.
Heel off lead: even better than on. He was rapt with attention, driving forward but not too forge-y. And then it was suddenly time for our recall, the last single exercise.
Leave when ready. "Stay." I walked across the ring hoping to god he wasn't up or following me. I turned around and hallelujah, Scorch had held steady. The judge, bless her heart, mouthed and signaled silently to me to call my dog. "Scorchie front!" And he was off like a shot. Crooked but well within reach. Mouthing again, finish your dog. "Heel up!" Perfect flip into heel aaaaaaand... he just stood there. The judge bit her lip and waited... and waited... and it became clear he wasn't going to sit. Oh well, we still had qualified.
Exercise finished. I got on the ground and grabbed up Scorch and breathed into his fur, "Oh you wonderful dog!" Up walked the judge. "You did very well," she said. "There were 2 substantial deductions of 3 points for a non-sit, once during the heel exercise and with that recall. But other than that, he was fantastic. That dog has a lot of potential. A LOT of potential." I thanked her and left with an ear-to-ear grin.
Group stays... in the bag. He didn't move a muscle. In fact, in the entire Novice A class, only one dog got up for the stays.
And suddenly we were going back into the ring with the other qualifiers. 1st place went to the blue merle sheltie.
"And in second place, with a score of 191, is dog and handler 104."
You wonderful, wonderful dog! Now we have our first CD leg... I can't believe it.