Let's take a look back, shall we?
In November 2009, Marge and I made our agility competition debut at East Freehold Park at a tiny NADAC trial on a damp and gloomy day. Our first run was a disaster, with zoomies of epic proportions and Marge's premature exit from the ring. Our second run, though not a qualifying run, was a huge step for a dog who had only been training in agility for six months.
In April 2010, we trialed at an AKC event for the first time ever, again at East Freehold Park, on the first weekend that mixed breeds were allowed to run with the purebreds. Our first run was absolutely wonderful, and though a handler error kept us from qualifying, I was as happy as could be. Our second run was even better - a clean, qualifying Standard run - and we earned our first ribbon ever.
In October 2010...
Yesterday, we were back for more. We arrived around 10:30 or so, giving me more than an hour until we were due in the ring. We set up with our good friend, Gloria, and milled around the trial site, saying hello to those that we knew (and there were a LOT of our friends there). Marge was cool as a cucumber. I firmly believe that she knows this site and loves this site.. maybe it's just that I love this site and she picks up on it, but I like the former explanation better.
Once again, I looked at my Open Standard course map, and thought to myself about how wonderful the course was. It didn't require a huge lead out, which would take the pressure off on the start line. The only issue I saw was at the end of the course, where I had to get a cross in somewhere near the teeter. Best of all, there was no automatic table.. just a plain ol' judge's count.
But, we didn't get that far. I walked Marge in to the ring, and before I knew it, I was walking her off. Again.
But it was different this time.
At the start line, I had to wait a few seconds for them to set bars, for the judge to be ready, and all of that. I stood right behind Marge, my hands on her shoulders. I pointed at the jump. She lurched forward. She has never done that at a trial. She wanted to GO.
I ran on the outside of the Dog Walk (I credit Sara and Oreo for planting the idea in my head) to block Marge from the ring steward and the outside of the trial. But it wasn't fear that brought her down today. It was excitement. She did the #1 jump and the #2 walk with no problem, but when I tried to send her to the tunnel, she veered sideways and wound up on the other side of the ring.
Rather then get frantic and call her, though, I just stood in place and waited for her to realize where I was and what I wanted.
She came back, but still didn't get in the tunnel... she jumped on top of it. People laughed. *I* laughed. Then she took a jump, then went up the A-Frame.
The judge said, "Once you harness this power, you're going to be unstoppable."
I said, "I had it harnessed for a little while. I think I'm going to take her over a few obstacles and walk her off."
And I did. I took her over 5, 6, 7, and 8, told her "good girl," and walked her off. I gave her a few cookies (er, meatballs) afterwards.
I met with my friends, and the first thing they said to me?
"That's not stress. That's a GREEN DOG."
And I knew it in my head, too. She wasn't stressed at all. I didn't feel it like I did at the last trial. She wasn't looking sideways at the start line. She wasn't looking for Louie. She didn't sniff, or lick her lips, and although she ran amok, she wasn't really running zoomies. She was excited and lost her mind. She was taking obstacles. She wanted to take the obstacles. She was self-rewarding and didn't need a handler!
You'd think that I would have felt horrible after this attempt at a run, just like I did at the last trial, but I didn't. I was actually in a good mood.
So was Marge. Look at her, playing with her Portuguese Water Dog classmate, one of her best doggy friends, who I was thrilled to find in the tent next to me. She also initiated play with Diesel, the black Labrador who she used to despise, and Spirit, a Golden Retriever who she hasn't always been great with.
I kept saying aloud, to convince myself.. she wouldn't be wrestling with Star if she was stressed. (She never wrestles in the first place, she's not a very diverse playmate for other dogs.) She wouldn't have her back turned to the trial going on outside the tent and doze off in to a sleep.
And so began the wait until Jumpers. So began my thoughts about what would happen, if I would go home with two No Time runs.
I liked the course. It was a tunnel opening, which, again, the agility gods must have conspired to give me so that I wouldn't have to worry about start lines. I walked the course and, though I had a plan, I could feel myself giving up, thinking I wouldn't be able to run the whole course anyway. I tried as hard as I could to snap my tired self out of that line of thinking and just go in there and do what had to be done.
I went in to the ring, and was told to wait, because they had to fix a tunnel that had gone awry after a powerful dog bumbled through it. I ran up and down the side of the ring with Marge as I waited. I went to the start line, told her to wait, tossed her leash away. I waited for eye contact, I released.
And it was over before I even realized we were running. It was wonderful. She was still flying high, and I definitely got lucky that the run was as nice as it was, but we did it. She read my crosses. She did the obstacles that I directed her to and no others. And we qualified. Our first Open Jumpers leg.
I needed that. I needed it so bad. Maybe I'm dramatic. Maybe I am spoiled with a dog who flew through Novice in 4 trials. Maybe I am quick to react after only one bad weekend of trialing. But that doesn't mean I can't feel bad when my dog is stressed or doesn't want to work with me. I needed her to show me that she still wanted to trial, and she did. By goofing off and jumping over a tunnel in Standard, by playing with her friends, by connecting with me and running to a 2nd place finish in Jumpers.
It's not about the Q's. It never has been. If it was, I wouldn't have been so upset after our last trial, because the runs were pretty darn close to qualifying. It's about Marge being perfectly comfortable in a sea of people and dogs, with sights and sounds and smells all around her, playing the sport that she loves.
I love you, East Freehold Park! You always come through and give my dog a great day out.