Chama and I competed in Rally Obedience trials that were held Friday-Sunday at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque. The location is convenient for us: 15 minutes from our house and right in the city. For Obedience and Rally Obedience, they haul about 6″ of dirt, somewhere between damp and wet, into the indoor horse arena, spread it around, and pack it tight. It doesn’t smell much like anything but dirt to us humans, but it is powerfully attractive to dogs, especially hunting and tracking breeds. Dogs must obey the “No sniff” command in order to get through the course without losing points. Chama has not mastered this skill.
During Friday’s trial, Chama did a bunch of sniffing and wandering around, but got better as we progressed through the course. He got a 79 out of 100, enough to qualify for his first leg of the three needed to earn the Rally Novice title.
Saturday’s run was much worse, despite spending a lot of time beforehand working on “No Sniff” and “Look at Me” in the practice areas of the arena. Yet the judge gave us 71 points: another qualifying score and another green ribbon. If he wasn’t so enthusiastic about the commands he DID follow, I don’t think we would have qualified. Jeff took video from a discreet distance so he wouldn’t distract Chama more than he already was. I was going to put that video here, but it’s embarrassingly bad. You can see the video from Sunday below.
Sunday should have been better after all the time Chama had to get used to the dirt and livestock smells, plus more time heeling and doing exercises in the practice areas, but it was a real “trial” in multiple meanings of the word. Chama again preferred to smell the dirt over paying attention to me, at one point even putting his nose up on the scorekeepers’ table to say “Hi” to them. For sure this run would be an NQ! (non-qualifying). Jeff’s assessment was that our technical performance was pretty good (doing the exercises accurately and briskly), but the sniffing and wandering around were no better than on the previous days. Shockingly, a score of 88 was written by our number on the scoresheet.
Sunday’s video is less painful to watch than Saturday’s, but still not good. Instead of deducting points for every time Chama sniffed the dirt or ignored my instructions, my uneducated guess is that the judge gave us one 5-point penalty for that, subtracted the 3 points for repeating an exercise (it’s 10 points off if you completely blow an exercise and don’t repeat it, but you can only repeat 2 exercises), and took off the other 4 points for minor issues with other exercises.
If you haven’t seen the video from a good practice session in a familiar environment with food treats allowed, follow this link to an earlier post and hit the Play button. It shows a very different version of Chama.
So now I know what to work on in our classes, drill sessions, and practice at home. Hopefully we’ll improve enough to do better at the December trials. We need to up our game for those, since we have to compete in the Intermediate and/or Advanced classes now that he has a Novice title.