So it's not all sheep and wool all the time around here. It's just mostly sheep and wool most of the time.
I have more blog posts about the trip to Scotland, Orkney, and Shetland lined up, and the next one is fun and pretty easy, but I've also had a lot of deadlines and I'm washing wool for upcoming workshops in Washington state (March), Iowa (April), and Maryland (May). (For information on any of those, get in touch.) I've also got three book-length editing/layout jobs on my desk and several article deadlines.
BUT: This past weekend, Ceilidh and I entered our second and third (ever) obedience trials. Ceilidh is one of our two rescues, the other being recent arrival Tam. We do obedience and other activities far more for the ways in which they enhance our relationships and communications with the dogs than for competition. With the two Border collies we've had (including Ceilidh) we also need to be aware of their early arthritis and not do anything that will stress their joints—at the same time that we keep their brains busy! So at a certain point we figure we might as well enter a show . . . and we do find that the dogs like the variety offered by a new environment.
My daughter has shown a previous dog to a CD title (Novice obedience). I haven't, although I've always been equally involved in training the dogs. Dog shows often have A and B sections for each level. Anyone can show a dog in a B section. To quality for the A group, "a handler must own the dog entered, or be a member of the owner’s household or immediate family, and may not have previously handled any dog that has earned any AKC Obedience title." So Ceilidh and I have been in Beginner Novice A groups, which tend to be smaller.
There are only five exercises required, and to earn the title the dog has to have been "certified by two different judges to have received qualifying scores in Beginner Novice classes at three licensed or member obedience trials." Those three events are called "legs" toward the title.
Last year, Ceilidh and I went into the ring for the first time ever and she earned her first leg, taking second place in the process.
It's taken us another year to get to the next trial, mostly because unlike people who do a lot of competitive dog activities I don't travel far for trials, and because a lot of weekends I'm teaching.
Pictures are, in this case, better than words.
The events took place at a regional park with cavernous buildings that can be set up to contain a number of competition rings.
This is a context view, with me and Ceilidh waiting outside the ring while the judge completed her scoring of the previous team.
Here's a closer view of the two of us, ready to go. We're still outside the ring. The papers next to us are for checking in the entrants for the classes that are being judged in that ring on this day.
This is about the middle of our testing. We've done the heeling pattern and the figure-8 and are about to do the segments that require Ceilidh to sit calmly while things happen around her. That's the judge approaching.
The gray plastic cylinder marked where we were supposed to be for two of the exercises, and lots of the dogs found it really fascinating and needed to sniff inside it. Ceilidh refrained, in part because I positioned her a little way away from it. While the dog's performance can lose the team points, so can handler choices. In this case, I took a preventive action! Although I don't think any of the dogs lost points for their curiosity about the gray thing, because they're only actually scored between the times when the handler indicates they're ready to start the exercise and the judge says "exercise finished," it doesn't hurt to not let the most important part of the team be distracted any more than is necessary.
In the next photo, Ceilidh is on a sit-stay and I'm walking away from her, carrying her leash, in preparation for the final exercise, which is the recall.
I love this next photo, because what you want is a fast and accurate recall—although not until you've given the signal! (Leaving the stay position early is a fault.) At this point in her training, Ceilidh rarely anticipates. She awaits my hand signal or voice call. And then she's a little rocket!
That's a blurry speedy dog!
Next we have both the A and the B groups in the ring at the same time for the awarding of ribbons. Those who haven't qualified don't come back in, but I think in this case everyone did qualify and earn a green ribbon and a leg toward the title.
This is a more relaxed time as we listen to the judge's general comments and the awarding of ribbons, and the dogs are allowed to be goofy if they want. Behind me is a superb trainer and one of her Golden retrievers.
See that blue thing in my hand in the next photo? That's Ceilidh's first-place ribbon in the A section.
We were also registered for Sunday. You have to think in advance to register for these shows. I had decided not to register for Monday, although there was also a show then (today) because of the long weekend. It would have given us one more chance at earning a leg if we'd messed up on Saturday or Sunday, but by now I'm back at my desk and working as usual. And, as I've noted, we're not in a rush to acquire titles.
Here we are about to go into the ring again. (That's a handspun, handknitted vest I'm wearing. It's old enough that I don't remember the fiber content, other than "mostly wool," but there's obviously 5 to 10 percent angora rabbit in it: it has a lovely, subtle halo.)
We've previously done a few warm-up exercises elsewhere in the building. The trick at this point is to make sure both of us are awake, and in Ceilidh's case to make sure she's paying attention to what we're doing together but she's not so revved up she gets wild. So I had her do a sit.
Her performance was even better on Sunday than on Saturday, although the point score was lower because the judge was a little tougher.
Here we are back in the ring, awaiting results.
Another blue first place, plus the turquoise one for finishing the title.
Three trials, three place ribbons (a second and two firsts), three green qualifying-leg ribbons, and the title ribbon.
I'm tempted to say, "Oh, it's a really easy class, that doesn't mean much," but then I think of Tam. It's taken us WEEKS (and treats, and cajoling, and a touch of luck) to get Tam into position to take the photos he needs to have to even register to begin to compete. SOME DAY.
He's really smart (although sometimes he has No Brain). But he would be a complete disaster in a classic obedience ring, like the ones Ceilidh and I were in. In fact, I'm not even sure he'll ever get there—except for rally obedience, which allows constant verbal interaction between handler and dog. And I think he'd be good at Treibball, which we will likely be starting both dogs with soon.
He has some pieces of the puzzle together better than Ceilidh does: his "front" (where the dog comes when called and sits directly in front of the handler) is superb. This wasn't even in response to a formal call.
But much of the time, he's a wild man.
Ceilidh's prospects for continued obedience titles are limited, because while we encourage (and she needs) lots of activity, we need to be sure she doesn't stress her joints. (We need to monitor that. She won't slow down.) We can likely go for a Novice title, which doesn't require either the high jump or the broad jump at regulation heights. We let her practice jumps, just not at the heights she'd need to conquer in the ring. (She would, with great abandon and delight, but she shouldn't, for her long-term health.) At this rate, she might earn that title in two or three years. That will give her time to quit being a ditz on off-leash heeling, and practice a little more precision on some of the other exercises.
In sum: we might have already earned all the blue ribbons we're likely to get.
Since we're in it for the fun and the interactions, that's okay.