In Sept of 2017 we had such a wonderful opportunity to attend a great show that the Emerald City Canine Freestyle Dancers so generously shared between 2 separate venues. Saturday was a WCFO show and many of the Paws to Dance Canadians came down to play. Sunday RFE was in the house, complete with Julie Flanery, Rally-FrEe inventor, as the judge. What a treat!
At this point in time, there seems to be a small following of Freestyle and its sister sports, so the day was really packed for me and Irie, as we were on the line almost back to back for our 2 routines!
If you’re new to these trick routines, let me share with you that it is not recommended to perform the routine in its entirety during training but once in a blue moon. It’s just too many behaviors in a row to ask a dog to keep working through with great enthusiasm and effort. Even on a good day, attempting to capture a video away from the show environment, each attempt presents its own challenges and the dog almost always presents some variation in the performance. If you’re quick on your feet, you might make these “mistakes” look intentional. Sometimes, you find yourself (or the dog) in the wrong place on the wrong side or facing a difficult direction to recover from and you can’t figure out how to do the next series of moves on the fly. If you’re lucky, those mistakes make the routine even better than the one you designed!
Right from the start of this day, I walked in with the already practiced intention of keeping everything I need to remember in mind PLUS, figure out the layout of my routines in the specific configuration of this ring. It’s important to use the whole arena (obviously, it’s not very appealing if you just hang out in one corner), and this space was very long and narrow. Not only that, I’ve been tweaking my routines for the last few weeks to figure out how to best present it. I had ideas going into that rehearsal (without the dog at this point), and many of those ideas needed some adjustments or complete changes. This left me with hardly any time to really lock these ideas into place, like would happen in a perfect world ;). After that, I brought the dog in to test out my ideas with an actual dog and see if my plans would work.
I was hyper focused and concentrating, even before the day of the event. I invested hours every night the week before going over everything in my mind, in addition to training and keeping the dog’s love for the behaviors up.
I was really working hard to keep my head together and all these different points organized, all while being there for my dog and giving her the support she needs. We don’t get out to live events very often, but I know she has the training and experience to be able to focus and work in such an environment. That doesn’t make it a free pass, though. She still needs me on my A-game to make this huge demand of doing not 1 but 2 routines, virtually back to back, as fun and as easy as possible.
I was just thrilled with how well we both did. I remembered pretty much everything (which is remarkable!). She didn’t “swear” too much (an indication that she’s stressed), got almost all of her cues, and beamed with enthusiasm. In Fill My Cup, our Musical Freestyle routine, she kept a hold on the retrieve item (a cloth meant to symbolize something flowing in and out of the cup). We missed a chunk of tricks after one failure to quickly release the item, but otherwise we both we’re thinking quite clear and you could see how well connected we are. Right after that, I mistook my time on the line because of a scratch, but somehow still was able to maintain my focus and not let that wobble shake me.
Given the chance to do the next routine over, I would certainly tweak details in the choreography. But, Irie sure gave me her all and we had a pretty cool trick or two that came through really well.
After that, we were beat. We had a few hours (probably less) to recover before heading into the ring for our Championship run for Rally-FrEe. No pressure! Both of us would have been able to perform quite differently if we were fresh and rested…but, what can you do. I blew one of the first couple signs. It’s not like I don’t know what the signs are, I do judge for the sport. But, it’s easy to get mixed up as there are so many different possible behaviors and at the end of a long day, I still considered it to be a good run. I took a risk with some very hard behaviors for the tricks. The complex retrieve where Irie takes a baby ring off the nose of Kent, a toy rubber Rhinosaurus, and then puts it on his ear was a total miss. We also didn’t quite pull off our balloon retrieve like I’d planned. But, on a Free Choice station, if you don’t let the judge know you screwed up, they will judge what they see. It was worth it to risk some points with those creative and fun trick behaviors. I loved walking up to the line with a suitcase filled with a Rhino and a balloon and other unconventional items. I will say, we trained a really nice combo trick (which we use right at the end of Fill My Cup) where she pulls a cloth out of a cup from heel, swings into front, flips around to face away from me (that’s a tough behavior), backs through my legs into behind position, stands on her hind legs and delivers the cloth to my hand over my shoulder. It was such a solid sequence that we nailed it as a Free Choice behavior (and usually in practice, too).