At the end of August, the World Canine Freestyle Organization held their International Competition in Federal Way, WA, which was close enough to commute to from home. What an opportunity! I’ve really fallen in love with the sport and was looking forward to meeting more like-minded individuals, and seeing their creativity at work.
So, in Spring of 2015, my new routine was under construction. Some people continue to amend the same routine as they progress up the levels. But, with so many great ideas waiting to take shape, my plan is to develop a new routine after giving each routine to a chance to get fleshed out and to successfully perform it a couple times. That probably gives each routine a run of at least a few showings. With only a little bit of freestyle experience, this would be my first attempt at putting together everything from start to finish completely on my own, with no outside input. Thankfully, between Rally-FrEe, agility, and trick training, my knowledge added up considerably, and it was a lot of fun to put everything I know to work. It’s quite a process and deserves its own blog post (coming soon).
The event was a combination of 2 different shows back to back, plus a conference and workshops. Our local freestyle club:
Emerald City Canine Freestyle Dancers, did an outstanding job dressing the place up with the Wizard of Paws theme, including a yellow brick road of photos of everybody with their dog and lots of sparkly decorations (freestylers are a little addicted to the glitter;). Events like these demand that generous folks contribute inordinate amounts of time organizing, preparing, hosting, and handling everything from start to finish, and so many people contributed. This is not uncommon to most dog sports, but, as always, these people deserve lots of praise and enormous gratitude! Without them, quite literally, the show would not have gone on.
The event proved to be very challenging for most teams. I was sitting next to an old tracking instructor who kept reveling in how stressed many of the dogs were. I was partly embarrassed that she said it out loud, but, agreed. For me, it’s not a surprise. Seeing dogs unable to thrive under the pressures of competition is something that turns me off from attending more competitions (it can even sully enjoyment of group classes). There are a large percentage of people showing dogs that aren’t far enough along in their training to be easily performing what’s being asked. That said, anyone can have a really “off” day, and even the best of us have felt the burn of bombing. It’s an important lesson and we all have to learn how to recover from, while doing what you can to keep your disappointment from bumming out your dog. Some dogs are much more resilient, and some dogs are really difficult to work in strange environments, regardless of how well you train and prepare.
Since it is such a trial, I really think that video competition should be a mandatory first step for something as difficult as freestyle (it could be very helpful in many dog sports). I continue to learn so much from various attempts at capturing good video. It allows us to solidify a new routine from the comfort of our own home, with the luxury of being able to break things down and reward when necessary BEFORE adding all the extra pressure performing in public and in a strange environment. It lets a dog “tell you” what parts of the routine are too hard, and you can alter your routine to work with your dog, finding behaviors that are more rewarding, or better understood, or that flow together better in a sequence. It can be very enlightening, extremely humbling, but it definitely is not just an ordinary training session.
Because it’s so challenging, when a freestyle team succeeds, the crowd goes wild. Even just succeeding partially will earn compliments from the highly supportive crowd. If you get out there and do awful, people sympathize, and offer kind words. That’s one thing you can be absolutely certain of: people will support you! WCFO also goes a long way to support their junior handlers, of which, there were some exceptional competitors. And the whole community kicked in and donated all sorts of awards and prizes. Although, similar to other dog sports, it seemed that the meaning behind the prizes and this whole event were so heartfelt. It really was a wonderfully inclusive community.
My puppy and I actually did great. My youngest dog (3 years now) has years of experience working in strange environments, and we practice sections of our routine regularly, and all over the place. I’ve sought out various training opportunities, performed demos, train beyond just freestyle, and, of course, benefited greatly from our experiences capturing video. We took 2nd place in this International event each day, and, most importantly, succeeded in my biggest goal: performing with a dog that loved doing the work itself (and it showed)! It was great to meet and see people, too. Legendary performer, Michelle Pouliot was there. One of her routines moved me so much I cried, both times! That’s the thing about freestyle. There are lots of routines I can watch that are mildly entertaining, that I wouldn’t spend too much time watching online, however, there are some routines that are so special they literally move me to tears. Unfortunately, video at WCFO events if forbidden, which is a huge tragedy not only because I can’t share clips with you, but also because I find videoing the pre-run through to the post-exit interactions to be invaluable training feedback.
As for the workshops, I was interested in becoming a judge for WCFO, and took the judging workshop. Anna Schloff, President and head of the judges, tried her best to not only provide important information in the workshop, but also invited us to ask her for help. This workshop was only about an hour, and I’d been expecting at least a few hours, judging by the schedule on the entry form. This hardly scratched the surface.
The organization leading up to the timing of this day was a disaster. There were changes less than a week before, which were then not honored, unnecessarily costing me money for daycare, wasting half a day. Also communicating “move ups” is surprisingly a major difficulty for this organization, which normally is as simple as communicating to the trial secretary the night before or morning of the next run, resulting in an update in the computer and writing in your new placement in the day’s running order. This is rumored to be pretty typical for WCFO, and a number of people have extra legs in levels they should have graduated from. Understandably, some of the challenge comes from video entries. They format all runs (coming in worldwide on different formats) onto a single video disc to distribute to the judges. Then, it has to be looked through (for free) by 3 separate judges, with scores then sent back (all snail mail, if you can believe it), so it will be months upon months before you hear back from such an entry. If a live show falls in between, you will not be able to move up. Supposedly, you can let them know if there’s overlap, and they can make an adjustment. But, my personal experience trying to do so resulted in, and I’m not exaggerating, literally HOURS of talking with people to try to get it to happen. I felt like such a pest, and I am not in it for the titles. However, in this day and age, I just don’t have the time, money, effort to spare putting so much time into an entry to have it turn out to be a practice run.
Although I’d like to support this community further, there are other venues out there that provide clearer judging criteria, quicker feedback, and don’t prevent competitors from videoing at events or posting videos of your runs, so, I’ll be taking my future investments of time and energy elsewhere. If you are just looking for a great community and want to support a venue that needs more fans, get out there and help the sport grow with the association that got it all started and compete with people all over the world!