Thursday, January 19, 2006

Well, that wasn't so bad

Olivia remains unfazed by all the commotion at the Ljubljana International Dog Show

Last Sunday Lyra got some competition experience (always welcome) and Olivia some socialization experience (ditto) at the Ljublana International Dog Show. Well, for that matter, so did I (double ditto).

My first impression on arriving at the fairgrounds was: lots of dogshit. And I mean LOTS. Which is just what one would expect from ca. 1500 dogs kept in a limited area over a period of several days. With, apparently, no clean-up, at least not by owners, and you can hardly blame them since I didn't see any bags, scoops or receptables for dog waste, or signs politely but pointedly requesting, in multiple languages, that owners clean up after their animals, or marked off areas for use as designated doggie bathrooms, etc. I suspect the crew of the fairgrounds made valiant efforts after hours to pick up all the accumulated crap (along with all the garbage humans left behind, which was also not insubstantial, despite the strategically located garbage bins). But it seems to me it could have been better organized if owners had taken responsibility, and been provided with the means for doing so.

My second impression was: man, is this a stressful, unpleasant environment, and boy am I glad I don't do this kind of thing on a regular basis. In addition to the dogs on display (click here for some photos, some of them quite ridiculous), there were hordes of people, hundreds of booths peddling all kinds of stuff (I didn't bother to check them out, though my daughter did), trash everywhere (and an occasional dog pile, even inside), noise, bad air...If any of my students are reading this (or anyone else who has read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), it was the kind of place that would have driven Christopher to moan, rock, and desperately seek out a small, closed space to hide in. I came pretty close to doing that myself, actually. I was a little panicked, too, because I couldn't immediately find the hall where the agility was to take place, didn't know if they'd set up the course already, worried about missing out on walking on the course, and and and....

Okay, big breath, calm down. In fact we had arrived in plenty of time, especially since the events were behind schedule. Lyra's growing fan club was there (Jana and Dean and their circle of friends; more about J and D and the role they play in Lyra's life in a later post), and of course the increasingly familiar faces of the agility crowd, the people and their dogs that we see whenever we go to competitions. I find it an amazingly supportive, welcoming, and friendly community; I'm glad we discovered the sport (more by accident than design), and I can't imagine a better place than Slovenia to do it in.

Anyway, after some delay the ring was cleared and the course set up. We even got to practice a few obstacles. For some reason Lyra has been balking lately at the teeter totter, like she's scared of it. I don't know why, it didn't pose any special challenge when we first started training about a year ago. (Slalom, on the other hand, has consistently been our biggest stumbling block to a clean run--she often enters it the wrong way or leaves out a pole.) Most exasperatingly, she also freaked out at the bridge. Now, at home, she gallops over the bridge (and pauses on command in the target zone at the end) with no fear or hesitation whatsoever, sometimes even on her own, just for fun, while chasing after a ball. But a bridge in an unfamiliar environment that looks and feels different from the one at home intimidates her. All the more reason why we need more experience and exposure, by going to competitions and training on other courses/obstacles at other clubs.

Our agility performance wasn't quite the fiasco I had feared. I've let too many days go by before writing about it and now it's hard to remember, but as I recall, on the first run she was too hasty and unfocused (often a problem for us at competitions) and erred repeatedly on the slalom, which disqualified us. She did, however, get through the teeter and the bridge, though not without some coaxing. The second run was pretty funny. She narrowly missed going off course on the first set of jumps (I was pleased that she didn't--the course was harder than what we're used to, with much tighter turns, and she listened to me and corrected her course in time), galloped unhesitatingly over the bridge this time--good dog!--then, at the end, inexplicably took a right turn instead of a left and jumped right out of the arena. Oops. DQ. At least she jumped right back in again when I called her. Well, after that, she started going every which way on every which obstacle. I think the A-frame was next, then a jump, then a U-turn and into a tunnel running underneath the A-frame--she did the A-frame in both directions, a couple of times I think, before finally entering the tunnel. Then a jump, U-turn, and the dreaded teeter was before her. She didn't like it, but she took a big gulp, gave me an OK-if-I-absolutely-have-to look (not entirely without reproach) and obediently ventured onto it, crawling up it oh-so-slowly until the midway (tipping) point, then flattening out completely on her belly with legs splayed, stopping for an interminable period, during which I stroked her back, since we were already disqualified. I rarely remember much from agility runs, even immediately afterwards--it all goes by in a blur--and while on course I'm unaware of what goes on outside, but I swear I heard a huge collective sigh of relief rom the crowd as Lyra made her way down and off. Then there was the tunnel again, from the other direction, then slalom, which again she executed too hastily to do correctly, then a few more jumps, the last of which was the wrong one. Oh well. Good practice for us. And fun.

The best part of the day came at the end, after the course was taken down, the hall emptied, and a few people and their dogs, mostly border collies, ran around loose and had a free play session, chasing balls and other toys and one another. It's so relaxing and fun--great way to decompress. I love watching the dogs' movements and behavior. Olivia got in on the action, too. She was exposed to all kinds of strange stimuli, and seemed to take it all in stride. Charmed quite a few people, too, especially among aussie lovers, of which there is a dedicated and growing group in Slovenia. (Thanks, Nadja, for the photo! And to many others we met, for being so helpful and supportive.)


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