This past Memorial Day weekend we attended our first AKC rally competition. We were there with several other families, trainers, and dogs in the Canine Hope for Diabetics program (more on why I think this is important later). As you can tell from the pictures above, these dogs, trainers, and families (including my 11 year old and 2 teenagers) did a fantastic job. I got so much joy (and yes, a bunch of nervousness) out of watching my daughter compete with Raven this weekend. My heart was bursting with pride the whole time. This whole thing starts with us around Thanksgiving last year, when Stella really started to take an interest in rally. There wasn’t any talk of competing or shows, she just wanted to start working more with the dogs. We started going to rally practice very consistently on Sundays. Canine Hope hosts a training session for their families and dogs almost every Sunday afternoon, and at this point it is fun for the whole family. We get to hang out with other type 1 families, our kids (both type 1 and non diabetics) play with each other, and we get to work our amazing dogs. Afterwards, we head out as a group to dinner. It is a great day.
One of the trainers, Stefanie, had started competing with Able, the dog she was training for a family, and we went to watch her last summer. There was some talk about another show coming up at the LA County Fairgrounds (which is right down the street from us) she was entering to get Able his next title (each time you get 3 qualifying scores in a particular level, you get a title and can move up to the next level) and a couple of other trainers were going to attend. Stella said she wanted to try. And we were off!
Before I get too far, the pictures in this post are all from the same weekend. Here is your legend:
1. Stella’s white shirt is day 1
2. Stella’s blue shirt is day 2
3. Stella’s black shirt is day 3
So over the past few months, Stella and Raven have really started to work together. We decided to use Raven for this because Raven will alert to whoever she happens to be with. So if Stella is off, Raven will alert to her and move on. Major on the other hand, alerts to me or my wife. So if Stella has a blood sugar issue, Major will bolt from her side and leave the ring to come get me or my wife. That is by design, and shows the different age our daughter was at when we got both dogs. With Major, Stella was to young to properly care for herself or handle a dog, so Major was trained to get us. By the time we got Raven, she was a little more mature, and a much more confident dog handler.
And for those that don’t exactly know what rally is, it is an obedience sport. There are between 10-15 stations in a ring, each with a different obedience command. The team (dog and handler) must navigate to each station in order, do the command correctly, all while maintaining a loose leash (advanced levels do this off leash) without touching your dog, utilizing hand and/or voice signals. The purpose behind it for us is to build a bond between the dog and handler, have a well behaved dog while out in public, and we have fond that the more training you do with the dog, the better the alerts become.
In Rally, each team starts off with 100 points. Deductions are made for poor leash control, refusals, improper execution, going potty in the ring, doing things out of order, having a dog leave the course, and I’m sure a myriad of other things. But as long as your dog scores 70 points or more, you “qualify”. 3 qualification scores allow you to get your title, in our case, Raven now will have an RN after her name indicating she has mastered Rally Novice 🙂
We entered the rally novice competition for 3 days, hoping and praying we would qualify each time and finish off with a title. Naive? Perhaps. Nerve wracking for me? Absolutely.
We got there early on day 1, set up our space, talked with the other Canine Hope teams, did some practice with Raven, ate some food and waited. All 3 days our event started between 1:30 and 2. We ate lunch about 11;00. Why? Because we were determined to enter the ring with good blood sugar numbers. These dags are Diabetic Alert Dogs first, and fun loving, obedience competing dogs 2nd. I wanted to make sure that I gave Stella every opportunity to succeed (and all of the other Canine Hope dogs that didn’t need to smell out of range blood sugars) by assuring that her BS levels would be in the normal range when she stepped in the ring. If they were off, potentially Raven would alert, bow or wave, jump up, and appear unruly, unfocused, or disobedient, and if Stella ignored her, eventually she would look to me or another Canine Hope member to alert to. So we ate lunch early to make sure we wouldn’t ride a spike into the ring, and stayed aggressive on BS’s all weekend. The great news is we didn’t see a number over 140 all 3 days. That is fantastic! (Raven alerts to numbers over 165) We did battle some lows on day 2 & 3, more on that when we get there.
We spent the morning watching some of the higher level competitions go, and was impressed with the quality of the dogs, and how hard some of the exercises are for the more advanced groups. I started to get a little worried. But I wasn’t the one doing the work, Stella was. And she has no fear. When her time came, she walked into the ring, and she and Raven went right to work. They did everything they were supposed to do, but Stella rushed a few things, and Raven lagged in a few places, resulting in a few points off. They did, however, get an 84 and that was good enough for an extra ribbon, a 4th place!
Day 2 started off a little warmer than day 1. Always a concern with the black dogs, and since a good majority of the ring was in the sun, also a little concerning for the diabetic too! Once again we stuck to our game plan. I run the dogs almost daily, and on the weekends we will run upwards of 10 miles with Raven, but for the 3 days of the competition, I ran the same 4 mile loop each day just to get the excess energy out. Probably more so for me than Raven, but shhh…. 😉 Once again we ate early and we were having great numbers. We had a different judge on day 2, and she seemed a little harsher, more abrupt, a little intimidating, and there were a lot of non qualifying dogs on day 2. I was more than a little worried.
Stella was supposed to go second. We had Raven in her crate, and when they announced the start, I tested Stella. Her CGM indicated she was going low. Her blood sugar was 78 and still going down. CRAP! The first dog went started as I had Stella start drinking Gatorade (we have great luck using Gatorade to correct lows and not create a big spike later). We were still working on the low when they called for Stella, and I asked if we could slip a place or 2. That was fine, so we had a couple of more minutes. We finished up with the drink, I tested, and she was 75. I was pretty sure I stopped the drop, but it would be a few more minutes before she would start to go up. Raven bowed once for the low, I gave her a treat, and on a wing and a prayer I sent her out there, hoping she would be okay and that Raven wouldn’t have another reason to alert. She felt rushed and hurried at that point. The first obstacle was a figure 8 heeling exercise, and she did it twice. That was a 10 point deduction. She did really well on the rest of the course though, and really worked hard to hold it together. Again, I was so proud of her, and when it was over, we tested and her BS was 97. Perfect
I was very concerned about her score, knowing the judge appeared to be tougher and that she did the first obstacle wrong (technically she did more than everyone else 😉 ). I heard the judge say that it was a qualifying score (they announce that at the end of each run if you at least got 70) so that was HUGE! Turns out, she got an 85! 1 point better than the day before, another 4th place, and if it wasn’t for the 10 point deduction, a possible 1st or 2nd! WOOHOO!
All the Canine Hope dogs were doing phenomenal! There were lots of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place ribbons, and through day 2, all the teams qualified in all the rally events! What a great showing, and a great endorsement for the program!
For day 3, Stella and I decided to get there early. We wanted to enjoy some more of the show, see some of the earlier events like Obedience (wow, that’s a tough level) some agility trials (we got to see the small dogs like Papillions, French Bulldogs, and Chinese Hairless Crested’s go. They were fun to watch. We also had a chance to see some of the best of breed show, and checked out all the vendors. Once again I ran the dogs early, and we ate lunch about 2 hours before our event. This was the hottest day of all, and the wind really kicked in just before our event. This time, I watched the clock a little closer, and noticed that about 20 minutes before, Stella’s BS was around 80. I started to give her a little Gatorade as she warmed up with Raven and took her to go potty. Checked her with 10 minutes to go. Still 80. More Gatorade. 5 minutes to go, and she turned the corner. She was 90. Off she went into the ring.
Stella and Raven really rocked the 3rd day. This course was by far the hardest, it was narrow and tight, and a little harder to navigate with a bunch of 270 turns on diagonals. Once again though, these 2 sailed right on through. Stella was enthusiastic, she kept Raven engaged, and most importantly they had fun. I heard the judge say they got a qualifying run, and all of a sudden the dam burst. I gave her a HUGE hug, and tears just started running. I was so proud of all the work they put into this, and overcoming the extra hurdle of dealing with diabetes, and having fun to top it all off! So amazing. And then to hear this…
“In first place, Junior Handler #6, with a score of 95!” She got a better score each and every day! And she finished it off with a first! I was so happy for her. What an amazing weekend we had. Such a blast. I am so extremely proud of these 2.
And as for all the Canine Hope dogs? Well here, take a look:
Raven, Noah, Jedi, and Orion all titled. Apollo was only able to be in 2 events, but he and Riley qualified and got a 2nd place, so they will need to attend another show to get the final leg. The good news? There is a show in June. Stella really wants to keep going. So I think we will shoot for it. The next level requires us to work off leash, so we will have a lot of hard work ahead of us. But I have amazing faith in these 2. Nothing can stop them. And who knows. Maybe I will try it with Major…