With all the recent talk about my daughter and Raven competing in rally, we get asked a lot about why we are using Raven and not Major. I have explained this in a couple of different places, but I thought I’d do a post about it here.
Truth be told, Major does do rally every weekend with us. We take him to training every weekend, and I work him through the course. Since Stella is competing with Raven, she practices the most with her. And since I work Major and I take the pictures, no one ever sees us doing the work.
The short answer is a difference in expectations and training when we first started out. When we got Major almost 3 years ago, my daughter was 8. She wasn’t capable yet of handling her diabetes management consistently, not able to work through an alert properly, not able to fix a low in the middle of the night, or properly reward the dog for an alert. She really thought the dog was being obnoxious at times when in reality he was alerting. As such, we needed a dog that would come to us to alert. We were the ones that would be doing all the management. So when Major was trained, he was trained to alert to us. He came to us for all alerts, rewards, etc. He still does, and he is amazing at his job. Major is perfectly capable of competing in Rally, he knows all of the commands and loves to work. He is an extremely athletic dog, capable of working agility, rally, dock diving, or just about anything. We work both dogs every weekend. But what happens during the session is if Stella (or Luke or Johanna, his other favorite diabetics) has a blood sugar issue, he will leave the ring in search of my wife or I, and in competition that would be an immediate disqualification. Even when on leash, he will be looking for an opportunity to get to me, and will stop working for Stella. When they are training, it is one of the easiest ways for me to tell if Stella is having an issue. He stops listening to her
Major was brought in to be a DAD. And he is an amazing DAD. So good as a matter of fact that he will break from whatever else he may be doing to do his most important job, alerting to blood sugar issues. We didn’t know about rally. That’s what makes these dogs and teams competing in rally all that much more special, and difficult with an extra set of hurdles and obstacles to get through.
Stella started to show some interest in competing and working with Major. We had learned that as they do more and more things together, their bond would become stronger. The first thing the 2 of them did together was dock diving.
When we got Raven, Stella was 10. She was much more responsible for her diabetes care, and a much stronger dog handler. Much more involved in all aspects of the dogs and diabetes. Our circumstances were different. And Stella wanted to be more involved. Raven will alert to her directly, or come to us. And Raven can be a little more discreet. Raven also prefers to alert by grabbing a bringsel. When Stella is in the ring, we remove the bringsel from her belt.
After this next round of competition for Stella and Raven, after they get their next title, there will be a steep learning curve before moving on to the next level. While they train and practice for that, I may work with Major myself. I will need to sneak off to a competition without Stella to make sure he and I can work with out distractions. I would love to see him at least get his RN title. I bet he could even get his CD title. So I will be working more and more with him to tighten up his obedience. The good news is as we do these exercises, the Service Dog part always gets stronger. The alerts get clearer. The misses become fewer and farther between. All the effort pays off in the end.
Set a goal. Work hard. Execute. Achieve. If Stella can do it, so can I 😉