Our North Central Region Schutzhund Championship will be held this weekend in Hazelhurst, Wisconsin. Pre and I will be heading up there on Friday morning, with a practice time set for early evening, before the draw. We have spent many hours together, preparing. The road has taken us this year to the AWDF Championship, where we won the IPO2 Championship...to the WDC where we bombed out in tracking... and now to the Regionals. The last stop for this train is the AWMA (American Working Malinois Championship) in Illinois in October. When that is completed, Pre will return to his family in Madison.
It is a bittersweet journey. I've known and trained Pre since he was a youngster and working with his handler, Sam. The agreement with his parents was that Pre would revert to a family companion when Sam left for college. I wrangled one competition season out of that, so he became my dog for the year. We have traveled together to seminars and trials, and I've learned the best ways to motivate and manage. He is a brilliant dog who loves to learn and be challenged. He can be quite a goof at times, and very affectionate. He knows that the my van is the mechanism to take him to fun times, and if the door is open he is in there and helping himself to the toys he finds. We have been working daily on the pieces we will need for the Championships. There is no do-over. Either we succeed, or not, but we will not have the opportunity to change, to fix things, to grow after next month.
Last month I drove to New York to train with Debbie Zappia for three days. I've spent tons of money on training and travel with Pre, and I can apply what I have learned with dogs that follow. Pre has allowed me to hone my own skills at a higher level. Our schedule includes almost daily tracking, obedience sessions and jolly ball play and if we are lucky, a protection session in the evening. A tired puppy is a happy puppy!
Tomorrow morning we will do an early track, simulating the time of day we are likely to run this weekend, in the cool, wet grass. After that I will drive into Appleton to pick up the frozen rabbit patties that I feed Pre when we travel (he has a sensitive stomach). In the early afternoon Pre and I will do a jolly ball obedience session, practice the recall and a jump and send away. Around 6 pm, Eric will arrive for a last protection session, putting the last touches on our back transport. Schutzhund defines the saying "any given Sunday".... you work to prepare, but on any given Sunday you may get a bad draw, something might not go perfectly in your routine... and the underdog wins. Or loses.
On Friday we will drive to Hazelhurst and hit the field for our practice time. I will get Pre over the jumps and do a send-away. We practiced on that field last month, so it won't be a totally new location for him. The trial will be held on a baseball diamond, which has a deceptive curve to it. The handler needs to take a clear center-line in the obedience routine and while running blinds. I will probably get him around the blinds for a couple run-outs and that will be our prep. Then it will be time to find out our trial times at the draw and try to get a good night of sleep.
If I concentrate on each phase, on each small step, I will be less likely to consider that, after this weekend, Pre and I have only one more month, and one more trial together. I keep telling myself that he is a difficult dog to keep, and he is. He has a sensitive stomach when we travel. He can be destructive. He chews on dog houses and dog beds. I say that I will have more time to spend on "my own dogs" when Pre goes home. All of this is true, of course. But underneath all the bravado, I will miss him very much. I kindof hope he will miss me, too.
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