Friday, February 12, 2010

Training for the Weekend

SUMMARY: Serps, bars, USDAA this weekend.
Yes, boys and girls, we have a USDAA trial this weekend out in Turlock. And, since I've been concentrating on other important things in the meantime [um--facebook?--]*, and Boost turned 5 two weeks ago and Tika turns 8 this weekend, I figure it's time to finally spend some time fixing ALL OUR AGILITY ISSUES before the trial this weekend.

In class this week, Tika did our jumpers courses just absolutely beautifully and looked completely healthy. I'm sure that, had we done contacts, they'd have been perfect as always (they were last week).

It was Serpentine night, and Boost and I demonstrated once again that this is a major chink in our armour: Boost wouldn't come in, or knocked the bar when she did, or in one memorable escapade, took me out at the knees so that my denim-blue-colored fleece became stylishly mottled with mud-colored mud. Both with serps and with blasting through a tunnel, if I'm yelling to get her to come in my direction, she keeps going in her original trajectory full speed while LOOKING at me, and then after evaluating that I'm not moving, makes a huge ugly L-shaped turn to come in to me.

She also [gasp!] knocked bars in several places.

So yesterday I actually set up some serp thingies with jumps and tunnels in my yard. Tika did them flawlessly (when my timing was good, anyway, and even sometimes when it was iffy). Boost had a terrible time.

So we backed off to just our customized bar-knocking drills, and after doing about 40 just-one-jump drills when she got to where she wasn't even ticking the bar any more, we went back to the serp drill and broke it down into pieces until she could finally do two at-speed single-jump serps without knocking the bar, and we quit that for the day.

Also working on contacts with both dogs. I have suffered for my sins, oh Dogfather! I relaxed my nose-touch criteria and both dogs' contacts have deteriorated. So we went back to remedial nose touches to a target, then standing at the end of the ramp doing target nose touches, then partway down the ramp and running to targeted nose touches, until I ran out of special treats and we left that for the day, too.

I hope I can get more of all of that in today, among packing, going for a nice brisk hike with a friend, and work, and--um--facebook.*

*OK, some facebook, but really photography and work and random random random things, but saying "facebook" is funnier. I think.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Life in the Agility Lane

SUMMARY: Dogs + class + car + yard + blahblahblah
For some reason, people seem to think that I'm into dogs. Go figure.

For example, my nephew gave me a lightweight fleece blanket with a picture of golden retriever (or maybe lab) puppies on it. Very nice blanket. But, see, dog stuff is not part of my *normal* life (in which I might use a blanket); it's part of my *dog* life. My house is decorated with dragons, not dog stuff. But, well, it gets cold around here with the heat turned down, so, nifty, a blanket. I take it down to my office chair to wrap around myself.

Also, here's a collection of greeting cards I've received over the last year. (Did I ever mention to anyone that I'm also known for things piratical? Apparently I did--)

Despite trying to keep my dog life and regular life separate, they all intertwine. Last night, backing out of the driveway to go to agility class, I broke off a sprinkler riser by the driveway. Eight and a half years in this house, backing out of the same driveway, and I've never touched it. Go figure.

Dogs did well in class last night. Tika's contacts were beautiful (sigh), very fast 2-on/2-off. Boost's weaves were beautiful. Boost still knocking some bars and not wanting to come in to me on serpentines. We were lucky: Tuesday classes were cancelled due to rain and it's supposed to be raining again today, so we just squeezed in Wednesday.

I'm trying to transfer out of the Wednesday night class because it's getting close to Real Hikes season with the sierra club Wednesday Night Hikers. But evening classes are very popular and at the moment there might not be any other openings. (My old Thursday night class was turned into a world-team class. Go figure there are enough people at that level around here for their own weekly class. Tough competition all the time at local trials.)

This morning the Merle Girls and I dropped off MUTT MVR at the dealer to take care of a few things. I set the alarm for 6:30 to be first in line, and the dogs were VERY excited because alarm always means going to dog agility. They were a little confused when I did a few things that I don't normally do on agility morning. (Yes, they did really look puzzled.) After dropping off the van, we walked home the two and a half miles. I remember making this walk back when i first moved here, and being exhausted at the end. Now? Piece of cake. I don't hike all that often at the moment, but when I do walk or hike, it tends to be more than a mile, so am I a studly hiker or what, doing my 2.5 completely level sidewalk walk?

At home, I'm sitting at the breakfast table, which on my split level looks down over my office, just a wrought-iron railing separating them. Tika comes over, looks through the railing, and starts growling, then when I say "What?" she goes into full offensive barking, looking down into my office. I look that way to see what evil she has detected (note that Tika is NOT Boost, who sees evil in many places, but not Tika ever). Go figure. Here's what I see:

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

This Training Thing Is Hard!

SUMMARY: Thanks to my friend Sarah for these photos from Sunday's fun match.

Boost is so intent on watching me as I start lining her up at my side at the start line. She'd probably be a great heeler in obedience.

Boost waiting as I lead out. Is this an intense dog or what?

Tika saves her energy at the start line for more important things.

...Like blasting her way up the dogwalk. Too bad that she slows on the down ramp. She's so fast going down at home when I get her revved up. This training thing is hard!

...Or like blasting away from the teeter. She's not superfast on the teeter; jumps to a comfortable tilting point, rides it down gently, then takes off. Always in the yellow zone, 2o2o not needed, but not the fastest ride down. This training thing is hard!

...Or like blasting away from the Aframe after correctly getting her 2o2o. Again, fast 2o2o at home and in class, just trots down to it in competition or flies off way high. This--er--yes--training thing is hard!

Boost sails over the top of the Aframe. She doesn't usually catch some air doing it, but keeps her center of gravity low and wastes no steps. (Here you can really see that streak of gray in my hair above my ear. Good thing I'm blonde and it doesn't show that easily. Yet. In some light.)

I like this one because you can see the wood chips flying behind her, and those wide-open eyes show that she is having the hyper time of her life out there.

Boost's teeter is blazing. She doesn't ride it down out at the end like some dogs; near as I can tell, she rides it down her and uses the momentum of the slam-down to slide to the end as it hits. Some times faster than others. Wish I could get the fastest version all the time. This, sigh, training thing is hard. BUT her teeter is blazing even when it's slow, so of course I don't work on improving it.

Oh, good lord, who trained that dogwalk? Why is she not driving to the end looking forward? That is SUCH a problem that she's looking back at me instead of driving to the end. Training is... well... you know...

At least this time she actually got one foot in the correct zone (ground at end of board) rather than popping off halfway into the yellow to come back and meet me. I was *warned* that if I didn't keep up my drive-to-nose-touch-at-end criteria, I'd pay for it eventually. I hate when they're right and I'm lazy.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

UKI Birthday Fun Match

SUMMARY: A good time was had by all.
Compared to a regular agility weekend, it was SO much nicer to (a) not have to pack nearly as much, (b) sleep until 6:30 rather than 4:00 a.m., (c) drive half an hour rather than 2 hours, (d) watch the sun rise and the full moon sink (wanted photos but didn't want to stop. Regretting that decision.), (d) be done with 4 runs by noon.

I'm not the best person to comment on the styles of courses; course design doesn't interest me at all; I just like the challenge of how I'm going to get myself and my dogs through in the most efficient way possible, and it doesn't really matter what the specific challenges are. I must say that nothing I saw today looked out of the range of possibility for a USDAA trial (in terms of odd turns or weird positions or that ilk). But all the courses were run on a very small rings; they might have been 70x70 (rather than 100+ square), but I'm thinking they were maybe even smaller than that.

Java Agility has a permanent fenced location set up in one corner of the Swiss Park ("available for rental! Banquet hall!") in Newark. I have no idea what the Swiss part is all about, but the building was pretty cool.

Fun matches are useless for us to work on anything that dogs do only in competition; despite my best efforts, they know it's not real--e.g., Tika did every one of her contacts perfectly. In fact, Tika just kind of glided through the courses, OK, this is fun but not REALLY serious.

Standard agility ("agility") was your basic numbered course with all obstacles but no table. Jumpers is jumpers-with-weaves, different from USDAA but same as for AKC and international. Gamblers has an interesting variation; someone said it's sort of a combination of AKC FAST and USDAA gamblers; I'm not familiar with FAST so dunno. The gamble always has an option of going over the line to do it but for fewer points, which is nice.

Their Speed Stakes is just a Jumpers course like USDAA (no weaves) but set up for speed like a Steeplechase would be. We finished with that and both dogs loved it; Tika even got excited enough once she caught on to what kind of course it was that she zoomed in and grabbed my feet at the end, which is normally an only-at-trials behavior.

Boost knocked bars but her contacts and weaves were lovely. I was trying to concentrate more on having her keep moving out ahead of me and taking obstacles rather than checking in before every one. We had some success with that, but still a ways to go.

Tika waits her turn. (This is my 4/52 in my 52 Weeks For Dogs photo group.)

On the way home, the lighting was so interesting (sunny but muted by faint cloudiness) that I stopped and took photos. These are the mountains east of Newark rising above the NUMMI plant (New united motors), a joint venture between GM and Toyota for the last quarter century that employs 5500 people--until GM announced that they're pulling out, and Toyota isn't going to keep it running by themselves, so in 2 months it's shut-down and outawork.
It's amazing what you can see while standing at a freeway overpass in the business/industrial part of town on a spur-of-the-moment stop to take photos of the mountains.
Marsh grasses surrounding a reflective pond.

Purple flowers (duh!).

Bird of Paradise

These guys cracked me up. It was clear they were talking about the neighbors.

But when they took off, pure grace.

Seagulls may be the rats o'the sea, but they sure do look nice against a bright blue sky.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Last Weekend, This Week, This Weekend

SUMMARY: Surviving in agility

Last weekend's summary:

1 Q for Boost out of 9 runs (Pairs. Yeah, well, I got a million of 'em. Need some other kinds of Qs, please, thank you very much).

3 Qs for Tika out of 9 runs (Pairs; Gamblers, in which she placed 2nd of 15; Snooker, in which she placed 2nd of 14 for a Super-Q). Also got 3rd of 17 in the other Gamblers--high opening points but only 2 dogs got the gamble.

Human Mom forgot course or blatantly mishandled, resulting in non-Qs:
3 on Saturday of 10 runs:
* Boost's Standard, overran a rear cross for a refusal, our only fault!
* Tika's Steeplechase, got ahead in wrong place and pulled her offcourse--not our only fault, but our only offcourse fault
* Boost's Steeplechase, forgot where I was going & sent her off course. Boost was clean in what I asked her to do.

3 on Sunday of 8 runs:
* Tika's standard: Forgot to do key front cross, so course looked wrong, so pulled her off obstacle for a refusal. Our only fault.
* Boost's Grand Prix: Tried for a tough serpentine and wasn't even close, causing a chain of disasters on that & ensuing 2 jumps; the rest of the course was clean.
* Boost's Jumpers: Tried to front cross in wrong place, therefore sending boost past a jump that she then backjumped.

I have seldom been so frustrated with myself. I'm not always perfect, but this was one disaster after another.

And then there were the Tika issues--the Tika's Evil Twin issues--
* Tika's Pairs: Missed dogwalk up (ok, sometimes happens) and FLEW off dogwalk down. Luckily we still qualified.
* Tika's Saturday Standard: Knocked 2 bars, FLEW off the dogwalk, FLEW off the Aframe, putting her way ahead of me so she turned back to me instead of taking the next obstacle, earning a refusal.
* Tika's Steeplechase Rd. 1: Hit the broad jump, knocked a bar, flew off the Aframe.
* Tika's Grand Prix: I was on her correct side coming down the dogwalk, working hard to get her to hit the contact, which she did, but barely slowed down and zoomed into the wrong side of the next tunnel although I YELLED "Tika! TIKA! TIKA!!" because I know that "COME!" doesn't work for her. Now, apparently, "Tika!" doesn't, either.
* Tika's Jumpers--only class at 26"--the only Q she STILL needs for her ADCH-Silver--. Got her out early. Used a handful of food plus toy to do bar-knocking drills on a 26" jump. All kinds of angles & directions & crosses & everything. She was great. Then in the run, she knocked the 2nd jump. The rest of course was perfect.

I could hardly believe it; she has been running so beautifully at 22" with hardly a fault. How could my weekend come to this?

I am abashed to admit that I finally could hold it back no more and sat in MUTT MVR for about 10 minutes--twice--and sobbed. It's been a long time since I gave in to that impulse, but in fact it got to where I couldn't NOT cry, and I didn't want to be taking it out on my dogs or on other people. It was so hard to be cheerful with my dogs when I felt like such a failure as a handler and a trainer. And I KNOW that I just came off of two or three really great weekends, and Boost actually ran very well this weekend, and I REALIZE that my dogs are happy, healthy, love doing agility, love being with me, and are still relatively young.

I blame it on 4 hours of sleep Friday night, 5 Saturday night. Various reasons for sleeplessness, a good portion of which was the heat. And I'm sticking to that story. Like I was sticking to the sheets.

So this week I'm just not feeling motivated to practice. (OK, I wasn't feeling motivated last week, either.) I did rearrange things to practice some gambling yesterday based on Saturday's gamble that almost no one got (despite this being the 3rd time in about a year that we've seen almost this exact gamble). And of course dogs did everything perfectly almost every time, even as I made it harder. Bah.

I should be doing a billion rear crosses with Boost. I should be doing a zillion contacts with Tika--although she's always perfect here and in class and seldom in competition, it would be good to get a lot of reminders into her head.

I should at least be doing SOMETHING agility-like with the dogs all week.

BECAUSE this weekend is the Southwest Regional! Three and a half days of agility! In which Boost will not be competing for the gorgeous Grand Prix winners cups because we couldn't get a single bloody grand prix leg all year!

Starting Friday night with Pairs, then all day Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, down in Prunedale again. We're praying it won't be anywhere near as hot as it was last Saturday!

Here's what I've said about Nationals: If Boost wins local GPs and/or Steeplechases, or wins or places at the regionals, I might reconsider going to Nationals. She's been running so much better these last 3 weeks, it seemed like it might be a possibility. But between us, so far no luck. At least she's earned ONE measly mumble mumble Steeplechase Q so far, so can compete in THAT this weekend.

Tika is on a Performance DAM team with our old nationals partner Brenn. They could do well--they have before (won earlier this year; also finals at Nationals a few years back). They could crap out--they have before, and Brenn is coming off of several weeks of rest for an experimental bone marrow transplant (I think) to try to help her recurring arthritis pain. Our team name: "Here We Go Again."

Boost is in a DAM team with new partners Sheila--not super fast but pretty darned reliable black & white Border Collie--and Cayenne--pretty danged fast but (her Human Mom claims) not so reliable--a red and white Aussie. We'll be "Cayenne Boosts a Sheila."

Attendance is down--10% fewer dogs than last year, which had 10% fewer dogs than the year before. Economy? Agility fatigue? Less reason to attend since 1st place no longer earns a bye into the finals at nationals? Dunno.

In 2007: ?529 dogs, 340 humans, 4670 runs, 75 championship DAM teams, 41 PVP DAM teams.

In 2008: 487 dogs, 313 humans, 3939 runs, 64 teams, 26 pvps

This year: 430 dogs, 298 humans, 3598 runs, 59 Teams, 37 PVPs

Not that I'm complaining; should make the weekend not quite so long and exhausting, but still--we're losing a bit of that feeling of the Nationals Warm-Up Event for all the people & dogs who show up who might also be at Scottsdale.

I'll be on score table, as usual. I'll be sleeping over in MUTT MVR instead of driving the hour home every evening.

I'll be trying to recapture the I'm Doing This For Fun feeling. Because, really, why else do it? I have enough stress in my life without VOLUNTEERING for more stress.

See you all there.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's Never What I Expect

SUMMARY: Nor necessarily what I want. USDAA trial results.

I had hoped (quietly) that this weekend maybe I could finish Tika's last Standard Q at 26" (two chances) and get one more of the three 26" Jumpers legs she needs for her Silver ADCH, and then she'd be all in Performance at 22".

Didn't do that. Instead, in the tournaments we had a repeat of the last trial in Performance: Won Steeplechase round 1, came in second in Grand Prix. Would be nice just once in our lives to finish first in Grand Prix to get that bye into the second round at the regionals, but not this time. [I'm getting greedy already--she never won steeplechase in Championship and I don't think ever placed this high in Ch GP.]

Tika also got the P3 gamble--barely--she works so hard to make up for my lack of clarity!--and came in 2nd; ran clean in Pairs (although partner had 2 faults) and she and partner were fast enough to still Q and take 4th of 10 performance teams.

For Boost, would be nice to SOMEDAY get a Jumpers leg to earn our MAD. Didn't do that, either. But she did run clean in Masters pairs, and although partner had an Aframe flyoff, together they were fast enough to make up for that to qualify and place 3rd of 23 teams. Dang fast dogs! And Boost's run was absolutely lovely! No complaints from me at all.

I told my renter--a bit cynically--that if BOTH Tika and Boost qualified in Steeplechase, maybe I'd stay through Sunday morning for the money runoff, and figured I was safe because Boost has Qed only once ever in Steeplechase and it wasn't at the same time as Tika.

So--Boost ALSO qualified in Steeplechase! She knocked a bar and yet was plenty fast enough to squeak under the qualifying course time (just 2 seconds slower than the fastest dog, and I can attribute that to (a) holding her on her 1st Aframe contact and (b) spinning towards me instead of running straight out at the end). She's just so fast--it would be wonderful to be able to really see that come through!

However, in the end, I didn't stay through the night to do round 2: Hopes of monetary return worth the extra night in my van were extremely slim (1st place in Performance around $15, f Tika managed it; Boost was the last of 16 22" dogs to Q, and the odds of her placing in the top 6 or 8 or whatever for checks was about zero) and I was tired and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.

So, out of 8 runs, Tika Qed 4, Boost Qed 2.

Snooker was a bust mostly because I walked it wrong, combined with issues in the opening. Sigh. My plan was to do three 7s and a 5 in the opening. Well-- Tika did two 7s and then took the 5 due to insufficient handler communication, which put us so far away from the 4th red that I went right into the closing. Boost knocked her first red, so we were able to do only three sevens and then go into the closing.

Problem was that I walked the #4 with the wrong obstacle. So, Tika did 2-3 in the closing and, as I put her over what I THOUGHT was #4, I was surprised to see a red "1" flag on that jump. Doh. With Boost, learning from my mistake, I was able to get her over the #4 correctly, but the angles were sufficiently weird that, without walking it, I couldn't handle getting her into the #5 correctly.

Boost's runs, over all, were starting to feel decent this weekend. We still had the oddball refusals and going past jumps backwards while looking at me and then backjumping, that sort of thing, but not as many as sometimes. And didn't knock an excruciating number of bars, although they still came down.

Boost mostly had lovely contacts; on one Standard run where she already had faults, when she left the dogwalk without a release, I thanked the judge and picked Boost up and carried her off. She got the rest of her contacts, with one exception--end of the day, Steeplechase had 2 Aframes. She did the first one perfectly and I released her much more quickly than is good for training, and then she self-released the 2nd time. On the other hand, if I hadn't release quickly and she hadn't self-released, we wouldn't have made time because of her one knocked bar. So take your pick.

Tika was absolutely delighted to be running after me being sick in bed for 3 days and too weak to do anything with them at all save a couple of pathetic ball tosses in the back yard. So delighted, in fact, that in our first run Friday night, she didn't stick her start line and knocked the first bar (which is what told me that she was heading up behind me), and then flewwwwww off her dogwalk. She calmed down as Saturday wore on and it got quite a bit hotter (at least mid-80s, maybe 90ish).

The best moment of the weekend came during Saturday's standard round; Boost already had at least one fault on the course. We hit the table, she went into a down, and I noticed that BOTH her ears were inside out on top of her head. I hate that! At home and in class, I reach down to flip her ears over all the time. So there she was, there I was, waiting for the judge to count off the 5 seconds, and I couldn't stand it--reached over and flipped her ears over. Which is a 5-point fault for touching my dog. Judge laughed. I realized just as I was doing it that flipping the ears actually counted as touching my dog in the ring. Just glad she already had a fault; would've kicked myself if that had turned out to be one of her few clean runs. OK, we had faults, but at least her ears had dignity.

I actually remembered to have someone videotape the last couple of our runs. Maybe if I have time this week (always the issue) I'll try to post a couple.

As always, it was great to be around friends, although Risk's death gave everyone a gut-punch. Because I had been posting my health status on facebook, many people asked about me and checked up on me frequently to make sure I wasn't overdoing it.

And I did fine, symptoms almost entirely gone today, although I'm very glad I didn't stay for Sunday.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008


SUMMARY: Winter doesn't stop agility in California--but it might stop me.

I've heard people say how nice it is to have a break from training and trialing dogs during the off season. However, as I've noted here before, there is no off season for agility in my world.

We have a USDAA trail in two weeks, and it's an off-the-wall combination of events: all the Tournament classes (DAM Team, Steeplechase, Grand Prix) with also Jumpers, Gamblers, and Pairs. (No Standard, no Snooker.) AND--because some people really like the old games from back when trials were small and finished early in the day--Strategic Pairs.

I've decided that I need to refocus Tika's contacts on hitting her 2on/2off, and refocus Boost's contacts on STOPPING AND WAITING AND NOT TURNING TOWARDS ME. Boost's were so good for so long but have just started getting sloppy this summer.

So I've done a bit of nose-touch work to targets, on and off the dogwalk. Not a lot, just some, on days when I'm in the mood. And the mood is holding me back; maybe the rest of the world doesnt' take a break, but I feel like *I* need a break.

For instance, I haven't had jumps up in my yard since we came back from Scottsdale, and that's been almost a month, and I know that I need to practice lateral lead-outs and serpentines and keeping bars up. But I just don't wanna. The weather this year isn't encouraging an off season, either; it's supposed to be possibly into the mid-70s (F) today.

The dogs are going nuts because I've been ignoring them a bit while life goes on around me. Plus no class this week--for some reason the instructors didn't want to schedule classes on Thanksgiving day, go figure!

So, OK, I'll go do the agility trial but I might not shine because we're not practicing that things that we need to practice. And is that a waste of money and time? Torn. Conflicted. But it's a beautful day. Maybe I'll take the dogs hiking.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Lessons From The Weekend

SUMMARY: Thoughts on achievements and challenges.

  • Photography: MM, who is a semipro photographer (as in makes money at it but I dont think makes most of her income from it), commented about how she didn't feel like bringing her camera this weekend because she didn't think she'd have time to shoot anything and she didn't want to make the effort to get it ready and bring in, and then was inundated with requests for photos and there was no photog here at all, all weekend, said that the lesson is: Just always bring your camera. My version is: If you have your camera around your neck, you will use it. If it is sitting next to your dogs' crates and you're working score table and running 2 dogs all weekend and the days are long, you won't. Can you believe I was at a trial all weekend and this is the only photo I took?

    Because these rustic rural greater-than-life-sized carved wood statues are new to this site, and they stood out like sore carved-wood thumbs against the underside of the modern all-metal bleachers where they store large steel barrels for trash. You couldn't not notice these guys welcoming you as you walked through the gate to go to the restroom
  • Boost weaves: Twice this weekend, I was ahead of Boost at the weave entry and she entered correctly but so hard that she bounced off the 2nd pole and skipped one. Something to work on. We had some other weave issues this weekend of the random sort, but I still count hr weaves as successful when she's not popping out at the end, which she never did.
  • Boost staying in crate: I came back to my crates after working the score table for a full round and discovered that I had never zipped Boost's crate, and she was still inside. What a good girl! Training does pay! (Although I can't picture that working for Tika...)
  • Boost bars: Grumble. Both gambles executed perfectly except for knocked bars. That's not supposed to be the hard part! Must work more.
  • Boost elbows off table: On Saturday, she never did get her elbows down on the table. (But we had already Eed, so it didn't matter.) Sunday, we worked on excited down-stays on the ground before going into the ring, and her table down was perfect. Same result as last weekend. Training does pay! Need to remember to do this before every Standard round!
  • Boost smooth runs: I see some progress. Our Standard run Sunday was so close--no runouts or refusals or knocked bars--but she left the table early when I led wayyy out and ended with an off-course. But I was still happy with it. Jumpers Sunday was also close, with just a bar and an issue on the lead-out pivot (which isn't the same thing as when we're running). So practice does pay. Just need to keep at it.
  • Boost practice with lots of space: Things that I need to work on up at Power Paws or somewhere where there's lots of space: Lead-out pivots more more more. Just sending her ahead of me over long lines of jumps. She's still turning back to me and then eventually waiting, resulting in refusals or runouts. Can work on a little bit of jump-focus rather than me-focus here at home, but still I'll bet that just running in a huge U of jumps around the entire field would be a good thing to do many times.
  • My brain: Forgot Tika's course twice this weekend. Didn't feel stressed, they weren't particularly important or stand-out runs. It's very odd. I wonder if there's a trend? Something to ponder. It's also funny, because one of them I had just run correctly with Boost. That alone cost me two Qs this weekend.
  • Tika's contacts: She does them so fast & such good 2 on/2off in training. I've let them completely go to heck in competition. Do I want to try to fix them? Aframes I can force her to get a foot or two in if I get in front of her as she's coming down, so if I can plan the course so that I'm front crossing or running past, she's fast and hits it. Maybe it's good because it forces me to keep moving ahead of her. But it's bad when I can't, as in Saturday's Steeplechase, with 2 Aframes, where she was way ahead of me both times and wasn't even close to getting a toe in. Maybe I just need to run faster! But contacts alone cost us 2 Qs this weekend.
  • Tika's bars: Knocked a bar in Snooker opening, so we definitely wouldn't have Super-Qed. Knocked a bar in both Saturday's and Sunday's Jumpers. Bars alone cost us two Qs this weekend.
  • Trust all your senses; even measuring tools lie: Quite a few dogs didn't make time on Saturday's Master Standard course. When dogs who moved pretty smoothly through the course on Sunday were also over time by 5 or 10 seconds or more, there was considerable debate about whether the calculations were correct. The judge, after listening to several complaints, did finally say that the yardage for the course seemed odd for what she had laid out. So someone walked the measuring wheel along a 50-foot measuring tape and came up with 41 feet. That poor scoretable. Fortunately it was only Saturday's and Sunday's Masters Standards that they had to review for over-time dogs; nothing else in that ring to that point had required the measuring wheel.
  • I'm happy with two dogs: All kinds of people have new puppies! Blue merle Border Collies! Blue merle Pyrenean Shepherd! They are VERY cute and quite beautiful. And, no, I don't find that I have any urge at all right now to add a puppy to my clan.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008


SUMMARY: Lots of good stuff this weekend. But handler needs more training.

Biggest news

Started Saturday by Qing in Standard with both dogs, on a course where a full third of the dogs Eed and another third had faults. Tika placed 4th of 14, and Boost's run was beautiful! No refusals, runouts, hesitations, or knocked bars! Just the irritating elbows-up-on-the-table issue, causing a really long table count, and also it becoming apparent that I have broken Boost's previously rock-solid contacts (hit bottom and wait for a release...she's self-releasing now) by releasing too aggressively too often. Always something to work on! (Tomorrow I'll post a video.)

Then Tika Qed the next two classes, also, very neatly completing her LAA-Bronze. WooHOO! I am mighitily pleased. She is running so very well.

And Boost did all of her weaves perfectly again.

Tika's Weekend

Over all, Tika Qed 4 out of 5 Saturday (Standard, Pairs Relay, Gamblers, and Snooker). The only failure was in Steeplechase, where I tried an aggressive lateral front cross after the A-frame, meaning that I had no leverage on her contact, so she popped the Aframe and then knocked the immediately following jump. As usual, our time was 3 seconds under the cut-off, but with faults, we couldn't Q.

Sunday was only 2 for 5, but two of them were blatantly my fault. Snooker consisted entirely of a sort of double circle of jumps, almost every obstacle made up of multiple jumps and some jumps serving as multiple obstacles--and approaching the closing I very carefully threadled her past a difficult jump ONE DANG JUMP EARLY (needed to threadle past the NEXT one and TAKE this one), so we were off course. But she did everything I asked her to very smoothly and with no bars down (that was about 15 physical obstacles before I messed up).

Gamblers was SUCH a doable gamble, but for some reason when I sent her out to the tunnel, I pointed my body at the center of the tunnel instead of directly at the tunnel entrance, so she ran towards the center, veered off to one side, turned back to me, and finally took the correct entrance, but it was called as a refusal so although she did it, she didn't get credit for it. DEEEP sigh.

The only other non-Q was Standard, where she knocked the first bar (lots of dogs knocked that one, including Boost), so I took the opportunity to make her wait or down on her contacts to hopefully get a little more control back.

Boost's weekend

Once again, the Booster started off really nicely after another week of intense practice, but slowly deteriorated through the weekend. Still, we're making progress--we in fact earned *3* Masters Qs this weekend, which is wayyy more than we've ever earned in a weekend before, and several runs or parts of runs went much better than they would have been a month ago.

She Qed in Saturday's Standard and Snooker (knocked a red in the opening so didn't get full points but got all the way through the closing), and also in Sunday's Gamble, where I corrected the mistake that I made with Tika and she did it beautifully.

DANG TIRE: Boost did this tire perfectly in Saturday morning's Standard run. In Gamblers, she ran under it 4 times before I got her to go through it, and then I figured the problem was fixed. But no. Ran under it in Sunday's Standard. Ran under it in Grand Prix, and I brought her back and tried again to get her to do it and again she ran under it, so I just walked her off the course. I avoided it in the Gambler's opening because it wasn't going to be used in Snooker or Jumpers. Then, at the end of the day, I took her over, set her up in front of it--and she did it perfectly. Twice. Dang weird border collie.

My theory is that (a) the orange is hard to see against the green grass, (b) the paint on the tire was very faded so the stripes weren't obvious, (c) the tire was narrow and the frame was wide and they were basically the same color, so the distinction wasn't great, and (d) orange is supposedly very difficult to see against green (the grass). But who knows--then why did she get it first thing saturday morning?

CONTACTS: I used the rest of her Gamble opening and also her non-Qing Sunday Standard, after she knocked the first bar, to work on HER contacts, too. They're not as broken as Tika's, since she's still hitting the bottom and pausing, but she's sure not waiting for my release. I hope that fixes them again.

TABLE: Before her standard run on Sunday, I worked on just a down stay while waiting to go into the ring, with lots of excitement and testing, and got her to break or start to come up about 3 times and could say "Oh my goodness!" and put her back into position. Can't do that at home, class, or fun matches, but i didn't think before to work on it just on the ground at the events RIGHT BEFORE going into the ring. Result: Her table down was perfect! Will have to do more of that at events.

LEAD OUTS: I've been working on remedial lateral leadouts and lead-out pivots and she's doing very well, but in Sunday's Snooker I needed to set her about 20 feet away from the first red and lead out wayyy across the field. Even though I could see her over the top of the red jump, she came around it to get to me when I released her. So now we have to work on weird Snooker lead-outs.

GAMBLES: Saturday's gamble required running parallel to me from the teeter over the last jump, about 20' lateral from me. It was pretty much a gimmee gamble for people whose dogs did the teeter at a distance, which she had no problem with. But then she came in to me instead of going out. So her SENDS are much better than her lateral "out"s.

JUMPING ISSUES ASSORTED: We just need to keep working. Progress is happening, and she is SUCH a blast to run now that she's doing her weaves all the time, and when she's looking ahead to do obstacles instead of looking back at me constantly.

Oh, one of the runs where we fell apart a bit (after another dumb handler move early in the run) was steeplechase, so we definitely won't be running in Steeplechase at Nationals.


This weekend's Steeplechases were the weirdest I've ever seen. The courses were somewhat challenging, but not really awful--and a couple of dogs were very fast but not that many of them-- but what was weird was that so many 22" and 26" dogs failed to have non-Eliminating (offcourse) runs, that they had to combine the two heights to determine qualification! Only 6 of 13 26" dogs avoided Eing, and only 6 out of 29 22" dogs qualified! That is sooooo weird, at least around here. (We often have to combine 12" and 16", and both performance groups also--all of which we also had to do--but I've never seen so many 26 and 22" dogs crap out.)

So Round 2 was filled out with dogs who hadn't qualified (Steeplechase rules send a certain minimum number to Rd 2 in each height), but we didn't even have enough non-Eing dogs in some heights to fill out the minimum numbers!

And then in Round 2, it got even weirder--never seen a steeplechase Rd 2 where most placements were taken by dogs who merely survived--large number of dogs Eed and a good portion of the remaining had faults.

For those who care about the details, in Performance, only ONE dog in each of 8", 12", and 16" ended up taking home a check (and there were supposed to be 3 each); only the four 22" dogs survived.

And at the Championship level, the 16" and 26" each had only TWO dogs to survive for the money payout, and only 4 22"s. So the club kept a whole lot of extra award money (per the rules).

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Road Trip Report

SUMMARY: Fun match, beach, fun match. Lots of driving

Everything took longer than I had roughly planned, so I skipped the hiking at Mt. Madonna entirely, but I had a good time everywhere I went, so that didn't matter at all.

I was going to take photos of EVERYTHING today, but I just kept getting involved in what I was doing and forgot, or by the end of the day I was too tired to stop by the side of the road to take photos of, for example, the "Alpacas, Papillons, Shih Tzus" sign.

The fun match showcased Heart Dog Agility's site. ("Heart Dog" because her dog Annie is her heart dog: The best dog she'll ever have and the one with which she has a very special connection. I misreported this as having a heart marking but she actually has a "Q" marking (how quickly I forget), which is obviously why they've done so well in agility.) I did one Standard and one Jumpers run with each dog. Neither was fooled into thinking it was a real competition: Tika did lovely contacts and Boost maintained a perfectly solid down on the table. But Boost did get some jumping practice, so that was good.

Chatted with people there; the agility community has so many great people. It was hard to pick up and leave because I kept chit-chatting. But finally I pulled myself away.

Dropped off a book at my Havasu Canyon hiking partner's house, and she showed me her gorgeous wood floors that she laid herself, and doh! I forgot to take pictures. And we chatted a bit.

Dashed into kinda downtown Ben Lomond to take a couple of photos. Not sure that they're really Wikipedia-worth, though.

Headed on out to Aptos and the beach, where the dogs got to explore my friend's house while she concocted tasty turkey sandwiches to take with us. We walked about a mile and a half down the beach at Rio Del Mar, ate lunch, played a little frisbee.

Neither of my dogs have ever been to the ocean before. Tika loved the water--absolutely loved it. Raced in and out of the surf; kept trying to get Boost to come with her.

Boost would have nothing to do with it--absolutely nothing. It was wet, it moved, it made a lot of noise, and it probably smelled funny, too. She almost braved a little of the water of a receding wave to get the frisbee (which Tika kept catching, then running out into the surf and dropping) but really she was much happier on the completely dry sand.

I foolishly wore jeans (it's been a long time since I've been to the beach, too) and got very wet and sandy. But it was a beautiful day to be at the beach--no fog, plenty of sun--and Tika had such a great time.

Then I drove over the hills to Hollister to get our weave poles videotaped--barely got there in time for the overhead taping (I missed the front/side/back filming) and stuck around to run them each once in a standard course. But by then it was so hot and I was so tired that I could barely lift my feet, and called it a day.

Go visit my photos from this trip.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Getting In Shape For Fast Dog Agility

SUMMARY: If hiking gives me energy and stamina, and if that makes me faster, will it make my dogs faster and more accurate?

Wednesday evening I went hiking as usual with the Semi-insane Sierra Hikers Group. (The Fully Insane group is the one that hikes 12 miles with 3000-foot elevation changes every Saturday. Fortunately on Saturdays I'm slacking off and doing lazy easy-peasy dog agility then with no elevation changes.) We hiked almost the same hike at Rancho San Antonio that we did a few weeks ago, except--get this--BACKWARDS! Well, OK, the path we took was opposite normal, but in reality we walked forwards, 6 miles and 1000 feet elevation change (500 up and 500 down--the hike description says at least 1000 feet gain, but I don't see that on the topo map--and we didn't go down and back up again, either. Hm).

Anyway, I whipped out my camera to take a couple of photos and it didn't want to. Of course when I got back to the car, it worked fine, but not on the trail. So I have to resort to borrowing Karin's photos.

First there's everyone hanging out in the parking lot, waiting to get started while everyone signs the waiver form, sort of like everyone hanging around ringside at an agility trial waiting for the judge to tweak the course. Where "sort of" in this case means "all we have in common is hanging around waiting." (Me on the right in brown.)

Then there's me at the head of the pack (if you can believe it). I am wearing my Dogs Love Camp shirt from Power Paws camp to remind me that I'm doing this to get in shape to win the Regionals and my Grand Canyon fleece sweater to remind me what a hiking stud I am to hike Havasu Canyon with a 20-pound pack (8 miles and 2000 feet elevation change, all up on the way out).

And finally there was a really lovely pink-glowing sunset.

But the point of all this is, I'm thinking, that it will increase my energy and my stamina and improve the muscles in my legs, and therefore I'll be faster on the agility field, and if I could run faster and be where my dogs needed to be, would that fix all my problems on the course? Boost wouldn't have to stop and look back to see where I was. Tika would maybe be motivated enough to get a couple of extra zoom points on her runs. I just have to have the energy to do it.

Then in class last night we did one pretty tricky Jumpers course on which we all had considerable challenges, then we got to run it again for time. The first time I ran it with Boost. I am so tired of her crashing bars! Crash crash crash! It is so frustrating. We had a few other problems, too, and when I'd go back to try a sequence again, crash! would go the bars, sometimes several times in a row, and then I'd have to give up on that sequence. My tension level went way up. I try to stay positive with my dogs. I don't want them stressing out like Remington used to do. But I was having trouble there.

The second time, I watched the handlers with the fastest dogs (these are, like, people who win regionals and are in the USDAA Nationals finals and world team but maybe for other countries, like that). And their dogs had some little bobbles maybe, but here we got do-overs (of course you know that they do that at nationals and world team finals all the time, do-overs. Right? Sure?) so they could restart the course to get a valid time. Their times were in the low 27 seconds. Hold that thought.

But what I want so much is their loping ability. They have these nitro-powered dogs and they get the fastest time on the course, but the handlers just kind of take a couple of loping steps like they're just hanging out, waiting, and they're in exactly the right spot at the right time. Someone else said, well, it's those 88-inch-inseam legs that those two handlers have, and I'm sure that helps, but in fact if I had legs that long, I'd still be running like a crazed gazelle, a gazelle who is 50-something with hobbles and bad knees and no running skills, trying to keep up.

It's timing, is what it is. They know when they can move to get to the next obstacle and aren't standing there flat-footed thinking "wow, my dog actually did that obstacle! Oh, wait, now the next obstacle!"
Am I loping or am I screaming "go go go!" and pointing because I'm behind? Will Boost's back legs clear that bar? Tune in next week.

But I'm still thinking that if I have stamina and energy from all that hiking I'm doing, not to mention maybe I can pick up my feet and really move them, that that will allow me to use some calories on course for actual thinking instead of some actual trying to keep from dropping from exhaustion before the end of the run. So, anyway, I'm feeling pretty good. I am hardly panting from my many retries with Boost. Plus I have my emergency backup dog for when I'm frustrated by Boost's bar-knocking.

Therefore, on my timed run, I run it with my pretty reliable yet fast Tika dog. And I practice loping, because I'm pretty confident about her ability to understand what she needs to do on course. And Tika's pretty excited because she's jealous because I ran Boost once already. And, in fact, I find that I'm actually doing it! I'm not rush-rush-rushing, I'm calmly striding those long, comfortable strides to get where I need to be next, and even though we didn't run this complicated course together the first time like everyone else did, we nail it together. Still, I'm thinking, wow, she just doesn't have that speed (in particular through the weaves), and I think maybe 30 seconds?

Tika's weaves are fast but not that fast.

Nope, 31.7 seconds. Four and a half seconds slower. 16%. It is an infinity of time. I am so bummed. Tika's such a good girl, and she seems so fast, but we just can't even come close to those guys. We will never ever ever win a regional, and probably not even a local, Grand Prix or Steeplechase in this area. Never. Plus Tika is 7 and a half now and she's not going to be getting faster, even if I hike 20 miles and 4000 feet elevation change every weekend.

And my other dog crashes bars.

On the up side, however, is this: Boost did awesome awesome AWESOME weave poles, tough entries that others had trouble with and everything last night. AWESOME! I want her to remember that when we next have a competition! And then we did fast-contact drills, and Tika was SO wired and she jetted across those contacts into stunningly gorgeous 2on-2offs! AWESOME! I want HER to remember THAT when we next have a competition!
Tika flying down the dogwalk. Will she fly past the yellow zone or nail that 2on-2-off? Tune in next week.

So--a mere two weeks from now, one solid USDAA weekend, then after that, the Regionals. And I'd like to have something more to show for it than "Boost finally did weaves in competition again".

Time to get hiking.

Tika does A-frames, too.

(Photos by Erika Maurer, August 2007 and March 2008.)

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

In Which Perfection Is Reversed

SUMMARY: Tika does contacts; Boost does weaves.

Tika, the consummate leaper-offer-of-contacts dog, ran her contact drills in class Thursday night as if the thought had never occurred to her. Every contact was very fast and ended in a crisp, eagerly poised 2-on-2-off position. Contacts of beauty! Grace! Poetry! The kind of contacts everyone wants to have (except those who want running contacts) but not everyone gets! The kind that *I* want to have but don't always get!

Boost, whose contacts are breathtakingly lovely, was the one whom I was able to easily entice to leave the contact early (not waiting for the release command). I have seen indications of this in competition lately, so we need to proof them more at home. So I've been doing them in the yard, just making her stick the end and going back to waiting for a nose touch. She's getting faster at offering that again; I'd let it slide because "she didn't seem to need it." Well! That'll learn me.

We do need work on left turns into the weaves again, though--confirmed in class and at home.

But Tika, the perfect weaving dog, was easy to make pop out of the weaves or go into the wrong entrance. And at home, where I've been doing distraction drills, she seems to be popping out MORE rather than less! Argh! But at the same time, she's getting faster on distractions when she DOESn'T pop out--like she's learning to not slow down to think about them.

This dog did not do 12 weaves in competition.
On the other hand, Boost--the dog who can't do more than 10 in competition--went all the way to the end in every danged set of weaves in class, and we were doing weave drills with 2 sets of poles and front and rear crosses and lag-behinds and run-aheads and all that. A joy to watch! World Team Coach had suggested that I always toss a toy for her right at the end, before her head turns to me. That was what Mo Strenfel also suggested in our weave pole seminar a year ago, and I've been doing it religiously ever since. Well, not every time. Sometimes we go on to the next obstacle.

The difference is that I used to throw the toy in a straight line forward of the weaves so that it rolled or bounced ahead, and Mo said that, to fix my popping out problem (yes! it has reappeared often!), that I should make the toy land right on the ground at the end of the last pole to keep her from thinking of running ahead. Now WTC suggests that I use something that rolls or bounces instead of just lying there to get her to learn to complete the weaves while thinking about running ahead.

WTC also said to never let the dog know that they popped out early in competition because then they'll start to think about it more and start looking at you when they get to that point and pop out more. My experience says that, with Boost, if I ignore it, it keeps happening, but if I make her lie down and then put her back in where she popped out, she stops popping out. So am I setting up for long-term failure? Or fixing my problem?

That's what I love about agility, the clear, consistent guidelines for improving obstacle skills given a specific problem.

Anyway, we're mostly working on contacts and weaves at home this week, plus rear crosses on straight tunnels, and I'm trying to pay more attention to my own body language differences for rear crosses versus pulls or straight-aheads. My timing is still so bad. Ah, well, give me another 13 years of practice and I might nail it.

This dog did not pick up its feet when going over the first jump.

Both dogs really need to do bar-knocking drills, too, but not now. Maybe next week.

(Photos borrowed from Pets and Their People Photography; there are a bunch of photos of both my dogs, some of which I'm buying, but these probably I won't and will just borrow low-rez bad copies of for this page.)

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Bummed About the Weekend

SUMMARY: Results weren't what I'd hoped for. Not feeling good about agility at the moment.

I like running my dogs in agility. It is always a thrill to get past difficult places on the course, to try to keep up with them as they run confidently and with blazing speed across a sequence of obstacles, to observe where they have improved over time. I like being on course with them. I like my agility friends, and I did laugh this weekend--in fact, I realized late Saturday after the competition was over, as I sat quietly with my dogs and watched the sun go down, that mostly what I heard in scattered areas around the arena and camping areas was laughter, and it was almost constant from various quarters. Made me realize how much so many of us depend on our agility experiences for fun and how lucky I am to be around these people.

But I can't stand it when I screw up, and I have a hard time dealing with times when "it matters" and my dogs have problems. It's particularly awful in the Dog Agility Masters (DAM) Team event, because you have to hold it together for 5 entire classes, for the possiblity of one single Q, and so do both of your teammates. Perhaps oddly, I am fine with whatever my teammates do, whether it's great (which I'm very happy about), or badly (which is too bad but in fact both emotionally and intellectually I am not bothered by that; guess I have more understanding for other people's challenges than my own).

Here's what we competed in for Qs this weekend:
* Snooker
* Standard
* Jumpers
* Pairs Relay
* Steeplechase
* Grand Prix
* DAM Team (5 classes on Sunday)

Here's what Boost really needed:
* Steeplechase to be eligible for Nationals
* DAM to be eligible for Nationals
* Jumpers towards her MAD title
* Standard towards her MAD title

Here's what Boost Qed in:
* Snooker
* Grand Prix

Here's what Tika needed to add points towards her Lifetime Achievement Awards:
* Snooker
* Standard
* Jumpers
* Pairs Relay
* Grand Prix

Here's what Tika Qed in:
* Steeplechase

So I was more than a little frustrated at my inability to get even one of the Qs that I "needed." And wayyyy too much of it was just plain my fault, and things that I should have known better, too! In fact, I'd say I was truly extremely frustrated and, finally, by midafternoon, ready to just crawl into the back of my van for a good cry. With it all set up for sleeping, it would have been a comfy place to feel sorry for myself, but by then I had already packed almost everything up and there was noplace to sit and feel sorry for myself.

So, instead, I went back to the score table and just whined to all my score table buddies for at least half an hour until we were all sick of listening to me. It's not like I was the only one making mistakes or not getting Qs that I wanted. But it's all about me, you know?

It didn't help that the weekend generally started badly. Nothing terrible, but sometimes things just add up, you know? Like, I almost headed out for 3 days of agility without my suitcase or any clothes. I was THAT close. And then with that and other things, I left an hour later than I had wanted to, so I ended up sitting in stop and go traffic for about 20 minutes on the way out, which sometimes I handle with equanimity but this time it gnawed on me, in part because I was annoyed at leaving late and so messed myself up, in part because of gas prices, in part because I was afraid it would keep up so long that I'd miss my first class of the evening that I had paid for and that's why I was going through all this anyway.

On the other hand (trying to be positive), it beat getting up at 4 in the morning. In some ways. Like, I can show you how odd it is, after driving for 30 or 40 miles of highway that looks somewhat like this:

To suddenly come upon this by the side of the road:

There were positive signs:

Boost did all of her weave poles perfectly all weekend. EXCEPT. In Steeplechase Round 1, where she hit the entry and skipped a pole. So I brought her around and restarted; while I tried to move away laterally, she popped out halfway through the poles. Then she was between me and the beginning, bouncing bouncing bouncing, so I told her to Down, and every time I took a step, she'd bounce right back in front of me. So it took a while to get her to stay down to calm her brain and so I could get around her to try the poles again. Then she popped out at #10 of 12 poles, and again I had to calm her and put her back into those last two poles.

The really frustrating thing was that every other bloody thing about that steeplechase run was picture perfect, including the second set of weave poles. And fast. No refusals or hesitations over jumps. Lovely Aframe. But we were way over time.

She had a beautiful Team Standard run, felt like a superfast masters dog, even got through the first really hard part that cost a lot of handlers an offcourse. But then she ran past a jump at a sharp angle and was immediately offcourse into the next obstacle. And that's dumb because I *know* that she still doesn't take those jumps automatically and that I really have to work them and we even TALKED about working every jump before the run.

Tika got quite revved up for Steeplechase Round 2 and had a very good time (for her), but knocked TWO bars AND hit the broad jump when I signalled a turn too early, and I anticipated that in the walkthrough, too, and yet still managed to screw it up.

So it's like every plus had a negative attached to it for me. And other things that didn't help were, while unloading the car and setting up on Friday I whacked the top of my head on my car hard enough to make me want to sit down, I whacked my forehead on my cart handle hard enough to have a standing bump that was still visible Saturday, ripped open the knuckle on one finger, causing it to bleed profusely, and whacked the side of my bad knee with the corner of a box enough that I thought for a few minutes I had just made it impossible for me to run. I felt that all weekend. The person camped next to me must have been greatly entertained by the number of "Ow!"s and expletives coming from my vehicle.

And then there were the just plain crappies. Boost earning 25 faults in Pairs Relay. Boost knocking 4 bars in Jumpers before going offcourse on a very technical course when I finally just lost my head and couldn't manage that speed and chaos any more. Tika having a lovely Team Gamblers run but then I blew it and gave away all my gamble points, for two reasons:

* First, for some reason while out there I discounted the fact that we weren't in exactly the right position when the horn blew (and usually I'm very good about taking that into account in my closing)--it wasn't until several minutes after the run that I remembered that fact.

* And the other part was that Boost had had so much time left at the end of her gamble, which I abandoned more points partway through because I was being cautious, that I thought for sure I had plenty of time with Tika. But it turns out that I had evaluated Boost's time based on the Performance time, not the Championship time, because the stupid score table person had written the Performance times on the accumulator sheet and not the Championship. And you know who that stupid score table person was. Right. Me. So I really beat myself up about that. Tika would have been near the top of the scores, but instead was almost dead last.

Tika blew pretty much all of her dogwalk down contacts this weekend, big-time. Usually she's close, and in the past we haven't missed many Qs or points because of dogwalk down contacts, but now she has apparently decided to just not bother.

It just kept going like that. The only run that went really well was Tika's Round 1 Steeplechase. She's never going to be a 1st-place winner, but she was solidly within Qing time even if you counted only the fastest dog's score, and her run was smooth.

We had some other minor victories: Boost's Team Gamblers was perfectly executed right up to the end, where I couldn't get her into a tunnel for enough extra points that might have earned us a first, but it was still a very good score. In fact, Boost's team placed 6th in Team Gamblers, and 7th in Team Relay, although those didn't help us with all of our other problems, placing a miserable 18th of 19th overall.

Tika's team placed 4th in Team Jumpers, but Tika knocked 2 bars on her run. And we placed 7th of 19th overall, for a Team Q that I didn't need particularly but I'm glad to have, I guess.

I just tried to spend as much time with these lovely critters as I could, and laugh at their antics, and snuggle them when they'd let me.

But in truth, coming home Sunday night, I realized that overall, most of the weekend I was unhappy, and the DAM Team stress didn't help that at all. And it was a bad comparison to the last week out on a road trip, having a wonderful time even in the face of adversity.

Titles and ribbons and qualifying for nationals ruin everything. Now I'm rethinking (again) when I want to try team again in July, or at the regionals in September, or even bother with Nationals. Bleah.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Contact Consult and Commuting

SUMMARY: Went to Rachel's for contact work. Long drive, interesting touristing.

I set up an appointment with Rachel a couple of months in advanced, she's so booked up. Last Wednesday was the day. I groggily rose and was on the road with the beasts by 8:30 for our 11:30 appointment in Atascadero. Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day. Thursday was a beautiful sunny day. Here is what it did on Wednesday, at least within a 10 mile radius centered on Atascadero.

So we stood bravely in the drizzle for the better part of 3 hours to talk about contacts and how to use her box-training method to help Tika's dogwalk up and start her on a running Aframe.

Here is what the view from Rachel's yard looks like. Rough life, huh?

Here is what Rachel said about Tika's dogwalk up contacts. "You're missing only 10%? That's, what, one every 2 or 3 weekends, assuming that you're doing dogwalks in gambles?" She says that usually people looking for help are missing at least half the time, and mine is a minor problem. For me, though, it's just one more in a long line of one-fault runs that keep me from qualifying. More often it's knocked bars, or the Aframe down, sure, but if I can eliminate this problem--

But we worked on her technique, anyway, for getting two feet into a zone-sized box while running. I had already taught Tika to get into the box on a "Hit it" command, months ago, but stopped before Rachel's seminar in January because I wasn't sure where I needed to go with it. I told Rachel that Tika could already find the box on command (but I always have a lingering doubt on whether I really taught it or somehow my imagination was playing a trick on me)--and Tika saved my honor by showing that she could, indeed, go into the box no matter where I set her up and no matter where I was standing. The biggest issue is that she's not RUNNING, which is why I added (months and months and months ago) the treat-dispensing machine beyond the box, hoping that she'd speed up to get there. (She didn't.)

(Rachel suggests that the problem with "Hit it!" is that it makes the judges look more closely at the up contact because now they know that you have an issue with it.) But at the end of the session, we tried to get Tika to miss the dogwalk up to see whether we could detect a pattern, and she nailed it every time, over and over. And we were both running full out, too. So she's not missing when she's trying to catch up to me. Or maybe it was because we'd spent an hour and a half getting her to get her two feet into the box on the ground so she was more conscious of it. (We weren't using it on the dogwalk.) Rachel thought that Tika was, in fact, already adjusting her stride when I said "hit it!" on the dogwalk, even though we've never used the box on the actual equipment. Huh. Maybe.

We also worked on Tika's boxwork for the Aframe down contact as described in Rachel's seminar.

So, anyway, I have homework to do on getting her to do the boxes correctly at a full run (when she speeds up, she starts dropping just one foot in for the dogwalk box and only a couple of feet, not 4, in the Aframe box).

Boost's down contacts

I said that I wanted to tweak Boost's down contacts a bit because, although she's fast, she takes about 300 fast, tiny steps in the last part of the descent, and I thought she'd be faster if we could eliminate those. Rachel watched her do a couple. Boost did a couple of absolutely perfect Aframes, no slower steps, and Rachel said, you've got a genuine 2-second dogwalk, and there aren't many people who can really claim that. Why mess with it? So I guess I won't. So we did a little work on how I cause refusals with my handling of Boost.

Here is what I look like after several hours of rain and with knowledge hopefully soaking into my brain along with Atascadero water-fall-from-sky and a 3-hour drive home ahead of me.

Going home

I've been doing these Wednesday evening hikes starting at 6:00 to help me get ready for Havasu Falls. But, leaving from Atascadero around 3, there was no way I'd make a 3-or-more-hour trip plus drop off the dogs and change my clothes. So I suddenly realized that I had something I almost never have: A leisurely drive home with no deadline, where I could stop or do whatever I wanted. And since it wasn't a hot, sunny day, I could even leave the dogs in the van.

Driving out of the hills from Rachel's house, I took the time to stop for photos of the native fauna in their natural habitat, all within easy camera range of the vehicle:

A deer in its native woodland meadow:

A triceratops leaving its native gazebo:

My entire drive was along U.S. 101, following the route of old El Camino Real (or should that be "El old Camino Real"?), so I had to duck down a scenic frontage road to sneak up on this beauty in its native habitat, the side of the highway:

I'm glad that they're back, lining El Camino Real all up and down California. They used to be there, then idiots gradually stole them all, and now I guess they've found a way to attach the bells so that they aren't so easily removed.

This detour also gave me the opportunity to see this rarely viewed Santa Fe railroad fake engine in its native habitat, a front yard in rural California:

Then I stopped in San Miguel to see the mission. Right off the highway is a modern mission-like bell tower, connected to the ruins of the old adobe wall around a couple of acres of Mission land:

The mission itself is somewhat open for tours, although the church and cemetery are current closed to the public because the walls are about to fall on top of you and are propped up with giant props while they retrofit it to better withstand earthquakes. The arches on the extension next to the church are all of different sizes and shapes. They claim that this was done deliberately and that San Miguel was known far and wide for these interesting arches. Personally I suspect that the architect was known far and wide for having too many sangrias.

When I looked in Wikipedia for a link to the mission, I discovered that the article was sparse and had no modern photos, so I had to add some photos and more text. View the updated wikipedia article on Mission San Miguel Arcangel.

Across the street, I discovered that there's an old adobe that's also an historical monument, the Rios-Caledonia adobe. It originally served as a stage stop and inn on old El The Camino ancient historic Real until the train put a stop to that (perhaps the very Santa Fe rotting down the road a bit?), then it was used for an assortment of purposes until someone got the great idea of turning it into a tourist attraction back in the 1930s when it was still practically new (well, compared to now, anyway).

When I went to wikipedia for a link to THAT article, I discovered that there WAS no article, just links to it in various places, so I had to write it up and upload more photos, which you can see here. The mission and adobe are tied together somehow in a weird mass murder, if you're into that sort of history.

The adobe museum is open only Friday through Sunday, but the grounds were open, so I could browse the outside, admire the fact that they had doggie-pick-up bags readily available onsite, and get both eyes poked out simultaneously in the well-tended cactus garden.

On the trip, I passed The Old El Camp Roberts, which looks like it's falling apart, literally, although it's supposedly still in use by the National Guard.

Lastly, I had this disturbing encounter:

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