Thursday, December 17, 2009

Going To Agility Class

SUMMARY: I love going to agility class and here's why.
Agility class is way across the valley, up a winding road into the hills. At certain times of the day, the commute is a bear. And that long and winding road is, well, long and winding. When I first started (1995(!)), I desperately tried to get anyone at all to make that drive with me, it was SOOO long and SOOO far away.

After all these years of driving it once, twice, or even three times a week, I no longer think anything of it. Really, if weather and traffic are at their best, it's only about a 20-minute drive.

And I love going. Oh, sure, so very often these days I am stressed about how much I have to do and how little time I have, and if I were to stay home for 3 hours instead of going to class (10 minutes to close up the house & computer & get treats & such, 25 minute drive there, 15-20 minutes to potty the dogs and get set up, 90 minutes class, 15 minutes to take off shoes, put away dogs, etc., 25 minutes back down the hill... it adds up) then I'd be able to get so much more done.

But saner heads prevail (as in dogs who will be INsane if I don't go). Plus I pay for it whether I go or not. Waste not, want not.

No matter how stressed and overwhelmed I am before class, how tight my chest is on my drive up the hill, by the end of the evening I am relaxed, breathing easily, cheerful, imbued with a feeling of having accomplished something of value.

The evening is structured, so I don't have to make major decisions. I have to listen and watch and learn. I have to figure out how to handle a course--but with ample confirmation and assistance from the instructor.

Sometimes I'm frustrated with my dogs or myself. Like last night, that serpentine into the tunnel with Boost where she knocked the bar every time no matter what I did. Or coming out of the tunnel and wrapping over the jump, where she knocked the bar every time no matter what I did. Shades of some of my futile bar-knocking exercises at home! But I had an expert watching and helping who could confirm that I was doing the right thing, and identify what the dog was doing, and give some suggestions for later.

A safe, helpful, useful environment.

The view from Power Paws is stunning. Last night, instead of seeing miles and miles of sparkling valley lights, we saw only a swath of lights around the valley's perimeter surrounding a mysteriously dark center. We gathered at the edge of the field to observe, and realized that low-lying fog had obscured many square miles of homes and businesses. The instructor talked about some of the things he's seen in the weather patterns from their aerie on the top of the hill as we stood together, wondering and admiring.

And there are the friends. We chitchat a bit, we joke in class, we laugh often--far more than I do in my regular everyday life.

Last night we had a reunion of our old Wendesday Night 8:15 class, who got to be so tight together. Then Lisa's dog broke (structural issues), and I couldn't manage 2 classes a week any more so dropped that one, and Jenn got a new puppy and decided to focus on him instead of her older dog, and Ashley moved to the world-team class on a different night...

But last night we all came up to celebrate Ashley and Luka's triumph from last weekend's AKC Invitational. (He not only won all four preliminary rounds, but won them with the fastest times of any dogs in any height at the event; then he won the final round with the fastest time of any other dog in any other finals group. Pretty big achievement.)

He brought his crystal bowl engraved with the 16" Winner title, and his gigantic blue and purple ribbon, which I could hardly take my eyes off because I looooovvvve blue and purple. Classmates brought food that nearly overflowed the small tables out in the field that PP keeps on hand for the occasional treat. We feasted on grasshopper pie, tamales, crackers, various cheeses and sausages, guacamole, chips, a variety of drinks...gosh, only 24 hours later and I can't remember it all.

We ate and chatted and congratulated Ash multiple times. Now I know how a small town feels when the boy next door becomes the starring Superbowl quarterback. We're all so proud, even though we really had nothing to do with his success, which was all his own hard work. Makes us feel good. Maybe we hope his skill and success will rub off on us. We all fondled the ribbon and the bowl, and he didn't even try to stop us.

As I drove home, I realized--dang! how could I not have taken any photos!-- but also how lucky I am to have such a wonderful place to go with my dogs, such an excellent opportunity for bonding with my dogs and my friends, for learning something new, for getting some exercise and fresh air, for relaxing and stretching and getting back in touch with the reality that there's more to life than just getting things done at work and around the house.

Labels: , ,

Complete list of labels

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nothing Is Happening Here

SUMMARY: Here we are. Yes. [Twiddles thumbs.]

There is a USDAA trial this weekend and it's within my limit of 2 hours from home, but we are not going. Part of my program to cut back on agility and reclaim my Real Life, which I can barely even remember preagility, it was so long ago. I am doing more hiking. I like it. I am doing crossword puzzle tourneys. Well--one, anyway. I liked it. I am even thinking about doing some yardwork this weekend. After all, I've been in this house 9 years this month and it's probably about time.

I will be home to celebrate my dad's birthday with the family. How weird is that, that I should be not at agility on a family celebration day?

Around me, the world is full of happiness and light, darkness and sorrow.

Just before the last trial, Knack the Border Collie, a really nice, fast Border Collie, who had been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma--same thing that killed Remington--crossed the rainbow bridge. Knack was not that old. Maybe Remington's age, but I think younger? (Rem was 9 and a half.)

Radar the Rodent Pointer, who was in our class many years ago, suddenly became really ill last week. He went to the vet and they discovered a huge hemangiosarcoma tumor on his spleen, which ruptured catastrophically while he was at the animal hospital. Just like that, Radar is gone. He was 12 and a half, but the day before, he was a healthy and active dog.

Last week, Tika's Nationals DAM team teammate from last year, Apache the Terv, had found himself a totally awesome team, because among other reasons I am not going to Nationals this year. His Human Dad didn't really want to go last year, but I twisted his arm and they went and had a great time and Apache did so well that if we had all done that well, we'd have been in the finals. This year he had a team to make that happen.

A few days ago, Apache suddenly became really ill. He went to the vet and they discovered a huge hemangiosarcoma tumor on his spleen, which had ruptured but not quite catastrophically but has metastasized into other organs. I visited him Wednesday night and his Human Dad and I talked a lot about everything related to losing dogs and getting dogs and life with dogs and disappointments and successes, and we ate ribs and I took a bag of freeze-dried liver treats and fed most of them to Apache.

They are not going to the Nationals. Apache is ten and a half and was still running great Masters USDAA agility at 26".

We are all hugging our dogs tighter and tighter every day. I cannot lie that it is a downer, especially because it so strongly brings back Remington's illness.

But, OK, all is not despair. Apache's and Tika's classmate, Luka, is off in Austria at the FCI World Championships, with two other very local dogs, the amazing Bay Team border collie Icon and the steady-under-fire sheltie Wave. And our instructor is the coach and it's very exciting to have so many people we know out there.

Tika and Boost are healthy and happy. They both ran well in class this week. They are running well in the yard, but we're still doing a lot of simple things just to have fun, mostly running from one tunnel to the next and over some jumps in between. Because we don't have another trial until, oh, say, NEXT weekend.

The lawn is growing in a spurt of autumn enthusiasm. The local fresh fruit at the grocery seems particularly wonderful right now--nectarines, pears, strawberries. Yum. Eating lots of it.

I am going now to hug my nonhuggy dogs again and go to bed with them alongside.

We are here, with not much to report about our own lives.

Labels: , , , ,

Complete list of labels

Friday, May 08, 2009

No Thanks, No Puppy for Me

SUMMARY: In which I continue to realize that I am content with my current dog population and that my current dog population has some agility issues.

There's a brand new border collie puppy at Power Paws, and it visited class last night. It was very cute. It was happy to see everyone. It had delightful puppy breath. It wiggled and ran and fell over and got up and wiggled some more. As astonishingly freshly cute as every puppy ever made. I snuggled it.

And I had absolutely zero, not one, not a whit of, desire for a puppy of my own. Puppies are hard work. Training is hard work. Taking care of dogs is hard work, and expensive, too. I like having two dogs. Me and my twos, we be a happy little family unit.

Someone in class suggested that, when I said, "I have no interest in a puppy," that I was trying to convince myself. Funny that that's the reaction--does everyone else want a new puppy so badly that they can't imagine someone NOT wanting one?

No thanks, no no no--I've got enough training and attention challenges with the dogs I've got!

But I do like having lots of friends in agility. I left my Wednesday night 8:15 class a while back, but I'm still an Honorary Member. So when certain members of the class promised human treats to celebrate his 3rd consecutive placement on the World Team, I invited myself along.

Then they invited my dogs to participate in class, so I got a bonus class this week (in exchange for giving up my Wednesday night sierra club hike).

As an additional bonus for going up to class on Wednesday, I had an opportunity at a stop light to capture the sunset.

Then, as yet another bonus, in Power Paws' driveway, Mr. Owl awaited me on the phone lines for a photo op in the twilight. No tripod, but not bad anyway. (Great Horned Owl.)

And so, with two nights in a row of class, I have established this: Tika runs well at 22", and Boost knocks a lot of bars.

So here we are again.

Labels: , , , , ,

Complete list of labels

Friday, March 28, 2008

AKC Nationals Ongoing

SUMMARY: Partial results

I don't follow the AKC circuit except to know how friends are doing.

Elite Forces of Fuzzy Destruction's post today reminded me that they're going on right now and she posted course maps, too; thanks! First day's results (International Sweepstakes Class (ISC)) are posted on the AKC site.

Our instructor for several years and her super BC, Rachel Sanders and Fable, are competing in ISC; Fable when running clean usually whups Tika's butt by a mile and a half. In 26", they placed 5th of about 60 dogs:

Class Hgt: 26
26667 0 25.228 Voucher Blake 1 QUALIFIED
26638 0 25.847 Scream Braue 2 QUALIFIED
26668 0 26.015 Focus Hernandez 3 QUALIFIED
26662 0 27.087 Jive Jones 4 QUALIFIED
26685 0 27.123 Fable Sanders QUALIFIED

but wow, almost 2 seconds slower than #1? I'm curious what the difference in time came from. That's an amazing speed difference at this level of competition. But, still, 5th in this group is danged good.

Fellow Bay Teamer Jammer Strenfel came back from a torn ACL (I think it was) last year to place 6th in the really huge 20" group (200 dogs?). Fellow Bay Teamer Epic Dunn also qualified with a clean run. Fellow Bay Teamer Thyme Freilich also competed with an excellent time but one disqualifying fault, and kennel-mate Cirque also competed.

In the 18", agility blogger Team Fernandez-Lopez earned a qualifying score. Classmate Luka apparently had a bad day, racking up a few faults, bummer! Oh, well, if you're going to have a fault, you might as well have all of them.

In 16", Bay Teamer Heath had the fastest time but that one annoying DQ fault.

Lots of names I recognize but don't really know; skimming quickly through all those dogs it's easy to miss some whom I might know. Congrats to everyone who did well; here's hoping for great luck to all my friends, teammates, classmates, and fellow bloggers for the rest of the event.

Labels: , ,

Complete list of labels

Friday, February 29, 2008

Knee Bounces Back and So Does the Other Car

SUMMARY: A bad day and a good day yesterday

By the time I had to leave home, I could get up the stairs two-legged using the railing (instead of step/drag, step/drag). The driving itself went better than I had expected; shifting from brake to accelerator didn't bother me at all. Stiff-legged it into my meeting, but the knee had stopped throbbing by then.

What was a problem was the guy who backed into my car in the parking lot. Sigh. So, in my copious spare time, even though it's his fault, I have to get my car inspected, arrange the body shop, then do without it for however long. And the insurance company does not reimburse me for my time and inconvenience. The least the guy could've done would've been to back into my passenger door, which already had a ding in it, but nooo, he had to be different!

At least he was insured, and pleasant, and actually called Geico in the parking lot and we got the "paperwork" done standing there. I also took pictures of the environment, just in case. (As I've said before--always carry a camera! Always!) And it seems to be just the driver's door. Which might not be too bad.

By the time evening classtime rolled around, I thought I'd be able to at least practice some distance work or maybe get someone else to run the beasts, so I went up. My first "run" was a walk and a little iffy; the second one I jogged a bit, then forgot myself and turned sharply at the end, which hurt equally sharply but receded very quickly. By the third or fourth run I was moving out onto the field between runs to help set poles. By the end of the evening I was even running.

We did a timed run at the end. Boy, that Boost is one fast puppy! We missed beating Ash & Luka's time because I didn't want to push it with my knee and so couldn't get to a 180-into-a-pinwheel turn and she went wayyy wide. Still beat everyone else's times by a second, even Steamer's, and we'd have had Luka easily with a tight loop. It's a thrill to watch The Booster run on a straight-out jumpers-with-weaves type course!

This morning my knee feels almost normal. I'll just keep icing & drugging & babying it a bit for the next couple of days. And maybe practice some kneeling so this doesn't happen again.

Labels: , , , , ,

Complete list of labels

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The End of A Wednesday Night Era

SUMMARY: I've resigned from the Wednesday night 8:15 class.

And my heart is breaking. I love that class. But, for various reasons related to finances, I have to cut back to one class, and, at the moment, I need Boost's particular class more.

More info: Feb 8, 11:15 a.m. Omigosh! How could I have left THAT out! Or THAT? Or THAT? (See below)


I've been in Wed. night 8:15 class for a very long time--don't ask me how long; it might give away how ancient I really am. I might have taken some time off while on disability with my back in early 2001, so Current Era might have started then, but it's also possible that I was in the class, then out, then back in again, for years before that.

Be that as it may, for a long time I had Jake in that class, with other old-timers who'd been doing agility since the dark ages: Gail and Flint the Corgi, Debbie and Reno the Corgi, Ellen and Cali the Corgi, Arlene and Scully the Little Black Dog (aka Verwende Princess). Hmm, lots of small dogs, where Jake jumped 22". And Gwen with Spike the Border Newf. We had all known each other a very long time, and we were friends. We had our own Wednesday-night email list (still do, in fact; still share our doggie and agility triumphs and sorrows with this same old list), we got together outside of class and outside of agility.

But, in two short and painful months or so in 2005, some of the old dogs were retired from class--Spike and Scully--and two dogs became ill and died very suddenly--Cali and Reno--and Flint moved to a different time that worked better for his handler, and all of a sudden Jake and I were the only ones in the class. I was a bit sad about that. We all got along well, and I just knew that anyone added to the class would be newcomers and not long-time bosom buddies with all those years of shared history. How could it ever possibly be as good?

A newer class

Over the next year or so, the class built up again. They added Ken with Apache the Terv--I didn't know them except as friendly competitors who often beat Tika's times in our novice classes (damn their eyes!). Along with Ken came Bobbie and her Golden, Jenny. Basically complete strangers.

Two AKC Sheltie ladies--Cathy with Trooper and Tracey with Flash--joined, and I wondered what I could possibly have in common with them. Our old classmate, Gail, who sometimes teaches novice classes, sent her promising new student, Ashley with Luka the Pyrenean Shepherd, to get a class with Jim, and he joined us and stayed.

And shortly after that, I retired Jake from class because I had Tika and Boost in classes as well, and three classes was too much for me. That's when Tika moved into Wednesday night 8:15. Later, Jennifer with Kye the Aussie, who reminded me a lot of Tika physically but whom I otherwise knew nothing about, joined. So, altogether, a whole bunch of strangers, most of whom didn't know each other from Adam Ant, thrown together randomly.

There was one late addition, in the middle of 2007, someone I had known for quite a while (and had had class with at other times): Lisa with her young Border Collie, Carson.

Results and Sayonara

I never would have dreamed how much I have come to love that class. We have laughed so hard, so often, at so many things. We've instigated running gags by the handful, without which any relationship is merely a shallow shadow of what it could be. There's the desperate race to pick up the most cones between runs--we elevated it to an art! or was it yet another sick competition?--and the invention of the Bars Sluts!

We have challenged each other to outdo the Cool Factor handling maneuvers--Ashley is absolutely fearless and became the King of the Serpentines, and Jenn and Ken run fast 26" dogs whose times are competitive with Tika's (and Lisa with Carson, too, but she's managed to avoid talking trash with us on a regular basis), and so we're always pushing each other to do better and better. Ken and Jenn and I in particular seem willing to try anything challenging if there's a chance that one of the others might try it and succeed, making them Cool and us Not.

Then there's Tracy and Flash, inexorably working their way towards MACH-37 and learning new moves in the meantime, even though they claim they don't really need them. And, of course, the influence of Instructor J, who drives us to run as fast as we can so the sound of the wind in our ears drowns out his puns, but also always points out the Cool Factor moves that we might not have thought of, or the challenging moves that "you probably can't get there," or "the Monday Night class had no trouble with this," or "everyone else had trouble with this," to which the response is always, "But this is the Wednesday Night 8:15 class!" and "Piece of cake!"

I don't think it's coincidence that Tika's Top Ten points went from 16 in 2005 to 76 in 2007. The mix of people in this class has been very good for me.

And we've become friends in an odd cliquish sort of way. There's always a Wednesday Night 8:15 party Saturday night at out-of-town trials (to which, incidentally, anyone dropping by is invited with wide-open arms; there's always too much food and plenty to drink). We skipped class and went out for Xmas dinner together this year. To my knowledge, that's never been done by any other Power Paws class, ever. And of course our nearly world-famous ABCs of food nights all last year made every night a celebration. Ken and Bobbie and Tracey in particular always had the most spectacular array of foods and were Party Meisters on all occasions, although Jennifer and Ashley were no slouches on upping the food-quality competition level. (My waistline doesn't thank them, but it was bonding and it was delicious and it was fun.)

But the fact remains that agility is a luxury for me and I have to pare back. And Boost and I need the kind of work that we're getting in the other class just a bit more than I need the kind of challenge that I'm getting in this class. They're both very important. But I have to choose. I waited until last night to say anything at all, because I really didn't want to go. I'd have burst into tears last night if I'd had to talk about it any more.

The funny/odd thing is that PP convinced Jennifer and Kye to move to Boost's Thursday class for various reasons, but in particular because another student needed Wed night 8:15 for his schedule, and there wasn't room for another student. But now I'm leaving, too, so there'll be an opening in Wed. night 8:15.

I'll tell ya, I'm so glad that Jennifer and Kye will still be in my class.

But, overall, I feel as if I have left a relationship, it's that kind of pain. Pretty sad, huh? I need another life--

Jennifer baked a Kye cake for the occasion of her last night in class. He even had a little Aussie nubber tail with a white tip. And he tasted very good, too.

Labels: , ,

Complete list of labels

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday Night 8:15 Xmas Dinner

SUMMARY: The Gourmet Agility Class wraps up 2007.

In all the 13 years I've taken agility classes with 4 different dogs, I don't recall ever doing anything like this: We talked our instructor into joining us for an off-site Christmas dinner for our whole class instead of our last class session of the year, and we all showed up for Mexican food at On the Border for a 2-and-a-half hour evening of tattoo viewing, pepper spray stories, fun with clicker eyeballs, detailed descriptions of the birth of twins (I guess you had to be there--hysterical--), several pitchers of margaritas (I'm the only teetotaler in the group), and plenty of laughter.

Back row from left: Ashley, Jim, Ken. Front row from left: Cathy, Tracey, Lisa, Jennifer, Ellen, Bobbie
(More photos, including eyeballs, here.)

My dogs, however, are going nuts--for the past 2 weeks, I've split a class between them because I haven't been there for the other class, and I'll be doing the same tonight. And there's been no agility on weekends. And I've been working on a deadline so ignoring them. They've just been hugging up to me, wandering around whining, finding artful ways to make nuisances of themselves. Poor puppers!

Labels: , , , ,

Complete list of labels

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Winning Dogs

SUMMARY: Ashley and Luka again

Ashley noted in class last night that he has, so far this year, entered 7 Grand Prixs with Luka and won all of them. That means that no one else in 16" has earned byes. I'd imagine he's not popular among other 16" handlers on the west coast. That follows after winning all three major AKC events in the last year.

What kind of dog does it take to do that, you might ask? Those of you among the more experienced probably realize that the dog has little to do with it. Luka was a hesitant, worried, not very fast dog when they started. Ashley is an energetic, athletic, intelligent, driven, obsessive young man who has absorbed every piece of info needed to improve their weaknesses and incorporated it diligently--and I mean more diligently than I've ever seen anyone--into his training regimen.

He has worked very hard at getting to where he is, and it just proves my point that almost any dog, with the right handler, can be a champion. It's just a little easier with certain breeds.

They won Steeplechase and Grand Prix at the Northwest Regionals; we'll see what happens this weekend at the Southwest Regionals.

If you already had byes under your belt for Grand Prix, would you keep entering? There's no money to be won, no big shiny trophies. Sure, the Qs are useful points in accruing one's bronze, silver, gold, and so on, but would you feel odd about shutting everyone out like that? I think, if I were ever in a position like that, I'd just keep on entering. I mean, if I'm at the trial anyway, I might as well. It's good practice, it is points towards higher titles, and it feels good to push myself and to do well. And I think it would feel even odder to say (even if only to myself), "Well, I won't enter because I'm so much better than everyone else and I want to give the others a chance."

Back in high school, where I competed in speech and debate, there was much discussion along similar lines at the state championships the year I qualified. The two members of one of the two finalist debate teams had already qualified for the nationals in their individual events. At the nationals, they would *also* be allowed to compete in other events, such as debate, even if they didn't win at the state level. So, if they conceded the final debate at state, they could still enter it at nationals, and then the other team would also be able to go to nationals. If they won, however, they'd be shutting out everyone else from nationals. Should they concede or should they do their best to win the state title? They, naturally, competed and won.

Labels: , ,

Complete list of labels

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Today's Briefing

SUMMARY: Upcoming events, rodents, Jake's ghost

Only two weekends to our next actual trial. It's a CPE trial, so I'm hoping that I'll be more relaxed and focused on using it as a training experience with Boost (although CPE doesn't allow training in the ring, there's training and then there's training). On the other hand, I'll also be Big Chief Running Score Table Czar, being the resident expert on CPE scoring, so who knows how relaxed I'll really be. Fortunatly we've got a bunch of people who are good at score table.

Then--I planned my calendar out for this entire year. I was supposed to be doing another CPE trial 2 weeks after that. However, for whatever dumb reason, I missed the fact that the premium was out, and now the trial is full and I can't get in. Have I mentioned before how very much I despise limited trials for exactly that reason? There go my year's plans, down the tubes. If I had been counting on that trial for a specific purpose (as opposed to simply "convenient trial on convenient date", I'd really be floating my begonias. (Whatever THAT means. Sounds distraught, though, doesn't it?)

However, conveniently there's an ASCA trial the same weekend, and closer to home. ASCA agility is now the way NADAC agility was originally. Simple--Standard, Gamblers, Jumpers. And all the usual normal equipment. But I haven't done any of that in so long, that really I can't count it as a weekend for earning legs, because they'll be of pretty much no use to me. But they do allow training in the ring like NADAC did/does. So it's a fun match. A pricey fun match, but a fun match none-the-less.

Tika made it out of Novice to Open and Elite in NADAC, but so few of those were dual-sanctioned with ASCA that in fact according to them she's still in Novice Jumpers and open Gamblers. But apparently I can run her in Elite and they'll just apply any Qs to the levels I'm missing. For me, it wouldn't feel fair towards the other competitors to put her into Novice or Open, so Elite is what I'll do.

Apparently I didn't even bother to register Boost with NADAC or ASCA. So I had to send in her registration to get a number. Get this: It costs only $10 to register a dog. But you have to be a member to register a dog, and the minimum membership fee is $10. So what they're not telling you is that it costs $20 or more to register a dog. It's all in how you phrase it, I guess.

Her, I *will* enter in Novice because that's about where we belong, IMHO!

Even though she seems to be channeling Jake's ghost.

I used to have this old, low-slung, wrap-around-backed chair that was so crappy and ugly that I always had it covered with a throw. I kept it only because the dogs liked it. Jake in particular. One of his big hobbies was digging enthusiastically at the throw cover until he had bunched it up into a useless glob or thrown it off the chair entirely, and then going off on some other urgent chore. I'd put the throw back on. Next time he came by, he'd notice this travesty and do his artistic rendering of a lump of fabric again. This went on several times a day, for years.

When Boost came along and tore the chair into a zillion pieces, I finally got rid of it. Poor Jake, his main hobby out in the trash. I finally got him a nice replacement bed, a soft outer part with a removable inner cushion. In January of this year. Talk about bad timing. Anyway.

The bed has been sitting there. The other dogs have used it on occasion. But over the last couple of weeks, Boost has used it more and more, and Jake's spirit seems to have taken over her brain. (Sounds like a bad horror movie, doesn't it?) I've noticed her on occasion digging and pulling at that center cushion until she gets it out of the bed, and then she goes off on some other mission. So I put it back. Next time I notice, it's out in the middle of the floor again.

It's nice to know that some dog hobbies can be passed along from generation to generation.

I'd like mouse-catching to be one of those things, but apparently catching mice in the house is a lot harder than catching them outside. Outside, you can dig under the compost bin, then push on it until it tips over, then, after spending half an hour eating all the really nummy bits of kitchen waste that were inside the bin, you can actually get at the mice or rats and dispatch them. Not so easy to do with a fridge in the kitchen.

Maybe it was yesterday's weather--very unsummerlike, overcast and gloomy and windy and looking for all the world as if it wanted to rain (apparently did in san francisco & a few other places around the bay)--but the "mouse" that I have had in my kitchen and bedroom was hyperactive all day yesterday. I could hear him digging and chewing and dashing around in cabinets and behind the fridge and under the stove and dammit there was nothing I could do about it. Even saw him dash across the floor several times. Even the dogs were going nuts. They wanted to go into the living room, next to the kitchen, and were poking around eagerly at the couch as if they had seen and/or smelled the furry little beast right there. Boost even stood or lay in the kitchen for about two hours, ALMOST catching him as he scurried out-from-and-back-under. Driving me nuts.

So I finally took the two traps that had previously been sprung but caught nothing, and reset them and placed them more strategically carefully under the sink. I had barely sat down at my computer when i heard one go off. Bingo! I disposed of him in the trash can, sat down at my desk... and the other one went off. Got another one of the little buggers.

It's heartbreaking at the same time as it's a relief to catch them. I don't want or need their diseases and their pee and poop all over my house. But I do really love little furry wee beasties, and opening the cabinet and seeing the little bright black eyes (deceased) and little sweet furry bodies, oh, it tears me up. But catching them live and turning them loose outside isn't going to help me or whoeve else's house I'd put them near.

So I put THAT one in the trash can, along with the trap (I dont' bother trying to separate ex-mice from the traps--they all go to the dump together), went back into the kitchen... and heard one scamper among the items stored under the sink at the SAME TIME as one was gnawing under the cabinet on teh opposite side of the room. This morning, my housemate reported that one ran into his bedroom and back out again right in front of him. Dammit!

Anyway, bought a ton more traps today. Set them all over the place in clever strategic areas, but there doesn't seem to be quite as much hyperactivity in the heat of this sunny summerish day. Still, sat down at my desk, and heard one under the sink go off. Disposed of that one, set another one. Later--heard it go off again. So that's four down and I could've sworn that when I went up to my bedroom to set traps up there, I heard scurrying.

I've never had a mouse problem like this before, and it's a little intimidating. How many of them are there? One female can have up to 10 litters a year with up to a dozen or more babies per litter. Yikes. I might be doomed. We'll see whether I can get 'em all with billions of traps. I don't really want to use poison bait, which seems to be the more effective but scarier method.

And on that note--I'll be off to Wednesday Night 8:15 class shortly. It'll be a quiet night, as our usual instructor Jim is gone (Nancy's taking his place) and three class members--that I know of--are also out of town, including Ash and Luka, who won ALL THREE tournament events at the northwest regional last week. Jim says that he can't remember any dog ever doing that. So when they're back in town, we'll have a big old celebration. It's just amazing to think about how far he's come since he first joined our class as basically a novice, seems like not that long ago, but I guess at least 2 years now. And here the rest of us are, putzing along...

But it's good for a lot of celebrations. I hope he doesn't get tired of it and decide that it's all too easy. Although rumor has it that he might be thinking about a second dog so he can play with the big dogs--

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Complete list of labels

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fun With Databases

SUMMARY: Tika and I are improving; the data proves it.

At each of the last five trials, Tika has come home with at least one new USDAA title. That reflects two things: one, we're right in the numbers where we just need a couple of legs here and there to fill in some of those titles; two, we're actually getting Qs more consistently. In fact, we're approaching a 50% Q rate over the last year.

Got me a-wonderin': It seemed like ages and ages between legs for Tika for the longest time. How long WAS it? So I turned to my handy-dandy database of all of my runs, ever, in agility, and figured the following about Tika's Masters level runs:
  • The first ten Qs took 62 tries over 12 months. (The length of time, of course, is somewhat reflective of how many trials are available and that we attend.)
  • The second ten Qs took 50 tries over 8 months.
  • The next ten took 31 tries over 4 months.
  • The next 10 took 21 tries over 4months.
  • The next 10 took 25 tries over 6 months. (oh--that included several runs where I couldn't run worth beans because of my knee and several more where we tried having Ashley run her and she'd have none of it. So these numbers are a little skewed.)
  • The next ten took 22 tries over 2 months.
  • This last weekend, we got another 5 out of 9 tries.

I like the way the numbers are going.

But it's going to be a while for more titles, most likely, because we're now entering the gap between 15 Masters legs per class (Bronze title in each class) and 25 Masters legs (Silver titles) per class. That's a lot of Qing for us. Although we could finish our Tournament Silver the first weekend in June if our re-reformulated team manages a DAM Team Q.

But here's what really intrigues me: My impression was that, of all those missed Qs, we've missed a million legs by single knocked bars or missing the dogwalk up contact--but no! Only 17 were single knocked bars, and 4 missed dogwalk ups! We've had combinations of those, and those with other faults, but our single-fault non-Qs aren't as many as I had thought.

However, if you toss in Grand Prixs... another 4 one-bar runs, another seven dogwalk-up-onlys. Huh--wonder what it is about the GPs and our dogwalks? Go figure.

Meanwhile, I'd love to have the consistency of Luka and Ashley, who have now won every major AKC event this year. Sucks that Norway won't let them in to be on the US World Cup Team because of her docked tail. We'll have a big celebration in class Wednesday night, though, I'm sure, for this latest win at the Tryouts. And I'll just have to keep remembering that I'm not Ashley, I'm me.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Complete list of labels

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Weave Pole Challenge

SUMMARY: A fun knock-out challenge sending to weaves.

Last night in class Jim gave us a weave-pole knock-out drill (you get a chance at each level, and if you can't do it, you're knocked out of the drill). In this case, we each got 3 chances at each level.

The drill looked like this:

Start with one jump next to the weaves, 3 or 4 feet out, perpendicular to the weaves (so that the dog's path to the weave entry is a U-turn), and one pole away from the end of the weaves. That's the black jump in the diagram. Then, staying behind the jump, send the dog over the jump to the correct weave entry.

For the next level, move the jump one pole further along the weaves (as shown in red). Then move it two more poles back. Then two more. Then two or three more, until finally you're at the far end of the weaves, sending your dog ahead of you all the way to the original end of the weaves. (Of course you can modify how far back to move the jump each time, but that's roughly what we did.)

We found that standing still and sending the dog from beside you didn't work well; none of them wanted to carry out the full distance. All the dogs did much better if we revved them up about 20 feet back and ran them at the jump to build momentum. After that, if the dogs knew their weave-entry-finding job, they'd work themselves at getting out far enough to make the wrap.

Tika did fine in the early stages. At the third to the last position, though, it took us all 3 tries; the first two tries, she entered with the first pole to her right instead of to her left. At the next to the last position, it took her two tries, and then on the final position, she apparently finally realized what the game was, and did it perfectly on the first attempt. Four of our dogs made it to the final level, although the 12" sheltie didn't successfully complete the last level. The others were Kye (the other long-legged 26" aussie) and Jim Basic's Spy, although we all had points during the drill where we had to try it more than once. Apache the Terv made it to maybe the next-to-last level before dropping out. The other two dogs who were there that night were 16" dogs but they both have trouble with weaves just in regular flow if they're not helped a bit. And Ash and Luka weren't there.

Now--that's the easier weave entry for dogs, because they simply have to find the last pole and wrap around it. If you were going in the opposite direction, that's a harder entry because the dog has to enter between two poles, which is a more challenging distinction to make. So--go ahead, try it, tell me how it works. ;-)

I'm almost certain that Boost can't do this drill at all. She's getting better and better at entrances all the time, but we've done nothing like a U-turn, I don't think.

And I also discovered, when testing Tika in the yard this week on some of Boost's weave drills, that if she's entering at an angle from the right side of the poles and I'm already past the plane of the entry, she misses it. (That was one of our mess-ups in the last Steeplechase.) So there's something for me to go back to with her.

It never ends!

Labels: , ,

Complete list of labels

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Classmate As National Champion

SUMMARY: Ashley and Luka win again.

Just got word that Tika's classmate Luka (and therefore my classmate Ashley) have won the 16" AKC National Championships. This follows their December win in the AKC Invitational. They are on quite a roll. They seldom seem to misstep these days.
Luka and her family at the USDAA Nationals in November after a run.

One of the things that has been both wonderful and hard for me here in the San Francisco Bay Area is that my "peers" have so often been at the top of the agility heap. For a while a few years back, I was in one class where it seemed that almost everyone in the class and the instructors were current or past national champions or multiple-times-over Top Ten teams or both simultaneously. It's motivational in some ways because you always know that you have to push yourself to be anywhere near the top finishers--which I hardly ever have been. But at the same time, I always also found it a bit discouraging--these were almost all experienced dog trainers, excellent athletes, people with credentials a mile long and I was just me, not always that agile, not always that coordinated, not always that quick at figuring out how to communicate with my dog.

This is different I think because Luka and Ash are new to agility; Ash isn't an experienced dog trainer (I think this is their first dog, and he and his wife have also been experiencing their first child at the same time that all of this is going on and they're also inspriational as a supportive, cheerful, and loving family); he doesn't have years of experience behind him. And while we're usually quick to point out that he's naturally athletic and long-legged and fast, at the same time he's just a regular guy who has just worked very hard with himself and with his dog and taken advice from anyone who'll give it (not just the superstars) and learned from it, and you can still see that he's learning things as he goes--every once in a while their lack of experience still shows. But more often than not they're winning, winning, winning. And with times and performances that are usually right in there with the national-class and world-class BCs and handlers in this area.

It's just so much fun to see. AND as I've mentioned here before, it motivates me more rather than discourages me, because I can see that you don't have to be a dog-training expert or a long-time canny competitor to find ways to succeed with your dog.

And the last thing that inspires me is not only that Luka isn't by nature a bold, driven, full-pedal-to-the-metal dog, but she isn't even a Border Collie. It's wonderful. Watch videos of some of their AKC runs.

And revisit my December comments about our Wednesday-night class.

Labels: , ,

Complete list of labels

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Other Big Thing

SUMMARY: Tika brings home some USDAA placement ribbons, a rarity.

Way, way back in the ages dark, our instructor at the time (Rachel) suggested that we should all have goals for our agility that we reevaluate at the beginning of every year, along the lines of "qualify for the nationals in all three events" or "lick that dogwalk up contact problem for good". My stated goal was for Tika to "Take 1st regularly at USDAA trials among the usual gang of suspects."

That was a long time ago.

We hardly ever place in the top 4 in USDAA events. In fact--for those of you who just love the fact that I have a database where I can pull this info out in half a minute--in Tika's 179 Masters runs through last weekend, Tika has places in the top four for placement ribbons exactly 11 times:
  • Two 2nds (her previous two Super-Qs)
  • Five 3rds (2 gamblers, 2 standards, 1 jumper; 4 at trials with fewer than 20 dogs)
  • Four 4ths (3 at trials with fewer than 20 dogs; 2 jumpers, 1 snooker, 1 standard)
We've never placed first in Masters. Never.

On Saturday, as the day drew to a close, it sank in that, not only had Tika earned her ADCH, but she had placed in three separate classes: 4th in pairs (and that's with an unknown 5-point fault; both I and my partner thought we were clean), and 3rd in both Standard and Snooker, all Qs. In one day, we had increased our lifetime number of Masters placements by over 25%.

It gave me an added cheery glow to the edges of the ADCH, but at the same time I couldn't help but note that there were still only between 20 and 24 dogs in our height class (our average Masters competition size over all this time is over 27 dogs, so this was a smallish trial this weekend), and even with the smaller number, we haven't managed to break the First Place Barrier.

This is in strong contrast to CPE trials, where it's unusual for Tika to NOT place first. As you might know if you've read some of my CPE posts, it is furthermore commonplace for Tika to have the fastest time or the highest number of points over *all* dogs competing on the same course, not just her own height class. I'm always a little disappointed when we can't pull off three or four of those in one CPE weekend. (It's just like, at at the CPE nationals, Tika takes 1st in most of her classes, 2nd in another, takes high in trial in Standard, and so on--but at the USDAA nationals I'm climbing all over myself with ecstasy when we place 10th or 11th in our height in even one event, let alone make it to the final round and place 22nd there over all heights in another event.) And there you have, in a nutshell, the difference in the competition between CPE and USDAA.

Sunday morning we started with Gamblers. Saturday's gamble was disappointing: Somehow in our opening sequence, Tika turned around on top of the Aframe and went back down the same side, negating a whole ton of points (and it wasn't a rear cross, either), and furthermore followed that by negating the gamble by taking a 2nd gamble obstacle in a row while I was trying to put on the skids and get back to her, so although she did the gamble flawlessly, we had very low opening points and no Q to show for it. So back to Sunday. Despite Saturday, Tika has lately proven to be a very good gamblin' dog, so there's been no stress, just fun for us.

The course presented lots of options in the opening, which meant that a clever course could possibly beat faster dogs whose handlers didn't think of that particular option. I like that, because sometimes I can come up with clever courses. And the gamble itself looked challenging and yet like one that I thought Tika and I had a good chance at while everyone else would crap out. I like that, too. (Being basically competitive.)

However, when we were told to clear the course, I hadn't come up with a course that I liked. My thought was jump, weaves, jump, tire, back through the tire, teeter, Aframe, jump, weaves, jump, teeter, aframe. But I wasn't thrilled with the back-to-back tire because Tika would be blasting at it after a wide-open run and it would be hard to make a tight turn; we had left the chute entirely undone, wasting a perfectly fine set of points; and I thought we'd have extra time left that we'd have to waste doing figure 8s on the two jumps this on this side of the Aframe while waiting for the gamble whistle.

I tried figuring out how to fit in weaves-chute-weaves-chute because it looked like a nice fast simple loop, and also teeter-tire-teeter-tire made a nice loop, but I couldn't manage to work them all in and also get two Aframes and still end up near the approach to the 1-2 instead of stuck in the back corner behind the aframe, teeter, and chute.

I chatted with our classmate, Ashley, who's always a good one for aggressive courses because he's regularly blowing everyone's socks off with his runs with Luka, so he always has lots of obstacles and covers lots of ground, plus he's in 16" so in no way in direct competition with us. (Although most friends will share their courses--even for super-Qs--it always feels weird to me to ask someone for ideas when you're both hoping for placements.)

He started with the jump-Aframe and went out to the tire, which I hadn't even thought of, duh-- Hence jump-aframe-tire-teeter-tire-teeter-aframe-jump-weave-weave but he couldn't figure out how to get the chute in. Duh, I thought, and said, "weave-chute-weave-chute", and we both departed with pleased excitement about that course. Had a nice flow to it and, if I released Tika from all four contacts immediately, I felt that we had a chance at it.

To wrap up what's again becoming a long story, Tika executed perfectly, the whistle blew as we were entering the last chute so we didn't get those last 2 points; she's really fast and sent out nicely for a change ahead of me across #1 and #2, caught my meaning immediately as she blasted out of #2 and pushed herself back out to #3 instead of continuing to veer towards me, got the up contact, did a fast dogwalk, stuck her down contact, and made it over the #4 before time ran out without having knocked any bars. Another Q.

The almost-end of the story is that, not only did she Q, but she placed 1st in the 26" class. And, sure, there were only 22 dogs, but we're still competing against perennial national finalists like Rachel Sanders and the amazing Fable, Greg Leal and Coty and Tala, Susan Cochrane and Aiko, Tania Chadwick and Kidd... So I was very pleased and proud.

But the real end to the story is that our score ended up being the highest of all 82 masters dogs, all heights, even Luka, who ran a modified opening that exchanged some points for a chance to do the dogwalk in the hopes that it would help Luka realize it was there and make the gamble. They did get the gamble, but who knows whether it was because of that or just because they know what they're doing anyway.'

The top left quadrant of the accumulator sheet. (Click for larger image.)
What a thrill! And I'm not being facetious. This was a bigger feat to me than the ADCH, of all things, maybe because I knew that, eventually, we'd just get that Dang Super-Q and finish the ADCH, but I wasn't convinced any longer that we'd ever get a 1st, let alone high score, in Masters.

But we drove all out on this one; I sacrificed later contact stability for an instant release, and pushed pushed pushed, and yet felt no major stress because nothing at all of any significance hinged on our Qing or placing. This reminds me of a comment made by, I believe, Jo Sermon, on more than one occasion: That the worst thing that happened to agility in the U.S. is titles. She says that, in the UK (at least until recently), you advanced to higher levels only by placing and there was no such thing as a Qualifying score/minimum acceptable level. You had to go all out all the time to try to beat other dogs, but because there are SO many dogs competing over there and so few placements to be had, the stress level was low, resulting in an attitude of, ah, what the heck, I'm not going to win anyway, I might as well get the best I possibly can out of me and my dog and just have a great time. She said that coming over here to the states, she sees people overhandling, overrestraining, undercompeting, and so on, and so often not letting their dogs be as good as they could be because they're so worried about doing things letter-perfect to get that minimal Q.

And I'm somewhat guilty of that. I almost always hold Tika on her contacts because, otherwise, she starts blowing them off entirely and then we get faults and lose our chances to Q. But, when it's important to me to finish among the top--such as in Snookers and Steeplechases--I release her as fast as I can and drive her as hard as I can and we do reasonably well most of the time. So I wonder what my agility life would be like if I drove her like that all the time?

And maybe it's time to find out. We have no reason left to hold it in. Sure, there are bronzes and silvers and golds and, maybe, someday, platinums if we Q enough, but really that ADCH is the plateau beyond which one's entire agility career stretches out beyond. Huh. Something to ponder.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Complete list of labels

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Agility Class At Last!

SUMMARY: Took Tika to class last night and we did fine.

The last time I went to agility class was November 15. Took Tika last night for one last shot before another week off for Christmas. They've already cancelled Boost's class for today because of anticipated rain and the holiday rush, dang it all.

We both did well. I never ran full out, although after some experiments, I did rather a Goucho Mark glide, to get some speed without actually pounding my knees. Tika handled just beautifully at a distance. I am so pleased with her weave poles, both her entrances and her willingness to stay in while I veer off sharply in an entirely different direction. She made some very difficult entrances last night with me at a distance (that a couple of other people had trouble with even being there to manage their dogs into the entrance), and I really pushed the limit on veering away--the instant she was in, I took off at nearly a 90-degree angle past a couple of other obstacles to the next one 40 feet away while she finished the poles. (Normally I'd drive her through the contacts for maximum speed, but in this case I was trying to move around a large course without having to run, so I took any distance maneuvers I thought I could get away with.)

She even stayed at the start line! Without standing up or skootching! Which she's normally very bad about. I guess practice does help, eh?, and we've been practicing that in the yard lately. Except once she did stand up early and I let her go because I didn't want to walk back to her (BAD handler! this is why it deteriorates...).

The only issue was, as usual in training, that she stands at the end of the contact, having made a very nice 2on-2off landing, and roots around in the grass looking for microscopic bits of goodies that previous people have left on the ground when rewarding their dogs. It's so hard to practice real-life contacts with her. In competition she never does that (because there's no food in the ring). I've been trying to reward her for releasing off the contact and coming with me, but the challenge is getting her to release and come with me! Even when she decides to recognize the "OK", she strolls off in any random direction with her nose to the ground looking for more goodies. We're still working on this...

But I felt good, my knee felt good, Tika handled beautifully, we had some lovely end-of-the-year brownies baked by Tracy in honor of Flash's triple-double at their recent 3-day AKC trial and various pastries provided by Ashley in honor of Luka's ending up in the top 10 in all 5 categories in USDAA for the year--at last look, they were in something like 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, and 8th (gamblers?). How far they've come in 2 years! It's very exciting to have seen them progress and succeed.

And I might have mentioned it before, but I'm delighted to have Ashley in my class because I really feed off of his enthusiasm and determination. His legs are much longer and faster than mine and he's more coordinated and naturally bubbly than me, but it gives me something to strive for. Our Wednesday night class this time around is generally very inspiring for me. I've seen Tracy improve in confidence and willingness to try challenging handling moves with her fast little sheltie. Ken and his fast Terv, Apache (aka Bubba for who knows what reason), have inspired me since Tika and Apache were both novice dogs and I'd always be looking for other dogs who could come close to Tika's time on course (faults aside), and Apache was one of only a couple of dogs there, so I was thrilled when they joined our class. And Jennifer and her fast aussie, Kai, are fun to watch, too. While Ken and Tracy are more like my age, they still know how to move around a course, and meanwhile Jenn and Ashley are younger and more athletic and I love watching them run and trying to get my body to do what theirs do--not in an unrealistic way, but on the theory that an excellent way to learn how to do something well is to watch experts do it.

And we all feed off of each other at stretching our handling skills, with Jim helping by throwing in frequent challenges ("here's how you might handle it, but if you really think you can get there, then here's this option--"). If even one of us says, OK, we'll try the double-layered, distance send, double-reverse front-cross halfway across the field for major Cool Factor points, then by golly we all end up trying to do it, and we all cheer and whoop wildly as the others try it and so often succeed. It's especially helpful with Ken and Jennifer because their dogs also jump 26", so we're in a minority in training classes in general.

It's a great class. Thanks, Jim and Ashley and Ken and Tracy and Jennifer and Bobbie and Kathy for helping me to challenge myself to be an even better handler--somewhat humbling, with my 12 years of experience, being propelled onward to greater things by all these folks with much less experience.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Complete list of labels