Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Disneyland Versus The World Championships

SUMMARY: Me to Disneyland. Everyone else to Scottsdale. Musings.

Today's Facebook status:
Ellen Finch wishes the very best of luck to all of her friends who are heading out soon for the Nationals aka world championships in Scottsdale--while *she* bags out this year and goes to Disneyland! Woohoo! Maybe not tons less expensive than Nationals, but not nearly as stressful! Such as I don't have to get up at 5 a.m. to walk and memorize 6 different courses. Enjoy!

It feels so odd not to be going, after all those years of attending. Tika is completely qualified for everything this year, and in fact has done extremely well in all the Performance Tournaments, placing in several Steeplechases and Grand Prixs, and taking gold with her partner Brenn in team at a big SMART trial and then silver even at the Regional championships. She's done so well in Performance uin general, despite not starting Perf until late spring, that she's in range of Top Ten in both Gamblers and Snooker right now. This could be her big year.

BUT--She's also had to be scratched from several runs or even full days this year when her neck comes up sore. Like that heartbreaking Steeplechase finals at the Regionals where she ran half of it beautifully and then yelped and came out of the tunnel limping, and that was it for the rest of the day.

I couldn't stand the disappointment of getting to Scottsdale (all that time and money and hope) and have to scratch her from her runs. I really couldn't stand it if we got lucky and made it to the finals and that happened. Not that I think it's super likely--which is another reason for why I'm not really missing the nationals this year. We're good, but we're not great. Sometimes we get lucky. But that's an expensive hope to pursue.

And Boost just still isn't ready. She Qed in Team by the skin of her teeth thanks mostly to her two teammates (I think we were just a couple of points out of 1200 or so above the cut-off), and that was her ONLY team Q this year out of all our tries.

She hasn't Qed in Grand Prix since May of 2008.

She did somehow Q twice in Steeplechase this tournament year. Twice. Out of 12 tries. Sure, those 2 qualified her to run at Nationals, but the one time of those two when we actually ran in Round 2, she ran past a jump for elimination.

I will really miss watching all the final rounds. There is nothing like being there in the stands, on the edge of your seat, watching the clock as the finest competitors in the country (and even in the world) try to peel another hundredth of a second off the clock to take the prize. The runs are blazingly fast and the handling is on at the extreme edge of human capacity at times--watching some of these handlers get to position and make a front cross (in which their body turns 180 to 270 degrees or more at a full run) with impeccable timing is something that videos just can't do justice to.

I'll miss not being there to take tons of candid photos of all of my agility friends, as I have at the previous seven Nationals I've attended. But on the other hand then I won't be looking at hundreds of photos to sort and label. (Never did finish the last couple of years' worth, for example.)

But in the larger scheme of things, I'm generally glad I'm not going. The stress is off, the push is off, the managing of two high-energy dogs for a week out of town is off.

And I'm going to have a blast at Disneyland without them. And, OK, I'm sure I'll still have a squillion photos to sort and label when I get home anyway.

So I'm off to Disneyland tomorrow through Sunday, and many many of my agility friends will be dribbling out of town between now and Monday to make their way to Arizona for next week's competition. Most likely the last time it'll be on the west coast for a very long time.

Ah, well, Boost, if only you'd become the Super Agility Dog a bit faster!

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009


SUMMARY: Random things, agility, blog, life, and a Boost shocker.

  • Still waiting for my final insurance check from the MUTT MVR break-in. I think they said that they have 60 days to "conclude their investigation" or something like that. THEN I can go camera shopping.
  • Boost just gave me quite a shock--because she gave herself one! She was lying there quietly next to my desk, chewing on a stick, when she suddenly yelped and leaped away, tail down, to hide under the desk. I looked--and she had given up on the stick and had switched to the end of my extension cord, for crying out loud! That thing has been there all winter for my heater to plug into. Why now? Isn't that supposed to be a puppy kind of thing, not a 4-year-old dog kind of thing? Jeez, Boost! Well, maybe that taught her--
  • I try to keep my "Complete Archive of Posts" (link under Archives on the right side) but sometimes forget. Just updated from May through today.
  • I also forget to update my "Complete list of labels" (link at bottom of each post). Just updated for the last year! Ooops!
  • Maybe I'll get around to updating the photo album sometime soon, too.
  • In this post, I uploaded actual digital versions of the photos rather than scanned from the prints. They look better; thanks again, Erika.
  • In this post, I added a couple of other clarifying comments in [square brackets].
  • Updated this post with the course map of the course in my yard that I was using last week (just now got my updated CourseDesigner activation code).
  • I just realized that Tika has now competed in 7 Performance tournament events (3 each Steeplechase and Grand Prix, 1 DAM Team) and has qualified in every single one of them--AND placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in all except one (competing against 10-20 dogs usually)! How amazing is that? She really likes that 22" jump height!
  • My knee held up beautifully all weekend despite my pedometer showing about 8.5 miles covered each of the 3 days, 15 courses walked repeatedly (but not obsessively), and 28 runs with my dogs. So it's not just the activity that sometimes aggravates it; it's got to be how I'm moving it, and I'm suspecting more and more that it's certain kinds of twists, turns, torques, pushes, or pulls.
  • Tika looked fine all weekend, and I never even gave her any rimadyl! We middle-aged ladies are hanging in there.
  • On the other hand, Tika never gets up into the 6 yards per second range any more, even on jumpers courses, so I know that she's slowing down gradually. This weekend's smooth, lovely jumpers was at just 5.2 yps; winner's time (the amazing World Team tryouts winner Icon) came in at 6.12.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

The World's Most Expensive Polo Shirt

SUMMARY: I'm out of excuses. Guess I'm going to Nationals. Besides, I want that shirt.

In her life, Tika has had 9 opportunities to earn a bye into the Grand Prix semifinals at the Nationals (and get a nifty "free" polo shirt to commemorate the occasion), which you can do either by placing in the top 50% in Round 2 of the regionals or the top 50% in the quarterfinals at the nationals:
  • Regional 2003: Made it to Round 2 at her first-ever regionals. Still a green dog. The run was flawless--well, except the little detail of running between the tire and the upright instead of going through the tire
  • Regional 2004: Made it to Round 2. Don't know what happened--we had 15 faults there.
  • Nationals 2004 quarterfinals: 5 faults. Placed 36th, and 34 dogs went to the semis.
  • Regionals 2005: Eed in round 1.
  • Nationals 2005 quarters: 5 faults. Placed 50th, and 41 dogs went.
  • Regional 2006: Made it to Round 2. Got called on the dogwalk up for 5 faults Placed 16th and 13 dogs got byes.
  • Nationals 2006 quarterfinals: Clean up to the next to the last jump, where I got overexcited and caused a backjump.
  • Regional 2007: Made it to Round 2. Fell off the dogwalk and Eed when I spent time making sure she was OK.
  • Nationals 2007 quarterfinals: I just messed up and pulled her out of the weaves early trying to run aggressively. Clean otherwise.
  • Regional 2008: Clean run and pretty fast for the Tika dog, and for her mom, too! (Although a full 6 seconds off the fastest dogs.) We did it! We did it! Taj MuttHall is just about overwhelmed with joy!

Who cares if no Taj MuttHall dogs Qed in dumb old Gamblers, Standard, or Steeplechase! Those Qs were probably all sour anyway.

The cost just to pick up the polo shirt that I've been wanting so badly for so long: A week off work, a drive to Arizona, a week in a hotel, massive entry fees for the Nationals, team shirts for the DAM teams... and all the incidental expenses, too. We're not adding up the cost to *earn* that polo shirt.

Another competitor was speculating that, if she earned that bye, maybe she could just send in her entry form and pay the entry fees, not bother making the trip, and just have someone pick up the shirt for her. Pricey for a polo shirt, but not as pricey as actually making the trip.

Boost and Tika celebrating their nationals qualifications with a little frisbee:

Scully, the Princess dog who never plays at trials, thinks that might actually look like fun:

Sparkle believes that there is evidence to be found, even if it's not yet clear about what:

There might be gophers here:

Ewww, what's this? Smells gross! Ewww! Guess I'd better roll in it!

Most of the judges getting their instructions from Leslie, who organizes workers:

Judge Scott 'splains what it's all about:

Taj MuttHall and Tie-Dye Superwoman pay no attention to the camera while working at the score table all weekend:

Our rideshare, Scully & Sparkle's mom, walks a course in her cool tie-dye.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Is It Nationals or Is It Not?

SUMMARY: Maybe the Regionals will decide for me. Or maybe I'll decide whatever I want to decide.

Why I might go, part 1

My working theory is this: If either of my dogs earn a bye into even the Grand Prix semifinals at the Regionals this weekend, then I'll go just to finally get the danged polo shirt, which I haven't gotten one of since 2001. Or if Boost qualifies in DAM, so she has something to do all week at Scottsdale. Or even Steeplechase, then at least she could do Grand Prix and Steeplechase and then go hang out in the shade while Tika and I try to place 12th in Team Gamblers again. If we decide that we're going to bother with our Aframe contacts again. But I digress.

Why I might go, part 2

On the other hand, I have a friend who wants me to go and travel with her. I'd love to do it. Maybe that'll be my real deciding factor. If I had unlimited time and money, I do enjoy being there and watching all the finals in person and taking pictures and all that, and I know I'd have someone with whom I already know I'd have fun to spend many many hours in the car and hotel and meals and so on with. Because in the year when my foot was broken, she drove me and my dogs to many trials and in fact ran my dogs for me sometimes (because oddly it's hard to run dogs with a broken foot). Remington thought she was wonderful.

Regionals where

So. Regionals this weekend. It's not 20 minutes from my house this year; instead, 50 minutes (at 5 a.m. but maybe 90 minutes sunday afternoon when the flea market at the Big Red Barn is letting out and traffic backs up on 101 most of the way to Baja California).

But the weather tends to be cooler because it's at the coast. Which is good, because today it is very hot here in south San Jose.

Regionals Friday

I signed up for pairs relay, which is the only class Friday evening. Now I wish I hadn't, because that means a lonnnng drive Friday afternoon when everyone else is leaving town for the holiday weekend, then work score table so even if I'm done running my dogs I have to stay, then an hour drive home, crash into bed and get right back up the next morning and go back down. Somehow it seems better to make that drive if I actually stay there for 10 hours and then have my evening to myself when I get home. To fall asleep with my face in my soup, like that.

Tika's DAM Team

Tika's longtime DAM teammate, Brenn, came up limping last weekend and scratched from last Sunday. We have our shirts with Savanna for Borderin' on K-Aus, and this might be the last time we can run together, because Brenn is now in performance in everything except this DAM. We're waiting to hear today what the vet says. Brenn seems fine, not limping even by Tuesday, but of course no one wants her to run if it's a bad idea. It's probably just an arthritis flare-up, which she's been dealing with since she was 3, and it might go into remission for months again. But it does throw Tika's whole likelihood of running in or Qing in team into question. She doesn't need it for this year's nationals. But just 2 more team Qs is 10, enough for eventual Platinum (assuming that we can ever get there with anything else!) and I can stop doing them if I want to.

Title chase

So here's what's on the plate for this weekend:
  • Boost could qualify in Steeplechase for Nationals
  • Boost could qualify in DAM for Nationals
  • Boost could earn her MAD (just one Jumpers! Just that's all! Just because she's missed 14 out of 14 jumpers so far--but somehow we did get a Standard leg last weekend, so who knows!)
  • Boost earn 1 of two legs left for her Relay Master.
  • Tika earn her Bronze Lifetime Achievement Award--9 Qs of ANY kind, and we have 9 opportunities this weekend! That would be a 100% Q rate! That is what we'd need after last weekend to bring our average back up to 50%!
  • You know when I'm starting to talk with my tongue in my cheek! Because of all the !s !

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to Win At The Nationals

SUMMARY: In which I explain my strategy for not being at the top of the game and whining about it.

My post about not going to the USDAA Nationals the other day drew several off-blog responses.

My parents do their best to follow my agility blather, and, like very good parents, they've come to watch their kid compete a couple of times, but really the hiking and nature posts are more along their lines of interest. But also like good parents or friends who want to understand more, they often ask questions about things that I take for granted but that, in fact, are not obvious to anyone outside the small agility community (or, sometimes, outside my very head).

Here's my dad's queries and comments about my post:
It's too bad that only Elizabeth Taylor could take a horse to the Nationals, and win. Perhaps Hollywood could get Drew Barrymore (or her ilk) to the agility nationals without anyone but her hoping to do well. And win.
It sounds as though you're being rational about the whole thing. But what are the things that you have to do to go, successfully, to the nationals? Love the dogs you have, but acquire champions?
Because you probably can't get winning coaches to take your dogs through the courses and have them do better than with you. And it would be disappointing if they could and did.
"Do thousands of repetitions" sounds like someone who doesn't have to do some wage-earning. Or who earns enough so that they can hire a full time trainer.

And here's my final response:

About "agility nationals": There are different flavors of "agility nationals." USDAA national championships (really, the Cynosports World Championships) is a very different animal from CPE national championships (the other venue in which I compete). At the last CPE National Championships that I attended, Tika won 5 out of 9 classes, Qualified in 8 of 9, earned High-In-Trial in her category, and missed by about one foot of distance in a gamble being in the running for high-in-trial over all. So there are some agility national championships that we are plenty qualified for. However, most of the top competitors in USDAA (and AKC, and the world) don't bother with CPE. So--we're good, but we're not in the top tier over all.

Tika's chances: 4-5 years ago, I'd have said that Tika had a moderate chance of making it to the finals at USDAA Nationals in either Steeplechase or Grand Prix. She wasn't winning anything locally, mostly because of knocking danged bars, but her *speed* was in the range where, if I could avoid making foolish moves on course and she could avoid knocking bars, I could see us being there--assuming that enough of the topmost dogs collectively had problems with those things, giving us room to squeeze in. I would never have said that she had a chance of winning, though; too many very good dogs for them ALL to crap out.

However, every year, the dogs get faster and faster and more accurate and the handling gets better and better. It's been an evolving sport and the increases in performance of people and canines has been amazing to watch. So--Tika is much faster than Jake or Remington were. She can do 12 weave poles in around 3 seconds, which is much faster than either of the boys could do them, and that seemed fast to me. But now--Boost can do them in 2 seconds!

And Tika might be slowing down just a little bit. Maybe not much. But consider that the time separating the top 8 dogs in Boost's height of the Steeplechase finals last year was about 1.5 seconds total; the difference between 1st & 2nd in Tika's height of Grand Prix finals was .02 seconds.

So something like having weave poles that are 1 second slower just about puts us out of the running right away. Could I speed up Tika's weaves? I dunno. Some methods have been suggested, but at her age, it seems unlikely, and her running style is just enough different from those low-to-the-ground border collies that it also seems unlikely. AND, OK, I'm too lazy to want to spend the time to try retraining.

Get a champion dog: Boost is champion-quality, even in today's tough competitive environment, in these terms: Speed (she is physically just incredibly fast; she's built for it). Drive (desire to do it and to do it at the utmost of her body's ability). Agility (she can turn on a dime, she can do any obstacle at optimum speed, that sort of thing.) With the right handler and training, there is no physical or mental reason on her part why she couldn't win at the top levels.

And there's the rub. I've never been the most coordinated person in athletics. Maybe better than the average bear, but not by much. I can think I'm doing one thing, but watching the video shows that I'm doing something completely different. If I were really determined to win, I'd make a concerted effort to videotape all my runs, and probably some specific sequences at home or in class over and over to figure out where I'm going wrong, and work at it, reviewing the videotape, until I got it right.

And, even more, I don't have a good training regimen. I practice what I feel like practicing when I feel like it. The truth is that I want to have a chance at winning without really putting in the work in that's required to do it today.

About those "thousands of repetitions"--the sequence that my instructor suggested would take maybe 15 seconds including a reward. I could do it ten times, three times a day, and it would really hardly be a blip in my schedule. But, like, OK, boring. See? I'm not Olympic champion material, and so my world-class dog performs like a neighborhood-class dog if you just look at the final results. (On any given shorter sequence or single obstacle perforance, she's world-class. 2-second weaves. 2-second dogwalk. Runs full speed across the teeter and slides to the end to slam it to the ground. World-class. There are very few dogs that are much better than that. Just--there are many dogs who are in the *same* class. And, yup, the difference is the handler and the training.)

One example of dog vs training vs handler: Several years ago, there was a world-class Border Collie competing in USDAA. He was in the Top Ten (in the nation) categories. He won events. He was at the top of his game. Then his owner died. A friend kept competing with the dog, since he was still in his prime and eager to go. But basically he became an Ordinary Dog. Oh, they did OK. They earned qualifying scores (meeting the minimum requirements) and thereby eventually earned a championship in one agility organization. And he always looked like he was having a generally good time, so it was a happy ending, really. But the new handler didn't have what the old handler had. So it wasn't the dog, and it wasn't the training (at least, not of the dog).

So, sure, if "the right person" were handling my dogs, maybe they'd be in the Top Ten and winning local Steeplechases left and right. So I've got the right dog(s). I couldn't ask for better than Boost, certainly.

Other handlers: But, no, of course I wouldn't have someone else run my dog! There are a very few cases of people running other people's dogs. Like, when I was injured and couldn't, some friends ran my dogs for me to keep them in practice. Like, there's a local woman who can train her dog in small sequences, but physically cannot do the running required in competition. So she works regularly with a friend who also trains with her dog and runs it in competition for her. But she's there at the start line and at the finish line and she does all the other work with her dog.

But, it would drive me nuts to have someone else run my dog and do better than I could.

Plus--all the best competitors already have plenty of their own dogs to run. MAYBE if I offered to pay someone enough, they'd consent to work my dogs. But why would they do that? To compete with a dog who wasn't their own companion and training partner? I know that it's done in horse racing and in dog conformation shows. Bummer! And I know of one handler who gets paid specificially to run other people's dogs because she can earn Qs with them and their owners can't. But thank goodness dog agility isn't like that for the most part. Agility continues to be about me and my dogs doing things together, bonding, getting to know and love each other.

I wouldn't say that world-class dogs are a dime a dozen, but now they're certainly very available, now that people know what to look for in an agility dog (rather than how most of us--and the sport--started, with whatever dog happened to be hanging around in the back yard looking bored). So the question is--am I a world-class handler? No. And, really, I don't have any right to whine (although I will, regularly), because I know perfectly well that I don't put the time and energy into being a world-class handler.

So how many repetitions of that agility drill could I have done while editing this blog? There ya go.

The world-class dogs stretch out for their morning nontraining session:

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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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Monday, April 28, 2008

Tika is Qualified in Grand Prix

SUMMARY: A relief to discover--

I was just putting Tika's ribbons from this weekend on the wall, and had to move a couple of older ones, and so noticed a 2008 Grand Prix qualifying ribbon already nestled among Tika's ribbons from last fall. Sure enough--she DID already get one GP Q, and now this weekend's makes two, and so now she's Qed for Nationals in GP. Whew! Just one more Steeplechase and she'll be all set. If I decide to go. Looking at her times compared to others in the Steeplechase in particular, but all the classes in general, plus this ongoing occasional soreness thing, makes me wonder whether it's worth the trip. I don't have to decide yet--

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Proofing Weaves

SUMMARY: In which our heroines try not to pop out of the weaves in the disastrous back yard.

Here's the thing. I've got this project at work That Would Not Die. Any day now I'll be done with it. I've been thinking that for three months now. So I'm busy. I'm stressed. I'm not in the mood to go work on piddly agility details like actual skills that would help us earn Qs and not throw our money away on entry fees where we'll NQ for the same problems we made at the last trial. I'd rather not think about it and then go NQ at the next trial and then complain about how I can't believe we did the same stupid thing again to everyone who'll listen (which is pretty much no one, because everyone in agility knows about us whiners who will shut up eventually if you don't encourage them and then we can get back to gossiping about dogs).

So I have two USDAA weekends coming up. Boost STILL needs one Standard and one Jumpers for her MAD (Master Agility Dog) title, which is what *I* need to feel like I have an actual masters-level dog and not a puppy who somehow stumbled into masters by some freak accident. And why did we not have those Qs last weekend, for example? Knocked bars. Plus, in other runs, total havoc. AND neither dog has a Steeplechase Q this year, not one, and Tika needs a mere one for her Gold Tournament Master and both need TWO to qualify for Nationals. And Tika, who has a lifetime accumulation of 21 Grand Prix legs, hasn't managed *one* this year, not a single one, and she needs TWO GPs to qualify in that for Nationals.

So I guess I should probably practice SOMETHING. For some reason I don't mind practicing weaves as much as other stuff. For one thing, there are no bars to set every time you mess up. And you don't have to give rewards right at the base of the contact--you throw the reward from wherever you're standing. So, being basically lazy, weave poles are good for me--not as good as tunnels, but actually my dogs are pretty good at tunnels (run through it fast. Hard concept.) so I don't have to practice much, although I do, ALL the TIME when playing fetch (you have to run really fast through a tunnel to get your toy. So someday I will probably pay for this on course when they decide to run really fast through a tunnel instead of doing a contact or a jump).

As usual, I digress. I was going to digress more about how I need to practice running Boost to and from weaves with 40 feet and a jump between her and the next obstacle and how my yard allows about 5 feet--otherwise I'll run them into a diseased apply tree or over a smooth, slippery concrete patio--so it's not the best practice, but instead I will go right into how I also need to practice sticky weaves--dogs who will stick in the weaves no matter what I do. Since BOTH dogs, yes even TIKA THE WEAVING MARVEL, have popped out of weaves more than once in recent trials.

And here's some of what I do, using my creative genius (also called "borrowing everyone else's ideas") to come up with every distraction I can think of. Cross behind when sending to the weaves. Cross behind and stop suddenly. Cross behind and change my mind. Cross behind just before they get to the last pole. Send at a 90-degree angle from 10 feet away and then rear cross perpendicular to 10 feet on the other side. Run alongside and stop suddenly early. Or middle. Or right before the end. Run ahead and front cross suddenly. Front cross early. Front cross late. Start to front cross and stop. Run alongside and turn and run back where I came from. Run alongside and slooooowwww dowwwwn and SPEED UP and stop suddenly. Run alongside and spin in circles. Run alongside. Stop. Start. Stop. Run alongside and veer suddenly away. Run alongside and suddenly yell something stupid--"begonia!" is my favorite. Or sing. Stop and wave my arms. Run and wave my arms. Drop a toy subtly at my feet while I'm running. Throw the toy while they're still in the weaves. Toss a toy in the air while I'm running. Kick the toy on the ground while they're in the weaves. Stop and play with the toy on the ground. Throw the toy off to the side. Throw the toy right exactly next to them in the weaves (this is an advanced distraction that you really need to work up to; give the poor pups a break!). Run alongside, veering in and out and waving my arms. Send the dog straight into the weaves ahead of me and stand there while they do all 12. Do five back-to-back weaves as fast as I can get them to turn and redo them and try to get them to pop out right at the end of each set (this is especially good practice if you ever have a chance to do a 60-weave-pole challenge). Do all the same things at 20 feet away if I can figure out how in my yard so that it'll apply equally well in a gamble.

You know, these dogs should have no excuse at all for ever popping out of the weaves. Ever. But you also know, I have to keep redoing these sorts of things, because if I stop practicing, then they start popping. Why can't things just stay fixed?

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Monday, July 02, 2007


SUMMARY: Sifting through our Q-chasing counts.

Of course agility isn't about the titles. Or the ribbons. It's about having a good time with your dogs.

OK, but I like getting titles. And ribbons. So it's the middle of the summer and I haven't practiced anything seriously with Tika in weeks, with no imminent trials propelling me, and very little serious with Boost except weaves weaves weaves.

But we have a fun match coming up this Sunday, so I need to start thinking what I want to focus on. But my mind's not there yet; it's drifting off into Title Land.

We have a CPE trial in 3 weeks, a week off, and another CPE trial. Tika is SO far from her C-ATE that, at the rate of maybe 4 CPEs a year (which is what I've backed off to), she'll be twenty-two before we get there. So we go mostly for our opportunity to collect those blue ribbons that are so evasive in USDAA--but I think we get them there because I'm really relaxing and enjoying myself.

Boost needs 2 wildcards... oops, new rules now...*3* wildcards and 2 colors to complete her Level 3 title, and she's barely started level 4. She might or might not ever get to her C-ATCH. That'd be another 72 legs beyond the Level 3. If we pick up 10 out of 10 per weekend with 4 weekends a year... OK, you see where I'm going with this. Pretty much nowhere. But I generally approve of CPE as an alternative venue to the insanity of USDAA and so I want to at least periodicall continue to support it.

And speaking of the insanity of USDAA: After the CPEs, it's 2 weekends off and then in rapid succession six USDAAs (including one regional) in the 9 weeks from then til the Nationals in Scottsdale the first week of November.

However, only the first three of those are still in this year's Nationals qualifying calendar--the last three are for next year. So Boost will have 2 or maybe 3 chances to earn exactly--crud--two Grand Prix Qs and two Steeplechase Qs, and 1 chance to earn one Team Q, if she wants to run at Nationals this year. In other words, our showing this year has been pretty sorry!

Actually we have to Q at the first GP or we're sunk because, to enter the Regional GP, you have to already have one GP Q. So if we dont' get the first one, we can't get the 2nd one, and so then the 3rd one wouldn't matter. Sigh. Did you follow that? I think I did--

Boost also needs one Standard and one Pairs to move up to Masters in everything. Or she could move up to Masters in:
- Gamblers with 1 Q
- Standard with 1 Q
- Snooker with 1 Q
- Jumpers with 2 Qs

So she's getting sooo close, my little puppy!

Tika still needs a 2nd Steeplechase Q. We've got to keep those bars up, and her mom needs to stop making stupid handling errors that she knew better about 10 years ago. Or at least 3 or 4 years ago. And I'd REALLY like, for a change, to at least get a bye into the semifinals in the Grand Prix! I'm so tired of those 5-fault runs.

As for her titles, she needs 4 for Bronze Standard, 3 for Bronze Gamblers, 4 for Bronze Jumpers. That'll make us all-Bronze (except Silver in Tournament). But still a long way from Bronze Lifetime Achievement: That's 150 legs total in Masters, P3, and Grand Prix, and she's currently at 85. Then it's a long haul--10 more legs in each of the 5 classes--to get to Silver in each, and a whopping 250 Qs total for LAA Silver. Maybe we'll do it before she retires. Our Q percentage has been hovering around 50%, but that's still not a lot, really; let's say 14 USDAA trials a year, 8 runs a weekend, 50% Q rate--it'll be another 2 years just to get to LAA Bronze. But--

Lord, won't you buy me an LAA Gold?
My friends all have platinum, or so I've been told.
Worked hard on my contacts, we've got them down cold,
So Lord, won't you buy me an LAA Gold?

I think it's bedtime.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Random Musings

SUMMARY: Random notes and thoughts accumulated over the last 2 days.

Tika's Next USDAA Titles

By the way, that Super-Q also finished Tika's Snooker Master and Snooker Champion titles. Next up (if we want something to chase):
  • Snooker Bronze: 1 snooker Q
  • Gamblers Champion: 1 gamblers Q
  • Tournament Silver: 2 DAM team Qs

Next USDAA trials: March 17/18, April 12-15, April 28-29, May 5-6.

Barrelling Forward Mere Inches From Death

I was barrelling down the Sunol grade Sunday night at nearly 70 MPH with the flow of dense traffic, firmly gripping the steering wheel with hands determinedly at 10:00 and 2:00, surrounded by vehicles, when it struck me. There we were, each of us encased in nearly two tons of nearly paper-thin metal, rocketed down a slope at a speed of over 100 feet per second. That's the entire length of a football field in the time it takes you to take one breath. Do you realize how fast that is?

And furthermore, there are four lanes, with vehicles in each of those lanes, on either side of me feeling close enough for me to reach out and touch if I dared to take a hand off the wheel to roll down a window. And the road is not only going downhill, gravity propelling us even faster, but it's curving, so every one of us, side by side, hurtling along at speeds unimaginable for most of human history, must judge the exact curve of the road for hundreds of feet ahead, as the slightest twitch in the steering wheel or momentary relaxation where the wheels would find their natural path of going straight, not arcing, would send the vehicle slamming into the neighbor, or into the concrete K-rail sitting less than a foot beyond the outer lane marking, to carrom back into traffic, taking out multiple lanes of cars. In the dark, with only our headlights to guide us.

It's amazing that anyone survives. It's amazing that there are as few accidents as there are.

Boost's First Advanced Weekend

Wow. I knew we weren't ready for Advanced, but we looked even less ready than we did previously, and it wasn't all simply because they were advanced courses. What a mess! Oddly enough, we did better in the Grand Prix and the Steeplechase than in any of our regular classes, although we didn't Q. We survived the Steeplchase with no faults on a course where more than a third of the entrants were offcourse, but with too many bobbles to make time. And we Eed in the Grand Prix just two obstacles from the end on the place where I knew we'd have trouble (and where many much more experienced dogs also Eed), on a hard wrap from a tunnel going away from the dog walk onto the dogwalk without going back into the tunnel next to the dogwalk. If she'd made that, we'd have qualified.

She left several contacts without a release, she knocked bars, she ran past Aframes and dogwalks and tunnels, she kept turning back to me instead of pushing forward over lines of jumps, she popped out of weaves... argh. (Although she did some of all the same things very well, too. Still, more bobbles than I had expected.)

Back to the drawing board.

What's scary is that, in watching video of the only run I have of hers from this weekend, it looks like she's stutter stepping some of her jumps, which I didn't notice in person at all. Yikes.

Health In Agility

I wasn't as recovered as I had thought I might be from last week's flu. I coughed and hacked and blew my nose all weekend, feeling badly as much about possibly spreading something that I thought I was over as I felt about being there and not feeling in my prime. I tried to always smother my coughs in my jacket rather than my hands or the air, and carried a little bottle of Purell hand sanitizer around with me to slather on my hands every time I touched my nose or lips. I sure hope I didn't spread anything.

Survived the days, but had a cough that rattled in my chest and just wouldn't clear all night Friday and Saturday nights. Sat up for several hours in the middle of the night in the Motel 6 in Turlock Saturday night, because sitting seemed to reduce the hacking, which gave me a chance to watch the film "Three Wishes", a just all-around feel-good film with the most interesting mixed-breed cute but almost alien terrier dog costarring with Patrick Swayze.

Before that, and despite Tika's ADCH and other good showings for the day, what kept running through my head were all the things that we had muffed all day long. Seems that my mood follows my physical state in more ways than one, and I was tired and weak and coughy and achey and so were my thoughts. By the time the movie was over, I felt good about life and myself and my dogs and that's when I really began to enjoy having finished Tika's ADCH.

Odder things have happened.

Knee's Good

My knee, meanwhile, held up fine. I iced it on general principles when I got to the motel, but it didn't bother me all weekend and seems not to have any puffiness or soreness afterwards (aside from what had been there before post-op already). That's very promising.

DAM Team News

Tika's team, Three's A Charm did well at the Nationals in November, but now it turns out that Skeeter, our third, is losing her vision and is apparently now retired from agility. At first they thought it was PRA, but turns out it's glaucoma, and just heard today that with treatment she actually seems to be doing better, although her depth perception is iffy. In any event, looks like they probably won't be competing any more.

So Brenn and Tika decided to go an unusual route and asked a 12" dog, a papillon named Roxee, to be our third for the April Haute TRACS team event. (Photo of Roxee, her handler Rob, and her owner.)

Now we just need a team name. Roxee's owner (different from her handler) had some possible suggestions that I didn't have the presence of mind to write down, so we'll have to find out again.

Qualifying for Nationals

Tika earned another 5-fault Grand Prix Q, so she's now GP qualified for the Nationals. She turned on the rocket fuel for Steeplechase and didn't even pretend to stick her contacts although I came to a full stop expecting her to, too, so she got way ahead of me and then turned back to see what I was up to, wasting time, but the killer was when somehow I managed to push her PAST an entire tunnel and had to run back for it. So technically we were clean but about 3 seconds over time.

So Tika still needs 2 Steeplechases and a Team, and Boost still needs everything. Gah.

Knocking Bars

After 5 runs on Saturday and 3 on Sunday during which Tika did not knock a single bar--not one!--I dared to hope that we could manage another Jumpers Q. Well, she was fast and felt smooth, no bobbles on this course, although still coming in a second and a half behind first place--but with TWO bars down, I guess to make up for the rest of the weekend. Sigh. So much for sticking around to the dire end instead of heading home early. But one's gotta hope. Only 4 of the 16 26" dogs who stuck around managed to qualify on this course, so we were in good but frustrated company.

What Was Your Last Q?

Got to wondering over the weekend whether anyone had ever done a study to see whether there was a predominance of one type of class that most often held people back from a key title. For example, Tika had moved up to Masters Standard before she finally earned her first-ever Jumpers Q for her AD (novice title). Then it was a Gamblers Q that kept us from our USDAA MAD, which seems to me to be pretty common. And it was a Jumpers Q again that kept us from our CPE C-ATCH for so long. So it's been my surprise to discover that it was a Snooker Q that kept us from our ADCH.

With Remington, it was Standards that kept us from ever earning our MAD.

With Jake, it was a Gamblers leg that kept him from his ADCH, a Standard for his NATCH, and a Snooker for his C-ATCH, but the latter really wasn't much of a delay, it just happened to be the last Q needed (compared to alllll the others, which were significant delays after the last preceding Qs).

So, even based on my dogs, I can't make any general statement about the most-common class to be last.

How about for everyone else? Feel free to drop a comment here.

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