Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gamblin' Boost

SUMMARY: Q in Team, good and almost great in Gamblers, and... that's it.

Boost's story this weekend included many chapters of knocked bars, popping out at the end of the weaves, and checking back with me constantly instead of taking jumps. Oh, yeah, and several runouts. Drat. Back to square two on all counts. How many times do I have to fix her weave poles, fer crying out loud? But she was fast and happy and her start line stay and contacts were spot on.

Saturday's classes consisted entirely of the three-dog DAM Team event. (All 3 dogs do 4 individual events, then combine for a relay, and the combined scores determine whether you earn a Team Q.) Recently, USDAA started allowing your performance in the individual events to count towards Qs for your Lifetime Achievement awards, but you have to be within (are you tired of this formula yet?) 15% of the average scores of the top 3 dogs in your height/class.

In Team Standard, Boost knocked 2 bars and popped the weaves, which I had to fix. Not fatal in Team; it's off courses in Team that kill you. Both her teammates did better than Boost and also ran without off courses, which is a pretty good grouping for Team.

In Team Gamblers, Boost had a pretty good opening--would've been better without 2 knocked bars and me forgetting which side of the teeter I wanted to be on to pick up another 5 points, oh, well, and then we were in perfect position for the gamble. We picked up a 20-point gamble (there were 10, 20, and 30 point choices), which was pretty good as not many dogs at all got the 20 or 30 pointers and quite a few didn't even manage the 10. We ended up placing 4th in 22" out 40 dogs, and her teammates were close behind her at 7th and 12th, so after Standard & Gamblers our team was in 4th place out of 25 teams.

Team Snooker knocked us back a bit, we thought--all three of us scored in the 30-to-40 range (with 4 reds available meaning that in theory 59 points were possible), but a late rush of dogs not wanting to do well in Snooker left us down a bit overall but not by much. (Boost spent the opening doing runouts and "what, THIS obstacle?" dances and in the closing got whistle for running past a jump.)

Team Jumpers we were all a bit worried about; very fast dogs with a couple of really wide-open stretches of just plain running plus tough call-offs. Boost knocked 2 bars and popped out at the end of the weaves (sound familiar?) but we did not off-course. Both our teammates Eed with off courses, so even our crappy run turned out to be the saving run for us.

And in the 3-dog relay, Boost knocked only one bar and, just for variation, headed into the weave poles but turned back at the last moment to see what I was up to, earning a refusal, but her teammates ran very nicely and again none of us off-coursed, which is also excellent for Team Relay. We ended up Qing fairly solidly, placing 7th of 25 teams after combining the scores for all 5 classes. Thanks, Lucy and Beadle!

Sunday, in Grand Prix, I apparently moved too soon and pulled Boost past a serpentine jump for a runout, then getting her back over it, she knocked the bar and then another one (2 jumps again). She did do the weaves OK, but the preceding obstacle was the chute and she somersaulted out of that--never seen her do that before--so it wasn't a pretty approach to the weaves.

In Steeplechase, we had two sets of weaves. She knocked--yes--2 bars, did the first set of weaves beautifully, ran past 2 jumps that we had to go back for, and then the last set of weaves she popped out at the end again and I didn't catch it before going on, so we Eliminated there, too.

Master Snooker wasn't awful--we placed 8th of 32 dogs, but it still wasn't a Q (one point short) and that's for two reasons: (1) She knocked a bar on a 7-pointer in the opening, so we didn't get those 7 points, and then she spent half the course checking back in with me instead of just &#*@(% going over the jump in front of her! Wasted SO much time. So by the time we got to #7 in the closing-- a 4-part combo--by the time she knocked a bar in the middle of it (2 bars again), our time's-over buzzer sounded. But so many people crapped out so early in this snooker, as I said, it was still a pretty good run given this particular course.

Master Gamblers. Sighhhhhh. Do you ever see a gambler's opening where the high-point course is so obvious to you that you think it's most everyone's going to do the same thing and the really really fast & good dogs are going to get in even more obstacles than you, and then you watch almost everyone do something different from yours and come in much lower than your plan--which should be 48 if you do it absolutely perfectly, although I really expected 47? Like people were getting in the 32-42 range mostly.

Well. So. It was our kind of course. And we did it perfectly right up to the obstacle before the gamble. That was a jump that would've been our 48th point. I actually expected the whistle (to start the gamble) to blow before we got to it, and I shot her over it and the whistle still hadn't blown, so I changed direction abruptly trying to figure out what other obstacles I could take, blown away that we still had time left over, and she knocked the bar.

And we were racing *away* from the gamble when the whistle finally blew. Turned and headed back, but we approached awkwardly to the first jump, and she did a bunch of "this jump?" kinds of things without actually looking straight at it, so the judge didn't call a refusal, and she sailed over it without knocking it.

The gamble included three jumps and a set of weaves, and the way we'd been going, I didn't expect her to actually do it, or to do it with faults. But she went fromthe jump to the weaves, did the weaves perfectly, did the next jump perfectly, and then danced around in front of me instead of going to the last jump, and when I finally got her turned around, the whistle blew as she was in the air for the last jump. All that wasted time-- just about a second over time. So no Q.

BUT out of 70 Masters dogs, one dog got 48 in the opening and one other got 47 in the opening. So I certainly can't complain about our execution on that part of the course!

The weather provided off and on rain showers all day Saturday and into Sunday morning, but not awful downpours. The weather was cold but not anywhere near freezing.

Tika got to come out of her crate to practice tricks instead of doing agility, but probably not nearly as much as I should've done with her. No sign of sore toe, but Saturday mid-morning she came out of her crate hunched over and not wanting to do tug-of-war like she does when her neck gets sore. And I'd been blaming doing agility for aggravating the neck. Apparently not. She remained off the rest of the day, but Sunday was absolutely fine again.

It occurred to me that Remington exhibited the same kind of seemingly-out-of-nowhere hunching over and then the next day fine several times before we discovered that he had that hemangiosarcoma tumor on his heart. It's a little scary, actually, how much it reminded me of that. Now I have to decided whether I want to pay the huge bucks for a screening ultrasound to find out whether there's anything there. I'm particularly sensitive since we've had so many dogs in our club die of hemangiosarcoma in the last year or two.

Hate to end the post on that worried note-- But we are all home safely, dogs are already dozing off (even though they got all that great crate rest at the trial and on the drive home), so I will sign off and head to my own comfy bed now, too.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Shiny Happy Tika

SUMMARY: Day 1: Team Tournament--we won, we won!

Today was all team, all day. The Dog Agility Masters (DAM) tournament consists of four individual events and the 3-dog relay--or, for Performance dogs, 2-dog relay. Boost was in regular, one among 27 teams, and Tika ran in Performance, one among 15 teams.

Our first run of the day, Standard, set the pattern. Tika and Brenn both ran nice, smooth, clean runs. No bars down, no missed contacts, reasonably fast. We didn't win the Standard event, but we were I think 2nd or 3rd combined. ALL THREE DOGS in Boost's team popped out of the weaves early and then took off courses for Elimination. Sheesh! In Team, the penalty for off-course is very high. We landed at the bottom of the 27 teams (with at least a couple of others who E'ed with all 3 dogs), and determinedly held that position all through the day.

Second run, Gamblers, had some interesting nonstandard rules. Tika did well except that I mishandled her going into the weaves in the opening and I went back and redid them, meaning that we didn't quite finish our last 5-point obstacle before the whistle, so ended in 5th[?] instead of 2nd individually; Brenn did better than that, and combining our scores after the first 2 classes landed us at the top of the 15 teams, and we determinedly held that position all through the day.

I've always liked how Tika and Brenn complement each other. Brenn did better than Tika in Standard and Gamblers; Tika did better than Brenn in Snooker and Jumpers, in fact taking 2nd place (of 10 in her height group) in the Jumpers class with a very nice, fast, smooth run.

Boost also had an amazingly smooth and fast Jumpers run, although she had 2 bars down. No refusals, no runouts, not even significant hesitations. It was a joy to run her there.

I messed up Boost's very short Snooker run; she did her part in keeping the bars up (yay!) but I didn't handle her well; I also am mostly to blame for messing up the gamble run because I changed my course at the last minute which turned out to be a mistake.

When we got to the relay, Tika and Brenn had only about a 25-point lead over the 2nd place team. Relay *really* counts heavily against your team if you off-course--150 points. So if either one of us were to go off course, we'd plummet through the rankings like a boulder dropped from a cliff. We could *conceivably* earn enough 5-point faults between us--knocked bars, popped contacts, like that--to drop below the 2nd place team, but it seemed unlikely. And, indeed, Brenn ran clean and Tika's only fault was ticking the broad jump with a toenail as she went by; it's metal and boy could you hear it!

We celebrated enthusiastically--neither of us have ever been on a team that even placed in a team event, and this time we won gold medals. Yeeha! (Dang, medal is turned sideways in my snapshot:)

[A friend took photos of all of us; will get them eventually.]

It's funny to see how DAM team works: You don't have to win everything (or even anything), but if you do WELL and do so CONSISTENTLY, you beat out everyone who had issues of any kind with any of their team. So--neither of us won any individual class; our combined scores didn't win any of the classes (although I think we were 2nd & 3rd in a couple), and we came in pretty low in the relay based on our speeds plus Tika's 5 faults--but we had enough of a lead that, since we held it together, no one could really expect to catch us at that point.

Meanwhile, Boost's 1st teammate ran very nice Snooker, Gamblers, and Jumpers rounds; the 2nd teammate was having a lot of problems and ended up scratching from the rest of the day over concern that the dog might be ill or injured.

So we went into the finals--in last place--with one "E" automatically against us because we were missing one dog. We both ran fairly nicely, though--we might have pulled out of last place, but I didn't get a good look at the scores.

Sooo the day went well, I am a happy TMH Human Mom, weather was just about perfect, dogs are healthy, friends are fun to hang around with--OK, I'm up for another 2 days of this!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nationals Musings

SUMMARY: Meant to say some of this Sunday and forgot.

Early working version of Boost's photo for t-shirt:

  • I can barely believe that, a week from today, we'll be on the road to Scottsdale. Where'd all my practice time go? Why aren't my dogs perfect yet?
  • Tika didn't show any signs of soreness yesterday (Monday) at all. I have been giving her rimadyl. I haven't been restricting her running.
  • Found out over the weekend that one of Boost's teammates came up lame last week. Argh. But the report as of yesterday is that she's looking good and is planning on competing next week.
  • Haven't heard anything more from USDAA about whether for sure we've been assigned a draw 3rd for Tika's team. Other people tell me that they just leave you hanging until you get there. Presumably that's to keep people like my partner from saying "I'm entered only in team and there's no point in going if we don't have a 3rd" and bailing out. I can only hope that the earlier response, "If you teammate withdraws her entry. I will place one of the dogs I have entered as a draw on your team," really means that we really will have a 3rd, since our teammate withdrew her entry later that day. But it would have been nice for them to send a confirmation to us that they've acknowledged our teammate's withdrawal and that they do have a draw for us (it's been over 2 weeks since she withdrew and 5 days since my last email query). I realize that this is a huge show and they've got a lot to do. Still, we're the ones paying the bills--
  • Now that it's almost here, I'm getting excited about it again. I do like going. I am working on being upbeat and optimistic about our chances for everything. I have great teammates (at least, the ones I have left).
  • Our last practices before Scottsdale: Any day at home in the yard, where I can refresh contacts, work on rear crosses and serpentines, practice some snooker moves. Thursday night in class; I'm planning on leaving Tika at home, which I never do, I don't know how she's going to react to that. Unfortunately I'll miss Power Paws' annual pre-Nationals practice this weekend while I'm off at my photography seminar. And then Monday, at home in the yard again. I just don't have time this week to take a couple of extra hours up at Power Paws. Although...jeez...Boost sure needs that work with wider-open spaces. Crud. Crud.
  • One of my teams has a shirt designed & printed. The other team...well, I've been busy, one person has scratched, and we haven't even talked about it. I wonder if it's too late for some kind of rush job. But... what?

T-shirt for Kevin with Jill, Lisa with Carson, and Ellen with Boost, hereafter known as Handling Distortion (thanks, Kevin, for a great job and Spinal Tap for inspiration!):

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Team Troubles for Nationals

SUMMARY: Losing a team member hurts.

One of my teammates for Nationals, for Tika's team, has found out that her father, who is quite ill, will most likely be in the hospital by the time Scottsdale rolls around, so she can no longer commit to going. I don't envy her situation at all, having someone close to her be so ill.

But that does leave us other two in a bind. Remember, this was the team of people who weren't going to go and all talked each other into going at the last minute. Closing date for entries is long past, so we can't talk someone else into going in her place. No one else in the huge Bay Team apparently entered as a draw. So we don't have a 3rd.

If we don't have a 3rd, then that means each of our dogs would be doing only 2 or maybe 3 runs for the whole week without the additional 4-5 for team. And that would really suck. It would suck enough, in fact, that our other teammate says that if we can't confirm a 3rd before we go, he'll cancel out, too, because it's way too expensive for just one dog and only 2 runs, both of them the extra-don't-really-count-for-fun runs.

I've just sent email to the USDAA trial secretary asking what's the process for finding an entered 3rd.

Life often hands one some interesting challenges, eh?

Meanwhile, Boost's team ("Handling Distortion") already has a t-shirt design, thanks to teammate Jill's human dad. And it'll be purple, too. Good color choice.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Another One of Those Team Days

SUMMARY: Neither dog's team qualified.

Boost can't do weaves again. Out of 7 sets of weaves done today, she popped out one weave early 6 of those times. Argghhh! We came home and did a bunch of weaves with distractions again and I managed to get her to pop out early a couple of times and then fix it. So we'll see for tomorrow.

In fact, reliable Tika popped out early on one set, too, in the closing of the Time Gamble, which means that her very respectable opening points turned into a merely mediocre run. She seems to be doing that more often--will have to go back and check my stats.

Boost had so many refusals, runouts, and knocked bars today that I couldn't even remember most of them when I'd come out of the ring. I wanted one good run with her! But nooo. She had an Elimination with an offcourse in Relay (I could've handled it better, but she should've just gone into that dang tunnel), an Elimination with an offcourse in Jumpers (ran past the 3rd jump and into the next obstacle), an elimination on refusals in Standard, the lowest points of any dog in the Gamble (because I kept trying the *#*&% weaves), and not very good points in Snooker, what with knocked bars and popping out of weaves. A just sucky day. One of our partners did very well, our other partner was having a day something like Boost's. But in fact we didn't finish last! Maybe 4th from last of 29 teams.

Tika had a beautiful Jumpers run and placed third of 24(?) 26" dogs on a course where a high percentage Eliminated. It was our only really nice run of the day with either dog. Her standard run was OK but with a refusal and a bar on a course where a high percentage eliminated, so I wasn't entirely dissatisfied. Her Snooker run was decent but she flew off the dogwalk contact so missed 7 points; again, I was pleased to get all the way through the course, but here we are in Flyingoffcontactland again. Her Relay run was OK but I forgot where I was going twice (in 11 obstacles--go figure) and so we had a couple of refusals on stupid handler tricks.

Altogether an unsatisfying day and I was unhappy with myself and with Boost.

I try to remind myself that any day doing agility with my dogs is a good day, and to consider the alternatives. But it's so hard. And I hate feeling like I've wasted my $50 each again. It's so frustrating when, by the third run of the day, your team has bombed so thoroughly that you know that you can't possibly qualify, but you just need to tough it out. I try to then pretend that it's just fun practice, but really it feels like I'm just piling failure on failure, where at least with individual classes, each one is a fresh chance to Q and redeem yourself.

Ah, well, tomorrow's another day. And I do like being around my agility friends, and I try not to share my self-pity too much. I will try very hard tomorrow to just not do that. We'll see--

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Steeplechase and Team Courses

SUMMARY: Several courses were interesting in their challenges this weekend. Here are some.

Steeplechase, both rounds

Round 1 of the Steeplechase on Saturday I enjoyed because it had a pleasing sort of symmetry to it and it also ran fast and smooth.

Round 2 on Sunday was more challenging. In particular, the broad jump tucked up into the corner of the ring gave a lot of people problems, in part because they were starting their motion for the turn early, pulling their dogs too soon, and in part because it was aimed straight into the corner, where dogs don't usually like to go (although there was no solid wall there). Many dogs hit the spreads in the broad jump, and a few went between the side poles.

Round 2 seemed to invite knocked bars, and people also dealt with the 16-17-18 sequence in various ways, and some had trouble with it (going from Aframe to #10).

The entry to the weaves also proved to be a time-waster for a number of people whose dogs missed it, and it was handled in several ways: Running from the start with the dog on your right and pulling, starting with the dog on your right and doing a front cross between 3 and 4, leading out to the right side of #3 and treating #3 as a serpentine (which I did with both of my dogs and had no trouble at all with the weave entry).

Team Standard

This course provided a tremendous number of off-course opportunities and less dire handling challenges, and I believe that nearly half the dogs eliminated on this one.

The 1-2-3-4 sequence gave some people problems; there were offcourses after 3 both to the Aframe and into the tunnel. Most people had no trouble with the 4-5-6, although Tika (on my right) almost went into the RIGHT end of #6, which I hadn't anticipated, but somehow she stopped before putting a foot in the tunnel, leaped OVER the dogwalk (gulp!) and ducked into the correct end of #6, earning only a runout for 2 faults. I think I saw a couple of other dogs hit the end of the dogwalk instead of going into the #6.

The spot that had the largest clot of people standing and discussing during the walkthrough was the approach to the dogwalk. Most people saw that taking your dog to the right of jump #7 made the approach to the dogwalk extremely difficult, which also made the tunnel to its right extremely inviting (and many dogs ended up there), so most people opted to turn the dog left around #7. That left the question of how to (a) avoid the #20 as an offcourse--which not everyone avoided--and (b) how to get them up the dogwalk instead of into the tunnel, where an unmanaged turn would take the dog. Many people did a front cross between 6 and 7, which wasn't impossible to get to but many people just barely got into place in time and some missed, resulting in various other problems. Some put in an additional front cross between 7 and the dogwalk and then rear crossed the dogwalk, putting them way behind for the push to #9.

I opted for the front cross before 7, did a hard RFP after 7 to be sure the dog came in right next to the upright, then pulled way back to give them a lot of room to the dogwalk and gave the "climb!" command. Both dogs executed perfectly.

The next problem area was 9-10-11-12. Some dogs missed #10, some missed #11, some hit the Aframe or the tunnel on their way through. With Tika, I front crossed between 9 and 10, sent her to 10, and basically serp'ed 11, rear crossing 12. With Boost, I was concerned that she wouldn't catch the 11 if I were on that far side and that she'd then get confused and skip the tire. So I also put in a front cross between 10 and 11, which I had no trouble getting to (and several others also did), but didn't work #11 well and she just skimmed right past it full speed and into the tire. (I drew an incorrect line on the course map above; she did take 10 and went straight to 12.)

16 to 17 gave a few people problems, although most anticipated that you had to call your dog a bit coming out of the tunnel to get to 17.

Team Snooker

This was an interesting one to watch, and we all got to do so, because the trial ran only one ring at a time. This was a rare, cleverly designed course where the plan wasn't obvious (although many people did variants on the same thing) and, furthermore, where the course was challenging enough all the way through that people's scores ranged fairly smoothly all the way from 0 to the highest of around 54. The crowd cheered for almost every success within the course, or whenever anyone made it through the opening, or certainly for the few who made it all the way through the closing (some ran out of time, too).

Most people started with the red in the lower right followed by the Aframe, although occasionally they opted for the weaves, to the red in the lower left. A few people went from the lower right all the way to the #4 tunnel. I don't remember seeing anyone starting on any other red, or going counterclockwise around the course.

Next was either the #4 tunnel or going around the back of #4 and picking up 6b and 6a.

The path varied among 5s and 6s depending on the dog and whether the handler was doing 3 or 4 reds, usually involving doing either the 5s or the 6s and then running outside past the 5a or 6a to the other red. For example, you could do: red-aframe-red-around the 4 to 6b, 6a, turn left to the upper left red, do 6b 6a again, go around to the upper right red, and do 5a-5b-2.

Most people ended the opening on the 5a (from either side) to 5b and into the #2 tunnel.

My planned path was 1-7-1-4-1 (upper left), around the outside of 6a, to 5a/5b/2 with Boost, and to 5a/5b/red (upper right)/5a/5b with Tika.

Tika, however, went 1-7-4, although I thought I had plenty of time and room to call her away from the tunnel by pulling, rather than by front crossing after the Aframe. Apparently I was wrong. She did hesitate and look at me, and then I moved, thinking I had her, and she was gone. She was far from the only one who bit that.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

DAM(n) Teams

SUMMARY: Teams come, teams go...

After the chaos of the other week, trying to line up all my teams, I FINALLY just this morning got confirmation that I have a team for Tika for the April DAM team tournament--because another team lost their 3rd.

And I just now this afternoon got word that one of Boost's teammates has to have surgery, so now I need a third again for that weekend. And we've still got 2 months to go--what might happen between now and then? Or the June DAM? Or the July DAM? Who knew that agility could have so much suspense and drama?

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Team, Team, Who's Got the Team?

SUMMARY: So many DAM events, so little coherence.

Remember back when you had maybe one DAM tournament every year or two somewhere in the general vicinity of a thousand miles? Those were the days.

In this USDAA-qualifying year, we have/have had five--FIVE!--DAM events within 2 hours of my home. I skipped the one in December because I wanted the time off. Leaves me with:
  • Haute TRACS (HT)in April: A major 4-day event, 4 rings, and not even on a holiday weekend. Team has always been Thursday/Friday there, so I can't even wait for the weekend.
  • NAF in June: A smaller trial--2 rings--by a small club but still popular because of the DAM.
  • Bay Team in July (BT July): The maniacs in my club have now announced our 7th--or is it 8th?!--multiple-ring event of the year on a new weekend, but wait, let's make it 3, maybe 4 days, too!
  • Bay Team SW Regional September (BT Regional): The big one. Three days, FIVE rings, can you believe it?

For the last 2 years, Tika has been teaming with Brenn and I like it. We don't have a steady partner yet since our original came up with glaucoma and can't really compete any more. But I abandoned her for Haute TRACS for a silly name--yes, I talked two other handlers into teaming up with us because our dogs' names, combined, sounded like "Tic-tac-toe". It was a total lark, although the dogs are good, too. So Brenn went off and found another team for HT.

Meanwhile, I had confirmed with Brenn that we'd team with our one-time teammate, Savanna (who came up with "Borderin' on K-Aus", which we used with a different dog at Nationals), at NAF and at BT July.

Boost's sister, Bette, had arranged by email for us to team with Trek for Haute TRACS, who we tried to team with last year but then Trek got injured; we had used the team name "Sisters on a Trek" anyway, with a different team, but now we were goood. Well, found out this weekend that some of the email never arrived, so two of us thought we had a team, and one of us thought we didn't, so Trek was scheduled to be with someone else at HT, leaving us short a teammate.

We both went off and asked other people if they'd be interested in teaming with us at HT--the sister-dog Beck and another blue merle, Fleet, but fortunately one didn't commit right away so I was able to back out of that one, so we think we now have a solid team there with Fleet.

But also I asked Bette's mom whether we wanted to team with Trek at NAF and BT July. Oh, she told me, maybe BT July, but Bette is teaming with Brenn (they're very good friends) for NAF. Well, if you recall from above, I thought that Tika was teaming with Brenn for NAF. So it turns out that Brenn's mom was having the same problem I was having with all these events and had promised to team with Tika and Savanna AND with Bette at NAF.

So I said, OK, how about if Savanna and Tika find someone else for NAF, then, and Boost & Bette & Brenn team for NAF, and then Boost/Bette/Trek for BT July and maybe BT regional. That was OK, so I went off and found Trek's mom and confirmed that we could team with her for NAF and for BT July. Trek's mom said, are you sure, so I went back to Bette's mom, who said yes, NAF and BT July, and I confirmed with Trek. (See, we're already confused about which 2 trials, and the conversations had been only an hour or two apart).

Then I went to Savanna's mom to tell her that oops, Brenn was already committed for NAF, but we're still OK for BT July, so we'd have to find a teammate for NAF. She happened to be standing with the handler for my other tic-tac-toe dog, who had teamed with Savanna at the December DAM, where they had qualified and then were splitting up because of these other promises. We agreed that "tac" would join us for NAF.

Then, at 11:30 Saturday night, I woke in a cold sweat, trying to remember who was teamed with whom and when, and had to get paper and pen to write it all down, and discovered that I had double-booked Boost & Bette for NAF and needed to talk to Trek's mom in the morning, which I did, and she was very nice about it.

But then Savanna's mom came by to say that she had thought we were talking about the BT regional, not BT July (and, actually, I had thought so too originally on all counts except that everyone kept saying, "you mean the July BT, not the regional, right? So then I thought I was the only confused one). In fact, she had planned that, if they qualified again at Haute TRACS, then they wouldn't need to do team again for BT July and could take a rest, especially since it would likely be very hot that weekend. But if we'd be willing to take her tentatively for BT July and reevaluate after HT, she's game, and meanwile would we be willing to commit firmly for the BT Regional? We said yes (so, OK, now I have to start thinking about Boost's team for the regional, and also who to approach as a tentative replacement for Savannah if needed for BT July).

So today I sent email to everyone on my "dance card" to confirm the teams. Turns out that the "toe" handler for "tic-tac-toe" thought that our plans were tentative, so while I've been telling everyone for 3 months about our clever team, she's been making plans to rest up her dog and not overdo it on the 4-day HT trial. And the "tac" part thought that it was tentative and never confirmed, so has her own team. I am apparently a total dork for not having confirmed this thoroughly! So, as of today, I don't have a team for Tika for HT--and pretty much everyone has already settled their teams, especially after the trial this last weekend when everyone could schmooze around. Curses!

Do you follow any of this? Neither do I. I am SO stressed trying to keep track of all of this! And, of course, now having committed to teams, if we DO qualify early-on, it would be awful for me to back out of future teams to save time and money and stress. Sighhhh.... at least additional Qs (I can only hope) will be useful for advanced titles.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It Takes Two To Tango

SUMMARY: Agility photo with me in it.

Photographers tell me that most people don't like having agility photos with them in it. Sure, I like having photos of my dogs doing agility, but I do it, too, dangit; it's a team sport and with either of us missing, it just wouldn't work! So I also like photos that show me running with my dogs. However, usually I have to ask for them.

This, of me and Boost, is from a friend who also does agility and photography and obliged me back in August at the ASCA trial.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Team Results--Finally

SUMMARY: Tika's team not quite top 50%.

USDAA finally posted PDF of the complete team results.
Place/ # of teamsOur total after 4 rdsBest total after 4 rds30th after 4 rdsNotes
105/201 670.13 936.51809.83 Would've been nice to crack the top 50%, and I'd thought we might have done so with our gamblers runs, but oh well.
Summary: Considering that our team had one E, two less-than-ideal Snooker runs, and accumulated 40 faults, I'm happy to be near the middle.

Speculation, because I can: If we had all finished our Snookers as planned (not inconceivable--we didn't pick hard courses, but had a knocked bar in the closing in one case and lost one's brain in the other case), and if we'd avoided the E because of the broad jump challenge in jumpers (but still had that first bar down), we'd have probably finished about 34th with 804.19 points. We'd have needed 6 fewer fault points (which translates to 2 fewer actual faults) or 5 more snooker or gamblers points among us to make the finalist 30, and that's really asking a lot all around. I'm still amazed that we got in last year. That was just our year!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Team the Third Day

SUMMARY: A little better

On Saturday morning, our team standing had gone up to 115 out of 201 after all three classes so far (Jumpers, Snooker, Standard) had been combined.

We did reasonably well in Gamblers. The opening gave fairly easy options for accruing points if you had reliable contacts and good weave entries, and the closing allowed you to collect as many jumps at 3 points each as you could. The trick was that, if you took *any* other obstacle during the closing, or if you didn't cross the finish line before your time was up, you lost all of your closing points.

Tika has a known issue with bar knocking, although she'd been doing well so far this weekend. And she didn't get most of her contacts the day before. Still, I had great confidence in her ability to make a good weave entry even from a greater than 90-degree angle, so I planned a course that had me running across her path as she descended the A-frame to try to force her to get her feet into the contact zone.

That strategy worked well, and she got her back-to-back 7-point weave poles perfectly. I don't think that we could have managed any more opening points; we had 34 and the highest-scoring big dog had 41 in the opening, but that was Tala (Boost's mom), and Tika just cannot cover the ground or the weave poles flat out like Tala can. We also managed 5 jumps in the closing, which was pretty good; a very few dogs got 6 (including Tala) but I saw as many attempting 6 who didn't cross the finish in time and lost those points.

Overall, Tika placed 30th of 145 dogs or so, and teammate Brenn was right there at 32nd. Trane took a fairly conservative course, since his substitute handler wasn't as familiar with him, and also bobbled a tough teeter entry (again a result of unfamiliarity with the dog) so didn't score super-high, but didn't crap out, either.

I wasn't able to see our final standings--too much of a crowd around the single book in which they placed team standings for all 200 championship plus 100 performance teams (total of about 800 people trying to look in the same book)--but I'm hoping that that at least pushed us into the top 50%. Not as nice as being in the top 30 in th finals like last year, but oh well! Better than Tika's teams the first 2 years in Scottsdale!

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Team the Second Day and Grand Prix

SUMMARY: We survived Team Standard but not Grand Prix.

We ran Grand Prix first this morning, around 10:30. I fixed her start-line stay problem from yesterday with one session at the practice jump this morning, because she actually broke her stay just with that one jump in front of her. (Usually she's clever enough to realize that it's "merely" a practice jump and just waits patiently.) So I was able to lead out to an advantageous position, although watching her carefully this time.

Our opening was lovely; she kept her bars up even on a couple of tight turns, but then got called on the Aframe contact. Then I sent her into the weave poles and moved laterally away from her to layer the next jump to try to get more speed to make up for the 5-point fault. However, Tika, the absolutely reliable weaver whom I can leave in the poles and go do just about anything on course, popped out of the last pole and I was in no position to do anything except let her continue for an off-course.

It's SO disappointing; I just want to make semifinals once in her life! On the way to the Grand Prix ring, I had a flash of --I dunno--reality? I thought, "Hey, you're at the national championships, the weather is great, you're running with your dog and you're both healthy and love doing agility; what could possibly be more important?" But it didn't hold through our run; it was so hard to keep enthusiasm for rewarding her after the run (we left the ring doing obstacles at my direction to keep her off my feet) when I just wanted to sit in a corner and cry.

I talked myself out of the funk fairly quickly, but it was tough.

Team: After our unfortunate first day of competition, Borderin' on K-Aus (our team) sat in 150th place out of 201 teams. At least we weren't last.

The Team Standard course, in my opinion, was moderately challenging but nothing that dogs of National Qualifying caliber couldn't handle, but many dogs Eed on this course. Tika handled smoothly all the way through, although this seems to be the weekend when her contacts have gone to na-na land: The judge faulted both her dogwalk and A-frame down contacts.

HOw funny that, a year ago, we ran Power & Speed and I was very confident of her ability to get through the contacts/weaves portion because she so reliably got contacts. We've been fighting these alleged running contacts all spring and summer and it's biting us today. I worry about gamblers tomorrow; our ability to get points on the Aframe is often a benefit to our score.

She might have knocked a bar, too, but none of us could remember. Teammate Brenn got called for both the up and the down on the dogwalk and a bar, but made the Aframe for a change. Teammate Trane knocked a bar. But none of us Eliminated. Woohoo!

In team standard, each dog starts with 120 points and then the running time and faults are subtracted from that. So, subtracting 10-15 points for faults each for 2 dogs isn't nearly as bad as losing the whole 120 points if you go offcourse.

I didn't see any team standings before leaving yesterday, but I'm guessing that we moved up in the standings a bit by not eliminating on that round. Gamblers tomorrow.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

DAM Team and Strategies

SUMMARY: My teams. Our plan: Run fast, run clean, don't get greedy.

For all the thousands of photos I've taken, it never occurs to me to get photos of us with our pairs partners or DAM teammates. Dangies.

Tika and Brenn the Border Collie have been on the same DAM team continuously for two years now. Unfortunately we've not had constant partners. I still think of it as Brenn's team that Tika's on; that's because, originally, at the beginning of the 2006 season, Brenn and Skeeter the ACD were looking for a 3rd (their moms are good friends) and I invited myself to join them.

The team of T/B/S failed to Q our first time out (that story, a tragicomedy of errors, was told elsewhere in this blog: here and here). The second time, S's mom had committed to a different team, so T/B found another dog--who had to withdraw at the last minute due to an injury. We found yet another dog, a good one with a good handler. On the day of the trial, that handler messed up her knee and couldn't run and her dog wouldn't run with anyone else.

For the next Team event, T/B/S were back together with a new name, "Three's a Charm," and we barely squeezed out a team Q. We went to Nationals with that name, where--much to our surprise--we made it to the finals and placed 22 of over 200 teams. We were ready to be together forever. We even had nifty team shirts, which you KNOW is critical to success.

Then Skeeter went blind. Well--she's actually doing not badly, for a dog with glaucoma. There was a while where her mom thought she'd be completely blind in a very short time, but with medication, she's leading a pretty normal life. It's just that her vision is limited, so, her agility career is mostly over. Which is particularly too bad for Three's A Charm, because she was the most reliable dog on the team. Not the fastest, but I'd say the least likely to E.

This year we've teamed with 3 different partners and Qed with all of them, but two had already committed to other teams for Scottsdale and the third had to be arm-twisted to do team at all and doesn't feel that his knee and skill are up to Scottsdale. We just want to go and have fun again, and have a chance to let ourselves really drive without worrying about Qs.

Team Strategy

Which brings us to strategies for Team.

First, you must decide whether you want a Q or to go for the proverbial gold. Jim Basic says that DAM is basically a gimmee and it's almost impossible not to Q. Well, fine for him, but 50% of the teams don't qualify at every DAM event, and I and my dogs have been in that lower 50% most of the time. So my focus, if we haven't already all Qed, is on merely Qing.

Which means that our team strategy has been: "Don't eliminate and don't get greedy." The first applies to Standard, Jumpers, and Relay, and the latter to Snooker and Gamblers.

Don't eliminate: Team scoring for Standard, Jumpers, and Relay is similar: The team starts with a certain number of points per dog and then you subtract your time and your faults--but if you Eliminate (go offcourse or get at least 3 refusal faults), you lose all of your dog's points. For example, in the relay, each dog starts with 150 points (450 for the whole team). If all three of you run clean, your total time might be 60 seconds, for a final score of 390. But if one of you Es and you still take 60 seconds, you lose 150 for the E and then your 60 seconds also, for a score of 240. So Eing really hurts.

Standard gets 130 points per dog; Jumpers 110.

So the "don't E" strategy is to run conservatively, to do anything you have to do to avoid Eing because 5-point faults don't matter nearly as much as losing the whole kit and kaboodle. Might mean don't rev your dog up as much so that they're more under control when you run. You probably won't win the class that way, but you're more likely to avoid the E.

Don't get greedy: In Snooker and Gamblers, your earned points are multiplied by a factor to make them comparable to your other scores. So, for example, if it's expected that the highest-scoring dogs might earn 50 points, they might use a factor of 1.5 to give a total of 75 points towards the team total.

It's harder to "E" in these classes and earn 0 points... well, er, I've done it... but you're more likely to earn *some* points. If your focus is on Qing, though, you're in god shape if your scores are near or above average. (Interestingly enough, if all 3 dogs achieve average in all their classes, the team overall is likely to place fairly high because of the high price for crashing and burning.) So you want a reasonable number of points, but you don't want to be aggressive with risky courses that might drop your point totals too low if you blow it.

In the Gamble, which has typically been a Time Gamble, the "don't get greedy" really comes into play. You earn points in the opening as usual, then, when the first whistle blows, you get double the points from there to the finish line. The rub is that you must cross the finish line before the second whistle blows, or your lose all your doubled points. So it's better to have some points doubled than to go for a huge number of doubled points and lose it, because you drop way below average if you don't get some.

How our Strategy Worked

Our team had a couple or three popped contacts (5 faults each in Standard and Team) and some refusals (2 faults each), but our dogs are all naturally fairly fast, so our times were good. We had only one E in Jumpers, with a fairly aggressive send to a jump that the dog came around and took the next obstacle for an offcourse. But it was a tough jumpers course--fully 1/3 of the dogs Eed, so it was a survivable E--with 38th being an average placement, we were 39th in Jumpers overall.

Huh--I thought we all survived Standard, too, but apparently one of us Eed there, too, so we didn't do well in that--61st of 75 teams.

We all did comfortable snooker courses that were all different, since we have different strengths (e.g., Tika did two A-frames, but the others avoided that since they have contact issues). Again, the dogs are fairly fast and we didn't do anything sexy, and we ended up 9th of 75 teams in Snooker.

In Gamblers, there were lots of choices for flowing courses, and some good options for doubling points, so everyone could choose courses for their dogs' strengths. Don't get greedy, I reminded myself repeatedly, but I timed my planned doubled obstacles over and over so that I'd know, based on when the first whistle blew, what exactly I could do in the 12 seconds I was allowed. So--Tika was a tad slower than I had planned in the opening, so instead of finishing my opening with a teeter and ending with a chute/teeter, I started the closing with the teeter/chute...and I had timed it so that I knew that it would take me about 10 to 11 seconds to do two teeters and the chute and get over the finish line. That's aggressive and probably greedy, but dammit I had timed it. We just couldn't afford any bobbles, not one, and I had to release her off the teeter contact the instant her foot was in the yellow and the teeter hit the ground. So I did it, we raced for the finish, we made it, for a pretty high closing total. With--as I checked later--.14 seconds to spare from losing it all.

So Tika placed 7th of 53 in the team gamble and our team placed 15th of 75, and Tika earned 10 points more than she would have if I had been conservative. This is important later.

In the Team Relay, the other important strategy is: If you E on your portion of the relay, race back to the finish line or to hand off the baton to the next person on your team, because you've already lost your 150 points and any more time you take is like taking it away from other team members' points.

With a really off-the-wall E on Brenn's part (she had a beautiful dogwalk contact but apparently, in stopping quickly, moved all 4 feet off the dogwalk and then put one foot backwards onto the contact zone), Brenn's mom had the presence of mind not to continue her portion of the relay--two u-turns, a teeter, a chute, and 2 jumps, I believe--and hand off the baton. We figure this saved about 10 seconds. This is also important.

Because--with the Es in standard and jumpers and the E in the relay, we barely Qed, placing 38th of 38 Qing teams. The thing is--we were only 10 points away from the 39th-place team. So--if Tika hadn't gotten that last teeter in the gamble--or if Brenn hadn't run back and handed off the baton in the relay--we probably wouldn't have Qed.

But we did. I'm happy, they're happy, now we just need a team for Nationals.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Team Names

SUMMARY: The fun thing about doing 3-dog Team Tournaments

The three-dog Dog Agility Masters (DAM) Team tournament isn't offered all that often, because it requires five classes--none of which are qualifying for normal titles--which is pretty much an entire day of competition. However, it is a qualifier for one of the three main Nationals events, and now your Championship title requires that you earn at least one of those DAM[n] qualifiers. So it's being offered much more often than it used to be.

One fun thing about it is that, unlike any other event, you get to create a team name that reflects yourselves, your dogs, your attitudes, your cleverness, or anything else that you want it to reflect. That's not to say that it's not perfectly OK to name your team after your dogs--e.g., "Fluffy, Fido, and Fang" if those are your dogs. Some people do that. But the rest of us spend weeks agonizing over just the right clever name, which NO one will ever pay any attention to except us, and maybe the trial secretary as she types it into the database.

For our Labor Day trial, Boost is on a team with her sister Bette; our third is Maiya, whose name is Klingon for "friend". So we are Sisters on a Star Trek.

Tika and Brenn are teaming once again; last DAM trial and for Labor Day with different dogs, but both border collies. In other words, our team has two Border Collies plus Tika, my famous Aussie[probably]. And we all have our issues with, say, dogs flying off contacts or grabbing our feet or such. So we are Borderin' on K-Aus. (Say it out loud.) (Thanks, Gwen, for the name.)

I just got email from a friend whose teeny tiny dog is on a team with another teeny tiny dog (toy dogs would be the correct terminology) and a very large Border Collie named Fleet. They debated Fleet plays with toys, but finally agreed on Gulliver's Travels (because they have two Lilliputians and a Brobdingnagian).

More Old Team Names

All my old team names that I've been able to glean so far. Seem to be missing some trial info for at least 3 trials that I know we did Team in (and I save EVERYthing, so I wonder where it all is?).

  • Sept '01: Dream Weavers (Jake, Haley, and Mysti: We wore shirts with photos of our dogs doing the weave poles)
  • Sept '01(?): BT Cruisers (because we're from the Bay Team; after the newly introduced PT Cruiser; Boomer, Spike, and Remington)
  • April '03: Sound and Furry (Tika, who runs quietly, and Tally Ho! and Squeeze, aussies who bark while running)
  • Sept '04: AT&T (Annie, Tika, and Trane)
  • April '05: No Ex-Qs ("No Excuse" and "Qs" for qualifying scores) (Tika, Spike and Magoo)
  • Sept '05: Got Legs? (three very tall, long-legged dogs: Tika, Haley, and Jasmine)
  • Nationals '05: G'Day Bayou (Tika the Australian Shepherd, JJ the Australian Cattle Dog, and CateE the Catahoula Leopard Dog)
  • April '06: Aussie Skeetering on the Border (Tika the Aussie, Skeeter, and Brenn the Border Collie)
  • May '06: Two Stars and A Little Sparkle (Tika, Brenn, Sparkle--although Sparkle was replaced before the event so I don't know what name we actually ended up using. Something like "Last Minute Substitution")
  • Sept '06: Three's a Charm (Tika, Brenn, Skeeter; this was Tika & Brenn's third try at a Q after failing the previous 2 times, and we wanted a new name; so, there are there of us and three times is a charm. It seems to have worked.)
  • Nov '06: Three's a Charm (Tika, Brenn, Skeeter)
  • Nov '06: Bee Gees (Boost, Gryphon, and Gryffindor)
  • April '07: Two Bigs and a Bit (Tika, Brenn the border collie, and Roxy the Papillon)

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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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