Sunday, February 23, 2003

Tika: Big Ups and Downs

What an interesting weekend. After her first two trials, where everything was clicking, things went from awesome down to horrible this weekend. I think I learned a lot. I hope she learned some things, too, and that they weren't the wrong things.

We had 7 runs--I must tediously say something about each for my future reference. At least read "Grand Prix"--

Pairs Relay: A standard numbered course but one team does the first half and the other team does the 2nd. Tika had a nice run, did a Touch on her contact but didn't stick there, missed a weave entrance when I got overconfident and didn't work it, but she wasn't faulted for it at the Novice level. Her partner made a couple of errors, though, so we didn't place. That's fine--I just want the practice in the ring. Very light on the stay at start line--I think she might have taken off when I raised my arm instead of waiting for "OK."

Standard: Definitely light on start-line stay--or maybe didn't stay-- Again did touch on Aframe but didn't stick, even though I was waiting for her to do so. The next to last obstacle was the dogwalk and she just raced past the end for a popped-contact fault; I made her come back to me and then sent her over the last jump. So no placement there (lots of high-quality novice dogs jumping 26"!)

Grand Prix Qualifier: This is a standard numbered course except that it's a special regional class that qualifies you to compete in the (Inter)National championships. So it's a masters level course, competing against all 26" dogs, mostly Masters level, many of whom have competed in the final round of National Championships before (or at least their handlers have)--and of all the dozens of dogs at her height, she not only ran clean, but did it fast enough to place 8th! It took me 4 years with Remington, I think, before we ever qualified in a Grand Prix. She was definitely hitting her contacts but not sticking them, and I think I might've been a little excited out there--

Gamblers: Last class of the day Saturday, and I made a mistake--let her play with her boyfriend Travis in his pen for half an hour or maybe even longer because I forgot she was in there. Pulled her out about 45 minutes before her Gamblers run, but she was obviously a bit more subdued before we went into the ring--then everything that I could've imagined might go wrong did. I dont' recall whether she stayed at the start line, but she ran past a number of obstacles instead of taking them, jumped up and barked and grabbed at me after almost all of them, popped her dogwalk contact completely, missed her weave pole entrance (which was partly my fault for not handling it and partly hers for popping the DW), jumped onto the teeter sideways--and then got down to business when the gamble whistle blew and did a perfect gamble. So we had a mere 5 (!) opening points, purely by accident, I assure you, but still managed to place 4th because the gamble was worth 20 points and most novice dogs didn't get it.

Sunday Snooker: Rachel, our instructor, pointed out in a firm instructor-like manner that I needed to get my excited handler act together and make sure that Tika sticks her contacts. She said that it's clear that Tika knows what she's supposed to be doing, and if I have to take her off the course when she doesn't stick them so that she doesn't get to play, so be it. Indeed. I know she's right. SNOOKER is another kind of cool course in which you invent your own opening sequence following a few specific rules. So I created an opening sequence that started with jump-Aframe-jump-Aframe. Before we went into the ring, we practiced a bunch of touches with a target on the flat ground, then without a target on the flat ground, then coming down a convenient flight of stairs, then again on the ground right before going into the ring. She blasted off the first Aframe and I made her come back to me and do a touch on the flat before going on, and then she blasted right off the 2nd Aframe. This time she wouldn't come back to do a touch on the flat, barked and circled and then put herself through a tunnel. I called her to me, made her do a down, and took her off the course.

Someone I know--who saw a lot of Tika when she was a freshly rescued dog-- met me and said what wonderful control I have with Tika. I grumbled about popping contacts, and she said yes, but look, you called her and she came, you told her to Down and she did so immediately. I guess she's right-- I just don't want to get into situations like that, where she stops coming & stops downing because she knows that means she's going to be taken off the field.

Standard: We did a whole lot more Touches going down the stairs. She hasn't done them going down stairs before, so I think she was a little unclear on the idea of where the bottom of the stairs were, but mostly she did good, and got better as we practiced. She stayed at the startline. She slammed down the Aframe into a 2-on, 2-off pose but she was going so fast that her butt just kept going and she didn't stick it, but she did stop and look at me, so I made her do a touch (she just barely did a dip of the head, but I thought, well, she tried to stop--) and continued the run.

She hit the dogwalk--and it's hard to explain, but I could see halfway through that she suddenly wasn't focused on me or on the dogwalk, but on something out in front of the dogwalk and that she had no intention of stopping. I figured it was the next obstacle and that she just didn't want to stop her forward progress. She fairly launched herself from the downramp, and to my surprise went *past* the next obstacle and then started trying to get around the solid wall on that end of the ring--she was dashing back and forth along it, and at one point I thought she was going to scramble out between the rungs of the open fence on the other side. She was oblivious to me and to "come", and I had to get her under control and get out of the ring. Finally realized that she loves agility so much--I lined myself up between her and a random jump, called to her to come "hup," which she did instantly, then I spun and said "Come" as on a sharp turn, and she came right to me and, again, I had to take her out of the ring. Sigh.

Then I discovered, when I took the dogs for a quick potty right after that, that the ranch had just stashed a bunch of cows in a little ring IMMEDIATELY on the opposite side of that solid wall that she'd been facing on the top of the dogwalk, and that you could SEE the cows from the top of the dogwalk! It's not a great excuse--there are rules the dogs gotta follow to be allowed to play in the ring--but it certainly explains what happened there.

Jumpers: Last run of the weekend. No contact obstacles! Just a numbered course with jumps and tunnels. Stayed nicely at the startline but I tried a stupid lead-out trick, thinking I could get ahead of her. I had barely taken a step or 2 of the 6 I wanted to take, and she went blasting by me. Afterwards I thought how totally dumb I was to think I could do this--I'm not really all that fast, and this is a dog who covers 17 feet per second on a jumpers course! Sheesh. So she went past one jump and I had to call her back around, then I was out of position and called her at the wrong time for another jump and she knocked a bar--again called late on another one for another knocked bar--but in-between she was barely touching the ground, she was moving so fast. I was handling her, barely, 20 or 30 feet away from her, which disoriented me and I misjudged which jump I needed to turn her to so I called her off the RIGHT jump, so had to go back around and try again. So we were clean except for 2 knocked bars, but wasted a lot of time on circling back around. But she paid great attention to me and--and--MAN, she's fast!

The Future: Rachel says she has some suggestions for us and we'll talk about them next time. They involve taking a time out and regrouping. I wonder whether she'll suggest that we ought not to be competing in the next 5 weekends for which I'm already registered--yikes-- I promise I'll be a good handler! Really I do! Our first two full weekends were so awesome, I figured we'd be taken down a notch or two eventually, and this certainly did it (but whoever was counting notches misjudged by allowing us to Q at 8th place in the Grand Prix! :-) )

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