Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Casey Teaches Me A Lesson

In fact, I'm not sure who taught whom.

I'm a big believer in teaching all agility obstacles from all sides at all times. So, if I'm teaching weave poles, we practice equal quantities of the dog entering on my left and on my right from both ends of the weaves. If teaching tunnels, we practice equal quantities of the dog entering from my left and from my right to both ends of the tunnel.

I haven't worked a lot with Casey, although he's a smart, fast, agile little guy. Mostly what I have taught him is tunnels and some jumping. He can usually, with a little backchaining, do a couple or 3 jumps or jump/tunnel/jump in a row.

With the nationals and all, I hadn't really been doing anything with Casey for a couple of weeks. So I decided it was time to put him through a couple of tunnels. Lo and behold, somewhere along the line he has learned to NOT go through a tunnel when I am on his left and I am aiming him at the left side of the tunnel.

I thought perhaps it was something about Tunnel #1 in the northeast corner of the yard. But nooooo-- for all 3 tunnels, he will go into the right end no matter which side I'm on. He will go into the left end if I am on his right. But he will not go into the left end if I am on his left.

I even tried to trick him by sending him in quick succession into the right side with me on his right, then on his left, then into the left side with me on his right, then with me on his left--and he skids to a halt and won't go in.

Dagnab the little brat!

Dogs Who Hear Quite Well, Thank You Very Much

With all the brouhaha (brouhaha?) (Yes, brouhaha) about Jake's hearing going, it's quite intriguing to realize how acute Tika's hearing is.

The other evening, I was sitting in my office. That's behind a desk. Jake was looking at me. Tika was upstairs napping, presumably on my pillow which is excellent for those of us with allergies and who love inhaling dog hairs while trying to drop off to sleep. I hardly ever invite Jake up on my lap any more because Tika gets jealous and wants attention, too. I've tried ignoring her but she's evil--I think I talked a year or so ago about how she'd go and find a squeaky, squeak it (which is not part of her normal repertoire, thank you very much), and Jake would leap off my lap to go see what the brouhaha (brouhaha? ... never mind) was all about. Then of course she'd come over and point out that my hands were now free for petting other dogs.


So I thought about this. Jake is looking at me. Tika is on the other side of the desk, around the corner, up half a flight of stairs, around a U-turn, up the other flight of stairs...all the turns and corners with walls in the way, mind you...around the corner, into my bedroom, around the corner, and muffled all snug as a bug with my pillow and down comforter fluffling up around her ears.

I thought to myself, thought I, "I'll bet Tika won't be able to hear Jake leap into my lap. On top of being up the stairs, around a corner, etc. [I often think "etc." to myself], he is standing on carpet, so his toenails will make no sound when he leaps. Plus the washer and dryer are both running full out [being dedicated overachieving appliances as they are], so it will deaden the sound of, say, his soft little feet hitting my soft little lap [no observations necessary]."

So I gently patted my chest, the signal for Jake to come up. He leaped. His tags didn't even jangle. I didn't even hear him make much more than a tail-fur-brushing-against-air-molecules sort of sound.

And, an instant after he landed on my lap, I heard kerTHUNKthunk from upstairs, which is the sound of a Tika leaping from a bed, and then the sound of toenails in a rattled tumbling down the wooden-plank stairs, and then Tika skidded into the room around the desk to see why Jake got to be in my lap while I wasn't petting her.

How did she know???

I refused to pet her. I guess she couldn't find a squeakie [spelling arbitrarily changes at the writer's whim], because she vanished and reappeared with a nice shakable toy, which she proceeded to shake vigorously and growl and leap about in Jake's sight. Well, Jake, whose brain molecules don't always cohere into something useful, decided that meant it was playtime and leaped off my lap to go find his own toy.

Of course it was not play time. I was working. But he lost his opportunity to hang out on my lap and offer technical advice about the content of the scripting guide I was working on.

Tika wanted to know why I wasn't petting her.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Bombed at CPE Nationals

Welllllll after we had such a lovely weekend the 5th and 6th, we totally bombed at the CPE Nationals last weekend. The dogs were mostly running nicely but through a combination of flubs, each dog qualified in only 3 out of 9 runs. And we managed only one first the whole time.

All of my Wed. night classmates who do CPE managed to *win* their height/level groups from a combined score over 3 Standard runs for the weekend. It's humiliating to be the only one in our class who didn't win and who wouldn't run in the final (optional) round. One classmate chose not to run her dog because the final run was a fast, Steeplechase-like run in the inside arena that had to be about 100 degrees.

They did award 2nd-place Standard winners for each height/level group, too, and Jake managed to take 2nd--pretty much for showing up, since there was ONLY one other dog in his height/level category. Sigh.

The horrible blow-by-blow weekend:

There were about 250 dogs entered for the weekend. We've had some very good weekends at CPE trials, my dogs are running well, I feel relaxed and confident. I would love to earn High In Trial, but I'm pretty sure that'll require earning either all Qs or maybe just one nonQ for the weekend.

FRIDAY
Full House
This is a point-accumulation game. Jumps are 1 point, tunnels and tires are 3, and there are 3 designated obstacles worth 5 points--in this case, a 6-pole weave and two double jumps. Usually the 5-pointers are harder to do or harder to get to. You can take each obstacle twice for points. You must get at least three 1s, two 3s, and one 5.
Tika excels because she is so fast and so responsive. We are seldom beaten by anyone on points in this game at any height or level. I pick a nice smooth course with a zillion points and my main concern is whether I'll run out of obstacles before time is up. I put her in a sit-stay and lead out confidently to the far side of the course, turn around--and she is standing up PAST the start line, so the clock has already started. She hasn't done this in many runs over several trials. In a regular trial, I'd probably have taken her off the start line and put her away. But it's the first run of a 3-day weekend and what counts this weekend are Qualifying scores to go for overall high in trial. So I let her run. We've hardly started, flowing beautifully, no knocked bars, when the whistle blows. I checked with the timer afterwards; she wasted at least 7 out of our available 30 seconds, standing there over the start line. We do indeed earn enough to qualify, but barely enough to be noticed. 3rd out of 6 dogs. No blue ribbon.

Jake runs a fairly nice, smooth but not fast course for a decent number of points, but 3 points less than the fastest dog, so a Q and a 2nd.

Wildcard
This is essentially a short standard course, but at 3 points in the course you must choose one of 2 obstacles, one harder and one easier. We must take *exactly* 2 of the harder and one of the easier. This particular course is a challenging course with lots of options for the dog and tricky changes of sides and such.
Tika handles it beautifully, no bars down, does exactly what I ask of her, gets through all of the difficult parts--and then on the last obstacle I don't call hard enough and she takes the wrong last jump. So we have to circle around to complete the correct one to avoid major faults. Despite being way out of place and having to come back in and take another obstacle, she's less than 4 seconds slower than the dog who took first. She's still good for a third out of 10 dogs, but at her level the offcourse prevents a Q.


Jake is good through most of it but we have a couple of close calls where he does that mysterious turn-in-a-different-direction thing and I just barely managed to call him away from the wrong obstacle twice. But he's slowing way down each time. We manage to be the only one of 3 dogs in our class with a clean run, so we do manage a Q and a 1st. I'm feeling somewhat good about Jake--2 Qs for 2 runs. But we're struggling with his deafness or whatever ails him and he's slowing down as the day goes on.

On the other hand, I'm extremely depressed about Tika's runs.

Colors
This consists of 3 somewhat intertwined courses of 8 obstacles each, each numbered 1 thru 8 in different-colored cones (hence "colors"). You pick one course to run.
Tika Qs in only about half of these, because they prohibit knocked bars and she does have a tendency to knock them. But she's been much better at the last couple of trials and so far today hasn't knocked any. I try a challenging lead-out pivot (yes, she stays at the start line), but when I release her, she runs *past* the second jump. So I have to run back towards the beginning, circle her around to avoid a backjump (which would be an offcourse); she comes with me nicely but--knocks the bar as she finally goes over it. At this point, I'm also on the wrong side for the rest of the course. We get through the rest of it with several spins and bobbles, but no other faults. Still, it's NOT that hard for most dogs to Q in Colors, and indeed we're the only ones who don't in a class of 5 dogs.

I run a different course with Jake (I used the course with the dogwalk for Tika because I liked the flow better for a long-strided, fast dog; I used the course with the Aframe for Jake because he often gets a fly-of on the dogwalk). Jake takes off from the start line at only a slow run. We get through the first couple of turns but then he again does that turn-away-from-me bit and I yell yell yell to get him to come back. He looks hard at the wrong obstacle but finally STOPS, turns, and kind of trots back to me. We get back on course and now he's barely trotting. This is the speed he uses when we go out for a walk in the morning! This is not agility speed! We're almost to the last obstacle and we merely have to go in a straight line to the final jump--and again he veers off at a right angle towards the wrong jump. I'm standing there, calling, calling; he slows gradually, almost to a stop, then resumes that miserably slow trot in the right direction. We are, in fact, completely clean. But the course time is NOT that generous when you have only 8 obstacles! Indeed, when the results come up, he is one blankety second over time. No Q. But someone must have done worse than we did, because he's 3rd of 4 dogs.

And that was my first day. One Q with Tika, no blue ribbons. We are probably out of the running, unless things go very badly for everyone else, but we can still get 6 out of 6 for the next 2 days and maybe, just maybe... Jake has a slightly better chance, since he has 2 Qs, but I don't know why he's slowed down so much, and missing a Q by a second is damned depressing. Is he not feeling well? No, half an hour later he's playing frisbee like a madman. Is it something I'm doing? I've been warming him up before his runs with tricks and treats. But I *know* he runs faster if I can get him to play tug of war beforehand. It's just that that takes SO much more work on my part, and then I'm tired when I get into the ring.

Thank the gods Tika is self-propelled. I don't know whether she'd be faster if I played tug before we went in. She couldn't be much faster! I'm more concerned with her about keeping her focused on me before we go into the ring.

All of my friends have all Qs for the day. Or maybe one or 2 of them (we have 25 Bay Teamers there plus of course lots of other people I know fairly well) have missed a Q. But there are Qs and blue ribbons all around me. I am not happy with my day.

SATURDAY

It's going to be a hot day. Warm already when we get up. First run of the day is--

Snooker
This game is also a point-accumulation game, with 2 parts: In the opening, you must take a red 1-pointer followed by a higher-point obstacle, then a different red followed by a higher-pt obstacle (could be the same one), then another different red and another higher-pt obstacle. In the closing, you do the obstacles numbered 2 thru 7 in the correct order. With this kind of set-up, the highest points that you can earn are 51 (1-7-1-7 in the opening and 2-3-4-5-6-7 in the closing). But it depends on where the 7-pointer is located how easy it is to get higher points in the opening.
On this particular course, the 7 is a sequence of 2 jumps and a 6-pole weave pole. The 6 is a combination of a jump and a tunnel. This is going to be a very tricky one, because the jump that's part of 6 is *also* one of the red jumps. So you could do that jump twice followed by the tunnel, which would give you a red and the #6. But you have to remember whehter you were using the jump as a red or as part of #6! The judge also says that if you knock the jump in the opening, it will count as 0 points for the #6 in the closing. Could be an issue with Tika, but ya gotta go for it.

Jake is never fast in competition in the weaves, and he was so slow yesterday. So I don't really want to try #7 in the opening for fear we won't have time to get through the whole thing. But I see almost everyone walking the course with three #6 in the opening because it's fast and flows fairly well. So I decide to start with one #7 and then go into two #6s. I walk several different combinations of all 6s or two 6s and a 7, finally pick a flow that I like, and walk it over and over because the tricky thing with that multipurpose jump. I get him revved up beforehand by playing tug. I have to really work at it, but he looks excited. Sure enough, he blasts away from the startline, whips through #7, and we're on our way to what I know will be a great snooker run. He's very responsive, running quite well, looking at me instead of turning away and looking at other obstacles. We blast through #6 and I suddenly panice, thinking I've already taken the red that we're heading for, so I swerve and take a different red on the way back to our second #6. Jake responds perfectly and happily and quickly--and the judge blows the whistle. Sure enough, I should have taken the red that I was originally aiming for, because I used one of the other reds twice in my sudden panic. Jeez, I've been doing this game for years and I always try to run it as a NUMBERED course (that is, I don't have options on the course--I pick the course, I learn it, I run it that way so I DON'T have to think on course).

So Jake was running beautifully but we were whistled off without even enough points to qualify. And because I stopped and looked baffled when the judge whistled, he called me over to tell me what we did wrong. And as a result I forgot to get to the finish before petting my dog. So we got a no-time and couldn't even get a placement ribbon (even if we'd have had enough points to place).

With Tika, who does lovely weaves and is always fast, I picked a nice flowing opening with two 7s and one 6. She stayed at the start line as I led out. She didn't knock the first red--which is good because then I would've had to try to get to another red instead of the #7 and I'd have never made it on that course. BUT then she knocked the first bar of #7, so I knew we wouldn't get credit for that occurrence. But normally in snooker you can fault an obstacle only once--in other words, if you knock the bar the first time, you don't get credit for that, but you do get credit for it the rest of the time.

She was flying and SO responsive and hit her weave pole entries perfectly. We swooped around for our 2nd #7--and the judge called 0 points a second time! It dawns on me that when the judge was talking about knocked bars, he was talking about ANY bars on ANY obstacle not counting EVER after you've knocked it. Now I know I'm doomed because there's no way I can get enough points to qualify, because I also won't get credit for the #7 in the closing. Tika runs beautifully, knocks no other bars, has no bobbles, gets all the way through the course many seconds faster than the next best dog. But indeed we fail to qualify. I'm in tears--again-- Even if I had realized that I wouldn't have gotten credit for the 2nd 7 in the opening, I would never have been able to make up another course on the fly that took her into, say, #6 instead of back into the #7 I walked. And she ran SO nicely.

Standard
A numbered course of between 14 (minimum at lower levels) and 22 (max at higher levels) obstacles, including all of the contacts, jumps, tunnels, chutes, double jumps, and so on.
Now it's time for the first Standard run of the weekend. Even if we can't get overall high in trial, we could get high in the 3 standard runs and earn an award there. The course is challenging but not as challenging as many we've run and succeeded at.

Again I warm up Jake with tug of war. Again he's pretty darned fast. He even gets his dogwalk contact. But the final stretch has a challenging right-angle entrance to the Aframe that is complicated by the tunnel underneath the Aframe facing the dog. Jake gets a little bit ahead of me, moving very fast, and doesn't react at all to my attempts to call him in my direction and takes the tunnel for an offcourse and there goes our Q.

Tika lies down at the start line after I have led out, so there is nothing I can do about it. Not too happy, because from there she often knocks the first bar. I release her--and she knocks the first bar. This would still be a qualifying run, although only half a Q. She runs it beautifully, including a lovely smooth handling of the threading around the obstacles where Jake went off course. We zoom towards the finish line, just 2 straight jumps, no offcourses possible, and I let up and drop my arm and say "good girl" or some such as she takes the last jump--and she knocks the bar.

Now we don't qualify at all. It was a hard enough course that Tika still places 2nd of 4 dogs. But I wanted the Qs.

Standard Round 2--Another chance at standard, although by now we're probably completely out of the running for any awards.

Again I warm up Jake with tug. Again he's super fast and happy. No bobbles. Challenging course but he handles wonderfully--until in the homestrech, where he has to push away from me to go up the Aframe and avoid going into the tunnel underneath (dang tunnel-under-the-aframe thing this weekend)--and he just isn't PUSHing and sure enough I run out of room and have to veer away and he goes into the tunnel. There goes our Q. But I still want to complete the course correctly. So I call him back, push him out towads the Aframe (he used to have a LOVELY "out") and at the last moment he veers into the tunnel. Repeat a third time. Dagnabbit. At least he looks happy and he's still running at speed.

Tika has a beautiful, nearly flawless run, but then for some reason turns back to me before the last jump (she used to do this often but not in a long time) and when she finally spins to take the jump, she knocks the bar. Half a Q for a 2nd out of 4 dogs, but that's not going to be good enough to save us.

Reno the Corgi, one of our friends with 6 Qs after the first day and the eventual winner of the Standard Final championship

I'm just about ready to pack everything up and go home. One half Q for the whole day. What a sucky weekend. This is quite below our overall average and WAY below our CPE average (Jake's is nearly 70% Qs). Can you say bummed? I know I'm supposed to be having fun, but I *so* believed that we could have been a contender, and we are doing SO badly, and my friends are doing SO well. Even the little dog who isn't built for running and also has a flat pushed in face so finds it hard to breathe has decided that THIS is HIS weekend and is hauling his butt and already has 3 Qs for the weekend! And they earned their Qs and really deserved them, too Most of my friends have 6 for each of their dogs. Not everyone, but all of my Wed classmates anyway. Or maybe they've missed 1. But I just suck. Self-flaggellation continues unabated.

SUNDAY

I am slightly more cheery today. Now I know that I am so far out of the running that it doesn't matter. In fact, I am almost too relaxed. As in, who gives a f**** if we Q, we are so f***** this weekend and f**** it anyway. I am probably not pleasant to be around.

Gamblers
A point-accumulation game with 2 parts. In the first part, you just take as many obstacles as you can to earn points. The trick is to be in a good running position when the whistle blows for the 2nd part, the "gamble", where you have to manage your dog over 4 or 5 obstacles up to 20 feet away from you without crossing the gamble line taped on the ground.
This one is a tough but doable gamble. There are 2 tunnels in U shapes facing each other with a jump in the middle. There is a table back behind the line of those 3 obstacles, between one tunnel and a jump. Dog goes into near side of the first tunnel, so he's coming out the FAR side of that tunnel, over the jump, then into the FAR side of the 2nd tunnel. This is tough because coming out of the first tunnel he's facing the NEAR side of the 2nd tunnel and he's running full speed. So you need to be way out ahead of him as he's going over the jump so you can turn and PUSH him with a good "OUT" command into the far side of the tunnel. Then when he comes out of the near side of the tunnel, you have to get him to turn directly away from you and go out to the table. Both of my dogs are capable of this if *I* handle it correctly.

Tika is first. I've picked an aggressive opening with lots of points. We just get started, and she lawn-darts her Aframe contact! (That is, takes off from up high and lands straight down on the groudn without ever getting her feet in the contact zone.) She hasn't missed a contact in maybe 8 months! We are both surprised, I think. It's not a fault in gamblers, but we do miss 5 points, and I don't want her doing it again, so we do sort of a standing-time-out (I go nowhere, she goes nowhere, which she hates). We go back and do the Aframe again and it's perfect.

But we've lost some time and some points, so I'm going to have to adjust the rest of my opening to make up for the time so I'm in the right place for the gamble. I try to send her *out* to another high-point obstacle instead of running with her, and she goes *around* it! And then she's growfing at me for being unclear and I have trouble turning her to try to get her to try it again, and we're bobbling around in the corenr between a jump and the beginning of the gamble, getting NO points, and the whistle blows. I manage somehow to give her a signal such that she goes OVER the gamble tunnel. That's still not a fault, and I somehow get her into the tunnel, but I'm in a very bad position and furthermore I hesitate as I start to run and look back over my shoulder to be sure she's---ZOOOM! She goes right past me and into the wrong end of the other tunnel, despite my feeble attempts at "OUT"--I'm just not in the right position.

Jake has a lovely opening. Usually he gets quite a few fewer points than Tika because she's so fast and has such good contacts. But he gets his contacts, and alhtough his turns are very wide, I don't actually lose him anywhere on the course and we are in absolutely the most perfect position you could imagine when the whistle blows and he goes into the tunnel and I run like heck and I am in the exact perfect spot and I turn towards him as he heads for the jump and I give a big "OUT!" and a very strong body, arm, and leg signal and I HOLD it so the pressure stays on and he starts to veer towards the var end of the tunnel--and then at the last mmoment turns back and takes the wrong end. Sigh. Maybe if I had REAPEATED the "OUT!" and pushed AGAIN, but sometimes that backfires...

In fact, Jake ends u with *8*!! more points than Tika in the opening.

No Qs again.

We're getting down to the end of the weekend and I feel that I have nothing to show for it. The placement ribbons are lovely huge rosettes, but I don't really care much because they're not coming with the Qs, which are what count.

Jumpers
A very fast numbered course consisting only of jumps of various kinds and tunnels.
But now it's time for Jumpers, which Jake almost always Qs if I can keep him on course these days, and Tika abosolutely LOVES and flies around the course although she does have a history of knocked bars--still, 5 out of her last 6 jumpers runs have been clean. And if she's clean, nobody beats her. It's a very fast course with essentially figure 8s made up of tunnels and jumps, but you have to do some serious call-offs as the dog is flying and there's one nifty 180-degree turn after a 3-obstacle straight run.

We get a chance to watch dozens of dogs on the course ahead of us. A lot of the fast dogs are crashing and burning, but a few are hanging in there. Most of the slower dogs, with times of 30 seconds or more, are doing fine. Tika won't have that kind of time, guaranteed. One dog finished the course clean in something under 23 seconds. A couple of very fast, smooth border collies are at 24 something seconds. We're wondering whether anyone can break 20 seconds on that course.

Sooooooo Tika stays at the start line until released and starts flying. At that danged 180, I call TOO early and call her off the last straight obstacle, and she responds PERFECTLY but I have to spin her around and get her to go out over that jump. That kind of maneuver is usually about 3 seconds. We get back on target and she is FLYING. I almost hardly have to move from the center of the course and she reponds BEAUTIFULLY. But then the last 2 jumps are a sharp 90-degree turn, and--cautious from the last call-off, I call too LATE and she knocks the next-to-last bar. Sighhhh...

She ends up with a course time of 23.52 even WITH that spin-around-missed-obstacle, and at her level she can still Q with a knocked bar, but it also drops her to a mere 2nd place out of about 5 dogs.

Again I warm up Jake with tug. This is working very well. Not only is he faster, but he seems to pay more attention to *me* instead of to obstacles. But, halfway through the course, he *crashes* a jump. Someone said afterwards that it's as if he didnt' see it until the last moment (it was a turn after a tunnel with me between him and it). He slowed down a lot, and I thought he might have hurt himself, but he picked up speed again and finished beautifully.

See, in Jake's ENTIRE agility career, he has knocked a bar in jumpers maybe 5 times, ever. EVER. So WHY at the d***ed NATIONALS is when he knocks a bar? Because, at his level, that is NOT a Q.

Standard Round 3
Taking us to our final Standard run of the weekend. I really feel kind of sick. I really feel humilated. My friends are still racking up the Qs. Most have now missed one Q for the weekend, but still... I just want to pack up and go home. But there's always that quest for MAYBE I'll Q THIS round.

It was another challenging course. Jake was happy and fast and, although he somehow fell off the side of the teeter when it hit the ground instead of running off the front end, he bounced right back up and rann ran ran and YAY we had a clean fast run for a Q. A couple of very wide turns, but no real struggles for control or veers away from me. Still, we were 3 seconds slower than that darned Max, who is also about 6 years younger than Jake. So again it was only a 2nd.

Tika was slowing down, of all things. It was pretty hot and the end of a long weekend. (But we did 18 runs each dog Memorial Weekend over 3 days, so this was nuthin'.) But still she ran beautifully, got all her contacts, kept all her bars up--and then, just before the last sequence of jumps to the finish, I forgot to cross in front of the weaves to handle a turn/turn over the last jumps--don't know why, I WALKED it correctly and I did it right with JAKE, but NOOOO I couldn't do it right with her--and so when I did a cross to make up for it, it was in the wrong place, pulld Tika past the next-to-last jump, and when I stopped, she was in such a position and angle that she backjumped the jump. Arghhhhh--!! There went my final possibility for a Q for the weekend.


Argh I immediately started packing up. I just wanted to get out of there. I couldn't stand the thought of watching everyone I knew in the final round and getting their awards and not being part of it. What a rotten attitude, huh? But of course I wasn't done packing before they started the final round, so I thought I'd just watch a couple, and then the people I knew ran SO nicely and they were SO much fun to watch, and I just stayed for a couple more... And by the time the final round was done, they were ready to hand out awards, so I went to sit and watch my friends get all of their trophies.

I hadn't realized that they were handing out trophies for 2nd place over the 3 standard runs--so I was quite surprised (in cynical and depressed sort of way) when they called our name to receive our trophy! I have been pointing out that there were only 2 16" championship-level dogs running standard, but I guess we do have to take credit for earning our way up to C level. Stilll... it's even less than anticlimactic.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Tika's Agility Adventure

I went on at length about *one run* in Jake's weekend; now here's Tika's info.

Tika is doing *so* well in agility! She Qed 7 out of 18 at Memorial weekend's NADAC, which isn't great, but I can attribute several of the non-Qs to really stupid handler tricks (it wasn't one of my greatest weekends--e.g., I left Jake's collar on for one lovely run!). And she Qed 7 out of 10 at this weekend's CPE, blasting away the competition with 9 first places (usually beating out all the other dogs, any height, any level), including a beautiful gamble that only 2 out of all of the dogs got. OK, it was a small, low-level trial, but still there were some pretty good dogs there.

She had perfect start-line stays this weekend; previous weekend she stood up once and I told her to sit & she did, and she lay down twice after I had walked away from the startline. Out of 18 runs, that's not bad.

All of her contacts have been beautiful. A couple of times she has left before the "OK" and I've done the standing-time-out thing and then she's been good.

She is so responsive and happy and fast. What a joy!

Here's the adventure, though. She has grown up and matured so much that I sometimes let her hang out around the canopy off-leash with me and Jake. Saturday afternoon she was snoozing on the grass while I rubbed her tummy. I got involved in writing notes about some of my runs. She suddenly leaped to her feet, all a-quiver, and just out of arm's reach. I said her name, and she took off in full squirrel-chasing mode across the crating area and towards the kennels next to the site.

It was then that I realized that a dog in the kennel had started shrieking and yowling, yipping and doing that thing that I don't know what to call--deep in the throat sort of howling/grinding sound that is SO grating... in fact, doing *exactly* the horrific noises that Tika does when I leave her in the house while walking Jake, or sometimes when there's a cat or a loose dog outside. Godawful piercing noises.

Anyway, she was trying desperately to get into the building where the noise was (like she runs back & forth trying to get thru the fence at class when she sees a cat or squirrel). I was right behind her as fast as I could go. I called her 3 or 4 times; about the fourth time, while I waited in one spot and tried to sound nonthreatening (I really didn't want her taking off in some other direction and didn't think I could chase her down) she decided that she couldn't get into the building and, instead of taking off around the other side, she actually came back to me. Very stressed looking, ears pointed back at the building, but she actually came. I told her briefly that she was good for coming back, and walked her on collar back to the crates.

In her crate, she went ape-shit. SHE started doing the same shrieking and that grinding/moaning sound, spinning and spinning and crashing around in her crate. I tried bitter apple a couple of times and it stopped it for about 10 seconds. Each time I walked away to go walk a course or whatever, she'd start all over again. You could hear her all the way to Timbuktu.

I took her out (on leash) and practiced just having her do things with me--walking at my side on a "Close" command, doing tricks, just massaging her and talking calmly to her, and more attention games and more tricks. She did them, but very agitatedly, her ears turned all the time towards the building (even after the dog finally stopped, she continued), and every time after I'd say OK or give her a goodie, she'd spin back immediately towards the building and lunge out on the leash.

She had to run a course about 10 minutes after the dog had stopped, but she was *still* frantic, still spinning in her crate, still shrieking, still totally wired when out on her leash. Before I went into the ring, I told Diane Blackman, "Here's my bet: She'll stay at the start line until I say ok, then she'll run straight at that building" (the shrieking dog had been RIGHT at the far side of the agility course we were about to run)--that's what she does in class with the squirrels and cats, right?

I sat her at the start line, and sure enough she tweaked herself to face the building. I moved her back to face the first obstacle and again she tweaked to face the building. I left her, waited briefly (she was looking at the building, not at me), then said OK. Here's the weird thing--

SHE CAME RIGHT WITH ME and did the obstacles! I was so startled that I crossed when I meant to push, and so then I had to call her AROUND the wrong obstacle, and she STAYED with me! And then I pushed when I meant to cross, and AGAIN had to call her off the wrong thing and spin her around, and now she was paying COMPLETE attention to me and sticking with me (although a couple of woof/growls for that "mom, you're messing up" thing), and when we had to leave the course, I just praised her like crazy and she was FINE after that.

Small victories... OK, actually I felt that was a BIG victory...

But I don't understand her behavior in response to that other dog. There were a few other dogs who seemed slightly agitated by it, but got over it quickly, but none that I was aware of who reacted like she did.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Jake's Sixth Championship!

Wow. We had a great CPE agility weekend. Tika Qed 7 out of 10, Jake Qed 8 out of 10.

Furthermore, we went into the weekend with Jake needing two Snooker Qs for his CATCH (CPE Agility Trial Champion title). The club just happened to be offering two Snooker runs, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. I had thought that I was viewing the whole thing as somewhat of an entertainment--after all, Jake has already earned his ADCH and APD (Performance equivalent of ADCH) in USDAA, his NATCH and O-NATCH (double NATCH) in NADAC, and in the process of the latter, his ATCH in ASCA-- and it seemed that way all the way through even Saturday's snooker run, which we got (and took 1st place, too) despite some hanging-by-the-hair-on-our-toenails turns and goofs.

In which Ellen discovers that she actually cares a great deal. But by Sunday morning my stomach was tied in gargantuan Wow This Is Big kinds of knots. Snooker wouldn't be until the third run of the day, and my tension grew by the minute. Snooker is, really, among Jake's best overall classes. And I knew I'd be looking for the most conservative possible course for the two of us, so it *shouldn't* be any big deal to simply go out there and run it. But I discovered that I really DID care and it really WAS a big deal to me.

How many CATCHes are there anyway? When the first CPE trial took place in CA just over 2 years ago, there were no CATCHes anywhere in the U.S.; the venue was just too new. A year ago, there were only about a dozen CATCHes. Now, of course, there are enough clubs offering CPE trials and dogs have been competing long enough that there were 48 CATCHes in existence after last weekend. And there have already been 2 CATCHes on California dogs this spring, so Jake wouldn't even be the first from CA. But he would be the first All-American from CA (and the first Semidachshund ANYWHERE, but unfortunately they just lump him in with all the other ORDINARY All-Americans). And being 3rd is still way better than being 200th or 400th or whatever we were for ADCHes and NATCHes. (Hmmm, I'll have to see whether I can track down those numbers....)

Several others are working on theirs, too...be the first on my block... As of a couple of months ago, when we all started counting how many Qs we needed for our CATCHes, there were 3 or 4 of us who could conceivably earn enough legs before the CPE nationals (next weekend) to have our CATCHes. Then Spike cut his foot open and was out of commission for several weeks, missing at least 2 CPE trials. Scully and Arlene had to pick and choose weekends because she normally works weekends, which meant that they had to earn *every* possible leg. And the odds are against that, and indeed a few fell by the wayside. But Jake kept racking up the legs he needed. Turns out that, at this weekend's trial, there were one or 2 other dogs who needed just one or 2 legs for their CATCHes. Although it's a blast to see other people earn their titles--sometimes I think it's more thrilling for the audience than for the handler--none-the-less it's nice to not have to share the weekend with others earning theirs, or to be the first if there's more than one. I dunno--just one of those ego things, i guess.

No Pressure, Nossir. In the past, I've mostly been low-key about telling people how close we were to key titles. I put enough pressure on myself, without thinking that everyone else is watching, too, and seeing my FAILURES if I don't get it. This time, though, Arlene has been quite the cheerleader, asking us all constantly about our status and coaching us through things and letting everyone within a 6,000-mile radius know how close we were... So people--including the Judge, who coincidentally happened to be the VP of CPE, first time any of the Big Muckitys from Back Easterly have been out to CA to judge--were asking me all weekend, Is This The Run? I Heard You're Really Close? Is THIS the Run? And it was a small trial (VERY small for a CA trial--only 200 runs a day! Bay Team's big trials can be up to 1400 runs a day!), so it seemed that everyone there knew by Sunday afternoon, even novice people I'd never had a chance to meet.

That is one nice thing about agility--everyone is so friendly and supportive.

Snooker course layout
Snooker course; actual course had about 20 feet of open space on all sides. The #7 obstacle consisted of 2 jumps that had to be taken in flow (up or down in the opening) but no wraps or other tricky stuff.
In which Ellen's friends take her under their wings. ANYWAY, it's Sunday morning. My friends, Arlene in particular, grabbed their Snooker course maps first thing in the morning and started sketching out possible snooker courses for us. "Conservative!" Arlene kept saying. She was quite miffed at us a month ago at our last CPE, where I had picked a low-scoring (but not perfect) opening and then at the last minute changed to a more aggressive, higher-scoring (and probably just about as doable) opening and then muffed it. The thing is, with Jake's difficulties hearing (and, I am believing more and more as he misses toys that I kick or toss in the back yard, and seeing well), if I want to guarantee to qualify, I can't pick a course where he can get ahead of me OR where he could turn away from me (which he has been doing more often) and find an obstacle that's easy to do.

Unlike Saturday's course, where there really was only one conservative (but high-scoring) path--which almost all the dogs used--Sunday's had many options for reasonable paths through the opening. On paper, my pals picked 2 or 3 options and explained them to me. Personally, I hate picking courses before I see the way that it really looks on the field. There are too many slips twixt the cup and the lip. Or some other appropriate aphorism. So I glanced at it to get a feel for what would be out there, but reserved judgement until I got there.

The options are almost overwhelming. By the time we get out there, the number of possibilities has blossomed. And as we start walking, my coaches present even more possibilities. I do a quick walk on each of them to see how they feel. Mind you, I not only have to pick one, but walk it enough times to feel completely comfortable with it so I don't have to think on course. This is what we always do, but at that moment the number of options was getting to be a bit on the high side.

(a) I could do lower-right red to #7 to upper-right red to #6 to lower-left red to #5 and into the closing (starting with #2). I didn't like this because we'd have to sneak from the bottom of #6 around #5 and the bottom of #7 and the red I'd already used to get to the lower-left red, plus then there was the wrap through #5 to get to #2, which just didn't look comfy.

(b) I could start with the lower-left red, do a big lead-out to #7, and then proceed as before (switching lower reds). Jake does an excellent lead-out for snooker and comes straight to me, ignoring equipment on either side. However, every once in a blue moon when I do a long lead-out, he either knocks the bar (in which case I'd have to scramble to figure out a replacement course on the spur of the moment) or even, lately, goes *around* the first jump. I didn't want to take those very slim chances this time.

(c) Lower-right red to #6 to upper-left red to either #4 or far end of #2 to lower-left red to #5. Still have that nasty wrap to #5. Plus going #6 to the upper-left red--Jake has lately been doing this weird thing of turning AWAY from me and taking an obstacle, so he could possibly have turned away and taken the upper-right red after the upper-left. AND I'd have had to keep him away from the #3 tunnel, which would be hard because I'd have to be on the inside of the course to get to 2 or 4. AND with #2 he could have gotten out ahead of me and taken a wrong obstacle. AND with #4 he sometimes pops that Aframe. I'd rather deal with that only in the closing, not the opening.

Snooker course layout
Handler path dotted line; dog's path solid line

My final choice was to be on his left side (his starting position (A) on course map), take the lower-right red to #6, push out ((B) on course map) to upper-right red towards the top and pull him, me still on his left side, into the right end of #3; then I could be in front of him as he came out #3 ((C) on map), pull to the upper-left red and cross in front of the red ((D) on map, me on his left again) to pull him into the weaves , and push hard just as his head comes around the last pole of #6 ((E) on map) into the #2 for the closing sequence.

In the closing, my concerns were getting from #4 to #5 (when he leaps off the Aframe, even if he gets toes in the contact zone, he can get way out ahead of me and I think that the lower-left red was closer than it appears), then from 5 to 6 instead of heading straight out to #7. I'd have to be on the inside (his left) of #6 to keep him away from 7, so then I figured I'd do a "turn" command as he came out of weaves to get him to 7A.

It seemed good. Fortunately Tika was up first, so she was my course beta-tester. Everything worked like a charm, except that when I said "turn" after the weaves in the closing, she turned sharply and tried to go right back into the weaves! I managed to push her away from them and get her out over the 7, but it gave me something to think about.

And here we go-- Stepping up to the start line with Jake, I could hear people talking about us all around the course. I put Jake in a sit, stretched my arms way out, took a deep breath, and cried out, "No pressure! None at all!" I led out almost to the weaves, and then released him. We were off and running. Once again, it worked beautifully. He did indeed fly off the Aframe in the closing a little early, but I heard the judge call out "4!", so I knew he got his toes in. I called called called, and he slowed gradually and turned towards me, fortunately long before he got to that offside red. The #5 to #6 was actually very nice because he had carried out from the Aframe so far that it was pretty much a straight line.

Then, from the weaves, I PUSHED his head out to #7 just as I had pushed to #2 in the opening and then crossed behind, and it worked beautifully. In truth, we needed only to get through the #5 to earn enough points, but of course you want to finish in style!

Wahooooo--stress gone! Jake's latest championship now official! VAST (host club) members were standing by ringside with our official Jump Bar and a big fancy purple ribbon for me to carry while we did a victory lap around the field. It didn't occur to me until afterwards to remember that, if I hadn't crossed the finish line with Jake before stopping to celebrate, I could have NQed the run and not gotten credit for it! Thank goodness that Jake carried out all by himself past the finish line.

Then they took our photos, then later I had a friend take our photos, then later again we had our photo taken with the judge. Arlene made me take off my sunglasses, and the breeze was briskly blowing my bangs back, plus I have a giant spaniel exploding out of the top of my head, so I'm not sure that I look quite like me, but I guess I'm recognizable.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Casey is a Handsome Beast

Backfill: June 7 '04 While my housemate was out of town last weekend, her friends Susan and Dave took Casey with their dogs up to the Sierras to have a scintillating high-sierra doggie hike or two. Dave is an aspiring Real Photographer to the Dogs, and he took some beautiful photos. I am awed by the quality, color, and clarity of the photos. Here is a low-resolution version of his portrait of Casey, He Who Can Usually Do a Jump-Tunnel-Jump In Sequence.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Allowing Comments Now--I Think--

OK, all youse out there. I have enabled commenting on this blog site. I think. This will test it. If it appears, I'd be delighted to see dog-related thoughts or responses to my posts. Here we go-- Format not great but that's for another day.

An above-average agility weekend

Statistics are so much--um--fun? Trouble? Pointless trivia? I figured out that, over my entire agility career with all 3 dogs, my qualification average is 40%. That is, out of every 10 runs we do in competition, we get qualifying scores in 4 of them. That feels like it sucks. Although I'm sure we do better then some.

One friend runs a French Bulldog. He's a game little guy, who for some inexplicable reason has been getting faster and more enthusiastic about doing agility the older he gets, and he's getting up there! But even when he's running full out, his body just isn't built for doing agility. I'm sure that there are some Frenchies who can manage to make time more often--just as there's at least one Basset Hound who can whup the Corgis' butts in this area--but I'm guessing it's rare. Still, they keep competing and they keep improving and she keeps having fun (which, after all, is SUPPOSED to be why we're here). I try to remember that when I'm annoyed at myself for doing something dunderheaded in the ring.

Seemed as though my head had more than its share of dunders this weekend. Still, I see that we Qed 16 out of 36 runs (sheesh! no WONDER I could barely move last night!), which is 44%, so I guess that makes it above average. If Saturday hadn't been so gawdawful--1 Q per dog out of 6 runs each--I'd have felt better about things.

If I hadn't left Jake's collar on during a perfectly executed, very complicated jumpers course that most dogs mucked up, I'd have felt better about things.

If I had Kept Up The Pressure when sending Tika out to--the Tunnel on Saturday, the Jump on Monday, the _______ (fill in obstacle) on __________ (fill in day), I'd have felt better about things.

The dogs were actually very good. People keep commenting on how good Tika has turned out after all of last year's challenges. And she is SO fast! In her Weavers course on Saturday, she missed the entrance to TWO sets of weave poles (and we've been working SO hard on that!) so I had to spin her around and restart them both--and she still beat all 16 dogs in her class by 2 seconds or more. Someone said to me "She's too fast to be in Novice!" (only in the "new games" that haven't been around for long).

Speed has nothing to do with it. I'm blown away over and over by the speed and skill of so many novice dogs these days. This is not your father's novice agility! (If your father was doing agility when it started here in northern CA 12 years ago, or when I started 9 years ago--)

And of course Jake is 12 1/2 and people marvel at his energy level. By Sunday afternoon on a danged hot day when I was drooping like 10-day old celery, even the driven Tika dog slowed down on her last run and then bailed off the Aframe! Only reason we could figure was that she just was hot and tired. But I got Jake out for his last 2 runs, and he was the superball of semidachshunds, leaping straight into the air to try to get me to give him more doggie junk food, wagging his tail, perky perky perky. Ran two runs and his tongue was barely hanging out, his eyes sparkling, dancing in circles asking for more.

I pray to the Gods In Charge of Such Stuff that I have that kind of stamina and energy when I'm his equivalent in dog years. Or human years. Whichever.

Ramble ramble ramble.