By some measures, Tika and I had one of the best USDAA weekends I've ever had with any dog. She earned Qualifying scores in 6 out of 8 qualifying runs, which is average for CPE but exceptional for us in USDAA. In my career, I've competed in about 80 USDAA weekends. Of those 80, here are the times one of my dogs has earned 75% or more qualifying scores in a weekend:
- Sept 2000, Jake, 6/8
- Aug 2002, Jake, 4/5 (but that was only 5 runs. Actually this was pretty good considering that we had traveled to L.A. and I ended up so sick from a cold that suddenly got worse AND Remington was so sick (this was before we figured out he had cancer) that I ended up scratching almost all of my runs for the weekend. But it was simultaneously actually pretty bad because the whole reason we were going south for USDAAs was because I wanted that last Gamble for Jake's championship (and that dang Standard for Remington's MAD)--and guess which run of the 5 was the one Jake didn't get.
- March 2003, Jake, 4/5 (odd for there to be only 5 runs. Maybe I scratched him from some?)
- May, 2003, Jake, 7/9 (by far my best Masters-level percentage. But that was also about the time that Jake started turning oddly on course from time to time, too, and we eventually figured out he was going deaf, which made it hard for him to respond to me)
- April 2004, Tika, 7/9 (but this was at the intermediate ("Advanced") level, not masters level, and my dogs have always done much better when the courses were easier. Duh.
- Aug 2004, Tika, 6/8 (also at Advanced level)
And...that's it! So I should be very happy.
OK, in fact, I am very happy. We had some truly lovely runs, and of our 9 runs for the weekend, there was only one in which we had miscommunications or bobbles on course. All the other "failures" were knocked bars (and not all that many of those, really) or up contacts, with the exception of an obvious problem with Aframe contacts. And that latter is a training issue that I think I can work through. Again.
But my standards are high and my goals are challenging, so there's also a level of discouragement even with the successes. So, run by run:
- Saturday Gamblers: Downside: In the opening, she flew--FLEW!--off the first Aframe contact, losing us 3 points. So I made her wait while I told her that I was surprised--SURPRISED!--that she could do such a thing. So, to follow up, I held her longer than usual on both the teeter contact the second Aframe contact, which she did hit and stick properly. As a result of all that waiting and holding, we missed finishing our 2nd set of weaves by 2 poles, costing us another 5 points. Upside: Before we ran, only about 10-15% of the 60 dogs before us had gotten the gamble. Here's the gamble:
I was convinced that we weren't going to get it for one of two reasons: (1) Historically we've had a hard time pushing out to an obstacle when there's a big juicy obstacle between me and her and the place I want her to go. (2) As a result of (1), for the last week we've been working and working on getting her to push out past a juicy obstacle--in a very similar sequence to this gamble but TO THE OTHER END OF THE TUNNEL:
So I figured she'd either miss it entirely by coming in to me (which many dogs did) or go out to the far end of the tunnel (which quite a few dogs did). The first lovely thing was that she stopped--FAST!-- on the dogwalk contact even with me more than 10 feet away. The bad thing was that she stopped with her front legs swung around towards me. But I stepped in, said "through!"--and she went! And I knew I'd have to call her like crazy to make it over jump #3, so I did, and she baaaarely got back in line for the jump, and made the gamble!
Downside: Turns out that in our jump height, 29% of the dogs eventually got it, so it wasn't QUITE as big a deal (although only 20% of 123 overall) and with most of the competitive dogs earning opening points that were 5 to 10 points more than ours, those 8 missing points kept us from placing. Upside: But that was our 5th Master Gamblers, finishing our Master Gambler title and finishing THAT requirement towards our ADCH. So I'm pleased with the gamble, pleased to have finished the GM.
- Steeplechase Round 1: Upside: As reported yesterday, we made it to round 2 and it was a smooth, no-bobble run. Downside: She sure hit that bar loud enough to rattle it, and then there was the Aframe she didn't stick.
- Saturday Standard: OK, that was a messy run on a hard course.
- Pairs Relay: The downside is that she didn't even try to stick that dang Aframe again, so between making her wait after that and the long leadout I took as the 2nd dog, we weren't fast enough to place. But the upside is that we had no actual faults and no handling bobbles at all AND she kept her bars up, and since our partner was clean, we finished our Relay Championship, which is very cool.
- Sunday Standard: Upside: No handling bobbles AND kept her bars up AND no actual faults, so we qualified--and managed to place 6th on another tough course. Downside: Dang nonsticking contacts. We started running and she didn't stick her dogwalk (although she very cleanly got the up contact, yay.) so I held her a moment. Then as we rounded the curve to the Aframe, the timer and everyone started yelling Stop! Stop! (which usually means there's a timer malfunction) so I just raced her up the aframe, which she didn't stick, so I made her lie down and wait while we waited for them to figure out their timing issues. Ha! thought I, A training bonus! So we went back to the beginning, started over, and she didn't stick her dogwalk and she didn't stick her Aframe--so I made her wait after both-- and she didn't stick her teeter, which was really bad because I needed to do a front cross and didn't need her grabbing my feet in the process, so I made her lie down, WALKED across in front of her, and then continued. Although we Qed and were actually 6 seconds under time, we were 11!! seconds behind the dog who placed just ahead of us. There's really no reason we shouldn't be getting course times closer to the fast dogs--except those dang contacts.
- Snooker: Welllllll the upside is that I managed to wander off and not obssess too much about what the other dogs were doing even though we were only a few dogs from last. And, when we started, she did the very tricky and challenging opening that I picked for us to try to earn the Super-Q. But the downside was that, to Super-Q on this course, you had to do a bunch of the 6-point obstacles, which was a tough sequence of 2 jumps, and if you knocked one of the bars in the opening that basically put you out of super-Q contention. Soooooo we knocked the first bar on our first 6-pointer, and it was all over. Sigh.
- Grand Prix: The only reason I enter extraneous Grand Prixs is to try to earn a fancy placement ribbon and on the very very faint hope that we could win and earn a bye for the nationals first round. And, incidentally, I'd like just once in her life to earn a GP Q with NO FAULTS! (Every one of her 12 before, except the first, has had a 5-point fault.) So, on this course, I decided to go for broke. Upside:I got her as revved up as I could think to do beforehand and I just pushed pushed pushed, even releasing her from her contacts instantly (which interestingly she was taking the time to hit bottom and look at me--! but she was hitting bottom fast). It was a tough course, too, and it felt so smooth and lovely and she was running and we had no bobbles or wide turns and she kept all her bars up and it was a lot of fun because I was running all out and pushing my handling limits. Downside: That damned dogwalk up contact! Missed it again! Those dang 5-point faults! So we were the 8th fastest dog of the 44 running--but with other people's faults, if she had run clean, she'd have been 3rd! But she wasn't. She still placed 10th, which is for a change barely in the Top-Ten-Pointers, but no ribbon. So I'm disappointed, even though it was a fun run and I was very happy with her, too.
- Steeplechase round 2: The excitement of simply being able to ever even hope for qualifying to round 2 is starting to wear off, because now this is our 5th time. So now I'm in it to finish in the money, and hopefully more than just $1.95 for 7th place. There are 14 dogs. We were 5th fastest in Round 1, but remember I held that Aframe. BUT--now there are TWO aframes and I have to push the release to hope of being near the top, and the course is so fast and flowing that I tell her before we go into the ring, "OK, Tika, this course is all about keeping your bars up. Not handling, not even contacts, it's about bars." Upside: So once again I rev her up like crazy (this exhausts me--I'm not a revving up kind of person really). And she's rarin' to go even more than usual. She holds her startline stay (actually did all weekend I believe) until I released her, kept up her first 2 bars which was promising, and we were off and flying. Once again I pushed my handling limits and I pushed her and man she hit those Aframe down contacts fast and perfectly and I released her immediately as I flew by her (and even got a woof out of her, which I get only in the most thrilling moments of Tika's agility life), and then we made the tough entrance into the serpentine, and all I had to do was a 5-jump loop and we'd be done. Downside: And a bar comes down. And I'm pretty sure it's me again, because I was looking ahead and feeling relief and it was too early for that. Sure enough, it was all about her bars, because more than half of the dogs ran clean on this course. So we finished 8th overall, with the money going down only to 7th. Upside: Man, it was fun! And smooth! And her turns were tight and beautiful and her contacts were lovely and I wish all our runs could be like this! (Except that, as witnessed by the rest of the weekend, if I keep pushing the release on the contacts, eventually she starts flying off and we lose faults for that.) And in fact she was the 4th fastest dog of all 14, which is an achievement in this crowd!
- So by the time Jumpers rolled around at the end of the day, I'm getting discouraged. Can't place NICELY in standard, can't get a clean run in Grand Prix, can't keep my bars up in snooker and steeplechase where it really counts. How can I possibly hope to keep my bars up for that Jumpers course, when we've knocked so many bars in so many Jumpers courses before?
- Jumpers: So I don't rev her up. I just want to run calmly and smoothly, not take my eyes off her, not call her or change direction suddenly as she's over a jump, manage my timing all the way along, not get cocky before the end of the course. And she runs. And everything clicks. She's not superfast, but she is joyfully smooth. I watched so many dogs before us struggle to make the turns that she makes easily, or run wide out to make a sharp turn, where she hugs the corners. And we're at the end, and all the bars stayed up. Upside: We got a Jumpers leg! And it was a pretty one, too, no bobbles of any kind! And we're in 2nd place after about 8 dogs (with only 21 to go...) In fact, after 20 of the dogs have run, I'm delighted to discover that we're still in 4th place and we've even beat Tala (Boost's superfast mom) by a quarter of a second, although I didn't see their run so I don't know whether they had bobbles). In fact, we're only a second behind first-place Luz, one of the top dogs in the country, and I'm very happy with that. But there's one more dog to run, and she won't run for another hour. That's Spirit. Downside: Spirit runs a gorgeous run that I can tell without even seeing the times has probably taken over 1st place. In fact, she beat Tika's time by just over 5--FIVE!-- seconds, bringing me rapidly down to earth. Upside: Still, we placed 5th for a ribbon AND a couple more of those elusive and therefore useless (for us) Top-Ten Points. And it was smooth all the way through.
So, overall for the weekend, I'm happy and had some great runs that I'm still reliving. I also have more goals, more things to work on, more improvements to make. Sigh. And next weekend, Boost debuts.