Friday, August 08, 2008

Getting In Shape For Fast Dog Agility

SUMMARY: If hiking gives me energy and stamina, and if that makes me faster, will it make my dogs faster and more accurate?

Wednesday evening I went hiking as usual with the Semi-insane Sierra Hikers Group. (The Fully Insane group is the one that hikes 12 miles with 3000-foot elevation changes every Saturday. Fortunately on Saturdays I'm slacking off and doing lazy easy-peasy dog agility then with no elevation changes.) We hiked almost the same hike at Rancho San Antonio that we did a few weeks ago, except--get this--BACKWARDS! Well, OK, the path we took was opposite normal, but in reality we walked forwards, 6 miles and 1000 feet elevation change (500 up and 500 down--the hike description says at least 1000 feet gain, but I don't see that on the topo map--and we didn't go down and back up again, either. Hm).

Anyway, I whipped out my camera to take a couple of photos and it didn't want to. Of course when I got back to the car, it worked fine, but not on the trail. So I have to resort to borrowing Karin's photos.

First there's everyone hanging out in the parking lot, waiting to get started while everyone signs the waiver form, sort of like everyone hanging around ringside at an agility trial waiting for the judge to tweak the course. Where "sort of" in this case means "all we have in common is hanging around waiting." (Me on the right in brown.)

Then there's me at the head of the pack (if you can believe it). I am wearing my Dogs Love Camp shirt from Power Paws camp to remind me that I'm doing this to get in shape to win the Regionals and my Grand Canyon fleece sweater to remind me what a hiking stud I am to hike Havasu Canyon with a 20-pound pack (8 miles and 2000 feet elevation change, all up on the way out).

And finally there was a really lovely pink-glowing sunset.


But the point of all this is, I'm thinking, that it will increase my energy and my stamina and improve the muscles in my legs, and therefore I'll be faster on the agility field, and if I could run faster and be where my dogs needed to be, would that fix all my problems on the course? Boost wouldn't have to stop and look back to see where I was. Tika would maybe be motivated enough to get a couple of extra zoom points on her runs. I just have to have the energy to do it.

Then in class last night we did one pretty tricky Jumpers course on which we all had considerable challenges, then we got to run it again for time. The first time I ran it with Boost. I am so tired of her crashing bars! Crash crash crash! It is so frustrating. We had a few other problems, too, and when I'd go back to try a sequence again, crash! would go the bars, sometimes several times in a row, and then I'd have to give up on that sequence. My tension level went way up. I try to stay positive with my dogs. I don't want them stressing out like Remington used to do. But I was having trouble there.

The second time, I watched the handlers with the fastest dogs (these are, like, people who win regionals and are in the USDAA Nationals finals and world team but maybe for other countries, like that). And their dogs had some little bobbles maybe, but here we got do-overs (of course you know that they do that at nationals and world team finals all the time, do-overs. Right? Sure?) so they could restart the course to get a valid time. Their times were in the low 27 seconds. Hold that thought.

But what I want so much is their loping ability. They have these nitro-powered dogs and they get the fastest time on the course, but the handlers just kind of take a couple of loping steps like they're just hanging out, waiting, and they're in exactly the right spot at the right time. Someone else said, well, it's those 88-inch-inseam legs that those two handlers have, and I'm sure that helps, but in fact if I had legs that long, I'd still be running like a crazed gazelle, a gazelle who is 50-something with hobbles and bad knees and no running skills, trying to keep up.

It's timing, is what it is. They know when they can move to get to the next obstacle and aren't standing there flat-footed thinking "wow, my dog actually did that obstacle! Oh, wait, now the next obstacle!"
Am I loping or am I screaming "go go go!" and pointing because I'm behind? Will Boost's back legs clear that bar? Tune in next week.

But I'm still thinking that if I have stamina and energy from all that hiking I'm doing, not to mention maybe I can pick up my feet and really move them, that that will allow me to use some calories on course for actual thinking instead of some actual trying to keep from dropping from exhaustion before the end of the run. So, anyway, I'm feeling pretty good. I am hardly panting from my many retries with Boost. Plus I have my emergency backup dog for when I'm frustrated by Boost's bar-knocking.

Therefore, on my timed run, I run it with my pretty reliable yet fast Tika dog. And I practice loping, because I'm pretty confident about her ability to understand what she needs to do on course. And Tika's pretty excited because she's jealous because I ran Boost once already. And, in fact, I find that I'm actually doing it! I'm not rush-rush-rushing, I'm calmly striding those long, comfortable strides to get where I need to be next, and even though we didn't run this complicated course together the first time like everyone else did, we nail it together. Still, I'm thinking, wow, she just doesn't have that speed (in particular through the weaves), and I think maybe 30 seconds?


Tika's weaves are fast but not that fast.


Nope, 31.7 seconds. Four and a half seconds slower. 16%. It is an infinity of time. I am so bummed. Tika's such a good girl, and she seems so fast, but we just can't even come close to those guys. We will never ever ever win a regional, and probably not even a local, Grand Prix or Steeplechase in this area. Never. Plus Tika is 7 and a half now and she's not going to be getting faster, even if I hike 20 miles and 4000 feet elevation change every weekend.

And my other dog crashes bars.

On the up side, however, is this: Boost did awesome awesome AWESOME weave poles, tough entries that others had trouble with and everything last night. AWESOME! I want her to remember that when we next have a competition! And then we did fast-contact drills, and Tika was SO wired and she jetted across those contacts into stunningly gorgeous 2on-2offs! AWESOME! I want HER to remember THAT when we next have a competition!
Tika flying down the dogwalk. Will she fly past the yellow zone or nail that 2on-2-off? Tune in next week.


So--a mere two weeks from now, one solid USDAA weekend, then after that, the Regionals. And I'd like to have something more to show for it than "Boost finally did weaves in competition again".

Time to get hiking.

Tika does A-frames, too.


(Photos by Erika Maurer, August 2007 and March 2008.)

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