SUMMARY: Do I need to move Tika to the lower jump height division? What are my criteria?
I've had the gut feeling that Tika has been slowing down on her courses. She'll be 8 in February, but really I don't think of 8 as being that old, and we've gained a comfortable working relationship that works fairly well in USDAA and very well in CPE (which we're not doing much of at the moment). Plus she still jumps nicely most of the time at 26".
(Fun note: In CPE, I jump her at the highest height, 24", to avoid messing up her 26" USDAA Jumping. But she's legal for 20" in CPE. Which means that I could eventually move her down to 16" in their Specialist category--like Performance in USDAA--or even to 12" in their Enthusiast category! Can you picture Tika running a course at 12"?!)
Then there's the issue of her coming up sore periodically. This weekend she did 6 runs Saturday and was fine, then Jumpers Sunday morning and was fine, then came out of her crate before Snooker saying "I'm sore, I'm hunched over, I don't want to play tug of war, I can't do anything." Fortunately there were about 8 dogs ahead of us, so I got her moving, got her stretching, massaged her neck and spine and shoulders, used treats to encourage her to stretch her neck and back in various ways (boy, she really perked up at the treats), and by the time we went into the ring, she looked perky and comfortable. Ran fine. Ran fine in Standard, too. Ran fine for frisbee later. Looks fine today. Maybe just a cramp? But I was inches away from scratching her because she looked so unhappy.
So there's that to consider.
To help decide how much she's slowed down, I took my useful database of info I've collected on my dogs' runs through the years, threw out Novice and Advanced classes, threw out classes where we had refusals or runouts (because they'd skew the picture of her true speed), chose only Grand Prix, Jumpers, and Standard as useful classes, and ended up with data from early 2004 through this weekend. For each of the 3 classes I plotted the following in Excel charts: Her yards per second (YPS), how far off the SCT (standard course time) her time was, and how far off the first-place dog's time she was.
I couldn't clearly tell from the plot of her YPS whether she's slowing, so I did a sort of a running average, and it showed a few interesting things.
1) Her YPS in Standard abruptly shot up starting in April 2007. (--about .2 YPS--which for her would be about 2.5 seconds faster on a Standard course.) What happened in April 2007? The Aframe height changed from 6'3" to 5'10". (Caveat: At some point last year I decided that it was OK for Tika to have running contacts because she was doing it anyway and we needed the extra speed. I can't find my blog post on that, but I was still trying to get the 2o2o behavior at that time.)
I can't quite tell whether it affected everyone equally; it looks like she picked up some time compared to the first-place dogs, but not a lot.
2) Her Standard YPS has indeed been drifting slowly downward since, from 3.9 then to 3.7 now, over a year and a half. So we've lost those couple of seconds again.
3) Her Jumpers YPS rose steadily from 2004 to 2006 as we learned how to work together, peaked at almost 6 YPS in early 2006, slid steadily to just over 5.5 YPS in mid-2007, and has very slightly drifted to below 5.5 YPS since. (In other words, she hasn't slowed much on Jumpers courses in the last year and a half.)
4) Oddly, her Grand Prix YPS average seems to have climbed slightly over time--but we don't have nearly as many good data points on that.
So I'm not sure what it tells me. She's still way below SCT and is by no measures a slow dog. But the numbers from this weekend tell me that we're still fighting a battle to ever earn placement ribbons: Note that in every class, she did very well as the Q rate seemed low--but in almost every case, she was the slowest of the dogs to Q or to get the highest points.
I don't know what moving her to Performance would do in that area; Performance is not an escape from experienced, top-quality competitors. Several dogs who've beaten her consistently in the past in Championship are now in Performance.
The other thing is--she's now getting so close to her ADCH-Silver that it would be nice to finish at least that, and if this weekend's any indication, she's very capable of doing it without hurting herself. To do that, she needs 25 legs in each of the 5 regular classes, and has:
* Standard: 22
* Relay: 26
* Gamblers: 22
* Snooker: 30
* Jumpers: 20
It's always those danged Jumpers, isn't it!
So I'm sticking with a wait and see strategy on her regular classes.
I can also decide on the tournament classes. All she needs for her Platinum Tournament Championship is one DAM Team Q and one additional Q of any kind (DAM, Steeplechase, Grand Prix). There are no higher awards in the Tournament area. So I could move her to Performance's lower jump height there if I wanted to. The question is just whether--if there's another Nationals out west--I'd want to qualify her in Championship or in Performance, and whether I'd really want to go anyway, with the fact (same as this year) that she just can't compete with the top dogs.
It's only Gamblers where we can really shine on opening poins, as usual.