Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sometimes I Think I've Had It With Agility

SUMMARY: A whining, self-pitying BUT post, move along now, nothing to see here, I doubt you'll want to read it.

I know that some weekends are better than others. I know that sometimes I'm better than at other times. And believe me after the heartbreaking news about John Nunes after this weekend, I know that there are so many more things in this world that are more important to me than Qs in agility competitions. And yet--but--

This last weekend was not among the best. Not the worst, by any means, but really, as the weekend wore on--23 runs all together--there was not one in which I wasn't disappointed with myself as a handler or as a trainer.

I could gripe about the very few incorrect things that Tika did and blame them on her, but in fact almost all were handling issues this time, and, really, flying off contacts is a training issue.

I acknowledge that her successes were also as a result of my skills as a trainer and a handler, and I know that we do better than many people, and I know that I should just be happy that she's healthy and happy and having a good time (and, believe me, I am happy on all those counts). But--I'm filled with BUTs.

And Boost is a beautiful happy dog who NEVER turns off to doing agility with all her heart and soul, and who loves me dearly, and I know that I should be happy about that (and, believe me, I am). And the fact that she qualified in Steeplechase despite a flaw or two, I know, I can attribute to my skills at training and handling. But--my BUTs just about overwhelmed me this last weekend.

Enumerating:

  • Boost Pairs Relay: First run of the weekend, lovely, actually. For 10 whole obstacles on our half. We qualified (teammate had a brief flaw so we BARELY qualified, but at least it's a Q).
  • Tika Pairs Relay: Flew off the Aframe big time [contact training issue] so I made her Down and wait, and she thereby knocked the following bar when I released her. We BARELY qualified but at least it's a Q.
  • Boost Standard: Hit first pole in weaves so hard that she bounced and didn't bother collecting enough to make the turn into the second pole [weave  training], so faults plus time wasted. Knocked a bar [training and/or handling]. Slow down on table [training].
  • Tika Standard: Very fast and happy but WAY flew off the dogwalk. [contact training]
  • Boost Gamblers: In opening, left both Aframes w/out waiting for a release, so made her lie down both times [contact training], which meant that we were on the far side of the field when the whistle blew, so I basically sent her full-speed across the entire field to the jump-tunnel in the gamble, and she knocked the first bar,  [training and/or handling] so no Q although she did the whole gamble beautifully.
  • Tika Gamblers: Very happy and fast, but when I tried to do back-to-back Aframes, I took my eye off her and she ran *past* the second one instead of back up it, costing us 3 points and 1st place [handling]. So it was a Q and a 2nd and top ten points, but, dang it--
  • Boost Steeplechase: Pretty smooth and fast, actually, although she left the 2nd Aframe without waiting for a release, so I made her Down. [contact training]. Even with that delay, she was fast enough and smooth enough to qualify for round 2--by less than 2 seconds, barely.
  • Tika Steeplechase: Two Aframes. Very happy, pretty fast, I thought she had gotten toenails into both Aframe contacts, but the judge didn't think so. [contact training]. She was only .02 seconds slower than the first-place dog in her 22" class, but because there were too few dogs in 22", they combined us with the 16" border collies, whose times knocked us out of qualifying for round 2 because of the Aframe fault.
  • Boost Snooker: In opening, approaching weaves ahead of me, Boost turned back to me instead of going in [training gahhh!] so I ended up on wrong side of weaves from where I wanted to be, so when we exited I had to pull her past an incorrect obstacle but she ignored me and "Boost! Boost! Boost!" [training and/or handling] and that was it. Whistle off after 3 obstacles.
  • Tika Snooker: We had a great run going, but on the last of 4 reds in the opening, I forgot which way I wanted to turn and in my moment of lostness, put her right over an incorrect obstacle [handling], so whistled off. No Q, no top 10 points.
  • Boost Jumpers: Bars bars bars. [training] The run was actually fairly smooth, but, sigh, again no Q.
  • Tika Jumpers: Ran well after dark with OK but not great lighting. Missed some cues [handling] so very wide turns although generally smooth and comfortable. Lucky for us, other dogs were having more trouble with it than we were (I think it's the lighting) and we ended up with a 1st place. OK, happy about that, but you'd think my timing would be good by now. After 16 years of training and 200+ trials.
  • Sunday--

  • Boost Steeplechase Round 2: OMG what a disaster. [training mostly, maybe handling]. Well, we didn't "E", but that's mostly all I can say about it.
  • Tika Jumpers: I rather yelled as she was going over a jump and she knocked the bar.  [handling and probably some training] Otherwise smooth and happy, 2nd fastest time but this course was SO EASY that we were the ONLY 22" dog not to qualify! Argh!
  • Boost Jumpers: Two bars, including the first one, two runout attempts that I barely blocked, wide turns and calloffs--[handling, training, I dunno]
  • Tika Standard: On one 180-turn, I forgot how far out the 2nd jump was and pulled her past it for runout faults. [handling] Two very wide turns that were almost off courses when I didn't remember where I was going soon enough. She still was fast enough that she would've placed 3rd [of 13 dogs] if not for the fault. 
  • Boost Standard: Knocked a bar early. [Training] A major disaster on the table [apparently training--to give you a clue, our course time on this run was 76 seconds, compared to a Standard Course Time [max allowed] of 58 and a winning time of 43]. However, the closing sequence of 9 obstacles after the table flummoxed many handlers including some top ones whose dogs made wide turns or turned the wrong way etc--and Boost and I got through that sequence perfectly. I mean, PERFECTLY. I liked that. But still, would be nice to Q once in a while.
  • Tika Gamblers: I guess I got greedy in the opening after yesterday's mess. I knew that trying for one more Aframe might put us out of time, but I knew that tika was fast enough and good enough that we could still make it so worth trying even though there was a safer path. Except 1: The whistle blew as she jumped from the ground to the Aframe before she even hit it, so wasting about 3 of our 16 seconds. We STILL could have made it except 2: I left her on the Aframe and ran towards the gamble instead of collecting her, so she ran in the opposite direction at first. We STILL could have made it except that when I reversed myself and gathered her up, I proceeded to put her over the wrong lead-in jump to the gamble, so after the first gamble jump she didn't see the tunnel, so turned back to me, and I kept saying "through!" and she turned around, saw it, did the whole thing perfectly--but .98 seconds over time. [ALL handling crap, multiple times in one run]
  • Boost Gamblers: Didn't stick either Aframe in opening so made her down each time [training], so doing 2 dogwalks after that I held her for a long time on each contact, so we were wayyyyy out of position when the whistle blew. Even so, I managed to threadle her around the aframe and to the other side of the course where she did the gamble spot-on perfectly--but .49 seconds over time. Gah!  [Not often in one weekend where your dogs get all 4 gambles but you have only one Q to show for it]
  • Tika Grand Prix: Sent her to a jump and moved away too soon, pulling her off the jump for another runout fault. [handling] So I turned it into a contact training run and made her "down" or held her on all contacts, and even going back for that jump and those long contacts, she was 4th fastest, but no Q of course.
  • Boost Grand Prix: Good lord. Yikes. Got killed when she didn't come in to me on a 180 so ran past a jump despite me trying to stand in her way and to the next obstacle for off course/E. [training]
  • Tika Snooker: A speed course that was going to require 51 points for a Super-Q or even to place. She did everything I asked her to except once again I forgot which way I was going to turn, so spun suddenly to do as wrap as she was going over a jump and she knocked a bar.  [handling] We got all the way through the course with 44 points (that one 7-pointer short of 51). We  completely lucked out on this one--in all other heights, "everyone" was getting 51, but in our height, everyone else crapped out more than we did so only one dog got 51 so we ended up 2nd with a Super-Q and top ten points.
  • Boost Snooker: Didn't come in to me on a 180-turn and didn't respond to "Boost! Boost!  Boost!" [training and handling both] and once again off course after 3 obstacles.

Summary

For the weekend, out of 11 runs, Tika got one 1st/Q, two 2nd/Qs, and one Q no placement. Out of 12 runs, Boost got two Qs, no placements, no $ in steeplechase.

It was Boost's 15th Pairs Q, so now she's got her RCh-Bronze.

I have had worse weekends. But--

And so--

I have come away from the weekend realizing deeply that I need to change something, in my attitude or my schedule or my approach towards training or probably all of those interconnected things, or I will spend many more weekends regretting the things I haven't done and the mistakes I've made and the money I've spent to make the same mistakes again and again rather than reaping the rewards that my dogs are capable of and that I *think* I'm capable of (although at times I wonder). I haven't entirely decided what that means, but I have pretty much decided that I'm not going to trial in March at all, scratching 2 of the only 3 CPE trials I was planning on for the year. Beyond that--I dunno.

Maybe monthly private lessons instead of regular weekly classes. Maybe get back to a disciplined list of specific skills to work on each day during each week, like when I was first training each dog--it's so clear then what you need to work on. Like, from class, you'd come home with an assignment to work very certain exercises with, say, 4 weave poles, or two jumps, or a target and a clicker. Small, easily identifiable pieces.

The difference there is that progress seemed to happen so fast, I was always going forward, but now, it's like backing up two steps and trying again, over and over.

Hey, yeah, Boost hasn't popped out of the weaves early in two whole trials now, I'm so happy about that. But now we have to work on table issues again and contacts again and bars always.

I'm tired of not being a better handler, I'm tired of my dogs making mistakes, I'm tired of trying to be circumspect about the fact that I don't train enough or correctly to fix the problems and so I should accept the consequences and not bemoan them. But. But. But.

Funny side note

Rereading this, I note that I'm still saying "whistle blew" to start the gamble--since we started using electronic timers all the time a few years ago, it has been a buzzer and never a whistle, yet I still think of it as "whistle blew," not "buzzer buzzed". Sort of like "dialing" a telephone, I guess.

6 comments:

  1. i think that most of us have weekends where things fall apart. i think your plan of going back and breaking down your training and have a set plan will help you to feel more successful.

    i bet after a few weeks of getting back on a regular training schedule you'll start seeing differences in you and your dogs!

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  2. Ditto what manymuddypaws said.

    At Walter's last trial he had amazing weaves (a rare occasion for us) but was afraid of the dogwalk. Lost 2 Standard Qs due to not doing the dogwalk at all. That sucked. But it showed me where I need to focus some training efforts so I guess that's a good thing.

    Plus, I don't know how you can handle so many runs in one trial. Six runs in one day has me beat and my brain turned to mush.

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  3. Funny, I started typing 'whistle blew' for the gamble in my own blog then realized I had to change it to 'horn'.

    I get so much more out of private lessons than I do out of group classes. You get to work on your issues rather than hoping the class will be about what you're struggling with. Also the instructor has so much more time to help you with the small details of the issues you're having. Can you split an hour lesson with somebody? I've found that to be the most efficient use of time/money. That way you and the dog get a little break in between runs but you still get plenty of personal attention and you can work on exactly what you want to work on.

    But yeah, we've all had weekends like that.

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  4. I was talking to a friend Monday night about maybe splitting some private lessons. Maybe will talk about it more on our way to Saturday's funeral. :-(

    I guess one of the issues though is whether I *want* to get back into a training regimen. I know that other people in the blogosphere have taken some time off from agility and are happier for it. I'm of mixed minds--I always feel the clock ticking away on my dogs' ages.

    So many runs in one trial--heh, if I'm running only one dog and it'a a 4-run day, I feel like I've hardly gotten started and I get fidgety and end up going for long walks or hikes between runs or days.

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  5. Wow. What a lot of runs. How you keep them all straight after, or during, is beyond me! I don't know, but when I read this I saw a lot of words like "great run so far," and "fast and happy," and "Pretty smooth and fast." So though I know you're discouraged and yep, it probably does mean you need to reevaluate...somewhere in all of it the dogs had mostly fun. Take a deep breath, it will all work out.

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  6. I know how you feel. I havent "Q" in a standard run since July. My dog is having table issues even though she been getting on the table since she was a little puppy. And in Jumpers, we went into excellent in Nov and everytime she goes off course and always my fault. So no "q"'s there either. It gets depressing. You keep working and working and have nothing (at least it feels like nothing) to show for it. So what keeps us going, its got to get better. LoL Diana

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