a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Jake's Sixth Championship!

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.


  1. I'm so terribly proud of both your teams, but Jake's success this weekend made me cry.

  2. Wate to go Jake and Ellen! I love to read your blogs and just love to watch you run!