a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: November 2004

Monday, November 29, 2004


Added a photo to Oct 25 and an entry for Nov. 10. More later probably.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

CPE Results--Not Always Like What I'd Like

So Jake had a good day Friday, but on Saturday--now with everyone watching after I announced that he was retiring with 6 Championships after 7 years of competition (with me), 116 trials, and 876 runs--we couldn't get a Q worth beans. We couldn't hardly even get started. Standard was iffy with a huge flyoff on the dogwalk. In Jumpers and Snooker, he didn't stay at the start line, putting me in very bad positions and ending up with almost instantaneous offcourses. And Jumpers and Snooker are what he has always done best in, with the most legs in those of any classes in all organizations.

Grumble grumble grumble. Tika was wired and had problems with her start line. I pulled her off for the first time in a full year for taking off without even a hint of a release from me, and pulled her off again when she persistently scootched forward after repeated "Sit" commands until she was a mere foot from the first jump. Then we had offcourses galore, which isn't normal for us, but I think I've discovered that Tika has an Overdrive setting that I am, in fact, not always tapping into! I thought I had just learned better how to handle her speed, but I think what's also happened is that she has settled into a comfortable fast speed and I didn't realize that she didn't have the accelerator floored.

We will have to experiment more.

FridayStandard: Q/2ndScootching forward determinedly at start line each time that I started to move forward. Several harsh Sits finally got her to stay in place. No bars down but she was one wired doggie and we missed a few things because my timing was off so we had to circle around and retry. Still her course time was mighty fast.
Colors: NTShe still needs 2 out of 2 at Level 3 to advance to Level 4. We can't get the darned legs because she almost always knocks a bar. Today, she took off from the start without waiting for me so I pulled her off the course.
Wildcard: NTThis is the only other Level 3 class she's still in; needs one more of these, also. But, not to be...she skootched right up to the first jump before staying in a sit and I took her off.
SaturdayStandard: Q/1stManaged to finally get her to stay in one place in a sit. We were a disaster again in terms of smoothness, but very fast and again we earned a qualifying score.
Snooker: Bomb.I led way out, all the way across the snooker field, and she stayed beautifully. I released her and she rocketed towards me perfectly, and I spun perfectly to send her into the first tunnel--and someone I was aimed wrong or spun wrong and she went into an off-course end of the tunnel. Game over. I pushed her immediately to the table to stop the clock, and hoped that our consolation prize would be the absolutely fastest Snooker time for the day of all dogs--at 5.83 seconds--but, sadly, our teammate Mercy from the night before started on the same jump but took an offcourse jump only halfway to the tunnel, putting them closer to the table, so they beat us by .3 seconds. (But Tika traveled twice as far for those .3 seconds--;-) .)
Jumpers: Bomb.Very very fast. Jumpers is the third thing that we most need legs in because she keeps knocking bars. On this course, instead of taking challenging (for me) front-crosses to pull her to challenging sides of the tunnels, I used our well-practiced call-her-name-and-she-looks-at-me, wait until she has veered towards the correct end of the tunnel and let her go. Worked like a charm for the first tunnel; released her too soon for the second tunnel and we were offcourse again. Sigh. But she had a really fast time! And (dagnabbit nagdabbit) no bars down.
FridayStandard: Q/2ndPretty fast, almost popped the dogwalk but the judge gave it to us. Some wide turns where he couldn't hear or see me, but we survived.
Colors: Q/2ndA fairly simple course that we also made it through by the skin of our teeth. Very challenging running a deaf dog who doesn't realize he's deaf.
Wildcard: Q/1stVery nicely and smoothly executed for a change.
SaturdayStandardMade it all the way through the course, veering on the edge of miscommunication and then the dogwalk was the next to the last obstacle--I yelled "Contact!" at the top of my lungs in plenty of time, which apparently made him leap into thin air at exactly the point he was, which was only halfway down the ramp. Did so very happily. The combination of my full-gut yell and his aerobatic effort got a huge laugh from the audience--and a missed-contact fault from the judge.
Snooker: BOMBDidn't stay at the start line on a long lead-out. Didn't even get a third of the way there. And that sucks, because one of the things that has always made him a great Snooker dog is my ability to lead out to any old wild and random far-side obstacle and have him come straight to me. So I had to juggle him around to try to keep him from going offcourse, but when I sent him (from too far away) to the tunnel I wanted, he took the offcourse end. Sigh.
Jumpers: BOMBDidn't stay at the start line on a course that was very tight and twisty and absolutely required that I be doing front-crosses to keep the deaf dog's head turned in my direction. Rear-crosses would be fatal very quickly and he put me in the position of starting with rear crosses from which I couldn't recover in time to prevent an offcourse almost immediately. Fast, though.

Top Turkey and Slop Turkey

So it was Jake's last trial, so of course we went out in a blaze of glory--right?

Friday he did OK. Out of 3 classes, earned 3 Qualifying scores, but only one good enough for a first place. Then, Friday evening, we teamed up with a very fast little Cattle Dog rescue (Indy) and a very fast little Sheltie (Siggi) for WAG's Turkey Trot, a relay in which one dog does a set of jumps, another does weaves and contacts, and the third does tunnels. They divided teams into small, medium, and large groups and were awarding a single Top Turkey Team award in each category. I told my teammates that Jake had slowed down a lot in tunnels and that I didn't think they'd want jake doing contacts, so we'd take the jumps. (I had to jump him at his standard 16" height even though he was running at 12" during the day.)

I almost forgot where I was on course and started to do a front cross to the outside of the course (duh!?) but fortunately there was nowhere for Jake to go offcourse and we picked up his slightly wide turn and finished the jumping section just fine. Our teammates were pretty awesome.

The Top Turkey award, with the Top Turkey badge clipped to the front.

We had to wait until all the teams had run and the results were tabulated, and then they announced that Jake's team had won! Wahoo! Somehow appropriate for his last trial. We earned a lovely ceramic turkey stuffed with human and dog toys and goodies. (Turkey especially appropriate, since the day before I hosted 19 family and friends here for dinner and realized that I have absolutely no Thanksgiving themed decorations. Now I have one--) We also earned a Top Turkey badge that we had to wear for the rest of the weekend or risk wearing The Silly Hat. The tricky part was the dog biscuit glued to the badge--our dogs (and everyone else's) kept trying to munch them, and then there was the question: was wearing it into the ring considered to be having food in the ring?

Tika teamed with other longtime friends Spike the BorderNewf and Mercy the Terv (team named Tika's Merciful Spike). Tika did the weaves and contacts. The contacts consisted of two teeters and an Aframe, intermingled with two sets of 6-pole weaves, basically in a circle. I promised to run her with Steeplechase contacts, which means that I released her the instant that her paws hit the two-on-two-off position.

So--Mercy did her jumps perfectly, although I had to wait before starting Tika while Linda got Mercy into a controlled Down (otherwise she'd have probably followed Tika oncourse) and then while Linda ran over to me with the rubber chicken baton. A few seconds wasted--but not wasted if we avoided a fault for having 2 dogs on course.

Then I released a revved up Tika. She hit her first set of weaves like a banshee, perfectly entered and superfast. Slammed down the first teeter and I released her. Hit the next weaves at almost a 90-degree angle to the left perfectly and zipped through them; slammed the next teeter and I released her to the Aframe--and she left the yellow zone on the way down without bothering hitting the ground with her front feet. Which means that the tire--NOT part of our section of the course--which I knew during the walkthrough would tempt her--drew her so fast to it that my "Come! COME!" had no effect and she went through it for a 10-point offcourse. Argh! Then Spike whipped cheerfully through his tunnels and we were done. 12 teams in the large-dog category and I had just blown it with the offcourse.

Turns out that we had the second-fastest time of the large-dog teams, with just over 38 seconds (which is d***ed fast for 3 separate dogs with a baton change and all those obstacles), about 3 seconds slower than the fastest team. The extra time that Tika took for the tire might have closed that gap, or it might not have. Hard to say. But the 10-point fault (scored as time plus faults) dropped us to--only 4th place! (Which gives you some idea of how blazing fast the first 4 teams were compared to the final 8, which had to be at least 10 seconds slower than we were to still place behind us with our 10 faults.)

So no Top Turkey for Tika's team, but I was very pleased with the speed of her course and with her weave entries.

Jake's Last CPE--and Last, Period--Trial

The cake came with two flowers and a yellow border. I did the rest All By Myself onsite among course maps and curious competitors.
I've done it--I've retired Jake. I made an announcement at the CPE trial in Elk Grove yesterday and provided cake for all 80-or-so people there to confirm the deed. Jake was running so nicely, though, it's hard to remember the times and places where he just doesn't do things that he used to do or those days or weeks when he's in pain.

I suppose it's still legal to enter him in maybe a run a day or so. The question remains what will I do with him on agility weekends--leave him home or take him with us? I've never taken any of my dogs anywhere without the others along. This is a mistake--take my advice and often do things separately with your dogs so that they get used to it from the beginning. I don't think he'll be happy about being left behind, but he'll probably be fine here hanging out with the housemate (I wouldn't leave him here unattended, certainly).

Will I be fine leaving him behind? If there's noplace at a site where I can run him off leash to play frisbee, it seems silly to take him with me. But he's still so active it's hard to really picture him being retired. And I still haven't decided whether to keep taking him to weekly classes.

We met with a dog chiropractor at the end of the trial. She had watched him run and asked why I was retiring him. I gave her my list of Whys and she said that I know my dog best and have to make my own decision, but be sure to keep him very active because that's the best way to keep the arthritis at bay. She suggested, for example, any exercises that involve his back legs, including simply walking backwards. That's no problem for Jake--who, at the USDAA nationals, did his best to walk backwards in front of me all the way from the far inside corner of the crating building, across the parking lot, down the stairs, and across the lawn. Down the stairs was a bit of a challenge, but in fact up the stairs would be a good strengthening exercise. We'll see--

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Agility Dog Gets Faster

Our instructor quizzed us in class today on how fast our dogwalks and weave poles are. For Tika, I said confidently that the dogwalk was about 3 seconds and the weaves also 3 seconds. (The 3-second dogwalk was an improvement over where we were--um, hmm, OK, it was April at Power Paws camp the last time I analyzed a lot of our object speeds, where I think her dogwalk was 3.5 to 4 seconds because she slowed down on the down ramp--but I've checked periodically since.)

I was the only one other than the instructor who really had any idea about our own dogs' times.

Her weave poles were consistently right at 3 seconds. This hasn't improved much over time; I was using 3 seconds as a rule of thumb back at Power Paws camp. I think she did the 60-weave-pole Challenge in 18.x, but I'd expect the dog to slow a bit through that many poles. And I've been trying to really push her and reward her right at the end of the weaves while practicing in the yard. Sigh. Time to push harder--instructor's younger dog was about 2.4 and a couple of the other border collies were around 2.8.

Her dogwalk was consistently 2.5! This is much better, and I think she's probably even faster in competition. I need to review the nationals tapes from the other week with my stopwatch in hand and see how fast she was on the obstacles there.

She's also the only one in class, including the instructor's dog, who drove down to the contact in the same amount of time when the handler (me) stopped 10 feet before the end of the ramp. I wasn't positive she'd do it, although I do try to push that behavior during practice all the time--so I was glad that she actually demonstrated it. Still-- instructor's dog was about 2 seconds with handler running with her, and dropped to about 2.4 (added an extra stride across the dogwalk) when she stopped early, so even so they're beating our time. Keep pushing, pushing, pushing...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Traveling Trivia

From San Jose to Scottsdale

We left San Jose at 1:00 on Tuesday afternoon. To avoid the hellhole of 6:00 L.A. commute traffic, we took (85 to 101 to 152 over Pacheco Pass) to I-5 to CA-58 to I-40 (via 15) to Needles, where we stopped for the night around 9:45. The next day, we headed south from Needles on 95 to I-10, then swooped around Phoenix on the 101 loop to Scottsdale.

Mileage: 787. Hours driving at or near speed limit: 12.

Stops: 6, including: Needles overnight (got gas, too, and dinner--which was a bit problematic since everything near our hotel closed at 10:00), 2 other gas/food stops, 2 rest areas for us and the dogs, and a lovely half hour spent in the cool desert sunshine on 95, waiting for an escort through a construction zone; everyone got out of their cars and wandered around on the 2-lane road, craning necks to try to see over the next hill over which the line of stopped vehicles continued.

As we headed over Tehachapi pass in the dark, oohing and ahhing at all of the brilliant stars that our urban lights generally drown out, we stopped briefly and I was delighted to see the Milky Way in its pale glory, which I haven't seen in a good many years. Orion rose slowly in the east ahead of us, and I swear that with all the stars visible, you can actually see the outline of the entire man down to his fingerprints. Jackie said that the desert is actually quite beautiful when it's light and you can see it.

The drive from Needles along 95 was beautiful indeed; interesting mountain ranges of not more that a couple or three sharp and rugged mountains each; strangely shaped yucca of various types; saguaro cacti, mostly young (less than a hundred years or so) since most within our view had very few arms and even then mostly small; and the intriguing ocatillo everywhere.

From Scottsdale to San Jose

Because we left WestWorld at 6:30, we figured we'd be heading through L.A. around midnight and could take the slightly faster route through the L.A. area. We were right. We took I-10 to I-210 to I-5 (and back across Pacheco Pass, etc., just in time to catch a little bit of morning commute traffic headed from Gilroy up 101 towards San Jose.

Mileage: 741. Hours driving at or near speed limit: 11.

Stops: 10, including: Meet my cousin just off the freeway in phoenix for dinner, then get gas; one hour to fix the tire blow-out; 8 other rest and/or gas stops, mostly for me and Jackie to switch drivers and stretch our legs. After about 10:30 the dogs didn't even look interested in getting up; they are, after all, creatures of habit and this was all well within their sleep-through-the-night time.

I took over driving around dawn at the John "Chuck" Erreca rest area south of 152, and the scenery was stunning. I had my camera with me, but there were really no places to pull over. Tendrils of fog lay among the valleys, fields, and orchards; the deciduous leaves were all turning shades of red and yellow, so the vineyards and the rows of nut trees had an unusual beauty; and the rising sun bathed everything in a pale orange glow. Every time I wanted to stop, I couldn't find even a wide enough shoulder to feel comfortable about pulling over, so I have NO photos. Guess i'm not yet a Real Photographer--who cares if one risks death for a chance at a stunning scenic shot?

Monday, November 15, 2004

Xtreme Tag-Team Driving

Back from the nationals. We didn't win, but we had some nice runs. Details later, perhaps, when I'm more awake.

My friend Jackie and I left Phoenix about 8:30 last night after a quick Mexican dinner with my cousin and then a gas-tank fill. About an hour later, 60 miles from Phoenix and 60 miles from Quartzsite (a teeming metropolis, I'll tell you), in the middle of pretty much nowhere, my tire blew out. Jackie, who had been napping, called AAA and tried to explain where we were. I said that we were about 90 miles from Blythe, a couple of miles beyond a rest area about 30 miles before the next rest area. AAA asked whether we had gone through Quartzsite yet. I said no, that's very close to Blythe and we're about 90 miles away from Blythe. So AAA asked whether we had passed 95 yet, and I said no, because that's very close to Blythe and we're 90 miles from there! They asked whether we could see a mile marker.

We were very fortunate for a couple of reasons--we pulled to a stop right next to a wide sandy crossover between the east & west sections of the freeway so were able to pull a good 30 feet off the freeway upon which large semi trucks were hauling away at 75 MPH or so--and right across the freeway Jackie spotted a large "WE 74" mileage marker. She told them this, and they still wanted more information about where we were located. I figured that, by the time they figured out where we were, we'd have the tire changed, let alone sending a truck from some far-off locale.

So we unloaded the parts of our haul that we needed to unload to have access to the tools and the spare, and Lo! all told we had the tire changed in about 56 minutes, just long enough for the AAA guy to arrive. He did serve a useful purpose--confirmed that my spare is a legitimate tire on a legitimate wheel, not a wimpy compact spare, so we could drive full speed all the way home to San Jose without a care in the world.

Then we took turns sleeping and driving, stopping briefly every hour or two at a rest area.

Anyway--got home about 7:45 this morning.

I have no photos of me or my dogs at the trial (why do I carry 3 cameras around all weekend and never think of this?) but I do have a couple photos of the site.

Westworld is a large equestrian site spread out over many acres with gorgeous desert mountains behind it. Our part of the polo fields was configured with 5 agility rings. Ring 1 had large bleachers on three sides, looking out over the desert at a beautiful range of mountains under pure-blue skies (except for those pure white or pure gray clouds).

Here are a couple of view over the Grand Prix Championship final round:

The sunrises and sunsets--under which people were walking and running courses, argh--were stunning almost every day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

USDAA Nationals Day 0

Backfill: Nov 29Arrived at Westworld midafternoon. Found our crating spot in the back corner of the crating "tent" (you wish you had a tent like this for camping! You'd have to reserve the whole campground and bring it in on half a dozen flatbed trucks!).

The tent provides shelter but sound carries and reverberates like nothing I've ever seen. One dog barking fills the entire building so that it's challenging to carry on a conversation--and naturally there is usually more than one barking dog. Noise-sensitive dogs are quivering and quaking and their owners are taking them out of the building to find somewhere else to crate them. Fortunately the weather is nice, somewhat cool, so that crating in a ventilated vehicle is a possibility. Those who have RVs are crating there, even though the walk is considerably longer.

Over the weekend, I'm guessing that fewer than half of the spots that people paid $45 for actually are used. We hardly ever saw most of our neighbors. It's not a fun spot in which to hang out and chat over the day's successes, share photos and snacks, and be generally comradely.

I set up my little purple-and-teal area. Jackie has proven to be an absolute delight to have along on this trip. She manages Jake when we're out walking the dogs; she helps carry and organize and set up and keep things on track and fetch and all that sort of stuff. It's nice being a member of a club in which you can make friends like this.

My dogs are OK, I think. Jake's mostly deaf so it apparently doesn't bother him at all. Tika hardly puts her head down to sleep for a couple of days, but some of that might be that she's not getting much exercise on top of having been in the car for 2 days straight. (Eventually she does nap off and on. No apparent signs of stress at all.)

We get our check-in bag with a t-shirt, a pin (huh--I have my '00 pin but not one for '01; wonder whether I ever got one and, if so, what happened to it?) featuring our favorite overused trite southwestern icon: Kokopelli.

We check in to our hotel--a decent suite with fridge and microwave--and attempt to make the 15-minute drive back to the site for the annual awards dinner, which takes us well over half an hour between construction on the road we try to take (discover later that there's a faster back way), awful commuter traffic, and missing the nifty shortcut to Westworld that everyone else apparently knew about.

Dinner is excellent, there was plenty of food, and lots of awards for Bay Teamers. We are not in bed early that night.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Off to the Nationals

In truth, off to Yosemite for 3 days without the dogs. A bit of sun, a bit of snow on the ground, temperatures ranging from mid-20s (F) overnight to mid-50s dayside. Should be nice for photography.

Back Monday night, unload my Yosemite stuff including the 5th seat in the van that I just put in for passengers, reload all the agility and dog materiel, and head out again Tuesday morning, heading for Scottsdale and the USDAA Nationals.

I'm excited and a little discouraged in advance. I vowed that I'd practice with each dog 15 minutes twice a day every day leading up to the nationals. Huh. Lucky to have gotten in 15 minutes total with all the dogs I could find in the yard, and only about every other day, if that. And mostly with Tika, because she's my Great White(and Gray) Hope. Hardly practiced with the little Jakey dog at all, and oh brother was he in need of an agility tune-up. So I'm expecting that we're going to go and Jake and I are going to crap out early.

I never did get my teeter repaired all summer, and that's Tika's slowest obstacle, so even if we do well enough beyond all miracles and make it to the final round, we'll never have a fast-enough time to win. Ahhhhhh, we probably wouldn't anyway. Then there are little details like this: She ran great in class on wednesday. What a lovely agility girl! Then yesterday, practicing a 90-degree weave entry, she kept blasting around to the back side and entering from the wrong side of the first pole. We'd break it down, backchain a bit, even out the angle and work our way back, and then as soon as I'd rev her up again, around she'd go to the far side. Argggghhhh.

We'll drive to Needles on Tuesday & stay in a hotel there overnight, then on to Scottsdale the next day, hopefully to arrive by mid-afternoon, find the rest of the Bay Teamers who'll be there (many of us), get set up, and go to the hotel to keel over from all those hours of driving. I am going with a friend, but still-- And you know darned well that the Beasts will be sleeping the whole way and will want to romp and play when we arrive.

Then 4 days of competition--2 or 3 or I think sometimes 4 events per dog per day, although if we do well and go on to additional rounds in anything, that'll be more. I can only hope. My first year's goal was to go to the Nationals. So then we managed to "E" offcourse both dogs in the first round of the Grand Prix. As a result, my goal for the following year was to NOT "E" in the first round--and indeed, we didn't, but we had other minor faults or speed issues that kept us from advancing to the next round. This year, my goal is to make it to the final round.

"A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

See you in 10 days or so.