a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Friday at the Big Agility Event

Friday, April 15, 2005

Friday at the Big Agility Event

Backfill: April 17 Thursday night was not quite as cold, but still plenty chilly. I was quite warm and snug in my down cocoon. Wore my long underwear and one layer of fleece until around noon; lost the fleece then and, shortly thereafter, disappeared into my tent to get out of the long underwear. I slathered sunscreen on my face first thing in the morning but the damage had already been done the day before.

Didn't put any lotion on my arms--they get quite a bit of sun normally, plus I'll just try to stay in the shade most of the day.

Regular Classes

Masters Standard: Started the day very well indeed by placing 3rd and Qualifying in Masters Standard. Given that the competitors at this event have come from several states around and even Canada, and there are many familiar top-level dogs here, this is quite an accomplishment. In some ways it doesn't feel like it--Tika crept down her contacts (I'd been standing still & waiting a few seconds yesterday because she was not waiting for the Release from the contacts, which can really screw up my handling). She ticked a couple of bars but fortunately didn't knock any. I almost managed a refusal at one tunnel entrance by overhandling (ack) but came away without a fault. To my surprise, all but half a dozen of these 40 spectacular 26" masters dogs had faults or Eed completely, leaving us in 3rd place. We were 6 seconds off the pace of the first-place dog, but the contacts easily accounted for that. I have *got* to work on fast contacts. (I *have* been working on speeding up--and respeeding--and respeeding--our contacts.)

Masters Snooker: A speed course with an option of 3 or 4 reds in the opening (no, I'm not going to explain snooker again today; someday I'll add links back to the earlier explanations). The 7-pointer was two paralell tunnels with a 6-pointer set of weaves between and the four reds around the outside four corners of the course. We gave four 7s a good try but it pushed the limits of things that we had trained for (such as crossing behind straight tunnels and turning the opposite way) and we had a lot of wide turns and confusions that wasted us a lot of time. Made it through four 7s in the opening and then through #5 in the closing, where we knocked a bar, but then the timer ran out immediately after that, so we wouldn't have made it thru #7 anyway. It's a Q, which is nice, but not a Super-Q... even if we had made it through #6, we'd have still been out of the Super-Qs. Four 6s in the opening and then getting through the closing, it turns out, would have been enough for a Super-Q. I had guessed that it would have had to be four 7s, but apparently that process was just challenging enough to knock out a lot of people.

Master Jumpers: Almost the last event of the day. Jake, in his only appearance of the day, ran fast but I lost him on a front cross and he took an off-course. I attributed that to his being deaf and not hearing me call him at the same time I did the cross, although I had thought he'd be able to see me. An hour or so later, Tika--on the same course--went offcourse in the same place on the same front cross. So the handler was doing *something* wrong there. Sigh.

Team Competition, 2nd and final day

Started the day with Team Snooker. Now, Tika is a fine Snooker dog. Sticks with me well. Isn't at all disconcerted by sharp turns and calloffs. Still, I decided to do what I felt was a conservative opening course because this was, after all, Team Snooker and the important part was to get *reasonable* points, not to get *as many points as possible* (at least to earn a Q). So I lined her up to run forward and wrap tightly around the first red jump. I positioned myself for a lead-out pivot--and she went right past me and over a 2nd red, for an offcourse right away. A bloody 1-point Snooker run.

I was not the only handler to do this--I watched rather a lot of very fine world-class handlers take 1-point runs in this particular Snooker set-up (there were 5 reds arranged in a circle fairly close together in the very middle, so a long-strided dog could easily take 2 reds almost with a bounce-jump). Still--that hurt us. Fortunately my partners hung in there, placing in the top halves of their height groups. But we dropped precipitously to 24th place. At this rate, we'll slip off the top 30 Qing teams by the end of the day. Arghh. I kick myself all day.

Team Jumpers: OK, this is another event in which it's important simply to not E. Speed helps, but not nearly as much as staying on course helps. I watch my partners both run clean runs--not super fast, but clean. The pressure is on. I hate Team. In regular Jumpers, if I screw up, well, I've just screwed up one Jumpers run and just for me. In Team, if I screw up, I've screwed up potentially 5 whole classes for the weekend, making it necessary for 3 different people to try all 5 classes again on another weekend to try all over again to place in the top 50%. Arghhh.

We somewhat hope that a lot of the really fast dogs will end up with offcourses, giving us a better chance with dogs who aren't super fast, but--guess what--no one is Eing! Only a very few dogs are taking off courses. It turns out to be an easy-enough course to do. So suddenly it becomes about speed again, almost as much as about staying on course. That's the other thing I hate about Team--you hope for other teams to do worse than you so that you can qualify. That's not what most of agility is like.

And then--we run. And then--we knock a bar. And then--we're at the finish line after a mighty fast run and have STAYED ON COURSE! Hooray! That knocked bar drops us to 24th out of 50 in our height, but still above average.

When the results are posted, we have moved back up to 21st! Whew! Now, to get through the Relay--

Team Relay: The Relay is rough. Each dog has a maximum of 150 points for this class. An off-course (E) loses you all 150 points. Each dog has to perform about 10 obstacles and stay on course. This turns out to be noticeably harder than the Jumpers course. One dog offcourse could still possibly lose the whole weekend for us: The top team has 886 points after four rounds; we have 706 points and are in 21st place. The 31st place team has 652. Only 50 points separates us. With 150 points PER DOG at risk, we could still lose it in the relay (assuming that the other teams in the middle all do well and don't E--it's not likely, but it's certainly possible).

I have a choice of two parts of the course; I end up with the one with the really ugly weave pole entry. Missing it is merely faults and wasted time to go back and fix it; it's not an E but it'll lose you several points anyway. Tika and I have been working and working and working on her weave entries and she has nailed even tough weave entries for quite some time in competition.

We are team number 37, so we get to (have to) watch 36 other teams ahead of us. I watch dog after dog after dog miss that weave entry. Those fast dogs whip around the far side, trying to make that 90-degree turn, and take the 2nd pole instead of the first. Nancy, with multiple national championships and international championships under her belt, misses the weave entry. Our instructor, Rachel, who has been on our (all of our) cases about being more methodical in training weave entries and whose dogs have wonderful weave entries, misses the weave entry. And then we're up.

But there's a problem. When I take Tika out of her crate, she's still panting from the Jumpers run more than half an hour ago. I walk down the road towards the starting area, and she is walking calmly by my side. This never happens. I set her up in front of a practice jump to do some don't-knock-the-bar drills--and she goes around the jump. I set her up again--and she goes around it. I set her up a little farther off the jump--and she goes *under* it. Three times.

This is almost scary. She doesn't seem to be limping. She doesn't seem to be drooping. But I've never seen her do this before.

We're third in the relay. I put her in a down stay, and she relaxes by leaning over onto her hip and casually sniffing the ground. Good lord, we're supposed to be the fast team, and my dog has died. What do I do if she won't run? My two partners run clean--but the 2nd dog has high prey drive and the handler warned me not to take off until the dog is on leash. He thrusts the baton into my hand, grabs his dog, and starts fumbling, trying to get the leash on. It's taking forever. I decide that the dog is under control, cross my fingers, and take a few steps of lead-out. Tika is still kicked over in a relaxed state, sniffing the ground.

I give the release command--and BAM! a rocket goes past me at about 500 miles per hour. I worried that she'd come into me after the initial tunnel and end up going onto the side of the dogwalk again, which is the 2nd obstacle for us, but she blasts straight ahead and slams across that dogwalk like there's no agility-tomorrow. No slow contact here; I'm pumping like crazy to catch up to her.

My plan is to hang off to the left of the end of the dogwalk so that I can be out ahead of her as she blasts from there across the jump and the tire and I can run straight at the back ring rope so that she doesn't pull in too sharply to the weaves. So--I am indeed off the end of the dogwalk, and she sticks her contact despite the speed, and I release her--and there is NO WAY I am going to beat her to the tire. All I can do is yell "weave!", and she hits that entry like it's the easiest thing in the universe. I don't have time to pump my arm and shout "Yes!" because she's through those weaves like a shot, and then I just have to spin her around through a tight wrap and a circle in the opposite direction, then into the tunnel, and we're done--and she drops a bar. Then I think she's about to go off course and I panic, but in the nick of time realize that we're actually THERE at the END and that's the CORRECT TUNNEL and I send her in--and we're done!

My partners are grinning up at me. "We did it!" Gwen says quietly, and we take our dogs out of the ring and start celebrating--cautiously.

Then there are another 23 teams to run, and then all the long calculations and data entry before the results are finally posted.

We placed 24th in the Relay, which is good enough to allow us to finish the Team event in 19th place! A good solid qualifier. We had a total of 1053 points--compared to the first-place team with 1263; the 31st-place with 924; and the last-place team with 231 (but there were a few teams who lost dogs for one reason or another and couldn't actually complete all the events).

I am very happy.

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