a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Another USDAA Weekend

Monday, May 02, 2005

Another USDAA Weekend

The big goals for the weekend were:
  • Qualify in the Grand Prix, which would finish our requirements for all 3 events for the November National/International Championships in Scottsdale.
  • Qualify in one Standard run, one Jumpers run, and one Gamblers run to earn her Master Agility Dog title (all-around title at the masters level--usually the first title one earns at the Masters level).
Bonus goals would be:
  • Qualify for round 2 of the Steeplechase.
  • Earn a Super-Q (top 15%) in Snooker, which she'll need eventually for her championship.
  • Earn placement ribbons (as well as Qs) in any of the masters-level events.
Basic ongoing performance goals would be:
  • Don't knock bars.
  • Hit and stick all her contacts (that is, wait for the "OK" release).
  • Stay at the start line (wait for the "OK" release AND don't scootch forward).
  • Stay in a sit (not lying down) at the start line.
  • Don't do any stupid handler things.
  • Don't bite my feet after the finish line. (That would be a Tika goal--I don't usually bite my own feet even after a bad run).
Masters Pairs, first thing Saturday. We teamed with Indy, a Cattle Dog with an interesting history. Found with massive body and head injuries and no owner, the clinic figured he was badly injured enough that recovery would be difficult and expensive and he'd never really be normal; without someone to pay for or care for him, he might as well be put to sleep. But Anne—who worked at the clinic and didn't have her own dog—found something appealing about this little dog and said she'd be his owner. Now, a few years later, he's a fast, happy, talented little agility dog. His only flaw is a tendency to get the "zoomies" on course—running in wild patterns full speed, taking no direction from Anne. This is not the only dog with this challenge. But I had wanted to team with Indy for a while; I believe that Tika and Indy earned an Advanced Pairs leg together before getting to Masters. If both dogs stayed on course, we could easily have the speed to place in addition to Qualifying.

Tika went first. The nice thing about pairs is that the score is time plus faults—so if you're really fast, you can make up for, say, 5 faults for a knocked bar. Tika went really fast. She stayed at the start line. She knocked a bar. She stayed on course. At the end, although she lunged and snarfed at me, she did not grab my feet, which enabled me to cross the wide baton-exchange area without tripping and hand Anne the baton. Indy did not get the zoomies. Unfortunately, he popped out of the weaves one pole too soon and then took the next obstacle, which becomes an offcourse (didn't complete weaves before doing the next obstacle). Which is an E(limination). Oh, well, we'll try again some other weekend.

Masters Standard was up next. You have to be completely clean in Standard. It was a tough course with some challenging twists and turns, which can cause more knocked bars and offcourses than usual. Tika stayed at the start line. She was leaving her contacts a little early, but at least once she stuck it while I said "good girl" and then released. The last wild series of jumps we clung to by the tips of our toenails—it was not a pretty sequence, but we stayed on course and kept all of our bars up, so we were clean. Turns out that the course ate up 26 of the 31 26" dogs (Tika's jump height) with faults or offcourses, so Tika was one of only 5 dogs who Qed—AND took 4th! Mom is happy--that's the last Standard she needs towards her MAD.

Masters Gamblers followed. OK, this was an *easy* gamble. You don't get much easier than this in Masters Gamblers. In fact, you could tell, because the judge assigned it only a 10-point value rather than the usual 20. All we had to do was get there with some forward momentum and we'd be fine. In the opening, she knocked a bar, then later when I tried to turn her 270 degrees from the Aframe into a tunnel underneath on the opposite side, I bobbled it and she bounced around, back and forth, trying to figure out where to go, wasting probably several seconds. I didn't adjust my opening to account for that, so when the whistle blew, I was in the middle of the weave poles, further away from the gamble than I wanted to be, and I hate pulling her out of the weaves (and in fact it's tough to do so because I've worked hard at training her to stay in!). So then instead of executing the 2-jump lead-in to the gamble that I had planned, I decided that I would take a shortcut and wrap her around me over one jump instead of sending her ahead of me. Well--duh--guess what, she lost her forward momentum and kept wrapping back in towards me instead of going out and doing the gamble. Argh! So we were the opposite of standard--one of only about 12 dogs who did NOT get the gamble and the Q. Mom is very annoyed with herself. I *always* do this (change my approach plan on course) and I *always* regret it!

Masters Jumpers. Suffice it to say that she had a nice, fast, flowing, smooth run and knocked a bar, which prevented us from Qing.

Jake ran in P3 Jumpers, which is the "veterans" equivalent of Masters Jumpers. It's always challenging with him, now, because if he gets ahead of me, I can't call him on sharp turns, so I often have to do some extra really fast running and challenging front crosses to keep in his view. To my surprise and delight, we made it all the way through the course for a Q and a 3rd place--the dogs who beat him are both former national champions, so I feel good about that.

Steeplechase Round 1 was, as usual, a fast course; this time it had 2 Aframes rather than 2 sets of weaves. The first time down the Aframe, I released her very quickly; the second time down, she released herself and I was stuck standing still, so she spun to face me and start telling me that she wanted to know what to do next. This was a problem because what she needed to do next was the jump directly behind her, with her directly between me and it. I finally got her turned around and over it, but we wasted probably 3 or 4 seconds at that. And then—she later knocked a bar. Steeplechase, like the Relay, is time plus faults. Once again, her time was fast enough to make it to the 2nd round, but the knocked bar *plus* the wasted time dropped her out of the running. If she hadn't dropped the bar, we'd have still made it; I'm guessing but don't know for sure that if we hadn't had the bobble, we'd have made it despite the dropped bar. SOOOOOO we need to work on our contacts again.

Sunday starts with another Jumpers round. A chance to redeem ourselves. Tika is very excited and runs supremely fast, although twice I apparently give her conflicting info and she turns the wrong way after a jump, wasting a second or so each time to turn her, and the 2nd one is over a triple-jump, resulting in a knocked bar. Once again, no Q. I am somewhat gratified to see that, among the other 5-fault dogs, Aiko and Tala (Boost's mom) who are among the fastest around have times that are slower than Tika's by tenths of a second. I know we're in there competitively speed-wise--but can't keep our bars up!

So there goes our last chance to earn a needed leg for our MAD.

Jake is in P3 Jumpers again, and once again I throw in a couple of extra front crosses and we're great up until the last 2 obstacles--when he thinks that the previous jump was the last jump because it's sort of heading towards the side of the ring, and he slows and veers off. By the time I get his attention back, he has crossed the plane of the next obstacle for a 5-point runout fault, so no Q for him. And the stupid handler thing was that not only did I never even consider that as a possible problem, but I should have, and if I had, there was a very simple handling front cross that I could have done to solve it. Argh. But he has fun running, and that's really the main reason we're doing this for him.

Masters Standard. Well, she's been staying at her start line all weekend although she keeps wanting to lie down when I start to walk away; I am *insisting* that she sit up, even returning to the start line to tell her to get up. In fact--she does! (A bit to my surprise but it shows that some training pays off--used to be, once she was in a Down, she wouldn't go up into a Sit no matter what. When I finally decided to practice at home, I realized that we had never practiced or trained this, and she didn't really know how to do it. So we practiced it!) But, all weekend she has also been leaving her contacts earlier and earlier, it seems. In this run, she makes some challenging wraps and turns beautifully, but goes over the up contact on the dogwalk for a fault, so we're now not going to Q. She stops on the dogwalk contact, but the instant I start "Good...", she bounces off. On the teeter, she stops, but the instant I start "Good...", she bounces off. On the Aframe, she doesn't even stop, so I just walk her off the course.

Masters Snooker will be a challenge. It requires four red jumps in the opening, which are scattered around the field; the 7-pointer is 3 challenging jumps, and the 6-pointer is a teeter. Since Tika has problems knocking bars, I'm a little worried about doing all those twisty turny jumps *plus* a long lead-out to get to the first 7-pointer. But, watching all the 22" dogs do the course, it requires two 7s and two 6s in the opening (along with the reds) to get the Super-Q. So I do the long lead-out. She stays at the start, does *not* knock the first bar, sails effortlessly into the 3-jump 7-pointer, and we're on our way. We negotiate the technically challenging opening like it's nothing. We blast into the closing, which requires a couple of tough calls, and she responds like an old pro. We get through 2 and 3 and 4 and the tunnel part of #5--and she knocks the bar part of #5 as she blasts onto the teeter of #6, so we're done without earning points beyond #4. We had 8 seconds left on our point accumulation time *after* we crossed the finish line, so we had plenty of time left to get through the 7-pointer, but alas, although this earns us a basic Q, it is not a Super-Q.

Grand Prix. OK, we have successfully knocked one bar in every round so far except yesterday's Standard. In Grand Prix, you can have up to 7 faults, and a bar is only 5. But of course I'd rather not knock any--and there are beautiful placement ribbons if you manage to place. Requires fast and accurate, but my goal is simply to Q, so I'm not going to push it. On the first three jumps, she already knocks a bar (I think--don't remember where exacty we knocked it), so the rest of the course has to be clean. On the Aframe, I do a very fast front-cross/push, releasing her almost immediately, so I'm not sure what'll happen on the teeter or dogwalk. She holds the teeter briefly and I release her fairly quickly so she doesn't have the chance to mess up. No refusals or bobbles anywhere, and it's a tough course in places. The up on the dogwalks is the only other worry, so my peripheral vision is always checking the judge's hands as she blasts over it--and the judge's hand stays down! Then, on the downramp, she goes into "I'd better not make a mistake so I'm going to slow to a complete crawl getting to the bottom" mode. Argh! I don't thinks she's going to be over time, but with the knocked bar, all we could afford would be 2 seconds of faults. So, when she gets there, I release her, and she sails over the last jump and HOORAY! We've qualified in the Grand Prix!

So--to work on:
  • Not knocking bars. It's back to jumping drills--if I can manage it, dozens of jumps a day, both individually and in sequences.
  • WOrking on contacts--I want more drive than I've got even when she's excited, but I want her to *wait* when she drives to the bottom!
  • Start line. Hmm, I've been thinking for a while about the one trainer who said that she just figures out what her dog likes to do at the start line and then uses that as their position; Tika likes to lie down, so maybe I should just start doing that all the time, positioning her farther out from the first jump each time so she has more room to come erect and leap. So very many handlers who want their dogs to start in a sit spend so much time fighting and training their dogs to stay in the sit. But I still haven't decided. If I do decide, we need to start doing billions of practices from a lying start.

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