Thursday Evening, ThanksgivingWell. Another agility weekend approaches. I'm scheduled to be in Elk Grove Friday and Saturday for a CPE trial. I'm tired. I'm full. I've spent more than an hour, as usual, loading the car and assembling and packing everything I'll need. I'm even more tired. I haven't attempted to clean up the kitchen from a little food preparation this morning. It's going to have to wait until Sunday. I need to get up at 4:00 Friday morning to get to Elk Grove by 6:30ish for a decent parking spot, and to set up my canopy and potty the dogs and get settled and all, to be ready for the first walkthrough at 7:30.
We've hardly seen any rain all year so far. The weather through autumn has been warm and dry; idyllic, pastoral, lovely, mild, perfect agility weather. But--now that I'm doing agility locally for the first time in over a month--it's scheduled to rain tomorrow. ("Chance of scattered showers" in Elk Grove.)
Why am I going instead of enjoying my 4-day weekend? Because Tika still needs that Jumpers leg (qualifying score towards titles) to finish her first agility championship, to become a CPE Agility Trial Champion, the C-ATCH. And because Tika in particular needs something to do. And because there's a Turkey Trot fun event Friday evening, which Jake's team won last year and Tika's team almost won except we took an extra obstacle at the last possible moment, costing us both time and faults. I'm aiming to rectify that situation. Although Tika's team from last year won't be there so I'm currently teamless. Will have to arrange something when I get there. Part of Jake's team is available, but we'll have to find a 3rd probably.
Well. To bed. I'm tired.
Friday morningThe alarm goes off. I really don't want to wake up. Jeez, I'm tired. I drag myself vertical, dress warmly, fold up The Booster's crate, follow the wave of dogs out into the back yard with a flashlight so that I will know who has pooped. Nothing worse than walking your dogs around, on leash, at an agility event, not knowing whether you should keep walking because you don't know whether someone needs to poop and you don't want to (a) put them back in their crate for 3 hours when they're on the verge or (b) put them in the ring to run really fast when they're on the verge. So starting now I have to keep track. Of three dogs' potty habits.
Everything's wet, so it has rained, although at the moment there's no descending moisture. Great. Well, at least the Elk Grove arena is covered. Still, one has to potty and exercise the dogs outside.
I load the drinks and special doggy junk food into the cooler, load the cooler into the car, set a caffeinated diet Coke ready to drink, let Boost and Tika into their travel crates and strap Jake into his seatbelt, and head for the central valley. It's drizzling.
I have time to think while I'm driving because switching the windshield wipers from low to high to intermittent to off and back around again isn't all that intellectually stimulating. Sometimes I hate thinking this much. Tika's problem with Jumpers is knocking bars. Oh, sure, once in a blue moon we go off course, but I'd say much less than the average bear. In USDAA, you cannot earn a jumpers leg with any knocked bars, and Tika routinely knocks one. In CPE, until you're at the Championship level, you can get away with knocking one bar and still get the Q (Qualifying score--same as a leg). So Tika routinely knocks TWO. I've been working on jumping techniques a very little bit with her since coming back from the nationals, but not a lot, because I've not felt really well for a good portion of the last week. Argh.
And our next chance to get that last Jumpers leg isn't until early January. I've waited for 3 months since our last chance. This is going to go on forever! Like many people, the feeling about the last leg for the CH is that it's just going to be so good to get it over with, to stop having to wonder when it'll happen, to stop stressing over it every time you run a class where This Could Be It. Even though it's "only" CPE and even though Tika's really still fairly young, I find that I really want to get this leg.
We get all the way to Elk Grove without a flat tire (unlike 2 other trips there earlier this year...) We arrive at Starfleet Arena at the WAG facility just after 6:30. Get a good parking spot. It's not raining at that moment, but it's on the cold side. I get to work setting up my canopy. (Have to move Boost to elsewhere in the car, unstrap and unload Boost's crate, which sits atop the canopy, get the canopy frame out and loosen it up, get out the bag with the canopy top and sides, get it set up and staked in (it's a bit breezy), and just then it starts drizzling. Perfect timing! Can't tell you how often I've had to try to set up in the rain.
ColorsToday, they're running tall to small and top-level down, so Tika, one of a very few 24" dogs, is up right about 8:00. We had a terrible time getting enough Colors legs towards our C-ATCH because you cannot have any bars down in this one. Tika is on. I'm on. We're communicating well. Tika blasts through that course without a single time-wasting bobble, although she doesn't stick after she hits the ground after the Aframe. I let it go, although I probably shouldn't.
She keeps all her bars up.
Tika is the fastest of all of the 87 dogs of various heights and levels who run this course. 1st place and a Q.
Jake is also running in Colors. He's been getting slower over time, and particularly going through curved tunnels and through the weaves. And I always need to get him out of his crate in plenty of time to work out all the aches and stiffness of his arthritis. But there are so many dogs between Tika and Jake that I get involved in several conversations about Turkey Trot teams and strategies and all of a sudden I realize that the dog before Jake is running.
I race out to my canopy; Jake is 100% guaranteed sound asleep; wakes up as I whip open the zipper to his crate and leaps to his feet--and he's ready to go! Jeez! Even in the cold and rain, he trots from his crate, tail wagging, stretches mightily, and starts dancing around for his goodies. He jogs, even runs with me, tail going, as I dash back to the ring. They've moved us to the end of our height, so I have about a minute in which to get him to do some lefts and rights and something like stretches, but no time in which to get him revved up or go over practice jumps.
He's also lately been leaving the start line early. I think it has something to do with being deaf and not being certain about what I want. Or maybe he's just naughty. Anyway, to do this course well, I need to lead out past the first two jumps, push him sharply into a curved tunnel, and make a right turn into a set of weaves--and he's also been missing weave entries the last several months, so I have to be very careful.
He stays at the start line!
I release him and he blasts towards me like the Jake of old, redirects into the tunnel without a hitch or hesitation, zooms through it like he used to, and makes his weave entry! He zooms through a second curved tunnel and I'm having to be on my toes; he hasn't run like this much in a while. A pefect run for a now-14-year-old guy! He's had trouble winning even in CPE for a while because his time has been slow, but he beats all 6 other dogs in his class for a Q and first place. Whatta guy.
This weekend is starting out quite well, actually. I hope it continues.
CPE PlacementsOne cool thing about CPE (for us)--we're a big team in a small pond, rather than in USDAA where we're a small team in a big pond with lots of big fishies. Even with Jake, when he wasn't quite so old and deaf and slowing, we did very well, but with Tika's speed and drive and our skill as a team, we're definitely at the top of the heap in CPE. We still have some competition that keeps us on our toes, but we're all closer to being equals and there aren't nearly so many as in USDAA.
CPE also makes it easier to take placement ribbons home. There are 7 levels and 6 heights, so that for any one class (e.g., Colors), there are potentially 42 first places available. In fact, for this Colors class, 113 dogs ran and 32 earned first places. That's not a bad proportion. Some groups are always more crowded than others, however. For example, the 16" groups and 20" groups always have quite a few dogs in them (except at Level 1, where it's also likely to be a small group); the "S" level and the 8" height groups are examples where there are likely to be very few dogs. Jake's two classes consisted of 7 and 9 dogs; Tika's six consisted of between 2 and 5 dogs.
In contrast, at a USDAA trial, there are 3 levels, 2 categories, and 4 heights, so there are only 24 potential first places per class.
WildcardIt's about a 10-obstacle course but there are 3 places where you have a choice of obstacles and you have to do the right ones or you don't Q. And keep your bars up.
Tika doesn't even pretend to hit the ground at the bottom of the Aframe, taking off from somewhere mid-yellow-zone. I stop to tell her briefly that this isn't a good idea, then we take off again.
But she keeps all her bars up. And despite the stop to discuss her contact, she's still 4th fastest of about 90 dogs. Of course, ONE of those four happens to be in her exact height and level, so she takes only a 2nd place with her Q on that run.
StandardStandard numbered course. Tika is being quite wired. Maybe it's the off-and-on rain and cool weather. Maybe she likes seeing me look like a drowned rat. Maybe she's just glad to be doing agility after hours in the crate. She blasts off from the start line, does the first few obstacles, hits the teeter totter like Mario Andretti, slams it to the ground, and immediately takes off over the next jump, leaving me standing there waiting for her to WAIT AT THE BOTTOM FOR HER RELEASE. OK, this is too much. I just stand there until she trots and dances back to me to tell me Come ON, mom, don't just STAND there! This is FUN! and I tell her that that was no way to do a contact, that she'd better pay better attention to her touch, all the while casually strolling past the next jump so she doesn't take it again, with her dancing around in front of me, now calming a little, though, as she realizes she's being scolded.
Finally I line her up for the next obstacle, the dogwalk, and she propels herself across nearing the speed of sound, hits the bottom full speed--and waits for her release! We continue around the course, she does the Aframe rapidly, hits the bottom--and waits for her release!
AND she keeps all her bars up.
Even with that long pause, she takes 1st and a Q in her group, although we're certainly not at the top of the speed list for this one.
Turkey TrotIt's finally, oh, I dunno, 6 pm. I'm a bit tired but looking forward to the turkey trot. At least it stopped raining. We've had most of the day to look over the course map, which looks something like this:
This is strategic triplets. You'll notice that, although the course is numbered, the sequence is broken up all over the ring--first three start in lower right and go up; next three start in upper left and go right, etc. The idea is that the three dogs position themselves to perform the various sequences in order. So, for example, the first dog is ready at #1; the second dog is ready at #4; the third dog is ready at #7. As soon as the first dog completes #3, the second dog does 4-5-6. As soon as that dog successfully completes #6, the third dog does 7-8-9. Meanwhile, dog #1 and #2 have been getting into position to do #10 and #11-12-13. And so on.
You can divide up the course any way you want among the dogs. The only requirement is that at SOME point all the numbered obstacles must be taken in the order from 1 to 22. It doesn't matter if you do other obstacles in-between. For example, the dog doing 4-5-6 could then zip through the tunnel #17 to get into position for #11-12-13 while the other dogs are completing 7-8-9 and then 10. Clear as mud?
|Jake's team. (Somehow I never managed to gather my other team and get a picture.)|
I used colors to show how Jake's team divided the course among the three dogs; green, blue, and red represent 3 different dogs.
Here's the big trick. If a dog has a fault--knocked bar, missed contact, and so on (it's not possible by definition to have an offcourse since it doesn't matter if other obstacles are taken in-between), one of your teammates must redo the obstacle correctly. Repeat until obstacle taken correctly. So, for example, if Tika were to knock a bar, I'd have to be resetting the bar (and controlling my dog reasonably well) while yelling for help and one of my teammates would have to race over and take the jump without faulting it.
Or, if Tika were to pop the dogwalk contact, one of my teammates would have to redo the dogwalk and get the contact correctly--if they missed, I or my 3rd teammate would have to try, etc. (which happened to one team--took 4 tries to get a dogwalk down contact).
The smaller trick is that the handler who does #1 must be carrying the baton (a rubber chicken) and the handler who does #22 must be carrying the baton, so a switch has to be made somewhere in all that chaos on course.
So. Tika's team broke it up slightly differently, although pretty similar, and assigned dogs to different combinations, so she did 4-5-6, 11-12, and 16-17-18. There are 3 bars in that collection. I warned my teammates that Tika's biggest issue is knocking bars, so to be on their toes. Plus the dogs get *very* excited with all the hubbub, plus running and stopping, other dogs on the course, going past obstacles, doing weird things--
Tika did the 4-5-6 without knocking a bar. She was really fast. Our teammates are doing fine but I'm not calling out "switch" (our particular keyword) when I'm done because I'm first calling Tika so she doesn't end up on the far side of the universe. My teammates are doing fine. We're about to do 11-12 when our offduty teammate's dog blasts into the opposite end of tunnel #12 and I have to wait for them to get out of the way. We do that bit and line up for 16-17-18. Tika is wired beyond belief. We get the signal. She takes off--and leaves up her final bar! And then--
--I have NEVER seen Tika completely clear air going over the top of an Aframe before. I was afraid that she was going to land clear out on the ground, but in fact she lands about halfway down, hits her contact, and sticks it. My teammates finish, and we leave the course in great delight.
Jake's parts were more subdued, and he was more subdued--I think in part because he's mostly deaf and we didn't have as many dogs crossing our paths--and despite having to do 4 tunnels and a 12-pole weave (he did the blue dog part), he once again did them very quickly for him, and our teammates--reliable, experienced dogs all--did fine.
|Our winning turkey baskets.|
|The top top turkey turkey and her two turkey dogs.|
There were a few other teams who also had no faults for which they had to switch, but some of them wasted time doing longer sequences with the same dog, requiring wrapping around jumps, covering more yardage, and so on. One team that I thought was going to beat us ended up making the only "off course" flaw that could get them--the last dog did #21 and #22, stopping the clock, before the previous dog had completed #19 and 20. So you really had to know what the dog before you was doing.
We had to wait a bit for the results to be announced. There were three 8/12" teams, 7 16" teams (Jake's group) and 10 20/24" teams (Tika's group). We knew we had done well, but as they announced 3rd and 2nd places in each and it wasn't us, I knew that we had won.
I was the only handler on two winning teams. And I don't think that any of this year's winners were last year's winners except Jake. So--we got 2 turkey baskets stuffed with people and doggie goodies, and each winner had to wear their "Top Turkey" button for the rest of the weekend. I had to wear two.
We didn't get out of there until about 7:30; I found my hotel finally, grabbed some food, took some stuff up to the hotel room, pottied the dogs, blah blah. Didn't get to bed til around 10, late for an agility night. The last dog walking takes place in air that's far colder than it had been that morning. Seems like we're in for a chill.
But all in all quite a successful and happy day.
Saturday MorningSaturday morning came really early. Woke with a tickle in my throat and a cough about 4:15 and, by the time it had cleared, I couldn't get back to sleep. (This seldom happens on agility weekends--I'm always so tired that I have no trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or returning to sleep when I do wake up.) I had intended to get up at 6:00 but finally gave up about 5:40. Showered. Dressed. Took the dogs out to potty.
It is COLD COLD COLD. Brrr. With a bit of a wind, too. Dogs all cooperate and do their business together, making my life so much easier. I pack up everything and the dogs and myself and I'm back over at Starfleet Arena by 6:30ish.
It's STILL cold cold cold as the sun comes up. Glad I put on my long (not thermal) underwear pants in the morning. I do have my long down coat with me, but it's so awkward to move around in and I don't want to get it dirty in the covered dirt arena, which gets EVERYthing dusty no matter how careful you are. I'll reserve it for moments of true cold desperation. Turns out that I never do switch to it, although there are times when, if I couldn't perch in front of someone's large propane heater, I'd have probably needed it.
Our first run isn't until noon. Things are NOT running efficiently and I'm not sure why people aren't pushing to make it happen. At this rate I'll be lucky to get my jumpers run done by dinnertime--today they're running small to tall and novice up, so Tika is running last in each class. Which means that our Jumpers run will be about the 3rd to the last of the entire day.
Who's going to want to stick around that long in this weather? The sun is out, but it's not helping much. I buy a big cup of hot chocolate from Hungry Dog Catering, who's grilling and cooking onsite, and it's the most wonderful thing I've had in ages. Warms my hands and my belly.
I help out at the trial--always do--doing one job or another. Get my worker raffle tickets, put them into various cool stuff in the raffle. Most of the things that interest me are in Sunday's drawing and I won't be here, so I ask my friends to check for me. My friend Arlene, who works at Bed Bath & Beyond, brings me my own box of peppermint bark because she knows I love it and they carry it only around the holidays (and apparently run out quickly). This makes my day seem much brighter. But still cold.
StandardOur standard run for today has some tricky bits to it, but I'm feeling relaxed and confident. After all, this is NOT for a title or a C-ATCH; it's just one more leg among the hundreds I'll need to get for our eventual C-ATE. Yeah, like that's ever going to happen. So it's basically for fun. In two places on the course, I manage to fail to push Tika out to her next obstacle, so she runs past one jump that we have to spin around to take, and almost runs past a tunnel entrance, but we catch it in time.
And she keeps her bars up.
I'm afraid to say anything about all those bars that are staying up. Not that I'm superstitious--but I don't want to jinx it anyway.
Despite the bobbles, Tika is still the fastest of the eleven 24" dogs doing this course and among the five fastest of the 100 or so others. For a first place and a Q.
SnookerThings start to fall apart here. It's 4 in the afternoon and we've still got all of levels 1/2, 3, and 4/5/C of the Jumpers classes still to course build, wait for walk throughs (with the 4/5/C split into 2 groups). I'm really tired now, with the stress of waiting for that jumpers run, having been up since 4 that morning, not getting enough sleep the night before, being COLD COLD COLD all day. People are starting to give up and head home, although not as many as there would have been on a Sunday; most people are staying through tomorrow, although I still have a 2-hour drive home.
I haven't had dinner. I don't have dinner with me. Hungry Dog Catering has gone home. First, I forget that Jake is a 12" dog now, not a 16" dog, so I haven't been able to walk the course for him. Since this is CPE, I could probably have just told them that I forgot and they'd have let me walk and run with the bigger dogs, but I just didn't want to confuse things or hold them up, so I construct a course that I think will be easy for us to get through so that he can simply run an entire course, since it's his only run of the day.
I get him out of his crate, and once again he's very happy and bouncy. We could do very well on this course. I line him up and he again stays at his start line. We do red, color, red, color, red...and he doesn't turn the same way I'm turning (this has been an ongoing problem, worse and worse the less he hears) even though I tried very hard to signal strongly with my body. I dash around the jump to try to catch his attention, but meanwhile he's dashing around to the other side of the jump to figure out where I went, and then he sees me--and backjumps the dang jump. So we're done. At least I can run him across the course and through a tunnel and jump to get to the table to stop the clock, but I'm disappointed in myself both for missing the walkthrough (I think I'd have done something different if I'd actually been able to walk through the sequence) and in my handling.
Then Tika is up. I plan a course where I have to lead out ALLLLL the way across the course and call her to me over a jump and onto the #7 obstacle. Everyone does this in USDAA. In CPE, it apparently impresses people (anyway, those who don't do USDAA). I sat her at the start line and started walking out. She lifted her butt and shuffled her front feet and I said "sit" again, and she sat and waited very nicely while I walked all the way out there, lined up, turned, and finally released her. We had a couple of bobbles where I wasn't clear and she turned to bark at me rather than do the next obstacle, but for the most part it goes well, she's VERY fast and does most of her turns and send-outs very nicely, and we're on target to get 49 points (out of 51 possible)--and the end-of-time whistle blows before we can complete #6 and 7 (for 13 points) in the closing. Now, we did waste some time in the bobbles, but this was a VERY quick course and Tika is a VERY quick dog and I'm a bit baffled as to how we could be out of time.
A friend later tells me that I set Tika up so close to the start line that, when she half stood and moved her feet, her nose crossed the start line and started the clock. So I probably lost 15 seconds or more of a 45-second course with my lead-out before she started running. I thought I had lined her up a ways before the orange cone near us, but apparently the line to the other orange cone wasn't where I thought it was. Because normally I set her up with lots of room exactly because she does often stand and step or scootch a bit.
So it's still a Q. It's only a 4th place instead of a solid first. But--
She kept all her bars up! It's getting spooky. Is she just having a good bar weekend or is she saving them all for Jumpers?
I'm getting nervous. Hungry. More tired, let's say exhausted. It is really cold, although I'm sure it's not freezing. I waste some time by dismantling my canopy before it gets dark, and apparently just in time, because the wind accelerates and pulls up and destroys 3 other canopies in my vicinity within a half hour of when I finished my packing. The dogs are now in their crates in the car. They've been pottied. I remember that I didn't eat my banana that morning, so I have that to tie me over. (Tied me over? Tide me over?)
I watch other people run the jumpers course. It's a tougher one, lots of loop-de-dos and a couple of tricky places where you either have to be blindingly fast yourself to make a tricky front cross, or be fast in a different direction to push your dog out of a line of jumps to a tunnel--never easy, but even harder with a fast, long-strided dog. It looks more like a small-dog course than a big-dog course, but I haven't walked it yet. Still, even small dogs are having trouble with it.
Finally the 16, 20, and 24" dogs walk the course. It requires 4 or 5 quick front crosses from me, which is a lot, but I think we can do it. I think I can even be in position to easily make the push out to the tunnel. But then I watch all the 16 and 20" dogs do the course, and some of them are experienced, expert handlers, and THEY have trouble with the course. There's nothing else for me to do, really, but watch, though. It's dark. It's cold. Nowhere else to go, nothing else to do.
Finally we get to the 24" dogs. It's after 7 pm. I can assure you that, if I didn't want this run so badly, I'd have been on the road probably 2 hours ago. Which means that i can't even pretend that this is a normal run any more; it's special enough that I have to stay for it.
People are leaving as they finish their runs. No wonder. It's cold and getting colder by the minute, and it's late, and they all want food and sleep. But that means that, IF I succeed, I'll have only a few friends still there to celebrate and to sign my pole. I comfort myself by telling myself that I can leave it there for Sunday and have Arlene bring it to me during the next week or 2, because I'll be seeing her at least twice. Then I try not to get my hopes up, because we could so easily knock 2 bars on this course.
We Finally RunWe're finally on the line. Tika is wired. She is more than wired. She is in rocket launching mode again. I don't know that I need this on this course, where we need to be smooth and sleek and in control. She'll be fast, that's for sure. I take a really deep breath and walk out. The start-line stay is important on this one, or we'll be offcourse into the wrong side of a tunnel on obstacle #3.
She stays. I release her, and she flies across the first two jumps and into the correct tunnel end and I do my first cross while she's in the tunnel. The first danger is past--often the bars that she knocks are the first or second as she begins with excitement. We make a long haul up one side of the course and I get my second front cross in--and a bar goes down! Jeez Louise! That's it, that's our limit, and we still have three quarters of the course to do. The arena is silent. We zoom back in the direction we came and I start working my way away from her towards my push as she starts around a curve.
This is what I hate about having people know that this is a key run for us. I know they're all watching. I know they're all holding their breaths. I know that if I blow it, I have to deal with my disappointment as well as with everyone else having wanted to say congrats and not being able to. I don't like it. The only reason TO do it is that, if you succeed, people cheer wildly and then you get to do a run around the ring wit your ribbon and your bar, which they'll have had waiting hidden in the background, and your dog running madly around the obstacles, not knowing exactly what the deal is but having fun. So I guess for the most part it's better that people know.
I try not to think about it. I try to just get into the flow of the course. I almost forget to do my next front cross, but I get it in while she's in the tunnel after all. We loop around several jumps--and I almost forget to do my last front cross, too (can tell from that that I'm nervous because my brain is shutting down), but skeedaddle into place just in the nick of time without distracting Tika.
And then we're in the homestretch, down a slightly curving line of three jumps and through the tire--and we're done. Now--it's possible that we could've knocked 2 bars. It wouldn't have been the first time that she ticked one lightly that dislodged and went down quietly into the dirt instead of rattling against the uprights as it fell. I didn't hear her tick any, but then I don't always.
It's possible that, in my state of mind, I forgot some of the course and in fact did not complete it successfully. It went by so fast that it's certainly possible. I'm gathering Tika up and praising her wildly (because she was a great dog on this course whether or not we got that Q and that C-ATCH) but waiting a heartbeat, or two--and several people start cheering and screaming, and then I know. And I jump up in the air with my arms over my head and I start cheering and Tika is jumping up and down and I'm telling her what a great dog she is. Someone runs out and hands me my bar and my ribbon--I'm ashamed to say that I have no idea who it is, I'm just making sure that I don't drop them when they hand them to me and that Tika doesn't go running in some other direction, and then we make a wild run around the ring, me running faster than I feel like I have in years, Tika blasting around the outer perimeter with joy and abandon.
It's just a dang CPE championship, for crying out loud, not even the USDAA ADCH, which we've still got a long way to go for. But I'm relieved and grinning and happy.
And tired and hungry.
|Me, Tika, our bar and ribbon, and the nice judge who designed and judged our championship run.|
The Long Journey HomeThen I finally hit the road. It's 8 pm. I am now officially working to stay fully alert, AND my stomach is telling me that it's very very hungry, AND my car is almost out of gas. I have to make a detour to the nearest gas station, and there aren't any fast foods nearby, so I have to stop again half an hour down the road to buy a taco (at the drive-up window, and then eating as I'm going).
I'm feeling droopy. Prairie Home Companion, which can entertain me if my timing is right, is long over. I'm not sure whether I'm going to make it only to Tracy or actually over the hills to Livermore, but I know I'm going to have to stop for a nap.
|This weekend's haul. Only Jake's Snooker run didn't earn a Q or placement or win.|
Wake up a little after 10:30, an hour later, dash in to the restroom at the JITB, and head home. In bed by midnight.
I'd say generally a pretty darned fine weekend, and we're all still alive and healthy.