a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: February 2006

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Lester Property

Here's a news release about that big property behind me ("The Lester Property") that will someday be a park, dated October 28, 2003:

In a remarkable commitment to preserve the County’s rich agricultural history, Walter Cottle Lester of the Cottle Ranch family has entered into an agreement with the County of Santa Clara and California State Parks to enable them to preserve and develop 290 acres of land into a historic agricultural park. Lester gifted the County with 153.3 acres and, in a separate transaction, sold State Parks 136.5 acres at a significant discount. The County of Santa Clara will develop and manage the entire property as the Martial Cottle Park. The park’s name is significant because Martial Cottle, Mr. Lester’s grandfather, originally settled the property in the 1860s.

Fencing Parts 3 and 4

The back corner showing daylight through fence, compost bin, neighbor's new fence to the right.
Closeup of part of old fencing, showing daylight through fence plus previous owner's wire-fencing fix.

Yes, you missed parts 1 and 2. (Although I might have covered Part 2 in this blog at least a couple of years back.)

See, my yard borders 4 other yards--the neighbor to the right, who replaced that stretch of fencing about 4 years ago (I paid half). The neighbor behind me, who replaced that stretch of fence maybe 2 years ago. (I paid half.) The neighbor to the left, who had told me that he was getting estimates for new fencing. And...my fourth neighbor is a gigantic empty lot of 290 acres, which is destined to eventually be a park, but who in fact cares not a whit that it shares 10 feet of fencing with me.

That 10 feet of fencing has been in a sorry state since long before I moved in. You can see in the photo that there are actually boards missing (not the ones to the left--the fencers have already started dismantling the fence to replace it--but all the bits of daylight you can see through the shrubbery) or shoved to one side or the other.

You can also see that the shrubs behind the round compost bin have kicked the bucket this year; not sure why entirely. But this is bad, because the other thing that you might be able to imagine is that, if Tika stands on the content of the bin, she can now put her feet on top of that old fence and look out into the wilderness. This has been worrying me a bit; I've left the shrubbery carcasses in place as a slight deterrent until I could figure out what to do.

There is a chain-link fence behind the wooden fence, but there's a slight gap. And you can see from the close-up that the previous owner had fastened wire fencing to this side of the wooden fence as a fix to keep their dogs in the yard. My fear has been that Tika would try to get out over the top , and would either succeed or would end up in that small gap between the chain link fence and my fence with no way to get her out. Fortunately, that hasn't happened.

Here's the bad thing. To replace the fence--because it's scrunched firmly between the chain link and the shrubs--they have to pretty much remove the shrubs.

Here's the other bad thing. I was intending to get some WORK work done today, like as in money to go do agility. Just before 10, there were some loud bangs outside. They continued enough that I started to head out to the yard to see what was going on. The dogs preceded me, raced around to the side yard, and started barking up a ferocious watch-dog storm. I followed, to find a complete stranger in my yard, my neatly piled stack of pipes and firewood tossed aside, and 16 feet of fence missing.

Someone somewhere neglected to inform me that I was going to have a fence removed today. I am glad only that I was home today. What would have happened had they cornered the worker in the yard without me there? Or if they had taken off through the open fence? It makes my stomach hurt, thinking about it. So instead of being able to plan to remove things that I had on or next to the fence, and do it slowly, carefully, and deliberately, I rushed through it; had to move an entire compost pile rapidly with my cruddy shoulder complaining the whole way, and no comfortable or easy way to do it because all my yard-waste-moving containers were full.

Thank goodness I keep a 35-foot stretch of chicken wire on hand for just such emergencies and was able to construct a temporary fence across part of the yard, leaving us no room for playing fetch or for practicing agility (such as those weave poles I'm supposed to be teaching Boost this week). Had I had more time, I could've constructed something further out in the yard using some of my 4x8 wood lattices, but noooooo...

So today instead of working I spent almost 4 hours moving things, trying to communicate with someone with whom I had no common language (while he tried to get someone on the phone who could communicate with me), building fences, etc. I'm physically exhausted. I've hardly done any WORK work and I'm pissed off about that, too.

I'm just grumpy. But I'll be glad to finally have the last of the crappy fencing replaced, although I have no clue how I'm going to pay my neighbor for it. I told him I'd have to repay him in installments. I'll have to pay the fencers up front for my 10-foot solo section, but that's a drop in the bucket in comparison to 70 feet of fencing. It's ironic, I guess--or maybe just annoying--back when I had a lot of free cash (like, before Remington's cancer and various random money wastages), my neighbor had no money to pay half of that fencing. So I let it go. Now he apparently has enough to spend on all kinds of things; has been madly dealing with all kinds of delayed yard and house maintenance. And now *I* don't have any ready cash. Oh, well, that's what equity lines of credit are for...

What a day.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Boost's Training

We had our first puppy class today for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend. Boy, do we need work!

Coming when called

Ha! When we arrived, Boost was completely overwhelmed with excitement about seeing other dogs, particularly her siblings (two were there, Derby and Kayla (oops--it's Caena; I keep hearing "Kayla".). She acted as if we'd never practiced walking on a loose lead. And, even at the end of the day after getting used to being there and working solidly for an hour, when we released the puppies together briefly, she was more interested in active dogs than in me. Derby's really good about coming when called. Caena didn't always come directly, but at least on hearing her name she turned her head and looked at her dad and weighed her options. Boost? Nada. Not a clue that she was even aware that her name was being called or that I existed in the universe. I might need some extra help on this one because I'm not quite sure where to go.

I've been trying to work through it at home. If the other dogs aren't playing with their toys, she's fine to work with me. But if she thinks that there's a chance that the other dogs might be chasing a toy, she loses all interest in me plus toy. I've been trying to work through it by letting Jake have a toy, which he'll drop at my feet. Boost drops toy and goes into cicling mode. I keep at her until she's back on her toy again. She's getting marginally better as long as I completely ignore Jake. But let's say she and I are actively tug of warring. I subtly stick one foot out to the side and touch--just touch---Jake's toy: Wham, she's off.

Weaving poles

The challenge is on! We've been working on 2-pole entries, but her brother decided to learn weave poles last week and badda bing, badda boom, he demonstrated very nice complete, fast weaves in class today. We haven't officially started them in class at all. OK, dammit, if Tammy can teach Derby weaves in a week, I can teach Boost weaves in a week. She used the hand-in-the-collar method, which is what I did with Tika. We did our first session late this afternoon with just 3 poles, and I've been having her drive so much through those first two poles that it was a real physical challenge to me to direct her just through that first turn into the 3rd pole, but we finally did it about 3 times with her on each side of my body. She's REALLY pushing, though, which is great.

But it's agony on my right shoulder, which is still completely messed up from Mulch Moving. I've been NSAIDing twice daily, icing it a couple of times a day, doing some simple exercises from the last time I messed it up, trying not to do too much tugging or throwing with that arm, but I'm still waking up in pain in the night, even after a 3-day break at Disneyland with no dogs (Linda and Paul just *wouldn't* play tug-of-war with me).

Lisa says she's going to start the whole class on weaves next week. Great. So now I *have* to teach them to Boost in a week so we can look like experts. :-)


Boost didn't do too badly here at all. I was actually able to walk away from her, walk around the other dogs also in sit-stays; Lisa and others walked by her a few short feet away (but didn't say anything or look/interact directly), and although she lay down a couple of times, and although she wagged her tail and thought really hard about it a couple of times, she did beautifully. I was pleased. But I know I'd still lose her if someone else walked up to her. Need to practice. Dang.

Hands-on control

This is simply holding dog at side, them relaxed and completely in your control. We practice this often, and she did fine. we've practiced moving her from sit to stand and back again in this position, but almost never into down (it's just a bit harder physically for me), so we tried it today and she was completely compliant. Another success.

Moving sit or down

This is where the dog is walking at your side and you give the command without stopping and the dog should immediately obey. Boost and I practice the "down" version a lot, in particular because it's useful for the Table in USDAA and also a handy way to get the dog to wait a bit while I attend to something else. We can even do it at a trot. But we hardly ever do a moving sit. (It's needed for AKC Table, but I don't know whether I'll ever do that.) We tried it; first time she hesitated and started to sit and then didn't. Next few times she was doing it if I was slow enough, and stayed there as I kept moving. But we're still ahead of several of the dogs in class.

And she was just great on her moving down. See what I can do when I actually practice? Huh.

Nose touch

Argh, Lisa pointed out that she's still scooping at it with her nose when it should be a solid plonk. Same problem we've always been having,a nd I've been working so hard at feeding exactly right on top of the target. Lisa suggested moving the target in closer to her feet, and also (since we usually get a good plonk on the first touch but not subsequent ones) just taking the first one and rewarding enthusiastically rather than trying for repeats for a while, or try maybe one repeat and break off immediately if it's not good.

Also need to work on remembering that, when we're finished with it each time, to use release word and to have her drive out to her toy rather than handing it to her.

The Bang Game

Don't know whether this originated with Susan Garrett or elsewhere, but it was at a Susan Garrett seminar 3 or 4 years ago that I first encountered this. Basically you start with the end of the teeter slightly elevated so that when the dog leaps onto it, it bangs to the ground. Goal is to have dog leap onto it and drive to end, enjoying making it bang as hard as possible (and not be spooked by it). We haven't really done this (thought I had started this months ago, but if so I sure didn't continue it. So much to do!) and so it took her a few tries to think about getting onto the board. First she jumped over it to see what was going on elsewhere, then got a foot or two on, etc.

I need to remember to stand still and let her decide to do it; feed slightely ahead of her to direct her towards the end; remove hand immediately so I'm not luring and see whether she'll move further towards the end.


Derby is one wild and crazy dog when Tammy starts blowing bubblestuff! He flings his whole body into the air, throwing legs in all directions. It's hysterical. He's hardly even grabbing for the bubbles any more, just loves the excuse to do aerial acrobatics. Boost didn't even seem to notice the bubbles; too interested in Darby's activity. I'll have to try it with her in the yard. Remington used to love bubbles and chase them endlessly despite sour soap-in-mouth faces, but he'd just jump straight up from hind legs, not throw his whole body around like this. Jake and Tika have never been interested in bubbles. (Oh--no, this wasn't part of class.)

BTW, Derby is almost 23", I think Tammy said! Wow and yow! I'm still hoping that Boost stays below 21 so we have the option of jumping 22" in USDAA.

Driving through turns

Lisa showed us how to use just a large bucket or orange cone or anything to get the dog to drive tightly into a turn all the way around it to chase a toy. That'll help them to do really tight, driven turns as they go over a jump and need to change direction or even wrap 180 degrees.


I haven't asked boost to come over a jump straight at me while I face her; this plus food treat for reward confused her completely for a while. The exercise was the Linda Mecklinberg trick of having your dog jump straight up and over and turn immediately between you and jump as you turn as they come over, without ticking or knocking the bar. Need to work on this.

Actually had her going over 22" jumps in class today. I just haven't done that because at home, with her driving through jumps, she keeps knocking the 16" and I didn't want her to get into that habit. But we did some 16", just single jumps, not driving through, and then up to 22", and she didn't even blink. So I guess I can do more of that.

Is that it?

It was actually a lot for an hour. I think there's still more but I'm blanking and of course didn't write it down *during* class. Maybe I'll think of it tonight.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It All Ties Together

When I was just a little tyke (yes, I, too, once attended junior high), I decided that I wanted a job working with dogs. There was a spread on Stelling Road in Cupertino that I occasionally rode my bike past with a little sign saying something like "Phydelma and Lyle Gillette--Borzois, Salukis, Whippets, Beagles". (Yeah, sure, Beagles go right along with tall sighthounds!) There was probably a kennel name, but I don't remember it. The folks' names stuck in my mind, however, because they struck me as being amazingly unusual, and also so clever for having a couple with "Y"s in the middle of their first names. How often does that happen? Really!

So one day in 1969 or thereabouts, with my parents' permission, I rode my bike that huuuuuuge lonnnnng way down to Stelling, up the long driveway, and knocked at the door to ask for a job. They invited me inside while they thought about it. There were dogs and dog hair everywhere. Their couches and chairs had dog-print blankets on them, also covered with dog hair. I remember thinking that I wasn't going to do that when I grew up and had a lot of dogs of my own.
Phydelma and Lyle Gillette, undated photo from this site.

My parents report that the couple, to my recollection grayhaired at the time-- but then, at the time, everyone over 30 was pretty grayhaired to me-- were somewhat taken aback at what to do with this youngster about whom they knew nothing. My whole resume consisted of "We have a dog, too." They called my parents to check up on me and, when they were satisfied that I wasn't a dognapper or worse, they put me to work with really really simple chores.

First, they had bred a 9-year-old Borzoi named Zonn and they weren't sure whether the breeding had taken, but apparently her hips were starting to have troubles and she needed a nice long walk every day. So I walked her a few blocks down Stelling and back again.

They also had a litter of Saluki puppies. They were pretty big already, and I'm guessing that they must have been at least 3 months old, but what did I know at the time about puppies or anything about dogs, really, except that when quizzed I could name all the dogs in the AKC working group, the sporting group, the nonsporting group, and a good portion of the terriers (but who really cared--all terriers look alike anyway). They put me to "work" playing a bit with the puppies and maybe grooming them. I used a comb that I found but they put a quick stop to that and said that brushing was a much better thing to do. I don't remember why any more; I still prefer combing my dogs in most cases, even if it's with an undercoat rake. Maybe I just have the wrong types of dog coats.

Anyway, after they decided that Zonn wasn't going to have puppies, they gave me $5 (which I hadn't expected--I had said that I was volunteering) and said Thanks A Lot Kid, Now Scram (except much nicer than that). I was disappointed about not having a job any more, but at the same time, that lonnnnnnng ride down to Stelling was getting pretty tiring.

Highway 85 now runs through what had been their property. I never saw them or talked to them again.

So we pop forward to today, when I'm trying to find (for Wikipedia) a list of sight hounds that the AFSA (American Sighthound Field Association) allows to compete in lure coursing. And, poom, I bump into the name Lyle Gillette.

So it turns out that he wasn't merely some guy in a dog-hair filled house down on Stelling in a house doomed to be paved over for another 6-lane freeway. No, he was the "father of the sport of lure coursing in America" and the Lyle Gillette Memorial Trophy is awarded in the Gillette Stakes lure coursing event every year, even now. "The Gillette Stake is a premier event held annually at the International Invitational. This competition is to showcase form and function in our finest sighthounds and to honor the father of the sport of lure coursing in America, Lyle Gillette."

So I started doing a search, and he also apparently wrote some definitive articles about Borzois and lure coursing and so on in the 1980s. The Colorado Lure Coursing page says that "Lure Coursing is a performance event developed in the early 70's by Lyle Gillette and other California sighthound fanciers who hunted jackrabbits in the open field, which risked the harm caused by barbed wire fencing." The Borzoi Club of America says "The individual who really believed in lure coursing and took the effort to get the sport going was Lyle Gillette, who in 1971 went around the country demonstrating the sport to groups of Borzoi owners interested in coursing their dogs."

Phydelma ("Phyl"?) was also a writer; published a book in 1977, Life with Borzoi, that's apparently still in print.

Amazing what a small world this is--

UPDATED LINKS: March 11, 2008:
History of Rancho Gabriel (their Kennel)

Sample of Borzoi Action Gazette, magazine founded by Phyl Gillette

Brief note about their presence in Oregon in the '70s

Mention of Phydelma's death and trophy in their honor

Brief mention of Gillettes as inspiration

I mention them in my blog again in 2016

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Long Agility History Under Cover

Something I neglected to mention about January's trial is that it was the 10th anniversary of my first agility competition.

This January's trial was held on a drizzly day, in a covered 2-ring dirt arena at the Sonoma County fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. Covered arenas in California are rare--and we seldom need them, anyway, except that winter trials are more likely to be pleasant if one is available. However, except for the Elk Grove (near Sacramento) permanent agility arena at WAG (Starfleet Arena), there's nothing else generally used and most trials are outdoors on grass even in the winter.

Elk Grove's covered arena can fit two rings, but they're very small rings--I'm guessing about 70 by 80 feet. CPE, NADAC, and AKC I believe all work under such constraints, but I don't believe that USDAA allows rings that small. But the facility in general is nice--the two long sides of the arena are walled in, with crating space in and in front of what used to be horse stalls, and 10-15-foot walkways down either side, and the far end of the ring area is a good 15 feet (guessing) from one open end, although they have shade fabric or tarps or such over the open ends, as well, to protect from the weather. There's a little office space right inside there that's used for the score table. No built-in restrooms, you still have to go outside to the portapotties, but it's nice to have a permanent all-agility site.

The arena we used this year is way up in Santa Rosa--a nearly 2-hour drive from here, but for Bay Teamers (my club) who live up thataway in the north SF Bay Area, it's nice to have a trial within easy driving distance from home. This is in fact a very nice arena for agility if you can fit into 2 rings. That's a challenge for the Bay Team; most of our trials now run at least 3 rings and USDAA typically 4. (We went through horrendous arguments through the years over whether it was even possible for one club to stage a 3-ring trial, and a few years later whether it was even possible for one club to stage a 4-ring trial. And here we are.) USDAA doesn't allow entry limits, so we have to find artificial ways to limit entries. One way that we limited entries was by having it in Santa Rosa. While the 2 hours is doable for us in the south bay, that really does make it much harder for folks from southern california to make the jaunt. Another way we limited it was by having only Masters on Saturday and only Novice and Advanced on Sunday. So that meant only 5 runs per dog for the weekend, which is low, and nothing for dogs to do on their day off.

But I digress. The Santa Rosa arena has one end closed off; it contains a full snack bar that sells meals during trials, which is very convenient, and actual real restrooms. One long wall can be closed completely with roll-down metal doors, and the other open end and the other long side have sunshade-type "curtains" that can be lowered to still let light and air in but keep out bad weather. One long side is right up against the edge of the covered area, but that leaves the other side with a huge space for crating, I think about 40 feet all along that side, and the open end also has about that much space. The fenced area for the rings is huge; we can have two nearly full-sized rings with about 30 feet between them as entry areas and score table set-up for each of the rings.

I tell you all that to tell you this. My first trial was at an arena used only twice for agility, in San Martin. It was nice for me because less than half an hour from home, and AWAY from more-developed areas, so traffic wasn't quite as bad as going northward to our usual (now) Sunnyvale site.


The arena was open on all four sides, with no way of closing off any of the walls. One end of the arena had a little bit of open space, maybe 30 feet, if that, for crating; everyone who didn't get there early had to crate across the area in another building. The long sides had walkways that were only about 6 feet wide, if memory serves me, which is barely comfortable to walk two people and their dogs past each other in opposite directions. So. Then.

It poured. We don't often get downpours like this in the Santa Clara Valley. It *poured*. And the wind blew. Water cascaded off the roof with Niagra-envy-like vigor and was blown right into the walkways, where it seeped into the soft dirt and created a shoe-sucking quagmire in which merely taking a step with mud-coated shoes was a tremendous exertion. From there, it ran into the rings, so people were constantly carting in sand or dry dirt or wood chips or I don't know what, halting the entire ring, trying to dam the inflowing water and sop up the soft spots in the rings themselves.

The short crating area at the one end of the arena slowly filled with water, with owners returning to their dogs to find them standing in an inch of water.

It was a completey miserable Saturday, except that Remington earned a qualifying ribbon in Gamblers, his first ever, and everyone had been so worried about how hard it was going to be. But I was exhausted from tramping through the mud, sopping wet (EVERYTHING was sopping wet), miserably cold and craving any hot beverage at all (none to be had, of course), angry about being asked to work in such conditions and at my first trial and while trying to tend to Remington, who was not all that happy, either, at his real first experience being left for long periods in an x-pen in a strange environment, although he sang along with the accordian player at the General Briefing and he was ecstatic in the ring.

If this is what agility is like, I thought, I will never do this again, never ever. What a godawful miserable experience.

On Sunday, the sun came up and dried up all the rain and the eensy weensy agility competitor got in the ring again. Remington earned a Jumpers Q, flying around the course, me almost losing my footing for a face dive trying to keep up with him but managing to stay upright. Everyone was cheerful (What a relief it wasn't like yesterday!) and happy and I had brought hot chocolate, although I don't think I drank any, and I took my two Q ribbons home and I was hooked with the adrenaline and thrill of competition.

I took hot chocolate with me to every trial for the rest of the year, and not once did I need it or want it, so eventually I stopped doing that. And now, after 150 weekends of agility trials, never again was I as miserable at a trial, and never again was there a trial so miserable.

Monday, February 06, 2006

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

This weekend had exhileration, disappointment, massive self-recriminations. Something for everyone!

The "Nunes Agility Field" in Turlock is a lovely site that John leases (I believe) from the vet hospital next door. It's old reconditioned horse paddocks. From the approach road, the first indicator you see is the spaniel sign.

The weather in Turlock was good for agility. Overcast and looked like it wanted to rain on Saturday but never did; good weather for running dogs. Sunday was bright sunny but chilly (comparatively speaking--probably mid-40s overnight and gradually warming maybe to upper 60s later in the day), also pretty good for dog activity.

This weekend only Tika competed. Jake is now officially retired from USDAA because I just don't want to jump him at 16" (in veterans!) any more. He'll still do CPE, where he can jump 12" in veterans or even drop to 8" (!!) in the "specialist" category--I have to decide this month whether I want to do that for CPE Nationals in June. Frighteningly, Boost will be legal for CPE in 3 months but we're nowhere near ready; legal for USDAA in 6 months.

Tika had 6 runs on Saturday and 5 on Sunday, which is a fairly intense load for one dog, but she was constantly rarin' to go-- which was bad for our last run on Saturday, the Jumpers class. It was a convoluted Jumpers course with some tricky maneuvers required, but I thought that we could handle it and show off our best handling ability. It was also the last class of the day, so in addition to a couple of periods of frisbee in the field, Tika had already run 5 classes. I set her at the start line and walked boldly and confidently out for a 3-jump leadout (which was about 50 feet in this case, over a line of sharply angled jumps). I wasn't quite at the third jump yet, when Tika came charging over the jumps to meet up with me. She got them all beautifully in order and fast without knocking any, but as I said to her about leaving while my back was turned and without permission, "we don't do that here", and walked her off the course. She walked with me, obviously subdued in mood but agonizing over not getting to run. I was disappointed both because I wanted to try the course and, of course, because we desperately need Jumpers Qs.

One of the entertaining features of the site is the active railroad right across the street. Now imagine setting up your nearly deaf dog at the startline in the ring closest to the road, and a 100-car train starts rumbling past.

She never actually left the start line the rest of the weekend, although on two occasions she was standing in a crouched-and-ready to leap posture by the time I got into position, so she was NOT in a sit-stay. As reinforcment to her for doing that, I let her go, and as reinforcement to me for letting her to that, those were our only two ribbon-winning runs on Sunday. Oh, well, I could do worse that have a dog who loves doing agility.

The Snooker Experience

We had two opportunities for a Snooker Super-Q this weekend. Neither were straightforward, flowing courses for Super-Q level work. On saturday, for a chance at a Super-Q, one had to maneuver around and between several obstacles to get one 7-pointer and two 6-pointers. We made it very well and very fast through the turns and twists through the 1-7-1-6-1, but on the way to the next 6, I lost her briefly and she started to go into the #5 tunnel as we threaded past. Now, I could see her feet and they didn't touch the tunnel. By Snooker rules, if they had, I would've had to complete the #5 instead of the 6, and on this course, this would also have meant that we couldn't get a Super-Q because I already knew what all the other dogs in our class had done. We could still have gotten a regular Q, but we already have 6 regular Snooker Qs (compare to our 1 Jumper, 1 Gambler, 3 Standard, and 6 pairs), so who cares.

SOOOO I called her hard and she pulled back (what a good, responsive dog!) and made it onto the #6 teeter, but the judge whistled us off anyway. I asked why, and apparently Tika hit the tunnel with her nose as I called her off (at least, after judge's brief explanation and what other people told me afterwards), which meant that she had touched the tunnel, which meant that I had to complete the tunnel. So I suppose that even if I had known that she had touched the tunnel with her nose (which I didn't) and even if I had know that that was the same as touching with a paw (which I didn't), it wouldn't have done me any good to do the tunnel anyway.

In retrospect, I wonder--if she had brushed the tunnel running BY it on the way to #6, would she have had to complete it? Or does the touch apply only to the opening? You'd think after 10 years I'd have figured out all the nuances of Snooker rules, but there's always some new twist...

SOOOOOO moving to Sunday's Snooker: For the first time in probably a dozen Snooker competitions, we were actually not last or next to last but about halfway down the order, but I could already see that we had to complete at least a 6-6-6 opening to hope for a Super-Q. This would be a speed course as WELL as a handling course, because the distances from the 1s to the 6s were very long AND you had to threadle around and among several obstacles to complete the 1-6-1-6-1-6 sequence. Even some excellent dogs and handlers weren't able to make it through without mishap. The closing wasn't an obvious one, either, not a smooth flow; had a couple of sharp turns to nonobvious obstacles with traps. I saw several people make a sharp turn from the #3 weaves to the #4 Aframe and instead push their dog into the incorrect tunnel underneath the Aframe, for example.

To do the three-6 opening, I had to leave Tika at the start line in front of the first #1 red jump and walk ALLLLL the way to the far side of the field to prepare for her to run to me across the #1 and past a couple of other obstacles and then turn her sharply 90 degrees and push her ahead of me into the tunnel. The first miracle was that she stayed while I led out. The second miracle was that she blasted straight towards me, not knocking the first bar (which she sometimes does when I'm so far ahead of her) and not even glancing at the other obstacles. And I spun and sent her to the #6 and we were on our way. My stress was so high, although I was trying to remain calm (remember how getting stressed about super-Qs has been causing my brain to shut down entirely time after time), that I missed a front cross that I meant to do, which meant that I had to *pull* her past an obvious obstacle instead of being able to run with her past it, and she did it perfectly without even slowing down.

And then, to my amazement, we were through the three sixes and into our closing sequence and the Super-Q was mine to win or lose! She did the #2 jump with a wrap to turn her 180 degrees without knocking the bar and blasted beautifully into the #3 6-pole weaves, which takes her just over a second to complete--at which point I realized that I had no idea where we were supposed to go next. And I came to a comlete standstill, brain frozen, looking around me for what made sense, and none of it did. And, true to form, as soon as I stopped giving clear instructions, Tika jumped up on me (and grabbed at my shirt). I'm not positive whether it was the jumping or the grabbing that got me whistled off (you're not allowed to make contact with your dog during a run although "incidental contact" is OK), but that dang Super-Q escaped me once again (and it would've been 2nd place, by the way) and, of course, it was the sharp turn to the #4 Aframe *behind* me where we were supposed to go. Sigh.

Our other moments of brain freeze and of self-recrimination came in the two Gambles; on Saturday we picked a nice opening and exectued it perfectly and had the 2nd-highest opening points (this isn't CPE, now, this is USDAA, where some of the people competing have often been in the top-10 nationally in Gambling in several different years), got the first hard part of the gamble, again like last weekend, a turn away from you to the opposite direction, and then I couldn't push her out over a jump that was right in front of her dagnabbit, a stupid issue that could be fixed but just a LITTLE bit more training and I know I need to work on that and I haven't been! And we fell apart completely in Sunday's Gamble, which was first thing in the morning; our opening was sloppy because I felt that my legs wouldn't move (I think they were frozen; wimpy californian numbs up in 40-degree weather), and we had bobble after bobble. Worst was right near the end of the opening, when I ventured in among the gamble obstacles to get some points--normally I stay away from there, because (a) if you knock a gamble bar in your opening, you negate the gamble, and (b) if you take ANY two gamble obstacles in a row, you negate the gamble--but I had a nice plan that had a fairly straight line into the gamble tunnel and back out without going anywhere near any other gamble obstacles. But because I'd been lagging her so much in the opening, I raced way ahead of her while she was in the tunnel to get back out to where I wanted to be, AND because I wasn't working her carefully, she came straight out of the tunnel (instead of bearing left towards me) and took the first jump in the gamble, thereby negating our gamble anyway, and then I was so flustered that when the whistle blew I barely got her over the first jump and she didn't even carry out to the blankety tunnel at all, so we didn't even practice the gamble well.

To add insult to injury, the judge commented to the group later that so many people had Qed on that gambler's course that she hoped headquarters didn't get on her case about it. (USDAA tries to keep the difficulty level such that it *is* a challenge to Q, whereas CPE, by comparison, says "we're happy if all the dogs Q", although the challenge level does rise the higher you go.)
Our home away from home.
The dogs monitor mom's camera activity, hoping that it will end up involving either food or frisbees.

Just Our Usual Run-of-the-Mill Unclean Courses

In Pairs Relay on Saturday, Tika knocked a bar, but again (since it's time-plus-faults scoring) she and her partner were plenty fast enough to earn a Q, although not place with the 5-point bar fault. In Standard on Saturday, she stayed at the start line, got her dogwalk up contact, but knocked *two* bars; just as in last weekend's Standard, I could take pride in the fact that we didn't go offcourse like more than half the other competitors, but no Q. In Standard on Sunday, she stayed at the start line, got her dogwalk up contact, *and* left all the bars up--but here's the kicker: The table was immediately after the dogwalk. I know from experience that, for some reason, whenever the table's after a contact and if I dont' get ahead of her (while she's waiting with 2-feet-on, 2-feet-off on the contact) so that I'm already moving and pushing towards the table, she turns back to me on the approach to the table and we earn a 5-point refusal. So I've PLANNED for this. I know EXACTLY how I'm going to do this...and then the dang dog stops two feet from the end of the dogwalk, not 2-on, 2-off! Argh! I don't want to go on until she's done it correctly, so I give her the Touch command once--she takes a step and stops. I say it again--and she jumps off the dogwalk and gets between me and the table. All I can do is turn and push as hard as I can--and as she approaches the table, she spins back towards me just before jumping on the table--and earns a 5-point refusal. Crap crap crap. As so many times before, "I can take pride in the fact that we weren't one of the >60% who Eed (offcoursed) on that course. In fact, the fault rate was so high that we actually were in 5th place, just narrowly missing a 4th-place ribbon taken by another dog who also had faults (this is rare in Masters) but who probably hadn't wasted time on the dogwalk down contact.

Jumping for Joy

OK, so now I can talk about the really good stuff. Sunday's Jumpers course looked, at first, like it had tricky bits, but as I walked it, I became convinced that it was actually a good course for our skill set. Indeed--although Tika stood up at the start line and was poised to go despite another 3-jump leadout--we zoomed through the course without a flaw and got several compliments on our run afterwards. We ended up with a Q in 4th place of 18 dogs, which in this crowd I'm extremely pleased with. We were less than 2 seconds behind the first place dog; we might have been able to squeeze another second out on one turn that I deliberately allowed to be wide to avoid calling her sharply over a jump and risking knocking it.

That Steeplechase thing

Steeplechase is unusual in the dog-agility world in that (a) it's a national qualifier (CPE doesn't have national qualifiers, by comparison; in USDAA, only the Grand Prix and DAM team tournament are also national qualifiers), (b) it has a qualifying round on one day, in which only 30% of the dogs Q (compared to, say, the Grand Prix where all dogs are competing against a minimum standard and in theory they could all Q), (c) it has a 2nd round on Sunday for qualifying dogs (none of the other events have 2nd rounds) which is popular to watch because of the speed and skill of those top 30%, and (d) the top finishers in round 2 actually get cash prizes (only event in agility that does so).

Once again, this was a tough crowd. I can't list everyone, but we're competing directly against Nancy Gyes and Panic--Nancy who has been on four (?) World Cup teams with two of her dogs, winning international events, multiple-times Grand Prix, Steeplechase, and DAM national winner, etc. etc; Susan Cochran and Aiko the wonder-border-collie (the one who should've been mating with Boost's mom in which case I'd have never gotten one of the puppies) and winner of the 2004 National Grand Prix (or was it Steeplechase); others from our around California who are in an elite group of consistently high performers and hard to beat.

There were 31 dogs in Tika's height class, so 9 would Qualify for the nationals and then go on to the second round. It was a tough, fast course in which we knocked a bar early, and my heart sank--Steeplechase is another time-plus-faults run, so if we could make up the 5-point fault by running 5 seconds faster than other dogs, we'd be OK, and there's no question that Tika is fast--and then we had two bobbles where she almost went in the wrong direction and I had to call her back, which wasted some of that precious time. Then, going over the last bar, I heard it rattle loudly behind us and I knew we hadn't made it. One bar, sometimes; two bars, never. But as I was congratulating her on a job well done (she is SO good at paying attention and not slowing down to do it), I looked back at the last jump--and by some miracle the bar had not dropped.

As it turned out, I could "take pride in the fact that we were not among the roughly half of the dogs who offcoursed", AND we had "only" five faults, so we were in 8th place out of the 9 qualifiers. YAHOO! we're Qed in two fo the 3 events for nationals; only DAM to go.

On Sunday, we watched Nancy and her 22" dog, Ace, win the 22" group--and go completely offcourse with her other 22", International champion, national champion dog Riot on the most-challenging part of the course, a turn into a straight tunnel followed by an immediate 180 onto an Aframe that, because of the course layout, you could handle by doing one of the following:
  • Try to cross in front of the dog as they were turning to go into the tunnel, but you had to be really fast to avoid getting in the dog's way or pushing them onto the back side of the Aframe
  • Try to cross in front of the dog *after* the tunnel, but you had to be able to send your dog out over a jump and trust them to turn into you and come into the tunnel while you raced for the other end
  • Wait for the dog to come out of the tunnel and then move in behind them and flip them to the right away from you and up the Aframe.
Nancy tried the 2nd with Riot and Riot didn't make the tunnel entrance, instead going up the frame. Not sure which she did with Ace.

So with Tika, having walked all alternatives and deciding that I couldn't possibly make those crosses, I tried the wait-and-flip method. Well, she blasted out of the tunnel, I moved in and signaled a turn, and somewhere in the ensuing melee I stepped on her, whereup she yelped (excitedly) and turned in to me and danced at my feet but my insistent pushing and commands apparently counted as "direction" and she made it up the Aframe--and thank goodness in teh Steeplechase they don't have refusals, it's just time wasted on a really fast course. The rest went without incident AND (another miracle occurred) all her bars stayed up!

So we had a bobble. Nancy and Panic had a bobble whre Panic almost veered off course onto the wrong obstacle but Nancy called him back, so they had a bobble. Of course I as usual I had my video camera with me and never thought about it all weekend, so I don't have it on film to try to determine whose bobble took longer. But, as it turned out, we could take pride in the fact that we were one of only 3 26" dogs who didn't have faults or E--so I am absolutely thrilled beyond belief that my dog took 3rd in a Steeplechase qualifier! Sometimes things are good. And I got a check that actually paid for my entry fee into the Steeplechase. :-)


Tika handles so nicely and pays such close attention; she has truly matured as an agility dog. I just wish I could get over this one-fault-always thing we seem to have going. In the 10 classes we ran, even with faults or screwups, she placed in the top half in 8, the top third in 5 of those, and earning placement ribbons in 2 of those. It's not the first-place ribbon I keep wanting to earn in this crowd, but I'm very pleased with the results.

Friday, February 03, 2006

On the Road Again again again...

Well, we're off for another USDAA weekend. And then--nothing until March. Not because there's nothing available...we could be doing tons of agility...but because I'm trying to cut expenses AND spend more time at home and/or doing other stuff. We'll see whether we can avoid going stir crazy for five whole weeks. Argh. By that time, Boost could be doing weaving poles and contacts!

--Or not.

I'm still working the 2-pole entry but refining it. I've added two additional poles right next to the first 2 poles (so they function as one pole) but am realizing that I've been tossing the toy too far out in front to get a really excellent wrap, so I'm trying to work the arc around the entry and tossing the toy right beyond the 2nd pole rather than way beyond the 2nd pole. I'm working her on my right and left, standing and running (me, I mean), trying to vary the distance a bit. At the moment, our maximum distance is around 10 feet and we haven't gotten beyond a direct parallel line leading into the weaves--and at that point her accuracy drops way down, so I have to back up a little in the arc around the entrance and work that way just a little more slowly.

I just reread Susan Garrett's Foundation Training workbook (a collection of articles and handouts, really, but assembled by Susan & Co for sale) articles on 2-by-2 weaves. I'd like to jump right now into moving the 2nd set of poles six inches out but I think I want to work that entry a bit more.

This weekend

will be Jake's first without any entries--since last January, that is, which is where he rebelled about not having any classes to run. We'll see whether he's more relaxed about it having done only one or 2 a day since then.

Tika has six, count them, six, runs on Saturay: one of everything normal plus a Steeplechase qualifier. I'd like to get the Steeplechase Q under my belt so I know we're qualified for Nationals in that, then I have to worry only about Dog Agility Masters Team.

Only four runs on Sunday, plus Round 2 of the Steeplechase if she makes it.

But the weekend includes two Snookers, so if we could get another Super-Q this weekend (mantra to self: Don't get cocky. Don't get cocky.), that would be our Snooker Master title. And two Gamblers, also, AND two Jumpers and of course we desperately need any of those that we can get.

Have I been running Tika through her jumping drills? Noooooo. Have I been practicing gambling? Nooooo. Gail Mahood is running a gamblers practice up in Woodside this afternoon and I'm invited, but I have so much to do (like--work to pay the bills) including packing the car that the 45-minute drive one-way is a bit daunting, and it'll probably be in ugly commute traffic on the way home. I'd really like to go, though.

Camping out

I'm so tired of setting up the whole tent thing for me and the dogs. Lay out the ground cloth. Unroll the tent, insert poles, set it up, stake it down, add rain fly, stake it down. Haul in the air mattress, put batteries in the pump and get it going. Unload ensulite pads for me and for the dogs and lay them out. Lay out dog beds and arrange space for boost's crate (yup, even in the tent; I'm trying to be consistent). Haul in my clothing duffel. Top off the air mattress with the manual air pump. Disassemble pumps & store them. Haul in the mattress pad, sheets, pillow, down comforter (I decided a while back that I slept better with it made up like a bed than in my mummy bag, and often warmer, too), make up bed. Dig out tent light, insert batteries, attach it. Then, the next morning--do it all in reverse.

I finally landed a thought that had been burbling around in my head for a while--I'm going to try sleeping in my van this weekend. With all but 3 seats removed lately, there's plenty of room for me to stretch out behind the driver's seat towards the back of the van. Minivans don't have a *lot* of room, though--everything not involved in sleeping will have to come out or be neatly stashed, as opposed to the usual jumble of inbetween-unpacking-and-repacking stuff. I'm not entirely sure how the dogs will fit. There's plenty of room for one good-sized dog--say, Tika--next to my legs behind Jake's seat. Jake could probably sleep on that seat, although that means he has to curl up and can't stretch out at all. Maybe I can juryrig something by wedging stuff between him and the front passenger seat. All I can figure is that the Boost will have to sleep on the floor of the front passenger side (or on the seats if she wants, I suppose). No room for a crate, for sure.

We'll see how this works--not sure yet whether I'm going to go back to the down mummy bag or plan on wrapping myself with the down comforter. Guess I'd better decide soon.