a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: April 2006

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Deeeeep Sigh---

I'm home from the first day of a fairly local USDAA trial (put on by SMART in Prunedale, only 45 minutes from here). What a day. Once again, Tika and I seem SOOOO CLOSE to glory, only to miss it time and again. It was a different kind of day this time--offcourses that I hadn't expected or noticed in the course (usually I think I do pretty good at anticipating these).

Remember, what we need towards Tika's ADCH are 2 Jumpers, 3 Gamblers, and a Snooker Super-Q. (And I always like the opportunity to place in a Steeplechase.) But today went like this:

*Jumpers: Kept all her bars up! Offcourse right near the end--should've anticipated because i saw at least one other dog do the same thing, but I thought we'd get the turn easily.

* Steeplechase: Kept all her bars up! Offcourse halfway through an otherwise lovely run on a turn that I thought would be easy--I dropped anchor and called lightly (thought that's all it needed), she hesitated and looked towards the right obstacle, so I started moving again--so of course so did she, right over the wrong obstacle.

* Standard: Kept all her bars up! But I didn't push as hard as I meant to on a teeter entry and so she came on from the side and was called for a missed up contact.

* Grand Prix: Kept all her bars up! But got called for the dang dogwalk up contact that bites us all too often. OK, this was good enough for our only Q of the day, but who cares, I have lots of GP Qs, I wanted a placement! In fact, it was 7th place, but they had ribbons only to 6th. Sighhhh.

* Snooker--well, knocked a bar on a 7-pointer in the opening, so we wouldn't have made a SuperQ anyway, but even worse in the closing we had...sighhhhh...an offcourse on something that hadn't even occurred to me would be a problem.

But she was fast and happy, she was staying at the start line, I was releasing her from her contacts fast all day instead of holding them (I'm sure this'll come back to bite me eventually) and she was doing the whole of the contact obstacles quite fast, made all her weave entrances full speed as usual... dang dang dang.

And because I was working score table pretty much full time, Boost and Jake hardly got their noses outside their crates. I'd leave them at home except that I think Jake in particular wouldn't be all that happy being left behind, and Boost wouldn't want to be here by herself (the housemate/renter would be here, but he's got his own life that doesn't typically involve puppysitting).

Oh--and the housemate has a new job. His previous job enabled him to be home about 3:00 every afternoon, when he'd then play with the dogs in the yard for probably 5-15 minutes, depending on everyone's attitude and energy for the day. His new job has him coming in (at least for now) at random assorted times after 4:00. Boy, the dogs get antsy and whiney starting around 3:00 every day!I tried to explain to them...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Always Make Sure Your Dog's Brain Cells Are Intact

Jake has never been the brightest pixel in the doggie display. It sometimes makes for challenging training. For one thing, he's perfectly content to wait for a thousand hours for you to tell him what to do rather than experimenting on his own, which makes shaping a hard thing to do with him. Actually makes training him to do ANYthing hard. I don't know how we ever managed to do agility. Actually someone else taught him most of what he knows.

I fixed his tunnel inconsistencies by putting a tunnel in our driveway and doing 50,000 tunnel commands with a tennis ball at the end.

So I'm trying (for the 2nd time) to work with him with a vibrating collar. What I want is something that will get the largely deaf dog to look at me when he's trotting off across a field and not looking back. He's wearing the collar. I started by just vibrate, treat, vibrate, treat, vibrate, treat, about 40 or 50 times. You'd think that then, when he looked away, and then I hit the vibrate button, he'd look at me to get his goodie. But no. Nuthin' at all. No reaction. Oblivious.

I did manage to catch him a couple of times looking away from me, and did the vibrate, and he looked at me (I think sheer coincidence) and he got a treat. Now he has apparently figured out that, if I have the control and dog goodies, he's likely to get treats. So for the last 25 minutes I've been sitting here at my desk, typing, trying to ignore him, and he's lying there, staring at me. I can't test the vibrate-look-at-me thing, because he's ALREADY looking at me. Every time I carefully peer over my shoulder, there he is, staring at me.

Wait! Ha! Got him! He was starting to doze off. Vibrate. Pops eyes open and of course he's already got his head pointed at me. Cookies! If I do this too often, though, he'll NEVER dare go to sleep in case he might miss some doggie junk food.

Dang dog.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Your Bay Area Real Estate Update

My agility club is auctioning off a dogwalk to club members, starting bid at $100. As webmeister, I sent a notice about it to club members. This exchange ensued:

Katie: Does that come with a yard big enough to put a dogwalk in?

Webmeister: Sure, for an extra $500,999.98, no problem!

Katie: Ha ha! Touche.

Webmeister: Of course, that probably doesn't include a house, just the yard--

Katie: Okay, I'm offering a million! Of course, for that mere pittance it will have to be in the very distant East Bay.

Webmeister: I'm sure you'll be happy with your 1-bedroom, half-bath fixer-upper.

Katie: But it has almost a half acre! There's room for an A-frame and a dogwalk, as long as I don't try to use them at the same time. Besides, I enjoy showering outside.

Webmeister: Why do we still live here? ...Oh, yeah, there are high-tech jobs.

Katie: Besides, if we lived on 500 acre ranches in South Dakota, say, just think of how far we would have to drive to get to agility trials!

Simultaneously, I received the following forwarded email from another friend:

I'm a Ph.D. student... and am writing my dissertation so I'll be spending a lot of time at Berkeley's library and, for that reason, was hoping to live near the university. I'm looking for a studio or one bedroom apartment probably in north or west Berkeley, since the south seems to be heavily populated with undergraduates and is probably not very quiet. I've been checking Craig's List periodically and it looks like I could rent something decent in the $800-$900 range. I'd be willing to pay as much as $1000 if utilities were included.

So--If anyone's really hurting for housing, I have a metal-frame canopy with only a small tear in the seam in the roof that I'm willing to rent for cheap.

For your entertainment value--here are some calendars of agility events:
  • Ellen's weekends--mostly w/in 2 hours of home

  • Karey's Calendar--maintained for our club, The Bay Team. I don't do AKC and it also lists Oregon & SoCal events, which I don't usually do, but look at those weekends!

  • Southwest Agility Calendar

  • Clean Run calendar, the whole known universe, searchable. You can search for all events in California to get an idea...it's only a partial listing; for example, for some reason I notice that none of our club's events are listed.
    Then, for big yuks--try searching for events in South Dakota.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Some Interesting Data

(OK, at least it's interesting for ME.)

Jake's USDAA Standard Qs: After moving to P3 (that's the Performance often used for Veterans equivalent of Masters), over a period of 13 months from Feb '03 to Feb '04, Jake earned 15 Qs out of 23 attempts. Then, with no gradual fading away, just a sudden plummet, he earned 0 out of the next 17 over the next 7 months. 8 were off courses, I'm guessing largely an effect of him not being able to hear me, 5 had at least a few time faults (compared to 0 in the preceding 3 years) which I also largely attribute to not hearing me and making long run-outs that ate up the time, and the rest just random faults but I suspect several are dogwalk pops.

I compare Jake's yards per seconds in his CPE Jumpers classes from Feb '02 thru last month, and it really hasn't changed at all! Which surprises me, especially considering how many runouts we end up with. So has he been getting FASTER? He seems slower than he used to be, but maybe that's just in comparison to Tika. :-/ Although I'd say the YPS are more variable than they used to be. I didn't start tracking course yardage until 2000, and then only sporadically until 2002, so I don't really have early data for him. What I do have for CPE Jumpers:
In 2002, 3 runs, ranging from 4.47 to 5.10 yps.
In 2003, 4 runs, from 4.62 to 4.77
In 2004, 6 runs, from 3.88 to 4.96
In 2005, 7 runs, from 3.95 to 4.63
In 2006, 5 runs, from 3.85 to 4.94

OK, here are Tika's Jumpers statistics: Out of 29 Jumpers runs ever in CPE, only 7 have been completely clean (no bars down, for example); in 51 USDAA Jumpers runs, only 6 have ever been completely clean.

This is not a good percentage.

Here's the difference between Tika's USDAA and CPE qualifying percentages (note that, in USDAA, you always have to have clean runs for the regular classes to Q; in CPE you're allowed faults until you get to the champion level):

ClassCPE over allCPE Ch levelUSDAA
Full House95100n/a
Pairs Relayn/an/a46

Getting Old

So here's the story after visiting the doctor today:

* Shoulder is "impingement syndrome." Used to be called bursitis. Means it's inflamed and hurts. Need to keep icing it like crazy (and in a wider area than I have been) and have prescription for powerful anti-inflammatories and do those exercises dammit.
* Knee is probably the beginning of signs of the gradual erosion of the meniscus, also called "osteoarthritis," jeez, my mom just had her knees replaced, I can see I'm headed down that road if he's right. Ice it like crazy, take those anti-inflammatories, and do those exercises dammit.
* Plus my blood pressure was way up (although down a lot when they retook it at the end of the session but still quite a bit higher than my normal).

WHY ME? WHY NOW? Did I already say "crap crap crap!"?

Not The Best of Days

...continued from yesterday...

On Saturday, I awoke exhausted. Physically tired from the muck and the straw and all that, and my knee rather sore, but also emotionally wiped out from a night of worrying the Q-or-no-Q question to death. I finally met up with my teammates, and we agreed to let the score table know that there had been an error, and that was that. I felt like sitting down in a corner and sobbing. I really wanted that Q, and I had been ready to accept that we hadn't gotten it, but then to find out that we DID get it--only to find out that we really DIDN'T get it and were misled only because of someone else's error--too much for my tired soul to take.

However, as the morning wore on, I felt better and better about having done the right thing and having gotten over it. The score table did confirm sometime in the late morning that indeed that E in the Team relay cost us the Q.

So now we have to do it all over again. At least we have opportunities to do so--the Bay Team trial in Sunnyvale the first weekend in May, with one of the same partners but a different third because the other had already committed to a different team, then back to the same three again for the Turlock trial in June. Then, if by some crappy rotten bit of luck we STILL haven't Qed, there's the Bay Team Labor Day trial. And there might be some in southern cal, too, but I really don't want to make that kind of long haul.

So I returned my lovely TM ribbon and my DAM qualifier patch. It was quite windy and it ripped the roof of my canopy. Not sure how I'm going to fix it (it's along the seam but no way it's going into the sewing machine--I don't think) and it's pricey to replace it.

Tika and her partner for Master Pairs Relay had nice smooth runs that looked pretty fast, and we were both completely clean; hoped we'd get a placement ribbon there, but no, it was good only for 16th out of 61 teams. At least it was *a* Qualifying run for the day.

We had our third Masters Standard run of the weekend and I don't recall exactly what we did wrong, my brain was too far gone to remember even long enough to write it down later that day, but it was two different faults for a total of 10 points rather than our traditional five, and then we had our next attempt at Masters Jumpers, where we managed to knock TWO bars AND get a runout when I pushed her past a jump for 15 dang faults.

I knew that 3 days of agility was too much for us.


Then here was the other dilemma that I was trying not to argue with myself about until the issue actually arose. Round 1 of the Steeplechase qualifier was on Saturday, but the final/money round was on Sunday. I didn't sign up for Sunday. I wanted to go home at the end of the day Saturday and recover and have a nice Easter dinner with my family, which I've often missed in the past because of dog agility. But, if Tika qualified in Round 1, this was a huge trial, so the purse for the top 8 or 10 or so dogs would be much larger than usual. And Tika's speed could be good enough to place.

To qualify, though, we'd first have to place within 25% of the top 3 dogs in our height class. There were 63 dogs entered at our 26" jump height. The way the calculations work now is that the top 3 dogs' speeds are averaged, and scores that are 125% or less earn Qs and are eligible to go on to the second round. ...That is, "scores" being time plus faults. So, for example, if the top 3 dogs ran the course in 29, 30, and 31 seconds, their average would be 30 and dogs whose time plus faults were less than 37.5 (125% of 30) would qualify.

I decided to go for broke on the run, get her as revved as I could before the run and really push it all the way through. I knew that we'd have to be fast in that crowd, and I knew that we'd have to be exceptionally fast to make up for the real possibility of a knocked bar, which is 5 faults. I walked the course calmly but thoroughly. I felt that it was a course that we were fully capable of getting through flawlessly even at high speed, I felt that I had identified all the possible error areas and felt confident that we could handle them. But Tika does tend to knock bars sometimes a bit more once we really get hauling--possibly because she flattens out more as she blasts over jumps.

I watched quite a few people run it, and many of them had many problems, mostly in those problem areas that I had identified, plus of course knocked bars, slow dogs, missed contact, and so on.

So we finally ran it. Tika was revved. I was revved. We were in synch; we had no hesitations or confusions, our turns were tight, only one tiny tiny hesitation when she didn't stick the Aframe and she hesitated slightly but I had been planning on releasing her the instant she hit the ground anyway, so I told her GO!...and she went...and she knocked the next bar as she executed a perfect tight turn. Otherwise our run was a total joy. I love running Tika.

In fact, I pretty much always love running her. She's so good and so fast and she pays such good attention without ever slowing down for instructions or getting worried about it. I think it's something akin to the thrill of driving a race car. My adrenaline definitely flows. But--at that speed--all it takes is the slightest wrong twitch and you've got major repercussions.

So it turned out that the 3 fastest dogs averaged 29.56 seconds, so 125% was 36.95 seconds. Tika's time was 32.11 seconds--good enough for 7th place--IF she hadn't knocked that bar. Those 5 faults put our total score at 37.11, a whole .16 seconds away from qualifying. Crap crap crap crap crappy crap.

On the other hand, it meant that I could pack up and go home, and it was only 12:30!

Wrapping up

Somehow or other, between stopping to watch Sparkle's steeplechase run, and talking to Dee about Izzy and Dee's puppy, and getting some congratulatory cake for the new champion dogs, and of course packing and packing and packing and packing...among occasional light misty showers and hoping that the rain would hold off til I was done... I wasn't ready to go until 3:30, at which point our club's quarterly meeting was already starting, so I stayed for that, and sat for an hour and a quarter.

When I finally stood up, my right knee was so stiff that it didn't want to bend at first. I followed my friend out of the arena, the friend with a locking device on her knee post-surgery so the knee won't bend, both of us doing the half-frankenstein walk down the sidewalk. I didn't actually leave the parking lot until 5:30.

By the time I finally got home mid-evening, my knee was swollen enough to make my jeans tight. (Well, OK, they're already fairly tight, but I mean really tight.) Argh.

But, I'll tell ya, I went to bed and slept ALL the way through the night without being aware of even one moment of waking up due to shoulder or knee pain and didn't even have to get up once to visit the euphemism. I was TIRED and it was SO nice to be home in my bed. Had an Easter dinner with my family that couldn't be beat, went to sleep again and didn't get up til the next morning when I had to go to... wait... I'm beginning to feel like an Alice's Restaurant rerun.

So, anyway, what I came to talk about was--the next time you get a fortune cookie fortune like this, two days before a major agility trial...look out.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Bees Knees and Regular Ones, Too

Notice how my left knee (that's on your right) has a fairly well-defined kneecap? Notice how my right knee (that's on your left) has almost no definition and is puffy all around? It's pretty uggy. It's not really bruised; that's just shadows. Have I mentioned how hard it is to try to take photos of your own knees?
Just to keep you entertained until I can get back to my long weekend story...

By the time I got home Saturday evening, my knee was so stiff and thick-feeling that it felt like it filled up my jeans leg. Here's what it looked like after I got out of the shower. Have you ever tried to take a picture of your own knees? It's somewhat like trying to lick your own elbow only it involves more flash bulbs.

Have you ever noticed how ugly knees are just generally?

But, you know what, there's some good news today--I just saved a ton of money on car ins... no, not really--I discovered when trying to look up someone ELSE's USDAA title that the ADCH no longer requires 7 Standard legs--it used to take 5 legs, then they changed it to 7 a couple of years ago, then they apparently changed it back to 5 when they added tournament Q requirements. So in fact Tika already has her Standard Agility Master (SAM) title! And that's the bees knees! Yay! Good thing, since we were 0 for 3 in Standard for the weekend. How we ever managed a clean Team Standard run I'll never know.

The Dilemma(s)

...continued from yesterday...

So it's Friday morning. Fields are drying out but are still not superb. Yesterday we had 6 runs and I'm exhausted. Good thing I'm not running two dogs at the moment. How did I do it for all that time? (It occurred to me the other day that I was 10 years younger when I started doing agility, 9 years younger when I added a second dog. I suppose that makes a difference--)

The morning is a little chaotic again. Once again, we're walking 3 courses simultaneously in opposing corners of the site. And trying to keep track of when it's open walkthrough, when it's walkthrough just for our heights, when the ring is actually starting, how far they've actually gotten in each ring, and so on.

The Relay Run

One of the classes is the DAM Team Relay. The courses are not simple but they're not rocket science, either--but the judge throws everyone for a loop by removing the baton that's usually exchanged and replacing it with a large hard-plastic "rubber duckie" (that I didn't think to photograph, dang) that instead of carrying with you, you are handed by your teammate when you *finish* running. In other words, usually the runner hands the next person the baton; now the next person has to hand the finished runner the duckie.

If we could have harnessed the energy used by 63 teams times 3 dogs in discussing how the handoff was supposed to work, we could've powered the entire city of Sacramento for half a day, or at least have fired up a giant hairdryer to dry out the fields. Conversations were still going on an hour after the walkthrough.

So we got distracted by that during our walkthrough period, although we were trying not to. Partner C was doing full-time ring-coordination work in another ring, so she had to be dragged away from her job to walk the course, and had to leave early to go back there to get her ring ready to run. It was like that for her all weekend. How she held up and made so many great runs anyway is beyond me.

We were team #17 in the running order. I watched some of the earlier teams. Some folks did go off course, but often they were just odd handling errors that I couldn't figure out the logic for. It wasn't like the Team Standard course the previous day, where nearly half the competitors in some heights Eed.

Finally we're up. Partner B is on the line, Partner C has the ducky. I'm the third runner, so all I have to do is take the ducky from B after she gets it from C and C is on course, then hand it to C when she's done running--then run my own course, which is pretty straight-forward. I think.

Partner B has a little bobble somewhere, but stays on course. That's OK; little bobbles are not going to hurt us now. Partner C hands her the ducky and takes off. The first half of her run is beautiful--and then she loses track of how far she has to move to complete a front cross, and pulls her dog over the wrong jump. An E. We're probably dead meat. So I know, going into my run, that we can't possibly make it up with all the mess-ups we've made cumulatively during the competition. Still, I give it our best speedy shot--and lost track of how far I need to front cross and pull Tika off a jump--but manage to save it, so it's only a 2-point refusal penalty.

We know we have not Qed. It's depressing. And it's not just Partner C's run. If we had all had good runs all the time earlier, this one E wouldn't have mattered and more than any one of our bobbled runs would have mattered independently. It's just more obvious in people's minds because it's the last run of the DAM event.

And what this means is that we all have to hold it together AGAIN for ANOTHER 5 runs on ANOTHER weekend to try to be in the top 50% next time for a Q. The thought is exhausting on top of everything else.

Other Runs

So Tika and I go off and try another Master Standard run. Tika doesn't wait for the "OK" to leave the start line, but she does wait for me to turn around. Not really acceptable but I let her get away with it again. She doesn't stick ANY of her contacts, and because I'm waiting for her to stop, she gets out ahead of me towards the next jump, then turns back to see what I'm doing, and badda-bing, we've got a refusal and a failure to Q. AND she knocks the bar while I'm trying to keep her from getting the refusal.

We run the Grand Prix qualifier. I'd really like to place; we already have the Qs we need for this year. But, in keeping with our history of 5-fault GP Qs, she doesn't wait for the "OK" at the start line, she doesn't stick her contacts, and when coming off one early, I'm stopped to wait for her, so she turns back from the next jump and earns a refusal AGAIN. But at least she keeps the bar up, and we make it all the way through and earn another plain-old no-placement GP Q. It's smack-dab average with that bar down, placing 25th of 54 26" dogs.

We now have a history of Qing 12 out of 20 attempts at Grand Prix Qualifiers--every bloody one of those Qs with 5 faults except for our very first one ever, at our very first USDAA trial ever, 3 years ago, right before she went off the deep end of realizing she was off leash and we spent a year trying to get on track again. Crap.

Later in the day, we have a Master Gamblers run. The gamble looks doable. We have a decent plan for our opening, we execute perfectly, I'm holding her on her contacts for practice, we're right where I want to be when the whistle blows--and then I OVER push her and she takes a jump TOO far out after hestitating and bouncing back and forth a half step a couple of times between the right one and the wrong one. Crap crap crap! Turns out that NONE of the 35 dogs in 26" get the gamble; only 4 of the 170 dogs of all heights get it. We're good for 9th place with our decent opening but that's not a ribbon. Crap.

Then there's Masters Snooker. It's a 4-reds optional and weaves are the 7-pointer. I time the course and there is absolutely no way that I can justify not doing four 7-pointers in the opening. The only tricky bit is that, to be most efficient to get the shortest time, which I'm convinced we'll need for the SuperQ, we need to take a jump sideways at one side of the field and dive all the way across the field to make a sideways entry to the weaves.

Tika has great weave entries and I think she can do that part. She also sometimes knocks bars. I have a plan for that, though--if she knocks the first bar, there's a nearby Red that I can take instead of the weaves--then we probably won't get the superQ but at least we'll get a Q and, who knows, there are plenty of chances for other people to screw up.

So I lead out halfway across the field. She waits for me. I release her, she flies across the jump and towards me and I think Yes! and spin around and direct her straight at the weave entrance and as she dives for it, I hear behind me--clank clank boing--the sound of a jump-bar falling. I scream Tika's name and turn away from the weaves, but it's too late--she has made a perfect weave entry as I was sure she would, thereby invalidating our run (because we hadn't successfully completed a red), and we're whistled off the course, for a 0-point run. Crap crap CRAP.

It Begins

And then one of my partners comes to tell me that we not only actually Qed in the DAM--we were 19th! I worked my way over to look at the posted results. Sure enough, there we were! 35 teams made it, so we were way up in the standings.

See, that's an interesting thing about DAM. Different classes are weighted differently, and depending on when you do well and when you're only around average, and depending on whether you manage to hang on to being merely average on ALL your runs, actually you could end up placing much higher than teams who did spectacularly on some runs but poorly on others. And we had been pretty much average or slightly below overall. It was amazing that, with an E in the last round, we still did so well--not only that, but I asked, and the dogs were worth 150 points each, so if we hadn't Eed, we'd have placed *3rd* overall, which really astounded me.

I was curious how some friends had done on their team, because they had had a very nice relay run with no Es--and their score was very similar to ours. It was puzzling, but then DAM scoring is puzzling, and maybe they were much slower or had more faults than I had realized, or we were faster that I had realized, or who knows.

I was delighted. Got that Q out of the way. AND completed our Tournament Master title. Later in the afternoon I discovered that the club had really cool, huge, gorgeous ribbons for the TM title, and I paraded it around and showed it to a bunch of people.

And I kept thinking--how come our score, with an E worth 150 points, was virtually the same as a team with no E?

And so, finally, I had to go to the score box and dig out our scribe sheet. There was no "E" on our sheet. We had been credited with a complete full set of 3 dogs' points.

I mentioned it to my teammates. We discussed it. We knew that there must be many errors out there. I mean, if we had 4 errors on our various runs over 2 days, there must be tons of errors everywhere, and I'll bet that other people know about errors but don't correct them, and there are probably TONS who don't even know whether their scores are right or not and just accept them, and if it weren't for my nosiness and my comparison of our score to someone else's, my teammates (and probably even I) would never have known at all that something was amiss.

But it's like Pandora's Box; once it's out, it's out and you can't just put it back. We had no idea whether it would prevent us from Qing, but we suspected so. Remember, we had been expecting to not Q. So do we report it or don't we?

We started second-guessing--if it was a judge's error, then was it OK to leave it? Did we remember for sure whether the judge had called it or whether we just ASSUMED that the judge had called it? We couldn't remember. And we've all had experiences where we report something like that to the judge and been told that, well, if the judge didn't call it, then that's that. And we all know that sometimes errors like that are very much in your favor, and sometimes they're very much not in your favor, and the longer you do agility, the more you just groan and pick up the pieces as best you can and wait for it to go in your favor again.

Or was it a scribing error--the judge called it but the scribe wrote the wrong thing or didn't write it at all--in which case, do we have to get the judge to remember that we Eed when it goes against what's on the sheet? And what are the odds that the judge would remember one dog out of 190?

But the thing that's different about the DAM is that--if we got a Q that we didn't deserve, we were preventing another team of 3 people who *did* deserve it from Qing.

And then we started thinking that maybe she hadn't TAKEN the wrong jump, she had just APPROACHED the wrong jump but not taken it (the scribe sheet had a fault on it as if that's what had happened). This is why eye witnesses are so unreliable; we had almost convinced ourselves that maybe it was possible. But no, really, we all knew that it was over when she TOOK the jump; we wouldn't all three have mis-seen the action.

By this time it was late in the evening and everything had been put away for the day and the crowds dispersed.

Then I started thinking maybe I had looked at the wrong scribe sheet and we were OK after all.

Or that maybe even with the E we'd have Qed anyway and it wouldn't matter--I mean, would one E on a 9-obstacle course fraction really drop us from 19th to below 35th? It couldn't possibly--could it?

That Night

I couldn't get it out of my head. I really wanted that Q and that TM ribbon and to be able to relax about it, but I couldn't.

I had bought a backpacking self-inflating, very expensive I might add, air mattress, and added that to the top of my foam pads, and I was much more comfortable physically, although the knee was really acting up and my shoulders were still unhappy and the Case of the Missing E haunting me off and on all night.

...to be continued... sorry, I have to work...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Weekend Continues...

...continued from yesterday...

Just got email from the trial chair. They used 180 bales of wood shavings and 21 bales of straw (which are huge, BTW, when you see them up close) this weekend. Wow.

Thursday's Competition

We had 6 runs on Thursday, four of which were in the DAM tournament. In DAM, all three team member's scores are normalized according to various formulas and combined for a team score. So, for example, Jumpers might be worth 100 points per dog, then you subtract the dog's times and faults, or subtract all 100 if the dog Es (goes offcourse). So, in that example, a team score of 300 would be impossible; if all 3 dogs were really fast and clean (let's say 33.3 seconds each), the team score would be 200.1; and 0 total would be possible if all 3 dogs Eed. I don't really know what the formulas are, just have a vaguely rough idea of how it works.

Roughly the top 50% of the teams after 5 classes Qualify for the nationals. So the basic strategy for DAM is: Don't E! (In Snooker and Gamblers, a really low score would be sort of like Eing.) So you want to be, overall, average or better.

Tika's Master Standard run (not team) was actually quite nice considering that I could hear her feet going thwok thwok as she pulled them from the mud while going through the weaves, but I couldn't move fast enough to push her out over a far jump, so she went past it and then backjumped it for an E. But I was pleased with her performance overall. (Kept all the bars up...)

In Team Standard, she had an absolutely lovely run, completely clean, no bars down, to place about 10th of 51 dogs in the 26" height. Partner B also did really well; Partner C had faults (scribe sheet doesn't jive with what we think happened on course, but it's not going to prevent us from Qing) and some wasted time recovering from the faults plus the faults dropped her score to below average but not dramatically so. Overall, our team did well in the Standard round, starting at about 14th of 63 teams.

Then Tika's regular Masters Jumpers run was gorgeous and a miracle happened and she kept all her bars up *again* for a Q, despite the muck! I was feeling good!

Tika's Team Gambler's run started out beautifully, exactly as I planned it, fast and happy and smooth and racking up the points. Then, trying to do back-to-back Aframes, somehow I lost her on the 2nd one and she came with me AROUND the aframe rather than over it (missing 3 possible points), and while I tried to figure out what to do with her, we bobbled back and forth a bit, and then the whistle blew for the closing and I didn't have her in a good position--we ended up earning only 3 points in the gamble where the average was 8, with several dogs with good timing and speed earning 15. So Tika was 30th of 51--below average but not drastically so; Partner B did really well at 15th of 51, and Partner C was a bit behind Tika. So we had dropped some in the standings, but overall for the round we were 33rd of those 63 teams, so combined with Standard, we were still well in line for a Q.

But how quickly things can change.

Team Snooker started to do us in. Tika had a perfect, lovely, flowing, plenty-high-point opening...and then dropped a bar early in the closing, putting us again just below average at 31 of 51 26" dogs. Another partner knocked a bar in the opening, negating a bunch of points, and then lost her way early in the closing, for a very low score--but our 3rd partner got an awesome score, keeping us at 37th of 63 for that round. Our overall standings would be dropping, but figure that at least 32 teams and probably more would be Qing, so if we could only hold it together a bit longer...

Interestingly, 2 of our 3 scribe sheets have addition errors that I discover much later in the day when I check the postings. One slightly in our favor, one very much against us. We correct those. That's 3 possible scribing or score table errors so far just on our team. This matters later.

In Team Jumpers, Tika had a very fast run but knocked a bar, which kept us at 20th of 51 26"ers--just above average--rather than in the placements; partner C has a clean run although not speedy and that's good--about average-- but Partner B had an offcourse on a place that got an awful lot of dogs. Dang. For that round, the E put us in 38th of 63 teams. Not sure exactly how all the 4 rounds thus far combined added up, but remember that our Standard run still gave us quite a big of wiggle room...I'd guess we were at about 30th overall after 4 rounds, and probably higher...if we all managed to complete the team relay the following morning without Eing, we'd probably be In, but it was awfully close.

That night

I slept on 3 firm foam pads on the floor of my van. It didn't rain, which was good. It was actually on the warm side and REALLY REALLY STUFFY in that van. I opened the door a crack a couple of times to let in fresh air. Between that and how HARD the floor felt even with 3 pads and my aching, throbbing knee and both shoulders acting up, I didn't have a great night despite my exhaustion from slogging through mud and deep layers of straw and having soppy wet cold feet all day. With the delay in the various rings while they waited for the bales to arrive early in the day and the 4 rings with so many runs simultaneously and so many dogs and so much muck--the last ring ran until after 7:30 p.m.! A very long day for a tournament, with the first walkthroughs starting before 8:00 a.m.

... more tomorrow...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Home After 3 Days of Agility

Filling in from the beginning:

Monday night

I go out for Chinese food with my sister and brother-in-law before viewing a Ronald Colman double-feature at the Stanford Theater (good theater. Must visit more often. Prisoner of Zenda and Talk of the Town, good films, recommend>). Here's my fortune-cookie fortune:

This worries me, with an extra long, national-qualifier-packed weekend coming up and rain, rain everywhere.


It's been raining for years. March had the most rainy days in Bay Area history. April had 11 rainy days as of the 13th and was looking to be on track as the rainiest April in history. The host team for the upcoming 4-day trail had been sending out periodic updates to the effect of "entire site under water; bring agility arks" and "Our special guest judge, Noah..." (Actually more like "half the roadways through the site are closed due to water; the fields are lakes and we're trying to figure out where we're going to set up our courses; all the areas in which we usually park motorhomes and campers and under water; be prepared to be flexible.")

I was dreading doing agility in three days of rain and mud and muck. Weather reports changed daily. I'm planning on sleeping in the minivan again, and I'm picturing trying to get it set up in the rain, trying to maintain clean, dry bedding for myself and a pleasant atmosphere with 3 sopping wet, muddy dogs in the car with me and no good way to provide ventilation if it's raining. I pack for cold and rain and wind. Twelve layers of thermal underwear, forty pairs of dry socks, that sort of thing. I exhaust myself by spending the day dreading having a miserable weekend.

The Body Is Falling Apart

Plus I'm tired anyway from my physical ailments. How have these grown on me so rapidly? My knee is bad and seeming to get worse; it started sometime after I got the Booster-Pup and I realize that she crashes into it way too often when we're playing tug-o-war or the like. I'm sure that falling on it in January didn't help, but it was a bit crappy before and continued to be crappy afterwards. The last three or four weeks it has seemed to deterioriate. I've been trying to rearrange my life so that I don't have to use my knee, but I spend SO much time kneeling to do stuff with the dogs or in the yard or in the house, or dropping to one knee for this, that, or the other, it's a real challenge to avoid it. It throbs often. It stiffens when I'm sitting at my desk.

No, I haven't taken it to the doctor.

My shoulders have not recovered from all that mulch-hauling back in January. The right one is particularly bad. I try to limit my tug-o-war and toy throwing in the yard, but that's how I interact with my dogs and get them excited and reward them, so it's hard to stop completely. It has been interrupting my sleep fairly regularly--every time I turn over, it hurts and rouses me from my slumber.

Drugs don't seem to make much difference. I try to remember to do some appropriate gentle exercises, but I'm not good at remembering.

The Upcoming Haute Tracs Trial

Haute Dawgs and TRACS teamed up last year for a 4-day extravaganza of agility including all three national-qualifying tournament events (Dog Agility Masters Team, Steeplechase, and Grand Prix) plus a bunch of other regular classes. It proved so popular that they're doing it again this year. They are expecting hundreds of dogs from San Diego to Canada and I believe even farther afield. There will be many top competitors and handlers. Our competition will be stiff, but it'll be a lot of the same ones that we'll see at the Nationals in November, so it's good to see where we fit.

What I really need:
  • DAM qualifier: the last tournament qualifier that I'm missing for this year AND it'll finish my Tournament Master title. I have a good team. We could do it this time. (Only about the top 50% of the teams can qualify at one trial.)
  • Jumpers: Any. We have had so few clean jumpers runs in our 3+ years of competitions that it seems we may never get any ever again. Dang bars. We still need 3 or 4 (my database is falling behind) for our Jumpers Master title (needed for our ADCH). Offered this weekend: Two.
  • Snooker Super-Q: We need to be in the top 15% just one more time, ever, in our entire agility career, to finish our Snooker Master title (needed for our ADCH). And Tika is capable of being such a great Snooker dog. Remember--8th overall at the Nationals last november! Offered this weekend: One. (well--two--but I didn't sign up for all 4 days, just 3.)
  • Standard: Just two more of these are required for our ADCH--we already have five. This weekend: THREE!
  • Gamblers: Three more towards our ADCH. Offered this weekend: One.

What else is offered this weekend:
  • Steeplechase qualifiers: We've already qualified for this year, but I would SO love to finish in the placements again! Have done it only once so far. Her time is usually right up there but we pretty much always manage to knock a bar.
  • Grand Prix qualifier: Also already qualified for this year. AND I've already got about 11 of these babies, way more than any other kind of Q. Why did I pay the dang $30 entry fee? I don't know really. It's just more practice, I guess, aand the Qs do eventually add up to our (eventual) bronze and silver etc. awards--if we ever manage to get past our ADCH!
  • Pairs relay: We've finished our requirements for the ADCH in this and a couple more beyond that. Just more Qs for future awards.

Thursday morning. Puddles everywhere. Some people actually find places in the lawn that do not have standing water and manage to set up their canopies. Most people are trying to work out of their cars, an awkward proposition in most cases.

Thursday Morning

I get up with the dogs at 4 a.m. to pack and get on the road. Everyone poops quickly; this makes it so much easier and less stressful when I get to the site. It's not raining. But while I'm popping sodas (soda pops--get it?--) into the cooler in the kitchen, the rain starts. Crap. We head out and the rain continues, lightly, all the way up through Fremont, then pretty much stops as we cut through the Hamilton Range (?) into the Livermore valley and stays dry all the way out to Dixon.

The roadways at the fairgrounds are all open again, but the fields where we'd usually park are still too wet and muddy for vehicles, and the rings have been rearranged tremendously. Instead of four in a close row across the middle of the fairgrounds with us all set up tightly around it, two rings are now way out in the grandstand field, meaning that we have to cut through the surrounding fence and walk all around the grandstand to get to the far ring. I will be doing far more walking this weekend than I'm used to, and my knee already hurts.

The main path across the main agility field--about 9:30 Thursday morning, after the first several bales of hay have been trodden into the muck. Eventually they have a flatbed truck loaded with hay and woodchips ("sawdust") hauled in. It will set back the club possibly the entire potential profit from this huge trial.

There are pools of water everywhere, including in many places on the course. After the first walkthrough in the Standard ring--none of the hundreds of dogs or handlers have yet even RUN--the fields are muddy trails that suck at one's shoes. Instead of starting the rings at 8:00, they're delayed until 9:30 while valiant volunteers bring back bales and bales of fine woodchips (sort of like hamster bedding) for the fields and straw for the walkways. It's going to be a lonnnnng day.

The Standard field after the first walkthrough is complete. Now run 200 dogs and their handlers through the same paths. Then reset the course for the next class and repeat.
Standing on course at the end of walkthrough. Contemplating the course or the muck?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Agility News from April First

If you missed this useful agility-news page on the Bay Team site, I've left it up for now.

Boost Classes

I'm trying to settle in on a class for Boost. There are so many good trainers around here. But our Saturday class with Lisa, an excellent trainer, wasn't giving us enough class time (even though half her siblings were in that class off and on: Derby, Caena, and Becka. Have had one session with one of Tania's classes, which was very helpful, and I was planning on finishing up one session, but it's been rained out (Tuesday seems to be The Rainy Day for this year) and I'm not sure whether that'll work.

Met with Nancy at Power Paws last Wednesday to see where we'd fit in their "puppy class" that's been meeting for 5 months now while we mostly trained on our own and those occasional Saturdays. Her evaluation: We're ahead on weave poles (yay!), a wee bit behind on jumping comprehension, and quite a bit behind on clicker work leading into contacts. But they're not yet doing contacts, still (I believe) working on backchaining from the end of the boards. I'd like very much to be in a class with Nancy--and Bette (Boost's sister) is in that class.

On Thursday, we went just to watch the class and see whether we thought we'd fit in. The biting wind froze my extremities and we didn't stay for the whole class, but we watched their basic obedience work and their basic jump work and I think that the class is really right about where we need to be. Being in a group always motivates me to achieve more, too, so it'll be good to be in a regular class situation. (Witness how a classmate getting the weave poles got me moving to Just Do It with Boostie.)

Regular--hah!--we'll join them next Thursday for the first time as part of the class (assuming it doesn't rain: This March has now tied the record for the March with the most rainy days, and if it rains again today, it'll set the new record for San Jose). But the following week is the "Haute TRACS" combined 4-day trial, so we'll all be off in Woodland or Dixon or some such place on Thursday and Friday trying to qualify for the Nationals in the DAM tournament. And the week after that is Power Paws camp; although I couldn't manage to go this year, Power Paws will all be there.

But what a surprise to walk in on Thursday and discover not only Mary with Bette, and the lady from Tika's Wednesday night class (with her young dog) who's been trying to get me to sign up for this Thursday class, but also two or 3 other people from what had been Tika's Tuesday daytime class with their young dogs...So I think I knew everyone or almost everyone in class. (Don't know why that should surprise me exactly, except that in the last 2 classes Tika's been in, half the people I didn't know.)

Exercises to Work On

In any event, we got tons of tips of things to work on with due diligence.
  • Eye contact! Particularly when releasing from sit-stay.
  • No circle zone: For Border Collies, avoid anything that gets them circling, either spinning or wide circles around outside of jumps that they're supposed to be taking, etc.
  • Jumping 1, facing dog: Set dog facing the jump straight on. Face her on opposite side. Release. Goal is that she'll take obstacles in front of her. Vary distance and angle (of me and or her across jump). Toy (or food) in front of the jump, not in front of me or way out past the jump.
    Note: Food might be quicker because you don't have to play with toy each time.
  • Jumping 2, back to dog: Set dog facing the jump straight on. Stand past the jump with my back to her (but remember eye contact). Release. Toyin front of jump. Vary distance past jump and distance away from jump laterally as well as angle.
  • Jumping 3, pinwheel: Pinwheel w/out using arm or bending shoulders or having to give command every time. Both directions. (And from class on Thursday--try front crossing last jump, try threadle from 4 to 2.)
  • Jumping 4, 180 turns: Start with jumps pretty close to each other. (Similar to pinwheel but w/out intervening jump: Turn body but shouldn't have to direct to jump or bend shoulders.)
  • Weaves: Work on focus forward and head down, whatever works. Put toy out in front, or toss or reward toy out in front & immediately when done, shorter sets of weaves so reward is quicker, and so on. If she skips poles, just keep her driving forward, or if I must start her over, don't bring her in a circle around me (no-circle zone).
  • Nose touches: Insist on firm hard press, no swiping, no gentle pressing. Don't be so quick to click any related behavior, be sure it's what I want. Same with hand touches.
  • Contacts: Work on board on the ground or end of dogwalk or whatever, getting to do nose touch.
  • Sit position: Work on shaping with clicker to clean up her Close (left) and Here (right).