a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Friday at the Nationals

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday at the Nationals

SUMMARY: Six Qs for six runs--and some placements, too!

Backfill: June 6 3:30pm

In case you're lost first thing in the morning.

Our morning begins blearily around 5:07--which is too bad, because I tried to set the alarm for 5:00 sharp. Jackie and I will carpool to the agility site to save parking spaces (plus it's nice to have someone to talk to). We already moved her two dogs' crates into my car last night, so it's just a matter of getting up and dressed, gathering whatever we need for the day (I decide to take my shorts just in case it's hot enough for me to want to switch out of my jeans), a quick dog potty, then load up and head out.

What with one thing and several others, we don't actually get on the road until nearly 6, so not at the site until almost 6:30. It's a Friday morning in Sacramento and traffic is heavy but flowing close to the speed limit. We have to park out in the boonies but not the terrible boonies--we're near the center walkway that leads between the outer rings over to the arena where we're encamped.

Each morning we have to pick up new running-order number stickers and course maps at registration at 6:30, then there's supposed to be general briefing from 6:45 until 7:00. In fact it doesn't get going until at least 7, and continues for half an hour. To make it easier to schedule the four rings, avoid conflicts, and ensure the availability of workers (we're all volunteers on this bus), we're divided into 6 groups, A through F, who rotate among the three classes for the day.

We're in group F, which has us running in the 2nd round in Wildcard, the 4th round in Full House, and the 5th round in Standard. I work the first round in the Standard ring, so I get to see everything that people might have trouble with on that course. It all looks very doable to me for my dogs, however, so I'm pretty calm about it.

About the Awards

In every CPE trial, including this weekend, you can earn all the regular Qs and placements in each class, height, and level, so in that sense it's just like a regular CPE trial. Typically Tika earns a lot of Qs and several first places; typically Jake earns 3 or 4 Qs in his semiretired 4 runs a day but nowadays hardly ever places. There will be a lot more dogs here than at most trials, however, including many hotshots from around the country who feel that it's worth their effort to trek to CA to try to earn the high-in-trial awards provided at the Nationals.

The High Rescue trophy that my club, The Bay Team, is sponsoring, that both my dogs are eligible for, and that neither of them will probably earn. Sigh.

The high-in-trial awards are based on various things. We specifically could be eligible for:
*Perfect Weekend award (9 Qs of 9 runs)--but we've never ever had a perfect weekend so this seems unlikely, plus at the 2004 nationals, we choked so badly we couldn't even get a Q for nuthin', let alone a placement. So I've pretty much figured we're not going to get this.
*High Rescue dog: There are, I think, about 60 rescue dogs registered for this award, my two among them. Jake's entered just for fun, since he's semiretired, and I figure that I'll pull him if he shows any signs of arthritic pain or disinterest, so I can write him off.
*High Mixed-Breed: I'm listing Tika as a full Australian Shepherd, so she's not eligible; see previous comment for Jake.
*High Standard or runner-up Standard: Best score for the 3 Standard runs across the weekend. (Awarded for each jump height and level.)
*High Games 1st thru 5th: Best score for the 6 other classes across the weekend. (Awarded for each jump height.)
*High in trial regular, high in trial veteran: Tika eligible for the first, Jake for the 2nd, but most likely the winners will have perfect weekends, so forget these.

Now, I talked earlier about how scores are calculated at the nationals for these awards. Each Q that you earn is worth a certain number of points--25 for a clean Standard run, a gamble, or a snooker; 20 for a clean jumpers, full house, or clean wildcard; 15 for clean colors. The Standard, Jumpers, Wildcard, and Snooker Qs are worth less if you earn faults--but at Tika and Jake's level (C, the top level), you can earn a Q *only* if you're clean, so that won't affect us: we'll either get the full points or nothing.

So a perfect weekend would be 200 points. A perfect set of 3 standards would be 75 points. A perfect set of 6 games would be 125 points.

The tricky bit here is that, in the three point-accruing games (Snooker, Jackpot, and Full House), points count towards placements but they do not count towards high in trial! They're using only your run time as a percentage of the standard course time (SCT) to break ties, so faster runs will beat higher-scoring runs. This means that, for example, a really novice dog who can barely get through the minimum required obstacles and then exits the ring will beat an experienced dog who uses the entire SCT to earn a fabulous number of points in a well-strategized, well-executed course plan. Since Tika is one of the latter type--and Jake was in his heyday--this goes against my grain.

There is much discussion about whether the top dogs will be going for placements in individual runs or skip the placements in favor of lower scores and lower times in the hopes of beating out others who might have the same Q points at the end of the weekend.

In the final analysis, however, it seems that the top dogs mostly felt that playing the games competitively for placements was the much more interesting thing--plus, if the others are anything like me, we weren't figuring on getting a perfect weekend, so I'd rather go for 6 or 7 or 8 blue ribbons for the classes that we do manage to Q in and enjoy that, because we'd never get those 9 Qs.


Wildcard is a slightly shorter than usual numbered course with 3 places where you have to pick either obstacle A or obstacle B, with B usually the more challenging obstacle or path. At our level, we must do two Bs and one A. Sometimes my choices are obvious the moment that I walk onto the course for the walkthrough. This one, however, presents challenges for Tika and Jake no matter how I cut it, and I try walking it with every dang combination of As and Bs (that would be 3 different paths). I'm still trying to decide for sure when they clear the course and I have to go fetch Tika for her run.

So this is our first run of the Nationals, and if they're all going to present challenges for me, then it'll be an interesting weekend indeed.

So the choices are:
* 2a: To make the turn to #3, I either have to lead out far enough on the right of the tunnel to be able to push the dog forward before they turn in and miss #3, or far enough on the left to pull the dog slightly (but not too much) towards me and flip them to the jump--which might work OK but then I either have to pull the dog tightly into the 4a tunnel, which could knock the bar on #3, or get across to the weaves for 4b... And neither dog has had completely reliable startline stays lately. Good, but not perfect. Jake might wait forever or might not wait at all. Tika might wait forever or take off as soon as it looks like I'm turning towards her. On the other hand, if I take 2b, the jumps around the outside, I don't have to lead out as far, but it's a sharp angle over #1 which could be a bar-knocking opportunity for Tika, and for Tika, she'll be hauling when she goes over #3 and if I want to get her into 4a (not certain), I'll have to pull her up clearly enough that she doesn't knock the bar.

#10b is the easier jump from #9 but then you have to pull a bit to #11, so could risk knocking 10-- I dunno. I decide on 2b/4a/10b with Jake, and 2a/4b/10b with Tika. In fact--everything goes swimmingly with both dogs! Hardly a twitch to be improved, although I run up the left side of 2a and Tika pulls away from 3 just a little more than I would've liked, but still makes the flip nicely without spinning. So--piece of cake! Jake even made his weave pole entry very nicely--in fact, did so all weekend--despite a recent history this spring of missing the poles entirely or missing the entry and going in late.

I feel that we did pretty good and had good running times, although Tika's course probably would have been faster with only one set of weaves and the jumps around the outside, but I'm not sure it would have been clean.

Carlene finds her scribe sheet copy in one of the little results boxes at the awards table. If it's a Q, you get a lovely giant Q ribbon on the spot.

Finding Results

We can find out whether we Qed usually within 10 or 15 minutes by picking up the NCR copy of our scribe sheet at the awards table. All the scribe sheets here are 2-parters, so as soon as the score is entered at the score table, the 2nd part is dispatched to one of the boxes way out back (e.g., for Group F, there's a box for each of the 4 rings). You can pick up your Q ribbon immediately--an innovation this year from Haute Dawgs. In years past, you had to wait until the end of the day, and then they'd find you on a list and check you off, so with a Q rate of (usally at CPE trials) better than 50%, there'd have been over 500 ribbons to hand out at the end of the day.

Instead, you just have to wait til the end of the day for the placements, after the classes have finished in all the rings.

But--our Wildcard scribe sheets finally come up, and both dogs have Qed with very respectable times! Jake is 17 seconds under SCT; Tika is 21 under.

Working at the Nationals--and the Raffle

Some of the many raffle items offered; just drop your tickies into the little containers and keep your fingers crossed.

Years ago the Bay Team started a WAG raffle (Workers Appreciation Gift--long before WAG agility existed in Elk Grove) that was usually one large item for which all workers earned a ticket for each round that they worked. The regular raffle, with many larger and smaller items, you had to pay to enter. However, gradually we evolved to having only a worker's raffle, and everyone else followed suit--or someone else led the charge after we started it, or maybe we took the initial idea but I came up with the WAG name--it's a bit murky-- anyway, most clubs hereabouts nowadays offer pretty spectacular workers raffles. The daily raffles here had something like 80 or 90 items you could drop your tickets into, from baskets of toys and treats to agility equipment, crates, and free entries.

I was scheduled to work 2 rounds of the 6, and they were giving 6 or 8 tickets per round. I ended up volunteering for about 6 different rounds, the way the ring orders fell on Friday, so I put lots of tickets into a variety of things. I was lucky enough on Friday to win a day's free entry to a trial (that's 2 workers raffles in a row in which I did so--I must be using up all my luck on these!).

Full House

But back to the daily grind. We're next up in Full House, whose purpose as near as I can figure it is to see whether you can actually manage to take all of the obstacles twice within your 30-second point-accumulation period and thereby earn a zillion points more than everyone else. At least, that's how Tika and I play it. There are some basic requirements, though--at some point you have to take at least 3 single jumps, 2 tunnels or tires, and 1 high-point obstacle--in this case, there are 2 double jumps and a set of weaves, each worth 5 points.

This is the last time during the weekend in which I wrestle with the agony of going for minimum points and a fast time or using all the time and earning a ton of points in hoping for a blue ribbon. I finally convince myself thoroughly that there is still not a chance in heck of us earning 9 Qs for the weekend and that I really am, indeed, going to go for the blues. So I pick really nice flowing courses for both dogs that'll earn a ton of points.

Now, this course is set up so that you can easily loop around getting single jumps and tunnels, OR you can easily loop around getting tunnels and 5-pointers, but if you get too greedy and forget to venture to the low-point side of the course for those 3 single jumps, you don't earn a Q.

With Tika's run, I plan for four single jumps right in the beginning--actually 3 jumps with one taken going out and again coming back. And what does she do? Knocks that bar going out, so I can't take it coming back, either, so I have to veer aside, wasting some seconds, to make sure I get that third single jump. Then we race to the high-point side of the course, where I figure that Tika can make 3 loops and pick up a squillion points and stop the clock right at the SCT (it's OK to go over by up to 5 seconds, but after that, they start subtracting points). However, after the 2nd time around--I forget which loop I'm on, and suddenly realize that I'm stuck in the middle of a loop that I can't get out of, except by back-jumping a double that's worth no points or taking a tunnel that I've already taken twice and so wont' be worth any points. So while I'm standing there looking around and pulling Tika with me, she backjumps the double, putting me even further from the finish line. So we end up making the loop that we were going to make, but the whistle blows partway through and we don't get the last 8 (!) points and we barely make it to the clock-stopping table before we start to lose points.

Sigh. So I know I won't get a blue ribbon, and we also used maximum time so it won't help us even if we DO earn 9 Qs but so do other people.

With Jake, I lose him on a similar loop going out of a long tunnel and he doesn't see me and it takes forever to pull him back to me, then he's trotting instead of running, looking a little confused, and goes around the last two obstacles instead of taking them, ALSO leaving 8 points unearned. Dang dang dang.

But at least both have sufficient points to Q (and Tika has 11 points more than Jake, which isn't unusual). So, shortly thereafter, we pick up two more Q scribe sheets and ribbons.

Betsy engaged in a popular pastime

Hot hot hot

Meanwhile--it is getting dang hot. I realize that I cannot possibly wear my jeans a minute longer when they become so soaked with sweat that even the thick denim sticks to my legs with every step. It is also quite humid, making it worse. We're all trying to drink a lot, hose down the dogs with cold water often, and stay in the shade.

I switch to my shorts--not quite a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, but probably not more than once every year or two. You can tell, because complete strangers come out of the woodwork to agree that my legs are so pale that they make white look dark, or that "you know that it's hot when Ellen wears shorts."

Standard Day 1

The course has some challenges, requiring plenty of front crosses and a couple of pulls. Jake works best with front crosses these days, and the course has no long runaways where I can't communicate clearly to Tika, so I think it'll be fine for us. The final major turn is over a double and then left into a set of weaves about 15 feet to its left. There is a tremendous amount of room to make that turn from the double into the weaves without either calling sharply over the double or missing the weave entrance. And yet, many of the dogs I watched indeed miss the weave entrance or knock the double. I don't foresee it as a problem for either of my dogs. For Tika, this course is just a matter of me remaining calm and signaling lead-changes over jumps in plenty of time so that she doesn't knock them, and for Jake it's a matter of getting the Aframe and particularly the dang dogwalk contacts.

This is our last run of the day, and it's not even 1:00 yet! I know that some of the other rings will be going on for quite a while longer, but our rotation lucked out. In fact, our group is up in Full House and Standard at the same time due to the way the rings ran, and hmmm it seems to me that I actually ran our two Standard runs before I ran the Full Houses--but in any event, we'll end up finished at 1:15, and then just have to wait forever for the placements to be posted.

So Tika runs the Standard course and I'm calm and collected now that I'm at peace with the idea that we can't possibly win high in trial. My timing is good on calling her, and she keeps all her bars up. She doesn't stick her contacts well at all, but I'm prepared for it and so we blast around the course at top speed. She nails that weave entry that so many dogs had trouble with--and we're over and done with it with a beautiful, smooth, clean run.

With Jake, I plan an aggressive front cross after the dogwalk, so all I have to do is beat him to the other end and make the cross by getting directly in front of him. It works again (like it did at the USDAA Nationals last November) and he stops dead in the yellow zone--and then we continue, and he flows smoothly through the course with no real bobbles or runouts of any kind. Sure looks like two more Qs to me! Now all we have to do is wait. And--sure enough, the scribe sheets come up with Qs.

Gail and her dog demonstrate eagerly checking the posted results for placements.

End of the Day

It's getting on towards dinnertime before they post the results. To my satisfaction, Tika earned first places in both Standard and Wildcard, although with our bobble in Full House, we're only in 5th place! Very low for her in this class--and this also demonstrates that my fellow 24-inch C-level competitors are NOT going for minimum points/minimum time any more than we are.

But even more to my delight, Jake--who has had trouble Qing among smaller groups of dogs at smaller local trials--smokes'em with a 4th out of 16 in Standard and 2nd of 15 in Wildcard! Dang good for a guy whom I keep trying to retire! What a guy!

What a day! After waiting half an hour after the results are posted to allow for corrections, we can get in line for our placement ribbons and take them back to our canopy to hang with the Qs. Six runs: six Qs, five placement ribbons! Wowie, Batman, I'm happy!
Friday's ribbons. I'm feelin' good! Try to remember this later in the weekend when I just know I'll start crashing and burning. But today was fine!

Furthermore, Tika's Wildcard run is the third-fastest run out of 205 levels 4/5/C dogs all heights, and her Standard run is the fastest level C of 53 dogs and 4th fastest of all 216 4/5/C dogs. Whatta gal. I'm so lucky with her.

Then, finally, Jackie and Arlene and Jennifer and Carlene and Donna and I head out to Logan's Roadhouse for a nice dinner in an air-conditioned building and suck down tons of ice water along with our dinners. We discuss advanced degrees among agility competitors, and in this crowd there are in fact two Masters degrees and a PhD, and having a PhD becomes the running gag of the weekend. ("Of course Jennifer figured out that handling maneuver--she has a PhD!" "Of course you calculated that score wrong--you don't have a PhD!")

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