a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Saturday at the Nationals

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Saturday at the Nationals

SUMMARY: Not Jake's Day. Hot. Fun.

Backfill: June 7 5pm
Once again, what with dinner and showering our sweaty bods and all that, we didn't get to bed until after 10:00, but this time I set two alarms, both for before 5:00, so we're up and at 'em in plenty of time to get a prime parking spot at WAG. Halleluia!
This photo of my nationals t-shirt and shorts is after the fact. But now ya know.

The nice thing about midyear events is that it's light at 5:30 a.m. so you can see where the dogs are pottying rather than having to guess or search with a flashlight. The bad thing is that--well--it's summer in the Central Valley. I confidently start out wearing my jeans and a fleece sweater. I abandon the fleece even before the general briefing at 6:45, but the jeans stick with me--not quite literally yet, but they will, they will.

More loot

Yesterday morning I also received my preordered Nationals t-shirt. A lovely bright tealish jadey turquoise (OK, I don't know what the official color is; this is why I'm in software and not interior design) with an embroidered logo. Not that I need another t-shirt to add to my collection of 140; it just had to be done. It felt weird having to pay for a t-shirt to prove I'd been there, since the USDAA nationals provides you automatically with a free shirt. On the other hand, USDAA's entry fees are twice what CPE charged for their nationals, and what USDAA provided for free besides the t-shirt was one bright red umbrella with the USDAA World Cynosports logo blazoned across it. How often do I use an umbrella? How often do I use anything red? And here I got for free those two nice shade cloths with no advertising of any kind. So it's a fair trade.

What I've been ruing is not having ordered a 2006 Nationals pin. Not that I'd wear it--but USDAA gives out pins for Nationals, and I seem to be collecting agility pins for other awards (CATCH, Jake's USDAA Top 10), so I'd have liked to have had it for my display. Interestingly, this morning, the lady who made the pins announced at the briefing that she had two extras if anyone wanted one, so I tackled her on the spot and begged. Walked away from the briefing with a pin and my promised to return later with my Visa card. That is the nice thing about most vendors at agility competitions--and about most competitors: you can trust them.
If you're ever desperate for food and drink, Hospatility can hilp.

I'm scheduled to work only one round, but I'm pretty sure there'll be other opportunities to collect raffle tickets. I'm hoping for more free entries, although so is everyone else west of the Mississippi, but I've also been putting tickets in for another one of those nifty pop-up lightweight crates that I've used so much with Boost and have wished I had another. ($25 plus tax for a Large at Target.) Yesterday I put tickets in for the Large and X-Large, but won neither. For some odd reason, whenever these appear in raffles, they always have the red ones, not the tan ones. Go figure. Who wants red, really? But for free--that's cool.

Obsessing About Jackpot--and Everything Else

We all review the course maps for the day and there is much gnashing of teeth about the Standard course AND the Jumpers course AND the Jackpot (gamble). I think they're all doable although moderately challenging. I'm trying not to get my hopes up about Qing.

Today, I'm up in Standard in the second rotation and Jumpers in the third rotation.

Standard is designed to be a Jake-killer: It has TWO, count them, two! dogwalks instead of a dogwalk plus Aframe. What are the odds, really, of Jake getting two dogwalks in one round? What are the odds of him getting two in one weekend? Pfah! Write that Q goodbye.

The Jackpot is the worst case; the run from obstacle #2 to #3 is the type of thing that Tika and I don't seem to quite get yet for some reason, but I'm pretty confident about the rest of it. However--my Group F will the last of the 6 groups to run that, and so it'll be our last run of the day. A long time to obsess about it, watch other people run it, replay it over and over in my head, you know, general obsessive sorts of things.

An expensive weekend

Deb's shirt says it all. Who cares about a few extra expenses? Canopy: $200. Video repair: $150. A few clean runs: Priceless

OK, so I broke my sewing machine on Thursday. Yesterday morning, I finally remembered to ask someone to tape my runs! I've been hauling that damfool pricey digital video camera around with me to every trial, and the last time I actually remembered to ask someone to tape me must've been last November at the USDAA Nationals. So--I asked, and had volunteers, BUT when I tried to show them how to use the camera--I kept getting an error code! I tried replacing the tape, and the battery, but noooooo---. I sat down after our Standard round (the lovely one that both dogs ran beautifully) with the instruction book, which said that it might be a moisture problem, so leave it open for at least an hour and try again. No luckie. Other people asked to take a look at it, and they got nuthin', neither. Crap crap crap.

So now I apparently have camera repair to add to my list, and I will end up with absolutely no video record of an absolutely lovely CPE Nationals weekend. Cripeys.


It's a moderately challenging course but one that I'm comfortable with. Lots of people are muttering about how hard it is. But then, this isn't USDAA. I've seen much harder courses there. I'm not saying that we won't be challenged. There's a long run of 40 feet with a jump and a straight 20-foot tunnel that I'll need somehow to get ahead of Tika on. But it won't kill us if we don't; just have a bobble, no real offcourse opportunities IMHO.

Today, Jake is up first in everything. Once again I manage to stun him into stopping on the first dogwalk with his feet in the yellow by hauling butt to the end and standing in front of him, but the second time around, he was ready for me and just popped off the side above the yellow zone. Crud. Oh, well, it's not like I didn't expect it. The rest of his run is really very nice. He's so good for an ancient dog! I don't think there are any other 14-year-olds competing out there--which is something else that makes me wonder whether his birthdate could have been misguessed, but I'll never know. (Based on his first agility Q, we know that he has to be at least 12, which is still older than almost all agility dogs out there.)

Now, here's the funny thing about CPE scoring. Popping a contact is 15 faults. An offcourse is only 5 faults! So although we have a really nice time (only 5 seconds slower than Tika, which is unusual--of course popping off the dogwalk helped), he ends up placing at the bottom of his class because although many people got 1 or 2 offcourses, they still placed higher than he did. Hmmm. Still, once again I am very pleased with his run. No bobbles other than that.

Tika has slowed down on her contacts today and sticks them all, which I know will slow our total time and might prevent us from placing, but stopping on her contacts is generally a good thing. That long tunnel run indeed is not quite perfect--she turns into me somewhat but again I manage to push her out without a full spin. Same thing elsewhere in the course. But then we're across the finish line and not a single bar has dropped and I realize that we've Qed 4 for 4 so far! Maybe I was hasty about that trophy--

But noooooo...don't start thinking about it! I start this mantra to myself and repeat all day every time it starts occurring to me: "Don't think about it! Don't EVEN think about it! You know what it did to you at the last nationals! Just relax, figure you won't win, enjoy what you do." It's very hard for me, but in fact I am enjoying myself immensely. (Of course, Qs always help. :-) )

At the end of the day, it turns out that our slowish time (for us) doesn't matter, as all the other dogs in our height and level crashed and burned or were quite a bit slower. So it'll be another 1st for the Tika babe! However, if comparing her time to ALL level 4/5/C dogs, there are at least a couple of dozen clean runs with faster times. But that's OK.


The main challenge for both dogs on this course is their on-again, off-again start-line stays. The course opens with three straight jumps aiming at a tunnel, but you don't actually DO the tunnel, you break into a serpentine off to the left.

I'll need to be able to lead out far enough that I can clearly signal the turn before the dogs get to the jump to keep them on course and to prevent Tika from knocking that third bar as she brakes and turns.

In fact, they both stick their startlines. What good animals! And we're off. Jake, although he's moving along at a nice clip, none-the-less mystifies me again by u-turning away from me and heading southeast when I'm clearly heading northwest--not once, but twice on this course. And, since he can't hear me well enough, and because we now have obstacles between us so I can't rush out and get in front of him to turn him, it takes a few seconds each time to get his attention and get him back on track. He stays on course, but I'm worried about the times.

A couple of experienced friends assure me that he was moving fast enough, the detours were short enough, and CPE course times are so generous that we'll make time easily.

They were wrong. The time on this course was exceptionally tight, and Jake is over by 4 full seconds. Another nonQ for the day. A little disappointing after yesterday's 3 Qs, but hey, he really was running nicely and he's so cute and seems to be enjoying himself. So what can I say?

Tika makes the turn from #3 like a charm and blasts through the serpentine like an old hand. We actually loop around and make almost the same approach to the tunnel again, and again it's a calloff, but I'm more worried about it the second time because the sharper angle makes a harder calloff--so I end up overcalling her, and she comes towards me past the jump instead of over it. Fortunately I spin her around quickly and cleanly and we finish the course in a nice time with no off courses--AND NO BARS DOWN! This is pretty astonishing. In USDAA, that runout would have been faulted, but runouts and refusals aren't faulted in CPE, so waaaahoooo, another Q for my merle girl.

Futhermore, enough other dogs wipe out on this course in one way or another AND she's still fast enough despite the bobble that she places 1st again. At a regular CPE trial, I'd kind of expect this (although we don't always manage it), but at the Nationals this is a real bonus.

Hot hot hot

Yeah, yeah, it's hot all right. Again my jeans get soppy and disgusting and I'm forced to resort to shorts. With our nifty canopy setup, I just squeeze into the middle, hidden by assorted shade cloths and crates and x-pens and change right there. And I didn't even need a PhD to figure out that I could do that.

According to Accuweather, it was 90 on Friday, 93 on Saturday, and 87 on Sunday. They don't say what the humidity was, but I can assure you, it was humiditized. At least we don't seem to have mosquitos worth mentioning. And there was usually at least a little breeze all day, picking up in the late afternoon, which helped.

I also slather sun lotion on my pathetic legs. I hate sun lotion on my legs, especially here where everything except the course lawns is so miserably dusty. But they're already a teeny weeny bit pink from yesterday's exposure, despite having scurried from shade to shade yesterday like a little pale vampire. I want to be able to wear long pants come Monday without shrieking in pain. So I grin and bear it.

I'm hosing down the dogs as often as possible, at least before and after each run, trying to cool their body temperature. Their fur is dense enough and/or long enough that it's not going to help much by evaporation, but just think how much it cools you down to take a dip in a cool pool or run the hose over your head. (Yes, I did that a couple of times, too.) They can't grin, but they bear it, especially with the plentiful treats I provide.


So. I don't expect jake to get the jackpot. He just doesn't carry out like he used to, and I used to be able to give him voice directions from straight behind to tell him to keep going. Lots of dogs are veering from the #1 to the #3 jump, and I rather expect that's what he'll do. I'll try to avoid it, but I just don't see him getting this.

Tika can, as I said earlier, I think can do the #1 to #2 easily. I watched tons of fast, long-strided dogs make it easily. The thing is that, after they land from #1, they're already mostly past #3 and looking straight at the tunnel entrance, so it would be hard to miss. And this is a setup that I've had in my yard and use all the time. No, I fully expect her to get #1 to #2.

But in gambles this year, the #2 to #3 sort of thing has eluded us--where she blasts out of the tunnel, she'll be heading towards me, and I have to be able to push her back out enough to avoid running past the #3 jump (which I watched quite a few dogs do).

For the opening, there's a nice, high-point double loop that I think we can do easily and rack up more points than anyone if she sticks with me. They have announced that, for this Jackpot, you don't have to wait for the first whistle to attempt the gamble, so if you want, you can just get your minimum required opening points and then go for it. But I figure that I can easily do the double loop and then hit the gamble before the first whistle anyway, so I can relax and take time getting into position.

There is no obstacle that leads directly towards the 1/2, but what I'm going to do is run her through the weaves before the gamble, then pull her line out slightly to where there's a straight line from her position over 1 to 2 and then run straight at it. While waiting for our run at the end of the day, I see two or three other experienced people do this exact same thing and it works beautifully.

Jackpot--The Movie

I do a modified version of Tika's plan with Jake, and it works nicely, and as we head for the gamble, he runs smoothly and quickly and confidently over #1 and--straight to #3 and the ending table. Oh well--again, it's not unexpected, and it's so much fun to have a fast geriatric dog.

And so, Tika and I are finally up. She executes the first loop perfectly, no bars down. She executes the second loop perfectly. Now we're in the weaves, and she once again makes her weave entrances perfectly. The buzzer hasn't blown, so there's no pressure. I pull her out slightly and start running, and she goes over the jump #1 straight at the tunnel. At that moment, the buzzer sounds--

And she skids to a halt, with her nose what can't be more than 1 or 2 feet from the tunnel opening, and dances left, and dances right, and spins around towards me and away from me. I have no idea what I did or what caused her to stop her forward momentum--I mean, she was hauling through there--but I'm yelling "through! through!" and apparently her obstacle names are not nearly as solid as I'd like to believe, because she finally spies jump #3 and flies right over it, never giving the tunnel another glance.

Thus endeth the Perfect Weekend fantasies.

As I come out, the gate steward says, "That's weird, it's like the buzzer startled her and made her stop." I can't imagine that's it--we've been dancing to buzzers and whistles and horns at every trial for years--but I have no other explanation and no one else I knew appeared to have been watching. So, for the rest of my life, I will never know what I did or what it was that caused her to screech to a halt.

And that's a 25-pont Q loss, too, so that even if we get everything else as Qs, other people with 8 Qs could have 180 or 185 points to our 175. Still, that could still maybe leave us open for High Rescue--

Don't think about it! Don't EVEN think about it!

But her opening was just flawless and I'm very pleased with my gal. Even the 2 teeters we did were very fast, no wasted time at all, and I've been working hard on getting the speed up on those.

Friday's and Saturday's ribbons plus maybe a couple from Sunday morning.

So, as the day winds down, we discover that she had more opening points (40) than any of the other 375 dogs, except one (Erika and Chase), who had 41, and they're not in our height or level, so there. In fact, we manage to place 4th with that set of points, because not that many dogs got that gamble.

But we have 3 more runs tomorrow, with plenty of chances for non-Qs. What happens will happen. (I can say that now--)

Fun and Games and Feeling Good Mostly

That evening is the official trial BBQ. Great food, good friends, hanging around until after 8 just laughing and talking and eating. I'm really pretty much floating despite the lowered Q rate for the day--2 for 6 instead of 6 for 6--but my dogs are running so well and I just don't feel that I'm making stupid mistakes, just normal sort of tweaks or twitches that sometimes happen.

Once again Jackie and I drive back late to the hotel, and for the third day in a row we have a stunning sunset to light our way up 99 towards Sacramento. It's as if the sky decorating gods simply waited for us to appear each evening and painted the sky and clouds with the most amazing and vivid colors just for our benefit.

I'm feeling good, I'll tell ya. Except for more aches and pains than I want to remember.

My knee has been bothering me in past weekends since it got so swollen at Haute Tracs, and I'm planning on babying it this weekend. Oddly enough, it seems to get better and better as the weekend goes on. But my left shoulder, which has been only slightly painful all winter and spring while my right shoulder has cycled on and off from agony to mere gentle jabs and back again, has chosen this weekend to act up. Thursday night I iced it when I got to the hotel thanks to jackie who had an extra baggie for ice. But it still hurt so badly that I had trouble getting to sleep and then it woke me up periodically all night.

At least it was manageable Friday morning, but again through the day got worse and worse and was almost as bad Friday night. Tonight it's not quite even that bad, but when I shower it's still hard to raise my hand high enough to wash my hair.

Furthermore, I am haunted by the mysterious hand-joint shooting pains again. Thursday night I believe it was the base joint of my left index finger--painful, sharp pain every time I moved it or put any pressure on it, throbbing even when holding still. That had subsided by the morning but Friday night it was my right thumb base and I think Saturday night it was my left little finger.

I should be writing these down.

Mostly they're gone by morning. My sister Linda seems to be experiencing similar things. I think I've asked my mom and it sounds somewhat like her arthritis onset at (sigh) about my age. I should confirm again, though. What a nuisance, not to mention slightly debilitating.

But MENTALLY I'm feelin' good! And that's important.

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