a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Sunday at the Nationals

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sunday at the Nationals

SUMMARY: Another lovely agility day. Hot. Fun. More ribbons and awards.

Backfill: June 8
Elliott! The French Bulldog. He's about the size of Tika's head but he and Boost are only a week apart in age and they love wrestling together. Better than World Wrestling Federation! Would see it again and again!

The day started early, before 5:00, once again. The last time! We mostly packed stuff in the cars last night, saving only a change of clothes for this morning to make our escape more efficient. Boost is dying of boredom after most of 3 days in a crate with only occasional excursions and is begging someone, anyone, to play with her. Elliott would like to but with Jake and Babar in the room (old grouches), it's a little hard to let them loose, especially when we're trying to pack up and get going.

But we make it out the door in plenty of time. All three dogs are kind enough to poop quickly before we leave the hotel area, so I won't have to worry about that when I get to WAG. We load 'em up, head 'em out--Rawhide!--Oh, wait, I'm having flashbacks to a TV show I never even watched.
My doggers hanging out in their crates.

Today I'm up in the first rotation in Snooker, the fourth rotation in Standard, and the fifth rotation in Colors. As usual, we pick up our "armband numbers" (Ah, how ancient terminology survives! Dial a phone. Steam shovels. Armband numbers for sticky labels that most folks wear on the fronts of their shirts.) and our course maps and wander off, muttering obsessive things to each other about courses that we haven't even walked yet.

About course maps

Now--I sometimes like to take a glance at course maps ahead of time to get a rough idea of what I'm in for. However, I don't usually plan my courses or handling strategies until I've actually been on the course with the equipment set up. This has nothing to do with either delayed gratification or with attempting to forestall excessive obsession (some obsession is OK--I think). It has to do with the fact that a single obstacle moved to the left or right by a foot or two or angled differently by 10 degrees can completely change the flavor of a course. And, since there are usually about 15 obstacles out on the course, that's 15 things that could be tweaked a hair this way or that way that could make the layout run very differently.

We've discovered that over and over, whenever trials attempt to set up the same course in different rings to save time. For example, last year at the USDAA Nationals, the "same" courses were always set up in 2 rings, and I often ran Jake in one ring and Tika in the other, and I had to walk them both very carefully and in almost all cases develop different handling strategies for each, again, not because my dogs run that much differently (actually they're very similar, Jake just slower), but because it's nearly impossible to get the exact same layout no matter how hard you try.

Furthermore, judges always have the prerogative to tweak the course so that it is in fact different from what's on the course map. Maybe there's a huge pit in the middle of the field and they have to readjust the obstacles so that people aren't breaking their legs running through it. Or they don't like the way the flow looks in real life (sometimes seeing it on paper just isn't the same). I have even seen, on rare occasions, the judge insert or remove an obstacle. And the available equipment might not match what the judge called for, so there's a substitution. And so on.

None-the-less, we obsess.


Recap of rules: You must take a red and any numbered obstacle, a different red and any numbered obstacle, and a third red and any numbered obstacle, followed by 2 thru 7. Almost any deviation from this sequence results in you being whistled off the course. And you must do it within the Standard Course Time. (The only main exception is that, if you knock one of the red bars, you must do a different red, one that you haven't already done, before attempting a numbered obstacle. This course can really make you think on the fly, as I've often discovered with my bar-knocking dog.)

This is a challenging Snooker course, in part because the numbered obstacles are all so close to each other that it could make it easy for a dog to erroneously take two numbered obstacles in the opening, and in part because there's no really smooth flow that one can pick for the opening sequence of 6 obstacles. Almost everyone has a slightly different opening strategy, which IMHO is the mark of a good Snooker course design. (When the flow is really obvious, everyone takes the same path and then it's just a matter of which dog can execut it faster. This way, it truly shows its flavor as a game of strategy and handling.)

What I decide to do with both dogs is to set them up on the far left side of the field, lead out, and call them over the first red into the right side of the #3 tunnel.

Then, as the exit the left side of the tunnel, I'll pull them around me over the red jump that's slightly behind the tunnel and then head out to the weave poles. There's actually a table obstacle out beyond the end of the poles that I left off the diagram, but it's not live, so all it is for the dogs is a distraction and time waster if they head there instead of the weaves. Now, that weave pole entry is a hard one because the dog will be coming at the top end, which means they're approaching at more than a 90-degree angle, so they have to hit the entry and wrap to their right about 100 degrees and make it into the next pole. So I'll have to try to push them out a little, keep them away from the table, and then maybe wrap them in around my left side a little to make that entry.
Looking out past the edge of the agility property. Very rural. But the suburbs creep closer--and closer--

Then I'll pick them up as they come out, zoom around the outside of the #5 tunnel to the far red, threadle the dog between the red and jump 4B to get to the right side of #6, then it's pretty much a straight line (if I stay ahead of the dog, running full out and calling) to the #2 tire and into the closing sequence. It's not a given that we won't have an offcourse, but it minimizes their options for obstacles they'll be looking at.

Once again, Jake is up first. I don't lead out too far for fear that he'll take off before I'm ready, release him and run towards the #3 right end. He comes right with me and we're off and running. On the approach to the weaves, he looks at that table, looks at it, but maybe that's OK because when I finally convince him to look at me, he's far enough above the weave entry that when he turns he has almost a straight line into the weaves (which is good because he doesn't have super weave entries all the time). We go out around #5 and over the red, and as I try to threadle him through, he looks at #4B and LOOKS at it as he's running, and finally veers in to me and to the #6 and then to the tire and the closing sequence is actually a cinch, although I'm cheering him along as we go, and in fact the whistle blows just as we exit the #7 weaves, so we were very close on our time. Wahoo! Not bad for an old guy, again!

Then I watch a lot of dogs completely mess up. Lots and lots of offcourses. Meanwhile, I'm second-guessing what I want to do with Tika. I could get 3 more points if, instead of going to the #3 on the opening, I just went a few feet further into the #6 and then pulled her around BEHIND 6 and 3 back to that other jump on the left side--BUT. Then I'd be doing a 180-wrap on that jump, which is riskier for knocking a bar, AND I'd have to get her out of the 6 the right way and not detour into the #7 AND... Well, OK, I talk myself into sticking with my plan. Since so many people are wiping out, it seems unlikely that anyone's going to get three 7s in the opening, and we'll have a good chance of placing just by getting all the way through.

Tika also waits at the start line. When I release her, she blasts off. Sometimes she's not as fast as others, but this morning she's revved. When I call her over the 2nd red and head for the weaves, she is so far ahead of me that there's no hope in heck to push her out and wrap her around me for the entry, so all I can do is yell "Weave! weave!" and trust in her excellent weave entries, which we've worked hard to develop. My heart's in my throat, though, because moving as fast as she is to make a turn that sharp into the second pole will be very difficult--and then she nails it! It is totally awesome (I resort to cliches because I don't know what else to say). I am SO proud of her!

And then, when I try to run her out around #6 and she doesn't see what obstacle to do next, she tries to eat my feet. I manage to stay standing. She completely ignores my attempts to give her the "Behind" command, so I spin around 360 degrees, and she follows me, and as soon as she's off my feet I take off running again towards that 3rd red, and she comes right with me, makes the jump, threadles beautifully, into the #6, over to the 2, and as before the closing just flows very nicely AND she doesn't knock any of her bars. Wahoooo one more time.

I am SO jazzed about that weave entry! What a girl! So what if she tried to eat my feet? Worry about that another day.

At least they both Qed again, and, at the end of the day, it is revealed that Tika again took 1st and even Jake took 3rd in his class. Another example of how a smooth and only slightly aggressive course can beat out really aggressive handlers who all wipe out trying to do what they want to do.

Still more loot

I am not scheduled to work at all today! Huzzah! So in theory, now that I'm done with Snooker, I'll have two full rotations in which I'm Free! Free! Free! to, say, go browse the vendor booths. At the very least I want to check for photos of my dogs. They're so expensive these days that I hardly ever buy any any more, which is too bad, because there are often some nice ones. I could afford it back when Bill Newcomb was casually plopping 4x6s in a file box for you to leaf through on Sunday and pay $2 each. But now the photogs all have booths, and they display photos on huge boards, and they even print them customized with logos and things, and usually they all print only 8x10s, for which they charge even more. Almost all make the photos available online after the weekend, but 4x6s still usually cost $8 to $10 each! Yikes! That's a whole run's entry fee for one photo.

Indeed, one photographer has photos of both my dogs, 8x10, with their names and "CPE Nationals" on them and they're not bad photos and I give in to temptation and buy them. (Argh. Not without a stomach twinge at $25 each.)

Nothing else I really need, although I keep thinking about a new fleece with my dogs embroidered on it. One handler had a beautiful one from them with one of her dogs embroidered on each side, and I'd love to do that. Except that none of the Aussie templates really looks anything like Tika, and although the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever looks something like Jake, it's not a really excellent likeness, and so I take their card and walk off into the sunset muttering.
Sunday's raffle winnings.

When I go to watch the Standard course and see how well it runs, I arrive at the beginning of a rotation and they're desperate for help and so I volunteer to set poles. So I get to sit in a chair in the shade for the whole rotation and watch to see what people are doing, PLUS I get raffle tickets. Since I won nothing yesterday, I'd love to try again today.

When the round is over, I put my name on all the tickets and drop them into containers for free entries and for pop-up crates. I end up doing a little bit more work later for a few more tickets, but not nearly as many as the previous two days. Still, when it's all over and they've pulled the names, I'm the proud owner of another brand-new bright red Large pop-up crate. Wahoo! This does seem to be my weekend.


One more Standard course, and the last of the weekend. Tika has qualified on two so far; if she qualifies in all 3, she could be in line for the 24" Level C high-in-trial Standard award, because I don't think most people are doing very well in Standard.

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

It's a much easier course than the previous two days, with almost no easy opportunities for offcourses. (That doesn't mean that people aren't getting them--but I believe that they're not issues for me.) The only exception is that, after the dogwalk, the dog has to turn left to go into a tunnel, but there is in fact a big juicy jump straight ahead of the dogwalk. This shouldn't be a problem for Tika, who doesn't fly off dogwalks, but for Jake, who's liable to keep running even if he is so lucky as to get a paw in the yellow, it would just be too tempting for him.

So I plan a gratuitous front cross to kill 2 birds with one maneuver--attempt to stun him into hitting the yellow zone AND to get his attention off the jump, onto me, and thereby to the tunnel.

For Tika, it'll just be a matter of keeping the bars up, since we're making turns over virtually every bar in this whole course. I just need to relax, think about calmly signaling each one early, and just enjoy being there.

The only other thing to ponder is the weave poles. Quite a few dogs I watched popped out of the weaves early because their handlers were veering away or making a break for the last 2 jumps, which are at an angle from the weaves. If you're right next to the dog at the end of the weaves, now you're stuck behind the first jump, so even if the dog goes over that jump, he could pull in to you nd end up running past the next jump, wasting time. So once again I just need to remain calm, STAY OUT AWAY FROM THE WEAVES THE WHOLE WAY so that I don't have to veer to get to the jumps, and just watch my dogs actually exit the last weave pole before moving, not assume that they're going to get it.

And--OK, I'll make this short--everything works exactly as planned. Not a hoohah anywhere with either dog. Unless one of the dogs did something that I didn't notice (once in a while I don't see a bar drop, or I think they got the contact but didn't), that's two more Qs. I watch lots of dogs Tika's height have troubles, however (yes, there are offcourse opportunities, and contacts to fly off of, and bars to knock). But one of our usual pals, Leslie and her Catahoula Ana, have an absolutely gorgeous fast run that I'm pretty sure will beat Tika's time because they're not stopping on the contacts, although Ana hits them solidly.

Leslie comes off the course and, when I congratulate her, comments that "I know you keep saying that I have lovely running contacts, but they're still not SUPPOSED to be running contacts." Still, it worked nicely for them.

Indeed, my scribe sheets come up shortly with Qs. So Tika has 3 Standard Qs! We could maybe possibly oh so ever potentially earn a high in trial award. And, at the end of the day, Tika has placed second in today's Standard behind only Ana, and Jake once again smokes those 16 other younger dogs, taking 3rd.

It's been a good day and a good weekend no matter what happens in Colors. But Colors courses are reeeeeally short and it would be reeeeally nice to get just 2 more Qs...

Don't EVEN think about it!


Yes, I have once again reverted to wearing shorts partway through the day. However, I did so frantically while racing from one place to another (don't remember why--must've been walkthroughs in one ring right after a run in the other ring) and I neglect to slather the sun lotion.

The dogs don't care.

Colors has two course options. The first one involves going all the way around the outside of the course over a series of 5 jumps and then making a 90-degree turn into the weaves. That's a lot more jump bars than I care to risk with Tika, and although she made the turn nicely to the weaves earlier, do I really want to push my luck? With the other choice, I have to try to beat Tika out of a straight 15 foot tunnel and push her to the weaves. I think I can do it, if I send her out over the jump before the tunnel and then run like hell.

OK, it's a nice theory. Jake does the flow very prettily. Not superfast, but he doesn't have to be. It'll just be another Q.

Tika is wired, still despite the heat and the 3rd run of the day. Often we have the absolutely fastest Colors course time of any dogs at a trial, because they're usually so short and sweet. Buuuuuuut there's that little trick of beating her to the end of the tunnel.


That's one fast dog.

SOOOO she blows past the weave entry looking back at me, and I have to pull her back and reenter, which loses us at least 2 or 3 seconds. In USDAA, that would've been a penalized runout--only our 2nd "if it was USDAA" issue of the weekend (sometimes we have more... like, for example, at USDAA trials), which is pretty darned good for her, and we recover very quickly, so it's not a lot of wasted time.

Tika's Qualifying ribbons for the weekend.

And then we're done, and Tika has her 8th Q of the weekend, and has knocked only one bar the entire weekend. Jeez. Wow.
At the end of the day, when the results go up, Tika is in 2nd place behind the 1st-place dog by a mere .22 seconds, so that missed weave entry cost us another blue ribbon. But I'll take the 2nd! And Jake finished 6th in his group--no ribbon but still well up there among the sixteen 16"-inch dogs.

I am really just about bursting with delight. We did much better than I had hoped, especially after our dismal showing two years ago, and indeed much better than at many regular weekend trials. What a delight.


Then we have to wait an hour or two while they tabulate everything and calculate the weekend's winners. We get a lot of stuff packed up but not everything. It's too hot to put the dogs in the car yet, so I leave up the canopy and sun screen and leave them in their crates.

Could Tika possibly have a chance at overall high in trial with only 8 runs? Or at least high rescue? As we chitchat with people, it becomes even more clear that that's unlikely. At least 3 other Bay Teamers that I talk to have 8 Qs for the weekend, and one has 9, although with faults on one of those runs, so by extrapolation there must be plenty of others out there.
Tika's placement ribbons for the weekend.

I'm feeling very confident about the Standard high in trial for 24" level C, though; if Tika wasn't the only dog who Qed in all 3 rounds, I don't think there were 2 others, and with two firsts and a second, even if another dog Qed all 3 their total times won't be as good as ours (because I know that Ana didn't Q all 3, and she's the only dog who placed higher than us in Standard all weekend). It would be so cool to get that award! But you never know what I might have missed... somehow...

But I also have half an ear for maybe placing in the top 5 in the Games. How many people will there be in the 24" height who Qed in all the games? I know that the odds are against us: (1) We NQed in the game worth the most Q points, so e.g. if someone Qed in 5 but NQed in Colors, which is worth fewer Q points, they'd beat us, and (2) even if we had the same number of Q points, since award placements are determined by time and we used all our time in the point games to earn lots of points to try to get blue ribbons, it'll work against us even though our Jumpers, Wildcard, and Colors times are pretty good. Still, one can hope.

Even still more loot

Our brand spanking new C-ATCH plaques.

Tika earned her C-ATCH (CPE Championship) last November, and that's such a distant memory that I'm not even thinking about it any more, so it's a complete lovely surprise when the very first award they announce is Tika's C-ATCH, and present us with our two beautiful plaques in front of the whole crowd. There are several other C-ATCH plaques that they've brought with them, and then on to the trial awards.

Several Bay Teamers earn plaques for Standard or Games.

High Standard plaque.

Tika does, indeed, earn the High Standard 24" C-Level plaque, and I'm a very, very happy mom. This is a dog whose average Q rate in CPE C-Level Standard is only 40%--and we got 3 in a row this weekend. What an accomplishment! I'm proud of both of us.

Now, gentle reader, if this were fiction, with all of the foreshadowing and all of the doubting about whether Tika could possibly earn High Rescue or even place in the High Games awards--or maybe if I had a PhD--you know that we would, indeed, have taken home that lovely trophy and a High Games plaque and the world would be a happy place. However, this is not fiction-- so--

Tika does not, indeed, place in the games--I don't think that ANY of the 24" dogs Qed in all 6 games, but all the placers managed to Q in Jackpot and NQ in lesser events, so they beat us out. So close! If only Tika had gone into that tunnel instead of skidding to a halt--we'd have placed first or at least 2nd in the Games! But then, probably lots of people are in that position. The guy who took 2nd in the 24" games ran Colors as his absolutely last run of the weekend, and was so excited about running clean all the way through it that he started saying "yayyyy!" before his dog had cleared the last bar, which changed the dog's focus, which caused him to knock the bar, which caused an NQ--the last bloody bar of the last run of the weekend after 5 previous games Qs! Now, THAT's frustrating.

But that means that at least five 24" dogs had 8 Qs with fewer points on their NQs than us, or we'd still have placed. Oh, well.

There's still High Rescue, maybe-- but noooooooo--

Turns out that only 4 dogs of 375 had Perfect Weekends (9 Qs with no faults--if only Tika hadn't skidded to a halt in front of that tunnel-- repeat ad infinitum--), and two of them earned the High In trial and High Veteran In Trial (Jake wasn't even close with 6 Qs--in fact *3* of the 4 dogs with Perfect Weekends were veteran dogs!).

The High Rescue dog had 180 points, so she must've NQed in Jumpers or Wildcard, which cost only 20 points compared to our 25 for Jackpot. If ONLY Tika hadn't SKIDDED to a HALT in front of... Cripes.
Jake's ribbons for the weekend.

But I'll take my three plaques, 14 Q ribbons, 11 placement ribbons, free entry, new pop-up crate, photos, and all the check-in goodies, finish packing up, drive home, arrive about 8:30, shower (calves--owwww in the hot water! So much for not using sunscreen on those lily white gams) without taking anything out of the car except our awards to show the housemate, and crawl into bed for an immediate lights out.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh---what a great weekend!

And, Arlene, I hardly whined at all! Now to start reading my Nonwhining award from Arlene: The Dog Lover's Guide to Dating.

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