a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: April 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

Video of Tika's Sunday Standard

SUMMARY: OK, I'm experimenting again.

This is a Quicktime movie again (download latest QT). I'm trying to KISS--figured out how to embed it (I think), so I hope it works for people:

Anyway, this was our winning run. You can see that there's lots of room for improvement in some turns and also exits from the Aframe and Teeter (that's because I'm fighting the No You Don't Have Running Contacts battle while she's the presenting Yes I Do, See? argument). The places I'm most pleased with are:

(1) you can hardly see it--from the tunnel after the Aframe, the dog is aimed straight at a jump to the Dogwalk. You have to pull the dog to the center of 3 jumps and then get onto the teeter instead of the dogwalk 10 feet right or the weaves 10 feet left. She pulled beeyootifully, as my grandfather would have said. Many people went off course there.

(2) after the dogwalk, out of the tunnel through the tire to the weaves, she found and made the entry with me about 15 feet away and at full speed, too. Quite a few dogs bobbled that weave entry.

Just Some Photos

SUMMARY: Photos from Manzanita Park and Monday morning.

Manzanita Park Sunday afternoon. A nice, quiet site in the coastal hills, surrounded by trees.
Lunch facilities for the SMART trial. Inexpensive, tasty, great variety.
What my office floor looks like after I've been working dilgently at the computer and ignoring the dogs for a few hours. ("Maybe she'll play with this toy. No? Maybe she'll play with this toy.")

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday More USDAA and a Good Day It Was

SUMMARY: Boost does weaves! Tika places in three of four classes!

I started the day with Standard with Boost. She left the teeter before her release, and I made her Down. Then she left that before the release, so I made her Down again, and this time she waited for permission. Held her other two contacts nicely--and I made sure she held them for a bit! She's developed this thing on the table in competition where she slowly rises from a down, so the judge's count keeps stopping while I remind her to go all the way down. The next to the last obstacle was a full set of weaves--which she did beautifully! And so we had a clean run and our first Advanced Standard Q, but only 4th place with all the time spent on contacts and tables.

Maybe five minutes later, Tika did a lovely Relay run and her partner did, too. With Tika's new running contacts (mind you--this was not MY plan for her contacts), our times were really excellent and we Qed and placed 4th of 26 teams. We're placing more and more often--very exciting! And those 2 runs were a good way to start the day.

Boost had Jumpers and Relay before Tika got another run, and they were real messes, going around obstacles and all, more like we were running a couple of weeks ago.

Tika's Standard run--with running contacts, although I did get her to hold still on the ground at the base of the Aframe briefly, and hesitate enough on the dogwalk to get in front of her to prevent an offcourse--again felt wonderful and fast, although we had a couple of wide turns. But--we won! This is Tika's second-ever first in Masters. Of sixteen 26" dogs, an amazing 10 eliminated with offcourses, which certainly helped our placement.

I was feeling pretty good when we went in for our Steeplechase run, but then she went through the side of a broad jump (had I thought a little harder, I wouldn't have cut and run quite as soon as I did, which I'm sure is why she pulled through it). I was supposed to go back and take it again to correct it (note USDAA rule--I didn't actually know this while I was on course), but I decided that even if we were to do that, we'd never be in the money placements, so screw it, and went on, which was an instant E. Then I was out of place for the next turn, bobbled it, had to try again, and then started forgetting where to put my crosses, sent her all over the place, and when she crashed two jumps in a row, I headed for the exit without further ado. All handling idiocy--she was trying to do what I asked!

And then we went in and had a gorgeous, smooth, aggressive Jumpers run that I even got a compliment on from Nancy. My timing is still rough on some of these more aggressive crosses, though; they drive Tika even faster, but also resulted in two wide turns again. Still--we ended up in 4th place of 18 dogs, within .8 of a second of the first 3 dogs, including the very fast Tala (Boost's mom), Hobbes, and Kidd, all perennial national finalists and Top Ten candidates and all that, so I was very pleased.

So THREE placements in a single day! Including a win! But in the Steeplechase looked like rank amateurs! How funny is that?

All in all, I had fun, Tika had fun, Boost had fun for the most part but I hate confusing my poor dogs; I don't think they like it much. They'd rather know exactly what I want so they can just run!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Saturday at the Races

SUMMARY: Boost can't do weaves--argh! But Qs and places in Snooker. Tika has nice run in Snooker and Qs in Steeplechase finally.

Today felt like an odd day, like I *was* clicking with Boost and NOT clicking with Tika.

Boost's day

Boost's first run was snooker, a nice flowing course that none-the-less required some crosses and turns, and we did it perfectly, no bobbles or confusions, and nice tight turns. It felt really good. Weaves were last, and she entered incorrectly at the 2nd pole (not a problem in advanced), and when I brought her back and lined her up, she did them perfectly for a Q and a 2nd place.

After that--bleah.

Her Grand Prix run was nice except for a knocked bar until we got to the weaves, and just couldn't get them--I think we tried three times and I think she did get them on the third try, then after that was a mess. Steeplechase was similar--lovely up to the first set of weaves, missed (a difficult) entry, couldn't get her started correctly, finally did but popped out at #10 and I just went on. At the second set of weaves, I tried twice to get her in and failed and got whistled off for too many Rs and Es. Except for the weaves, she flowed nicely around the course, and kept her bars up.

Standard--mostly very nice but she left the ring when she smelled her mother and/or her breeders--their canopy was right across from the Aframe, and the people weren't there but the dogs were, and she just completely ignored me trying to call her back for I don't know HOW long. Eventually came back but then had to make 3 tries at the weaves. Gamblers opening--started with weaves since that had worked before, but needed 3 tries to get a complete set, and then the gamble was too hard for our experience.

Still, except for the weaves, she felt much better on course than she has before, and I think a lot of that is from the 4 days of work at Camp.

Tika's Day

Tika's Standard was smooth and fairly fast except that she didn't stick the Aframe and when I stopped because she didn't, she had already made her approach to the next obstacle and pulled off it for a refusal. Gamblers wasn't a bad opening--she got away from me once during the opening to mess up my strategy (like the other weekend), then a hard weave entry in the gamble I guess I didn't signal at the right time because she entered the weaves at pole #2.

Snooker was nice, but not a Super-Q. Only 3 of a very large class of 22" dogs got 51 points (Tika jumps 26"), so I opted out of a very challenging 51 and went for 50, hoping that not as many 26"ers would get the 51 since our class was half the size, but in fact 3 got it, and one 50 pointer beat us on time, so we were in 5th but there were only 4 Super-Qs. I don't need them, but I'd like to prove that the 3 I got weren't flukes. And maybe get some placement ribbons.

Grand Prix--oh, gosh, I don't even remember what all happened. Some kind of fault early on (maybe a knocked bar?) and then she didn't stick her teeter at a point where I needed her to, so I was on the wrong side for the last 6 obstacles and we were all over the place with spins and stuff. Never did check to see whether we Qed, but I don't need Qs for her now--I want wins! Ribbons! Glory!

In Steeplechase, she didn't stick her Aframe again but this time it saved me because I once AGAIN bobbled one weave entry (how can one handler with a dog with great weaves miss so many lately with her?) and had to bring her back around from an odd angle to get back into the weaves--lots of wasted time, but we managed to Q with less than a second to spare. So if she had stuck her Aframe, we probably wouldn't have made time even with a quick release. But I am VERY glad to have gotten the Q; only one more and that'll complete all of her Nationals Qualifications. Next chance isn't til June.


So tomorrow Tika gets to run in Steeplechase round 2. I'll have to find a way to really drive her through it; today her time was 8 (!) seconds slower than the fastest dog (even subtracting 3-4 seconds for the weave muck-up, that's a lot of time). We're in next to last place of 14 dogs, so we run second. And I think only the top 6 in 26" end up in the money.

Boost just has Standard, Jumpers, and Pairs, I think. It's looking more and more like she's not going to be running in nationals this year. Dang.

Her sister Gina was up from L.A. with some awesome-looking running contacts, and they run pretty smoothly and pretty fast, but all it takes is one screw-up to not Q, and they seemed to get those single screw-ups too often. I hope Ill get to see her run some more tomorrow. They'll be dynamite when they avoid the errors. She had very nice weaves, too.

Friday, April 27, 2007

This Weekend

SUMMARY: Another USDAA trial, fairly local.

This is SMART's spring trial in Prunedale at Manzanita Park.

Grand Prix and Steeplechase national qualifiers; two Standards and one each of the other regular classes.

There are 110 dogs in the Steeplechase (and another 42 in the Performance Speed Jumping); 59 in Boost's height and 25 in Tika's height. Since qualifying is based on 125% of the average score of the top 3 dogs in each height, the number of dogs doesn't matter except that there's a greater likelihood of there being faster dogs.

If we can run clean, Tika can always qualify. Sometimes we can qualify with a single fault (like a bar down or a fumble here or there), but not always. Boost--well--we're still learning how to work our way around a course. At least she's showing signs of finally understanding serpentines (more about camp that I haven't gotten around to posting yet. Maybe next week.)

Pet Food Recall Info

SUMMARY: URLs of use during this pet crisis.

It has been a scary ride, with more pet foods recalled weekly. So far nothing I'm feeding my dogs has come up on the list. Believe me, when the first stories came out just after I had Jake put to sleep after his seizures after pigging out on treats, my heart twisted a million ways. However, I know a lot of comforting (at least in this matter) things: His symptoms before and after were consistent with brain tumor. His tests revealed none of the symptoms associated with the melamine contamination of pet foods. None of the things he ate are on the list (at least so far) of contaminated foods.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Weave Pole Challenge

SUMMARY: A fun knock-out challenge sending to weaves.

Last night in class Jim gave us a weave-pole knock-out drill (you get a chance at each level, and if you can't do it, you're knocked out of the drill). In this case, we each got 3 chances at each level.

The drill looked like this:

Start with one jump next to the weaves, 3 or 4 feet out, perpendicular to the weaves (so that the dog's path to the weave entry is a U-turn), and one pole away from the end of the weaves. That's the black jump in the diagram. Then, staying behind the jump, send the dog over the jump to the correct weave entry.

For the next level, move the jump one pole further along the weaves (as shown in red). Then move it two more poles back. Then two more. Then two or three more, until finally you're at the far end of the weaves, sending your dog ahead of you all the way to the original end of the weaves. (Of course you can modify how far back to move the jump each time, but that's roughly what we did.)

We found that standing still and sending the dog from beside you didn't work well; none of them wanted to carry out the full distance. All the dogs did much better if we revved them up about 20 feet back and ran them at the jump to build momentum. After that, if the dogs knew their weave-entry-finding job, they'd work themselves at getting out far enough to make the wrap.

Tika did fine in the early stages. At the third to the last position, though, it took us all 3 tries; the first two tries, she entered with the first pole to her right instead of to her left. At the next to the last position, it took her two tries, and then on the final position, she apparently finally realized what the game was, and did it perfectly on the first attempt. Four of our dogs made it to the final level, although the 12" sheltie didn't successfully complete the last level. The others were Kye (the other long-legged 26" aussie) and Jim Basic's Spy, although we all had points during the drill where we had to try it more than once. Apache the Terv made it to maybe the next-to-last level before dropping out. The other two dogs who were there that night were 16" dogs but they both have trouble with weaves just in regular flow if they're not helped a bit. And Ash and Luka weren't there.

Now--that's the easier weave entry for dogs, because they simply have to find the last pole and wrap around it. If you were going in the opposite direction, that's a harder entry because the dog has to enter between two poles, which is a more challenging distinction to make. So--go ahead, try it, tell me how it works. ;-)

I'm almost certain that Boost can't do this drill at all. She's getting better and better at entrances all the time, but we've done nothing like a U-turn, I don't think.

And I also discovered, when testing Tika in the yard this week on some of Boost's weave drills, that if she's entering at an angle from the right side of the poles and I'm already past the plane of the entry, she misses it. (That was one of our mess-ups in the last Steeplechase.) So there's something for me to go back to with her.

It never ends!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rear Crosses A-B-C

SUMMARY: Wendy Pape's ABC method of rear crosses

Both Wendy Pape and Mary Ellen Barry got a a chance to teach us more about how to handle rear crosses, and it's all about the direction of your hips. (In fact, LOTS of stuff this weekend was about the direction of your hips, and I'm sure there are plenty of punchlines for that if one cared to use them.)

I've known for a long time that your goal as a handler is to try to make your own most efficient path through a course. So, for example, in the following diagram, your line should be essentially a straight line down the center of the jumps, not veering left or right to push or pull the dog. But how best to indicate the dog's direction?

The basic steps are these:
  1. Face your hips towards the far side of the desired obstacle (point "A") until the dog decides to take the obstacle. ("Deciding" being that the dog is looking at it and starting to head that way.)
  2. Then direct your hips to the side of the obstacle closest to you (point "B")--on jumps, that would be the upright that the dog would wrap around--until the dog commits to the obstacle. ("Commit" being the point at which there is nothing you can do to prevent the dog from taking the obstacle--varies by dog and by obstacle type.)
  3. Then direct your hips at the far side of the next obstacle (point "C"). If you're doing a double rear cross as in this example, the "C" of the first cross becomes the "A" of the next cross.

During this time, you never stop moving forward, AND you probably don't use your arms; the signal for a rear cross should be that you are crossing behind the dog (and the direction of your hips.)

The other thing to note is that you should never turn your hips beyond A, because that starts to get into the range of the dog following you past the jump, not taking the jump.

This made a lot of sense and seemed to work very well, but needs some practice to keep it smooth. I apparently tend to jerk myself from one direction to the next, and although it needs to be quick, it also needs to be a smooth transition as you keep running forward. Something for *me* to practice.

Added info (April 26, 3:30 p.m. PDT): I remembered the discussion as being about pointing your hips. Now, having discussed it with a couple of other camp attendees, they have it variously as "point your shoulders" and "imagine a laser beam coming straight out of your navel--point that." So now you know.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Power Paws Camp Day 4 and Event Summary

SUMMARY: Day 4 photos and a comparison of prior (big) camps to this year's camp.

Sunday morning started with spatters on the windshield and wet roadways, but the sun working on breaking past a looming cloudbank.
Karen Holik discussing training your weave entries, showing how to place a jump as your training progresses. She recommended Rachel Sanders' article for Clean Run for specific advice.
Kathy Leggett's session was on walking courses, discussing options, and trying out handling skills.
Me and Boost.
Wendy (also from Boost's Thursday morning class) checking her voicemail and Renegade suggesting that it would be more fun to pay attention to him.
Another take at how stunningly yellow that field is on the way home on a sunny afternoon.

Camp this year is very different from past camps (in the Placerville and Turlock days) in many ways. Some of that is good, some bad, and some just--different. At the big camps, over 200 participants came and at least 30 volunteer workers who got to audit but who also "paid" for their attendance by being available to work before, during, and after each day. This time, there were 72 participants and maybe a dozen workers, if that many. Then, there were 18 instructors from around the country and the world; this time, there were 8, five of whom are local.

Then, there was so much to choose from. If you or your dog were tired, you could go to a lecture or audit a session that you might be more interested in than one of the ones you were assigned to. And instructors might each teach the same topic only 2 or 3 times in the weekend, so over the course of 4 days there were dozens and dozens of topic choices. The up sides to that were that it was kind of exciting to read through the course book and realize how much knowledge was out there and get to choose topics that might be more intellectual or conceptual than simply working your dog--for example, Kathy Keats' lectures on the developing science of timing obstacle and course-sequence performance, or John Rogerson's lectures on dog communication, behavior, and learning modes. The down side was that you couldn't possibly see everything that you wanted to see (well--maybe that was a motivator to keep coming to camp) and you couldn't really pick which working sessions you got to participate in, plus you had to read through the whole lise of sessions and lectures and plan your schedule for the weekend.

This time, there were only 8 rings, and the same instructor taught the same material 8 times, and there were 8 groups. So we all got to rotate through all 8 rings over the course of friday/saturday/sunday (the workshops Thursday were separate). For students, this was good because we got to see everything that camp had to offer. But bad for there being no choices or just sit-down lectures where you could relax and rest a bit. And bad for the instructors because it's got to be tedious, teaching the same 2.5-hour material 8 times in 3 days. (But maybe good because they didn't have to prepare for multiple topics.)

In previous camps, breakfast and lunch were in a communal hall and there was a camp-sponsored barbeque saturday night, so there was a lot of socializing and networking and meeting new people who were friends of friends and touching base with friends on what they'd been up to, what to look for, and what might be worth seeking out. In addition, there was a tricks competition, there was the famed 60-weave-pole timing event, and other activities. This time, no breakfast, no dinners, no communal dining place, no extra activities. You pretty much picked up your box lunch and sat with your session group, or maybe with friends and their session group. The down side was the lack of all the community building and info sharing. The up side for camp is clearly that it didn't take months of planning and tremendous amounts of energy at camp to keep things moving along. And less expensive in terms of facilities, I'm sure.

Then, you might get conflicting information among different instructors in what to do in specific situations. This time, the information was much more consistent. In some ways, this is good, especially for less experienced handlers and dogs. But I kind of liked seeing a variety of strategies and learning that one size doesn't always fit all. I mentioned that to Nancy, and she said firmly that that was a bad thing because what would happen is that everyone would start experimenting with all these different techniques and confused their dogs and it would take months (or longer) to fix everything that then got broken.

There's a lot that seems to have contributed to the declining attendance at camp. First, there used to be only one west coast camp. Then Power Paws started Winter Camp. Now someone else now puts on a camp in Washington. And three years ago Haute Dawgs and TRACS started their combined 4-day trial the weekend before camp, and not that many people can afford to take all that time off in a 2-week period (or at all).

I hope that camp continues to happen, although I just can't afford it every year. There is no doubt that I got a lot of valuable information and practice in my four days and that it will do me good not only with Boost but also (I hope) with Tika in competition. But there's also no doubt that it wasn't as exciting to be there; I didn't feel like everyone who is anyone was there. It was more like a convenient, extended 4-day seminar than like An Event. So it's sad to lose the atmosphere, but--having been somewhat involved in some of the previous camps by putting together their info-packed camp workbook--I can see that it's much easier to host something like this. And it still provides tremendous value.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Power Paws Camp Day 4, Part 1


I'm just tired. Came home, fed the dogs, soaked in the hot tub, iced my knee, had dinner, read a little bit of the newspaper, tried to help a friend a little bit over the phone with a computer problem, and here I am. Really just want to go to bed, not upload photos or type notes.

So I'll have to do Part 2 tomorrow. Just some quick notes.

It did rain overnight and left some small ponds in parts of the field, but mostly didn't affect things. No rain during the day, but it kept skipping from warm enough to peel off layers to cold enough to put them all back on again and huddle for warmth. Odd stuff.

Today we had Karen Holik in the morning for weaves. Very helpful in identifying that Boost needs work at right-angle entrances (tried Tika on the same course during a break and as I expected she was perfect) and at full speed at anything more than basic angles she starts skipping.

In the afternoon it was Kathie Leggett for coursework--anaylzing a course and figuring out alternatives. Helpful in that she reinforced what a couple of other instructors had said about my handling style and Boot's going-on-over-a-jump challenges.

Knee was bothering me enough by about an hour before the end that I stopped running courses, although The Booster was eager and ready to go.

That's it for tonight.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Power Paws Camp Day 3

SUMMARY: Mostly crosses of various types.

My cartload of gear stands ready next to my faithful dog-hauling vehicular unit.
Sharon Freilich providing feedback on one of our session-mate's runs.
Our group huddled under a canopy ringside.
Jim Basic doing his workerly work.
Nancy Gyes instructor one of her more hirsute students in International Handling Patterns.
One of our session-mates taking notes.
Another of our session-mates taking notes. Note the artist way I photographed over their shoulders to show both them and their notes. Don't we all look studious?
One of our session-mates (and Thursday morning classmates), Tracy and her Golden, Cal.
During Nancy's session, she had everyone simultaneously go stand in their chosen lead-out positions before discussing the run. There was much jostling for position, but it was also interesting to see how spread out some of the choices were.
If I were to buy another t-shirt, it would probably be this one. Front says Run Fast, Run Clean, Run Groovy. How cool is that? (Available from CleanRun.com.)
Again, a look across the field with rows of trees converging to the horizon.
A typical page of my course handout booklet after a session. Perhaps I'll be able to decipher it later when I look at it again, or perhaps not. But it helps cement the ideas into my tired brain.
Thai Chicken wrap lunch. Mmm. But enough for dinner, too.
Friends at lunchtime--Bobbie, Ken, Lisa, and (finally a picture of) me. Sorry it's not that great a photo of Bobbie.
Sandy Rogers discusses the graceful aspects of front crosses.
The peanut gallery for Sandy's ring.
Most of my drive home looks something like this. Plenty of buildings, but also lots of landscaping, mostly green from the winter but not everything. Nothing really noteworthy, especially in the rain. Sort of monocromatic.
Then, all of a sudden, surrounded by Fremont industrial parks, a brilliant swath of glowing yellow alongside the freeway. Wild mustard, I believe.

Don't have time to type much this evening, but will upload a ton of photos. I don't know why most of my interesting photos of instructors don't show their faces, but what can ya do?

This morning looked like it would be mostly sunny but on the colder side again. The fair weather held out until lunch break at around 1:30, when a blast of cold air arrived and with it the threat of rain. Fortunately that held off, just spitting occasionally, until we were done for the day. They're predicting a ton of rain for tonight and tomorrow morning, though, so I'm hoping that the field won't be underwater or a giant mud pit on the morrow. I've already done my soaking-wet agility weekend for this spring, thank you very much.

This morning we started with Nancy Gyes, whose topic was supposed to be International Handling Issues, but we ended up doing mostly basic types of crosses and weaves--our group is mostly babydogs, around 2 years of age, although I think that Boost and I are in many ways the least advanced of the crowd. Boost did weaves fine early on, but when we got to some harder entrances, she couldn't get in correctly or stay in correctly. Nancy did a brief correcting exercise with just us right after the end of the session, and then we had no more weaves for the day, so that was that.

Second session was with Sharon Freilich, again talking about crosses. (We're getting a lot of crosses this camp.) She had lots of individual advice for people as well.

Somewhere in there a couple of us were talking to Nancy about the down-sized, more relaxed Camp and how useful it was, and it's not clear how often they're going to be doing Camp again. WIth the proliferation of seminars and other camps, and now the 4-day Haute TRACS the weekend before, a lot of their participants have been drained off or sated or just can't afford the 2 weeks off, and while they barely broke even last year, this year is way down. I hope they can find a less expensive site (hard in the bay area) and can still manage to do it. It really provides a great service to the agility community.

Instead of having a catering company come in as they did for the giant camps of the past, they're just bringing in box lunches, but very nice ones. First day I had roast beef on some fancy roll with salad, fruit, big cookie; yesterday was hummus salad and pita bread with fruit and a brownie, and today was Thai Wrap with lemon bar and fruit and salad. Anyway, tasty, and a nice chance to sit down, even if only briefly.

Jim Basic taught a workshop on Thursday but otherwise isn't teaching; instead, is being the camp Main Facilities Guy, which means that he's getting speakers working and hauling fencing and equipment around and dropping in and schmoozing at any session he feels like, which I think he's enjoying immensely.

Our last session of the day--each ran 2 and a half hours yesterday and today--was with Sandy Rogers. Lots of very helpful info on front crosses, double front crosses, converting those into serpentines, and clarifying the whys of Greg Derrett's system. Really, it's becoming clearer that Serpentines are the handling phenomena of the latter half of the decade. Everyone who's anyone seems to be doing them and mastering them in the most interesting and unusual situations. It does seem to me that we've been doing more and more edge cases of serpentines in class the last year or so. And they can really make a course run fast--IF you and your dog have the skills for some of those interesting maneuvers. Yeah, I'll try to put up a couple of examples later next week along with everything else. :-)

I got a couple of nice compliments on Boost yesterday and today, in slightly indirect manners. Yesterday, one of the other people in our group said that she'll be wanting a new border collie in a year or two and is starting to look for a possible breeder, and she really likes the looks of Boost and wanted to know more about the breeder and how to contact them. Today, Sandy said that Boost looks a lot like Tala (Boost's mom) when she runs, which I've noticed more and more (although because I'm more familiar with my baby, my version is "I've noticed more and more how Tala runs like Boost" :-) ). And running like Tala is no backhanded compliment. I'm pleased.

Boost did not get nearly as tired today, so Tika didn't get much of a chance to be out of her crate, so she was pretty much bouncing off the walls at the end of the day. Will have to do *something* more with her tomorrow.

My knee is not at its happiest. Not helped yesterday by being launched into while I was holding a 60-pound Golden's toy. My dogs do that too often, and it hurts when they do it, but this was a good one. Plus it's not been at its best anyway. It's been anti-inflammatoried and iced and shortly I'll be taking it to bed, which is where the rest of me wants to be ASAP. Soon as the photos are done uploading.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Power Paws Camp Day 2

SUMMARY: In which Boost gets tired (!), neither of my dogs "go on" very well, and I learn more about rear crosses and other random training tidbits.

Power Paws Camp site: There are trees all over this field about every 50 feet in all directions. Apparently they run trials here; don't know how they manage to work around the trees.
Wendy Pape helps classmate Wendy do hip rotations A-B-C for crosses.
Sue's Chase decides that the numbered cones make lovely retrieval toys.
Mary Ellen Barry tells us to keep moving when working a course or we're all going to get parking tickets.
Moe Strenfel demonstrates how a dog can learn to do the step-hesitate-step-hesitate style of contacts.
Tracey and Lisa look like they feel about the same way Boost does after a long day of training and messing up and rewards and learning and experiencing and trying again.

Today dawned 10 degrees warmer but with a light rain. (Amazing how important the weather becomes when you'll be spending the entire day outside with no hope for reprieve.) I was concerned, but by the time the sessions started at 8:00, the rain had stopped for the day and it was altogether warmer than Thursday. The sun even made a gallant effort at coming out late in the afternoon and I finally unzipped my fleece sweater (briefly), but the long underwear again stayed on all day.

In the morning, Wendy Pape's session was about Which Cross When, but we spent most of our time on rear crosses, which I found quite useful as she explained her "A-B-C" method of aiming your hips to guide the dog through rear crosses. I'm too tired tonight to make notes about that, and a diagram is called for, so that also will have to wait until next week probably. She also had a lot of helpful general handling suggestions and explanations. Among those, that I don't turn and run soon enough and spend too much time loitering, waiting for my dog to complete obstacles.

Well--yes--I've been working on that for years and having instructors yell "move! now!" and such at me all along. I've even gone for a couple of private lessons on exactly that issue. I just can't seem to break myself loose. But Wendy's session gave me some good ideas on what I'm doing and what I should be doing.

Next up was Mary Ellen Barry's session on Rear Crosses--which went over some of the same territory as Wendy's, but she branched out from there and had some excellent exercises. I was thrilled when Boost and I aced the first one, in part because I felt as if I was finally breaking myself away from waiting for my dog. After that, we never did completely successfully complete a sequence, although we did some bits nicely and I learned quite a bit again. In part, that I don't turn and run soon enough and spend too much time waiting for my dog.

Also a known issue that I can't push Boost in front of me; she wants to keep checking in. Did some practice things that I need to work on that in fact aren't much different from what Nancy had us doing (and reminds us periodically about), but I guess I didn't do them often enough or didn't follow through enough. (I'd be more specific about some of these things but just too tired to be truly coherent.)

At lunch, I got Tika out for a bit and tried a couple of Wendy's sequences and discovered that Tika *also* doesn't push out ahead of me very well and I got some spins from her in the same places I got undesired behaviors from Boost.

I've also been told over and over through the years to be quieter on the course--as in, say less, not say it more softly. And got called on it yesterday and today, too. So I was trying to be very quiet and discovered that both dogs are less likely to make mistakes when I'm using a lot of verbals--Tika in particular--but I know that then they're relying on my voice when they should be relying more on me running full-force through the course with good handling techniques so that they can concentrate more on running and less on whether I'm encouraging them or giving 2 or 3 commands at once.

So it was hard for me to start putting verbals *back in* today in key locations after I've been trying to take them out. I'm still not good at balancing that. So much that I've learned and relearned (or maybe never solidly learned) after 12 years of training! I'm feeling good about what I've experienced and clarified in my own mind after 2 days of camp so far, but I don't know that I know how to keep translating it into reality.

In the afternoon, Moe Strenfel gave us a session on contacts from the perspective of how to approach them and how to move away from them afterwards. More handling stuff that fit well into my goal this year of trying to be a more aggressive handler (as did everything in the morning, too). And, as with all the instructors so far, the basic training and basic groundwork and basic behavior suggestions are among the most valuable things to come out of these sessions, not just the assigned session topics.

Partway through our contact session, I noticed that Boost's contacts were a little slow, but attributed it to unfamiliarity with yet another set of equipment. Moe actually asked me whether she was getting tired, and I said, no, of course not, this is the endlessly energetic Boost! But then, when I put her back into her crate, she immediately curled up in the back, put her head down, and closed her eyes. Every time I leaned over to see what she was doing, her eyes popped open, but she didn't lift her head, and then her eyes closed again.

So, yes indeed, between the mental stretches she was going through today as well as the physical, she was wiped out. I put her back in her crate in the car and got Tika out for the rest of the session, and she was quite happy and eager to run. In fact, that's the whole reason I've been hauling Tika with me, so I'd have a backup dog for sessions. (In every camp I've been to, I've always ended up trading out my main working dog at least a couple of times.)

Meant to get someone to take a couple of photos of me at camp today, but didn't, or of our group of four from Boost's thursday morning class who are now traveling through sessions together for three days, but no. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Power Paws Camp Day 1

SUMMARY: A cold day but useful workshops in weaves and serpentines ("Serp City").
This year's T-shirt (just what I need--more t-shirts--): A nice cocoa-brown, with attractive but nonspecific artwork (small Power Paws logo on the back, no year).
Boost in her pop-up crate, my purple chair, my black bag for carrying miscellaneous stuff (You never know what you'll need ringside). This is what we'll be transporting from ring to ring every couple of hours.
At noon, it was frigid and windy and threatening rain; three friends from Tika's Wednesday night class (Bobbie, Cathy, Ken) huddle out of the way of Mr. Weather. With my purple chair.
Kathie Leggett, our first workshop instructor, explaining the finer points of weave entries and exits.
Mary Ellen Barry walking along the first serpentine set-up which completely stymied me (as usual).
Mary Ellen demonstrates how the angle of your shoulders (and back) demarks the no-go zone for the dog.
Boost's alternate (and preferred) crate: My chair.

Our first day dawned chilly and windy and threatening rain; 40 degrees F in my back yard before we left home at 7. Fortunately I'm going against traffic for most of my trip, so the drive took less than 40 minutes and I just crated out of my car alongside the ring set-up.

It's very different from camp of previous years, which was a major production with 16 working rings plus several lecture venues and 200 or more campers and all sorts of events going on all the time. This was quite subdued; 8 rings, maybe 10 people per ring, and the check-in area. Lunch space was just a moderate-sized canopy with room for the instructors but the rest of us lunched elsewhere. Kind of funny that I recognized more of the instructors and staff than I did of the participants. Also very different from in the past.

Kathie Leggett taught our first 3-hour session, on weaving. Got some excellent advice on exercises to try. Quite a bit I'd heard before in one form or another, but I particularly like the suggestion about getting your dog to turn and find the weave entries (she credited it to Jen Pinder). Usual training methodology has you working in an arc around the weave entrance, having the dog alongside you, facing the weaves, and send her in. You vary the distance and the angle and the speed with which you're moving and add jumps and so on. But this suggestion was to be playing tug with your dog so that the dog's back (or side or whatever) is to the weaves, then wrestle the toy away as usual and just say "weave!" and let the dog figure out how to turn herself around and still find the weave entrance.

Mary Ellen Barry taught our afternoon 3-hour session on serpentines. I mentioned to her before we got started that she came highly recommended from a blogger--and then I couldn't remember the last name (Amy with Flirt and Bodhi, I said) and she knew the last name immediately. Interesting about all these cross-country, cross-internet relationshiops. :-)

I confessed up front that I've been doing agility for 12 years and I *still* can't do serpentines worth beans. Oh, my dogs learn how to do them as long as I stay out of their way, usually behind them or away from them (as in a gamble), but if I try to do REAL driving serpentines with me ahead of the dog, I bobble it. Which I then proceeded to demonstrate. So dumb, because I can WALK it perfectly every time, with the shoulders turned correctly and everything. But add a dog--pfft!

Anyway, she was very helpful. Again, much of what she said was things that I realized I had forgotten or not practiced as much as I thought I had, and so on, but she had some very specific suggestions for me in particular to work on for myself and for Boost, as well as the general concept that was applied equally to everyone. Another well-spent session. (If I have a chance next week I might try to draw a couple of diagrams and write up text for my own review and post here. TBD whether I'll have time.)

Interestingly, Boost did LOVELY weaves all day today, even on some harder set-ups in the serpentine class, which was NOT concentrating on weaves. Could we have more inconsistency, please? I mean, really--

Fortunately, it never did get around to raining, and it warmed up slightly in the later afternoon. Today we were done at 4:00. Helped set up the ring for tomorrow, frisbeed the dogs a bit, chatted with a couple of friends, and was still home, dinnered, and showered by about 6:00. A nice change.

Next two days are longer; start at 7:45 and go 'til 5:00, with sessions with three different instructors each day. Sunday is only two sessions again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Power Paws Camp This Weekend

SUMMARY: Thursday through Sunday, lots of info and practice in Pleasanton.

Power Paws Camp is, for the third year (?), in almost my own back yard, so I'll be commuting. It's about a 45-minute drive, but that's not bad. Boost is signed up and I'm looking forward to the time with her.

At the moment, I know pretty much nothing--who the instructors are (other than "from among this list"), what workshops and sessions I'm assigned to, what time I'm supposed to be there in the morning, where I can set up when I get there. Hope that info's forthcoming. All I know so far is that the sessions themselves start at 9:00.

I last attended camp 3 years ago, I believe; it'll be nice to be back, although it's greatly reduced in scope from the original camps. I think that the California agility world has overcamped and there's not all the pent-up demand there once was.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tika Titles

SUMMARY: More alphabet soup for Tika's career.

This weekend's Qs finished Tika's Standard Agility Champion title (10 Masters Standard legs) and Snooker Champion Bronze (15). Last trial she finished her Gamblers Champion title. One more Relay to go to her Relay Champion Bronze, and one more Team Q for her Tournament Master Silver. Sooooo we *do* have some things to help remind me that we've made progress over the years.

With two more USDAA weekends coming up this month, she's already got a total of 82 Masters and Tournament legs. I guess that's pretty OK for a 6-year-old. ;-)

Still a ways to go to catch up to Jake's 127--but he didn't even start competing until he was 5 or 6.

A Dog's Final Care

SUMMARY: Are you a bad person if you don't do everything medically possible to try to save your dog's life, no matter the cost?

My sister-in-law, who has a dog whom she adores but is not active in "the dog world", posed this question after watching an episode of Judge Judy (?) in which it seemed to be implied that you were a bad person if you didn't spend the money, whether you had it or not.

I had just happened to read an article in DogSport magazine (May/June 2006) by Terri Arnold, whom I don't know because she's an AKC-only person, but I thought her conclusions described in "When to let go" are quite helpful. In summary, she says that she'll use the same criteria for her dogs that she'd use for herself on when to let go, and I quote:
  • Must not be a burden, neither financial nor emotional, to those who take care of me.
  • Must be able to communicate with those who love me--if not verbally, at least with my eyes and spirit. I must have an interest in the world around me.
  • Must not be in agonizing pain all the time.
  • Must be able to eat and drink and take my medicine in order to help myself.
  • Must have my dignity; I could never lose complete control of all my bodily functions and want to live. (For a dog in particular, this could mean separating the dog from the life he was familiar with.)
She goes on to describe how she made those evaluations for her beloved Stride when he developed a brain tumor. But she also said, "There is no one more capable to make this decision than the person who loves the dog."

UPDATE: May 12, 2008 - The full article is now online here.

I raised the question with agility friends at dinner this weekend, and we all agreed that there's so much that goes into the answer: The dog's age, personality, and physical condition overall. The owner's health (mental and physical) and energy and living situation and finances. The nature of the illness, the nature of the treatment. More than one of us had stories of how we fought with money and medical treatment into five digits of expenses for a beloved dog, to gain only a month. Or two. Or, in Remington's case, four. We all felt that we did what we needed to do and could do at the time, and we all felt that maybe we'd never do that again. Or maybe we would.

We talked about where the line is (as did the article)--you don't put a dog to sleep because you're moving and can't take the dog with you, or because he's, say, vomiting and you don't know why (given that the dog has otherwise been healthy and there's no other evidence of illness). Still, I don't know what you'd do if you had a young, sick dog and the vet couldn't tell more without tests and the tests would be $500 and you don't have $500. Most people I know, however, aren't in the situation where they really couldn't afford to have basic blood, urine, & xray tests done.

But there remains that huge gray area where it's just not completely clear, where the vet can't decide for you and the dog's body doesn't decide for you. I think that Terri's guidelines are a wonderful place to start.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tika in Advanced vs. Boost in Advanced

SUMMARY: When feeling discouraged about one's babydog, take two databases and call me in the morning.

After this weekend, with 10 runs in Advanced with Boost and exactly one Q out of that, I started feeling a bit blue. This is, after all, Boost's third trial in Advanced, with a TOTAL of 24 Advanced runs, with only TWO Qs to show for it. How pathetic is that? I mean, Tika blasted through Advanced from her first Advanced leg to her last in 5 trials encompassing a mere 18 total Advanced runs, 10 of which were Qs.

Furthermore, Jake finished his Advanced title (back in 1998) in only 4 trials, 26 runs, with 8 Qs.

But wait, said a lurking suspicion. And since anything lurking is bound to be worth paying attention to, I double-checked my database.

Boost completed her novice title in under 4 trials (the first of those we entered only one run a day and I concentrated on obstacles, not Qs). She Qed in 9 of 25 runs and they happened to be the right ones to complete that AD (Agility Dog) title.

Jake's Novice life I know nothing about; he had his AD already when I got him. And although he did his Advanced title in only 4 trials, it spanned 9 months, so there was a lot of training and non-USDAA competition around those trials.

But Tika--now, Tika--yes, a different story. After a couple of lovely runs at her first couple of trials, including placing in the ribbons in the Grand Prix (! -- something that we have duplicated only once or twice in the 30+ GPs since), she suddenly realized that she wasn't in Kansas any more (Kansas being a controlled training situation) and that the yellow brick road appealed far more than sticking to the tried and true. She flew off her contacts and we repeated them (in NADAC) or took her off the course. She flew off her start-line without staying and we took her off the course. She ran out of the ring to go see old friends, or squirrels, or hmmm not sure what that is but worth investigating. She grabbed my feet midcourse and there was no distracting her (something she had never done in a year of training, never, not even once), not with bitter apple or trying to get her to Down (oblivious) or feigning the screaming agony of death or anything. We Eed and we Eed and we Eed, and on the runs where we didn't, she knocked bars or I mishandled her for offcourses or whatever.

Tika was in USDAA Novice for 66 runs at 15 events spanning a year and a half. No wonder that, when we finally convinced her to do the job I thought I had trained her to do, she whipped through Advanced like it wasn't even there.

Sooooo I guess Boost is doing her apprenticeship in Advanced rather than in Novice. And it has been only 2 months since she moved up from Novice. She's not being a bad girl (like certain Aussieprobablies whose name needn't be mentioned yet again), but every little flaw or missing element in our training shows up in capital letters because of her speed.

I'll try to remember that. While all of her siblings are competing in Masters and we're still hangin' in the intermediate world of Advanced. (Well, OK, Bette's still in Advanced with us at the moment, but she's far more consistent, as shown by their 4+ Qs--they Qed in Grand Prix, too-- this weekend.)

Another Three Days of USDAA

SUMMARY: Tika 5 Qs including Team; Boost only one, but finally nailed weaves. Plus rain. Plus the usual post-trial whining.

For the third year in a row, I'm so glad that I didn't sign up for all four days of Haute TRACS. Three days is just too much, plus when I miss the Steeplechase cut so narrowly by stupid handler mistakes, I don't think I could sit and watch it and really enjoy it. In addition, I've taken the opportunity today to dry everything out--but I get ahead of myself.

Wednesday night

Wednesday night I fell asleep at home pretty quickly, with the alarm set for 4 a.m. But I woke suddenly about 1 a.m. with the horrid realization that I hadn't sent in my entry for the SMART trial in 2 weeks, with Grand Prix and Steeplechase qualifiers, and closing was the next day. I had to get up, fill out the forms, send email to the secretary, make copies to take with me in case the sec was there this weekend, and stamp and address an envelope.

Then I couldn't get back to sleep. Finally gave up about quarter to four, assembled myself, and headed on out to Dixon May Fairgrounds, so I looked and felt my best that morning-- I wanted to run like the all-American competitor-- man, I wanted, I wanted to feel like-- I wanted to BE the all American agility competitor.


I had entered Boost and Tika in everything, which gave me 14 runs on Thursday (5 for DAM Team plus Standard and Jumpers). AND I was signed up to be co-chief ring steward in one ring with Boost's sister Bette's mom, Mary. The site was laid out in four rings end-to-end with a large swath between them with a roadway, grass, and vendor booths. It was a long walk. The DAM and Masters runs were in three of the rings and Advanced (in which Boost and Bette were entered) were in the fourth, far ring.

I did a lot of walking. Pedometer said 14 miles on Thursday. I hardly ever sat down. Apparently we were supposed to be avoiding using the loudspeaker very much to avoid annoying the neighbors, so there were only occasional announcements. Thank goodness that three of the rings were synchronized, but trying to keep an eye on Starters vs. Advanced in the far ring and set up ring crew for 12 rotations in our ring was overwhelming. Fortunately Mary didn't have a dog in Masters, so she ended up doing most of the work.

Tika teamed with Brenn (from our National finalist team last year) and a Papillon, Roxee, run by Rob, a very experienced handler--has been doing agility since the very early '90s, so almost from the beginning of the sport in the U.S. But Roxee's still a bit of a wildcard--still young, and trained by his owner who can't physically run her. Still, we asked them to join us for fun. 53 teams entered, which meant that at least 27 teams would qualify for nationals. Since Team consists of five full classes, you really don't want to have to keep paying for and trying to Q over and over.

Team Standard course was murder: fully half of all dogs eliminated, and since Team is all about not eliminating (if you want to qualify), the fact that Brenn and Tika both had lovely runs (Tika with a bar down)--although Roxee Eed--meant that we were above average to start with. Our team rated 18th of 53 in this class.

Team Jumpers also killed a lot of dogs. I think that, as the day went on and people watched earlier handlers making fatal mistakes, the non-E rate improved, so that there were fewer than 50% Eing. Although Roxee again Eed and Brenn had a couple of bars down, Tika's clean, fairly fast run and Brenn's fairly fast time placed us 10th in the Jumpers class, which surprised me immensely.

In the afternoon, we moved on to Team Gamblers, in which I once again found a course that I really liked for Tika both in the opening and closing, we executed it perfectly with no bobbles or complaints from the girl that I wasn't being clear, and we placed individually 2nd of 39 dogs; Brenn's score was good and Roxee's low but not terrible, and our team placed 18th.

In Tika's Team Snooker, I chose a not-too-aggressive course that I thought Tika and I could handle easily, with only one oddball turn and angle off to one of the Reds, but while Tika was in the weaves, I apparently started looking for that red because she popped out of the weaves, and we fumbled around a bit to get back in--and then, disoriented, I put her back over the red we had just come over. So we had only 8 points on a course where pretty much everyone was going for four reds and doing well, so we essentially Eed on that course. Brenn did well but Roxee backjumped after getting 24 points and our team was only 42nd of 53 in this class.

Typically, you can still Q if your team collectively has only one E, and sometimes with 2, but almost never with 3 Es, and we already had 3 Es with the Team Relay still to go, which is very heavily weighted. None-the-less, because so many dogs had Eed in Standard and Jumpers, we were in 17th place before the Relay, which meant that probably if we managed to avoid any one of us Eing, we'd be among the 27 Qing teams.

I don't remember exactly who did what in the relay--Brenn might have had a bar down--Roxee popped out of the weaves and almost went off course before Rob could get her back and fix the problem and then had a refusal somewhere, too-- But overall it was a pretty easy course so almost no one Eed on it, which meant then that your team's time was the critical factor in placing within the Relay, and with the bobbles and our generally conservative approach, we were a mere 35th in the Relay--

BUT combining the five events with their weighted values, we ended up 20th, safely in the Q zone. Woo hoo.

Boost's Team Snooker was more of a disaster. I had been feeling pretty confident with Boost when we set up the team--after all, she had done well enough for a baby dog at the Nationals in November and had finished her novice title in just a couple of trials. But we've not been doing so well in Advanced.

In Team Standard, none of the three of us went off-course, which was astounding on that course with three young dogs. However, Boost had 3 bars down and 5 (!) refusals, and 3 refusals automatically becomes an E. And Bette kept popping out of the weaves, so their run was almost 70 seconds, which cost us a lot of points. But Maiya's run was lovely and we were 30th of 53 in that class. And Boost in fact had no problems whatsoever with the weaves, which I'd been worried about since that's been our bugaboo this year. It was everything else that messed us up!

Team Jumpers proved problematic for both Boost and Bette, both of us Eing, but Maiya was beautiful again. Team Snooker was going OK for us until Boost knocked a red in the opening, I had to scramble to rearrange my course plan on the fly, and I couldn't call her off an off course. So we had only 17 points on a course where the best dogs were getting 59--OK, better than Tika, but not much. Bette had problems even earlier, but Maiya hung on for 43 points. That was our lowest point, placing overall 47th of 53. But at least we weren't last!

In Team Gamblers, I don't know what we did at the end of our opening but I know that we got more points than what showed on the scribe sheet and possibly a lot more. BUT in the closing we bobbled the weaves badly and got no gamble points. Bette did the weaves successfully so had a bunch more points, and Maiya did well, but overall none of us were stellar, so we ranked 41st in this class.

For Team Relay, Boost and Bette redeemed themselves partially in this high-value class by running fast and clean, Boost even doing weaves again, but Maiya went off course, for a change of pace. We placed 43rd in the Relay and 43rd overall, a long way from the 27th cutoff to qualify.

In Normal Land, Tika's Master Standard was beautiful and fast but she knocked the next-to-last bar. Masters Jumpers got us an E in an odd way. I had walked it at the same time as the Team Jumpers, and when I raced up to ringside with Tika after various conflicts, I had one dog to look at the course, and I couldn't remember it! So as I walked Tika out, put her in a sit-stay behind the starting jump, and walked out to my lead-out position past the 2nd jump, I was still looking around the course, trying to remember my path. When I turned around, Tika was waiting to go--in a crouch BETWEEN the first and second jumps.

Well, I had no idea whether she had gone over the first jump, but it didn't really matter, as this meant that she had left the start line without any ready signal from me of the least kind. So I walked her back to her crate and that was that.

Boost's Advanced Jumpers and Advanced Standard runs were generally chaotic, with no course faults on the Standard but so many corrections of runouts and such that we were over time. Oddly enough, only 3 of 11 dogs ran clean on that course, so we actually placed fourth.

I fell asleep instantly and slept soundly Thursday night in the back of my van. I've always slept with my head behind the driver's seat, and every time it feels as if the van slopes slightly downward, so my feet are higher than my head, and every time I'm too exhausted to want to get up and move my pillow to the rear. This time I remembered while setting up. It was much more comfortable in that direction for many reasons.


Started out cool like Thursday, but not quite as cool, and got fairly warm as the day wore on. Only five runs per dog, but one was the Grand Prix qualifier. Tika knocked a bar on a tough opening where a large percentage of dogs went off course. Then somehow we ended up with a refusal at a jump, which right there put us out of Qualifying, and then when I got her turned around again and made a U-turn to the dogwalk, she slipped on the up ramp and took quite a nasty-looking, twisting spill, hitting the dogwalk on her way off the side. It knocked the breath out of ME, seeing that happen, but she bounced up, twice as excited as before, so with the judge's encouragement, I put her back on the dogwalk and we finished nicely. Boost was a handful. Seems that we were running past or fixing or refusing or redoing every third or fourth obstacle all the way around, and we managed an E one way or another. The judge bipped over to us as Boost was holding on the Aframe (after our E) and asked in a friendly voice whether this was a baby-dog. Really? Was it obvious? Sigh. This puppy just might not compete in Nationals this year.

In other news, Tika's Master Gamblers I bobbled a rear cross, pulling Tika off a teeter, resulting in us missing finishing the weaves for points by 2 poles, and then the gamble was virtually identical to the one at our CPE trial, where I managed to send her from #1 directly to #4, and despite thinking I was handling it differently, I managed to do the same thing again. There went our first chance at dreams of glory of staying in the USDAA Top 25 for a while longer. If we had finished the weaves and made the gamble, we might have been placed high enough for a couple of TT points, but not way up there anyway. We Qed in Relay with Brenn with a couple of my bobbles that wasted time (9th of 43 teams, not bad but it's always better to get a ribbon).

Tika Qed in Standard with a nice, flowing, but not super-driven run. Still, it was 5th of 23 dogs, so I think that's enough for 1 more TT point there--AND that finished her Standard Championship (10 masters standard Qs). In Jumpers, she once again kept her bars up, but I've been trying to run more aggressively, so I left her to her own devices to take a slight push-out to a jump and raced ahead, but she came past the jump for a runout, so no Q there.

Meanwhile, Boost wowed the Known World with a completely gorgeous Advanced Gamblers run and win. I even started her on the weaves to see whether she could do them, and she did. We got compliments from a few talented people with wonderful dogs. Truth is that's just a course that was built for us to do; no major handling things, which is where we fall down, but lots of contacts and tunnels in an arrangement where we could do them all over & over. But in her other three Advanced classes, we Eed--although I felt we were getting smoother, we had no offcourses, but I had already decided that it's more important for my dog to keep driving at a competition, so when she ran out past jumps, I just kept her moving rather than going back and fixing it. I like that super drive and I don't want her to start worrying that I'm going to stop her and bring her back, like I did with my first dog before I got smart.

There was a fund-raising dinner that evening that was announced only once and did no publicity that I saw. It was a phenomenal spread of food hosted by one competitor, and by the low turnout I'm afraid that they spent more on the food than they brought in. But we had a good time chatting and eating.

There was supposed to be a chance of showers on Saturday, so I wrapped everything outside the van in plastic, set up my canopy over the dog's crating area with side rain panels, and slept. It showered somewhat off and on during the night; heard it on the roof.


In the morning it seemed to have stopped but remained completely overcast. The pacesetters for the Steeplechase Q times ran fairly early in the day--we didn't know that they were pacesetters until it started raining again partway through the morning and then never let up. This meant that the dogs and handlers never ran as fast the rest of the day, although some came close.

Tika's Steeplechase run nearly broke my heart. If she can keep her bars up, we can Q. She did her job and kept her bars up. And I love Steeplechases with 2 weaves, because she can make pretty tough entries and is pretty darned good about staying in, both of which give us an advantage that we don't always have in speed in other areas. BUT the first approach was a very hard turn, and I called her but trusted her too much and she barely skidded in--to the 2nd pole, not the first. Aughhh! In steeplechase, that's not a fault, but it wastes time, and I'm sure that it takes 2 seconds to pull the dog out, bring her back to the beginning, and restart. So I really really pushed the rest of the course, and she was so good! And the second approach required a front cross for a really tight, fast entry, and I over-crossed, so I pulled her AWAY from the weaves and she spun towards me. Probably another 2 seconds to turn her and get her back in. We missed the cutoff by less than a second. I just about collapsed in a heap of seeting frustration.

In fact, my whole day was like that. Gamblers was another one where I found a course that I thought was perfect for us and that I didn't see anyone else doing, and the gamble was a give-away with weaves. BUT. Again the handling thing. I've been releasing Tika instantly on her contacts all weekend, trying to go for the higher placements, and at one key point, I needed her to flip left from the Aframe into a tunnel, which she's usually a star at. But I didn't think about all those early releases all weekend, and she went straight out from teh Aframe over a jump before coming back, which I'm guessing was a 3-second detour. Now I really raced, because I knew I'd have to adjust the end of my course, which was supposed to end on the teeter before the gamble, but I hadn't walked the ending that I was creating on the fly. The whistle blew just as I was getting to the new turn that I had to make, too far from the gamble, and I muffed it so that Tika turned back to me and barked, and then she headed out correctly, did the gamble perfectly--and was over time by 3/10 of one second. My seething frustration was boiling over. What's worse, I was right about our course--our opening points were good enough for 2nd of about 30 dogs if we had done the gamble on time.

(In case you hadn't noticed, this is where the whining comes in.)

Meanwhile, the rain just never let up. It was pouring so that we could justify shutting the rings down, it was simply maddeningly drearily raining. Early in the day, everyone had rain gear and hats, but by the end of the day I could see that everyone, like me, had given up--no hats, dripping hair and clothes, soaked through to the skin everywhere except possibly my tummy. My course maps turned to mush in my pockets. I had several species of fungi growing between my toes and evolving into advanced lifeforms. Wet wet wet.

Tika had a awesome standard run--I'm enjoying really driving her through courses--but found out afterwards that she had 5 faults. Since she did hit and stick all her contacts and we had no bobbles or bars, it must have been that danged up on the dogwalk again.

And in Snooker I forgot where I was going during the closing at #5. With the bobble and taking an extra obstacle and then getting her away from barking at my feet and running off, we STILL had 6 seconds left, which would've been more than plenty of time to finish a 2nd-place Super-Q. Crap crap crap was my summary for my handling of Tika for the day.

On the other hand, she was such a joy to run at all times, fast even on the contacts at all times, even in this big crowd of high-ranking competitors. She has matured so nicely and I come off the course with quite a high, working this dog.

I think Boost will be even faster. It seems to me from watching that she is faster than any of her 3 siblings competing up here--Derby, Beck, and even Bette, although I think that Bette is pretty darned close. None of them are slouches by any means, and Derby's pretty close and handled by a good trainer and competitor. But I keep thinking--if they were blasting around courses at Boost's speed, Derby & Beck wouldn't be in Masters already. Maybe I'm just making excuses for being a poorer handler than the others. But I sure give Mary credit with Bette--for all of the unfamiliar challenge of a very fast, driven dog, Bette managed to qualify in all four Advanced runs on Saturday, and Boost in none. But I felt smoother than the previous days, AND she did several sets of weaves beautifully, including two in the Steeplechase--although she ran past them the first time, when I got her lined up, she did them all the way through perfectly, and the second time through nailed them on the first try, but then later ran past a serpentiney jump and by then I knew we weren't making time anyway so didn't go back for it, Eing out.

But she also is such a high to run with on course. I love seeing her working, and the last class where I just aimed her at the weaves at an angle and she blasted ahead of me and made the entry perfectly and zoomed through and then when I caught up to her and turned her back for more points, she did them again perfectly, and I felt like flying.

Yeah, the usual ups and downs, I suppose.

The rain let up long enough to load all my sopping-wet gear into my car, and then it broke into a downpour, so it was tough even to stay dry going into the restroom with dry clothes to change into for the ride home, but I managed it, so I took Tika's five Qs and one placement and Boost's one Q and 2 placements--out of 34 runs-- and we were home about 9:30 p.m.

Had no trouble falling asleep and sleeping through again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Scribe Sheet Party

SUMMARY: How many scribe sheets for 5,180 runs?

There they are: 5,180 unstickered scribe sheets.

Last night I went over to the home of this weekend's show secretary--friend Karey--to help put stickers on scribe sheets. We were at it for nearly 5 hours (minus time for futzing with the printer, futzing with the computer, futzing with the dogs, eating dinner, getting a snack, correcting our mistakes--). I finally left because I was starting to make silly errors from fatigue. We were probably 3/4 done at that point. Let this be a lesson to you (choose one):
  • Don't put on a 4-day, 4-ring major USDAA trial.
  • Or, at least, don't offer to be secretary for such a trial.
  • Or, at least, don't be friends with the secretary for that trial.
  • Or, if that fails, don't answer your email for at least a month before the trial.
  • Or, if that fails, feign a sudden onset of Tourette Syndrome and claim disability.
  • Or, if that fails, help out your friend who is worn out and sick, and get a good night's sleep before heading over to help assemble scribe sheets. But all is not lost: your practice for feigning Tourette's will come in handy when you discover that you've just put the last 40 Gamblers stickers on Jumpers scribe sheets.
Well--that's all OK, really because how often do you have an excuse to sit and chat about life, dogs, the universe, and everything for 5 hours?

And the best part is: We get to do it all again for our Labor Day 3-day Regional! Wooohoooo!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Obstacle Speed Standards--Part Deux

SUMMARY: Some Clean Run stats.

Found a Clean Run article from the October 2002 issue by Kathy Keats ("Tips for Timing Obstacle Performances"). These numbers were based on 3 years of research prior to the article's publication. I wonder whether three years of research now would reveal similar numbers. (Also see comments posted by readers on my previous post.)
ObstacleAverageVery goodExcellent
Table down2.8<1.5<1.0

Obstacle Speed Standards

SUMMARY: Contacts and weaves: How fast is excellent?

I have notes from Rachel Sander's class in Sept 2003 that says that the top-performing dogs have times in these ranges:
  • Dogwalk: 2.2 to 2.5 seconds
  • A-frame: 1.5 to 1.75
  • Teeter: 1.0
  • Weaves: 2.1 to 2.3
I wonder whether those are still the goals to strive for, or whether they're even faster now? Anyone have any sources they can cite for these numbers currently?

I just videotaped Tika and Boost in the yard and timed them while watching the video. I didn't factor in the time while the dog is stopped in a 2 on/2 off position.
  • Tika dogwalk: 2.5 to 3.15 seconds. (I know that she used to cover the first 2/3 in about a second and then sloooowwww down on the downramp. I didn't time it by parts today. And she's almost always faster in competition than at home or in training.)
  • Boost dogwalk: 1.94 to 2.03.
  • Tika weaves: 3.01 to 3.45. (Again, in the past, I have timed her competition weaves at under 3 seconds consistently. But never near 2 seconds.)
  • Boost weaves: 2.39 to 2.5.

AKC Statement on FCI and Docking

SUMMARY: US News and World Report (or something--)

Another blogger (Team Fernandezlopez) has posted a statement from AKC: Read it here.

The Word on FCI World Cup Tail Docking

Ah--apparently it's the FCI's choice of a host country for this year. Seems to me that this wasn't well thought out; if the FCI is gradually phasing out docking and cropping, it should hold events in locations that respect its rules. This means that docking and cropping are most likely out for 2007 but, who knows, might be back in later years until phased out completely.

My impression from (again) word of mouth is that it's not final on whether (a) AKC dogs with cropping and docking will be given an exemption somehow, or (b) FCI will somehow come up with an exemption for its event at this late date. I still haven't found a statement from the AKC on the issue.

Here's a statement from The Kennel Club (England):

The FCI World Agility Championships 2007 is to be held in Norway and since 1997 the showing of docked tailed dogs has been prohibited in this country.

As a consequence the Kennel Club has been informed that dogs with docked tails may not compete at this year’s Agility World Championships. To include such a dog in the Kennel Club’s team could lead to the dog’s owner breaking Norwegian law. Therefore, regrettably, dogs with docked tails should not be entered in the FCI Team qualifying trials to be held later this year. (Link)

And if you want to read what the UK is going through with the recent banning of docking and cropping, go here.

More on FCI and Docked Tails

SUMMARY: Still trying to find specifics about the ruling. Meanwhile, here's a tidbit of background info.

From 4Rottweilers.com:

Why do Rottweilers now have natural tails?
In 1999 the country of Germany passed a law that made it illegal to dock a dog's tail or crop a dog's ears. The basis for this law was the fact that the practice of docking and cropping was deemed to be inhumane treatment of animals.

In order to comply with the new law, the ADRK revised the Breed Standard for the Rottweiler and this new breed standard required a natural tail. The FCI translated and adopted the new breed standard and gave all FCI member countries several years to comply with the new breed standard.

A docked Rottweiler does not conform to the current FCI breed standard. As each FCI member country finalizes their adoption of the new breed standard Rottweiler breeders in those countries will no longer be allowed to dock and docked Rottweilers will be disqualified at shows and prohibited from breeding.

The AKC (American Kennel Club) is not a member of the FCI. AKC does not follow any of the rules and regulations set by the FCI for the rest of the world and they do not always follow the breed standards set by the countries of origin. The AKC Breed Standard for the Rottweiler has always deviated from the FCI standard and they are currently struggling to deal with the breed standard regarding the tail.

There are a number of Rottweiler breeders in the United States that follow the FCI Code of Ethics for breeding and strictly follow the FCI/ADRK Breed Standard for the Rottweiler and those breeders will all leave natural tails on their dogs.

(Read the rest of the article, including more position statements on tail docking in general and in Rotties in particular.)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

AKC's Stranglehold on the World of Dogs

SUMMARY: AKC is just one player in the world of dogs. Yet they have an amazing stranglehold on the minds of Americans.

A friend commented today that if AKC decides to allow mixed breed dogs to compete in agility, it could be the death knell of USDAA. She fears that there are already a lot of newbies who start only in AKC because that's what they know about and that there aren't enough newcomers in USDAA to sustain it if even nonregisterable-in-AKC dogs are allowed to compete in AKC.

An AKC competitor said that she felt--and that others agreed with her--that AKC is considering doing it only for the money. Well, duh. That's the only reason in MY opinion that they got into agility in the first place. There was a perfectly fine agility organization (USDAA) already established in the US long before AKC got into the act. We had many discussions at the time about whether AKC entering the agility world would kill it for other organizations, such as USDAA, NADAC, and UKC agility (which was its own flavor anyway).

Back then, though, it seemed to feed rather than hinder the growth of the other organizations. AKCers who had previously entirely ignored agility discovered suddenly that the sport was fun, having tried it in AKC, and when they discovered that there was MORE agility, they started signing up for USDAA and NADAC events as well.

Those of us whose dogs were ineligible for AKC didn't much care anyway; AKC agility was obviously an afterthought and a second-rate venue, with judges who didn't know how to design courses, only a single offering per day (Standard; Jumpers With Weaves came later), and $20 per run when you could enter other trials for $8 a run.

But I wonder what effect it would have now, as AKC agility has matured quite a bit, at least at the Masters (um--Excellent?) level. Could it really unseat USDAA? USDAA is huge--at least, in California. The National Championships--oh, sorry, the Cynosports World Championships--even with more stringent requirements every couple of years, draws more and more top-quality participants from not only the States but also other countries.

The hold that the AKC has on American minds, however, is scary. Coincidentally, last night in a bookstore I picked up a book about Border Collies. Not an AKC press book, just one in a series by some (random) publisher. I flipped to the chapter on activities you can do with your dog. It described in detail AKC agility and AKC titles you could earn. (And AKC herding, and AKC obedience, and so on.) Not even the slightest hint that there is any other flavor of agility in existence. How could someone researching and writing such a book be so oblivious to one of the largest moving forces in agility, the USDAA, let alone other venues that have large followings in their own demographics?

I put the book back in disgust.

And yet I remember, as a kid, avidly reading books about dog breeds and believing, really believing, that all of the breed lists that I memorized WERE all the breeds that existed in the world. Looking back at those books, even if they mention AKC, they mention it in passing, but the breeds they list are all AKC.

And in my two years of very involved work on moving the Wikipedia Dog Breeds Project forward--and even today--every time a new person gets involved in helping to define what breeds should be listed in "list of dog breeds" (vs., say, "list of cross-bred dogs"), inevitably they make a comment to the effect of, "If it's not recognized by AKC, it's not a real breed." And this in an online encyclopedia with a very active international community, with links to non-U.S. breed specs in every article! How AKC-centric American dog lovers are, and the sad thing is that most of them don't even know that they've been brainwashed by a commercial organization into thinking that their product is the only one.

At times, I despair. AKC is more than the Microsoft of the dog world. It's closer to the Chairman Mao, methinks.