a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: August 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Winning Dogs

SUMMARY: Ashley and Luka again

Ashley noted in class last night that he has, so far this year, entered 7 Grand Prixs with Luka and won all of them. That means that no one else in 16" has earned byes. I'd imagine he's not popular among other 16" handlers on the west coast. That follows after winning all three major AKC events in the last year.

What kind of dog does it take to do that, you might ask? Those of you among the more experienced probably realize that the dog has little to do with it. Luka was a hesitant, worried, not very fast dog when they started. Ashley is an energetic, athletic, intelligent, driven, obsessive young man who has absorbed every piece of info needed to improve their weaknesses and incorporated it diligently--and I mean more diligently than I've ever seen anyone--into his training regimen.

He has worked very hard at getting to where he is, and it just proves my point that almost any dog, with the right handler, can be a champion. It's just a little easier with certain breeds.

They won Steeplechase and Grand Prix at the Northwest Regionals; we'll see what happens this weekend at the Southwest Regionals.

If you already had byes under your belt for Grand Prix, would you keep entering? There's no money to be won, no big shiny trophies. Sure, the Qs are useful points in accruing one's bronze, silver, gold, and so on, but would you feel odd about shutting everyone out like that? I think, if I were ever in a position like that, I'd just keep on entering. I mean, if I'm at the trial anyway, I might as well. It's good practice, it is points towards higher titles, and it feels good to push myself and to do well. And I think it would feel even odder to say (even if only to myself), "Well, I won't enter because I'm so much better than everyone else and I want to give the others a chance."

Back in high school, where I competed in speech and debate, there was much discussion along similar lines at the state championships the year I qualified. The two members of one of the two finalist debate teams had already qualified for the nationals in their individual events. At the nationals, they would *also* be allowed to compete in other events, such as debate, even if they didn't win at the state level. So, if they conceded the final debate at state, they could still enter it at nationals, and then the other team would also be able to go to nationals. If they won, however, they'd be shutting out everyone else from nationals. Should they concede or should they do their best to win the state title? They, naturally, competed and won.

Bay Team Southwest Regional Trial This Weekend

SUMMARY: ...and it's going to be hot and busy.

It's that time of year again, when the Bay Team girds its collective loins and hosts the 4-ring Southwest USDAA Regional Championships. The weather, having been teasingly mild all summer, has decided to take a turn for the torrid. It was 98 at my house yesterday. Fortunately, however, the 10 miles difference between here and there is also typically about a 10-degree difference, as it was only 89 in Sunnyvale. (That's the moderating influence of the San Francisco Bay.) And there's often an afternoon breeze coming off the Bay, which will help.

I'll be running my dogs in all 4 rings--although, fortunately, by moving Boost up to Masters in Gamblers and Snooker, on Sunday and Monday that'll be only one run each day in the fourth ring, making the stretch of my attention not quite as thin.

We have 530 dogs registered, for 4,646 runs over the weekend. That's an average of 387 runs per ring per day, which is a full day but not excessive. Of course--averages don't always work out, as in fact Saturday is the worst with 1,854 runs, or 463 runs per ring! Now THAT's a long, hard day no matter how you run it.

Other fun statistics: the most-common breed is Border Collie; we got 215 of 'em (that's almost 40% of the dogs). Next: Aussies with 59, shelties with 45, and All-Americans with 33.

The most common dog name is Max (5 dogs); the most common handler name is Linda (8). The oldest dog competing is 13.

These and other interesting data are posted in Karey's lovely statistics PDF on our trial web page.

My goals for this weekend with Tika: Win Grand Prix. Win Steeplechase. Win everything else we're entered in--except maybe Team, where I think we're still focusing on "qualify" since one of our teammates is not yet Qed. (OK, winning events are "stretch goals" for us, but a woman's reach should exceed her grasp, or what's an agility trial for? (mild apologies to Robert Browning.))

My goals for Boost are to earn an Advanced Standard and Advanced Pairs Q, and to Q in Team so we'll have *something* to do at the Nationals.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chasing Bronze

SUMMARY: Tika's USDAA title chase.

How many legs (Qualifying scores) until Tika's ADCH-bronze?
  • Jumpers: Have: 11. Need: 4 more. (Got last weekend: none.)
  • Gamblers: Have: 13. Need: 2 more. (Got last weekend: 1.)
  • Standard: Have: 13. Need: 2 more. (Got last weekend: 2.)
  • Pairs Relay: Have: 15. Need: none. (Got last weekend: none; how symmetrical.)
  • Snooker: Have: 19. Need: Isn't 19 enough for you?! I need only 15! (Got last weekend: 1.)
  • Steeplechase: Have: 6. Need: No more (requires only 3). (Got last weekend: 0.)
  • DAM: Have: 5. Need: No more (requires only 3). (Got last weekend: not offered.)
  • Grand Prix: Have: 19. Need: No more (jeez, PLATINUM requires a mere 10 of these! Bring on those 5-fault Qs!). (Got last weekend: 1.)

Doubt that Tika will ever make ADCH-Gold, but maybe ADCH-Silver.

And, while we're counting, there's the Lifetime Achievement Award Bronze. If I complete the requirements noted above, counting the Qs I've already got, I'll need another 52 Qs in anything except Steeplechase and DAM. Could happen in another year...

Blah Weekend Wrap-Up

SUMMARY: Not enthused, and results seem to show it.

This is my more detailed report on last weekend, mostly for my own purposes.

Last weekend, I woke up grumpy Saturday morning to the alarm. Usually I just accept the fact that it's another agility weekend and that's why I'm disturbing a perfectly lovely slumber to go traipsing across the countryside, but this time it just pissed me off. Why am I doing this to myself? I hate getting up in the middle of the night and staying on my feet all day and doing the same thing I've now done for (officially) 181 competition weekends, not to mention the camps and seminars and fun matches and classes.

I stayed grumpy all morning, especially after getting to the site and discovering that there was no room for me to set up near the score table I was scheduled to work all day, and at a 3-ring trial with dogs in 2 levels, that was important. I'm afraid I whined when a Person In Charge told me that I was trying to set up in a restricted area, but at least then he found me (and half a dozen other workers who showed up after me) a prime spot in the middle of the site. But I still felt badly about whining instead of expressing my dismay with good humor.

Then I just didn't feel like putting the effort into my runs. Every time I'd get a dog out, I'd think, "Why bother?" Maybe that's my confused middle-aged hormones acting out, or maybe I really am just burning myself out on agility. But then I think--When would I see all my agility friends? What would I do with my dogs? How would I keep my weight down?

Anyway, i did get enthused about a couple of runs on Sunday, finally, with some good-natured mutual ribbing among classmates. But my knee was also bothering me a bit, and whereas usually the adrenaline just kicks in and it doesn't matter, I wasn't excited enough for that to happen, so I started several runs in a half-limpy-trotty pace. I'm sure my Quasimodo imitation inspired the onlookers.

And Saturday really turned out to be a blah day. Boost Qed in two of 5 runs (although not, as I noted earlier, the ones I particularly wanted), and Tika in only 1 of 5. And that one was iffy.

The first two obstacles of Masters Standard were tire straight to the dogwalk. I led out a long way and started running along the dogwalk as I released her, and she somehow caught the tire and pulled the whole thing down on top of herself. She came over to me all abject, and it took me a few moments to realize that whatever she was feeling, it was emotional rather than physical. But, at that point, she had come all the way past the beginning of the dogwalk, so when I verbally revved her up and pulled her back around to get onto the dogwalk, I saw the judge's hand go up in a runout fault. So I ran the whole run thinking that we hadn't Qed, so I used it as a sort of calm training run, not going for the win or speed, and the rest was lovely.

After I came off the course, someone came over to tell me that the judge had removed the fault because the tire should have been nailed down and hadn't been. So it was a Q that, between the time wasted with the tire at the beginning and then not pushing it, was barely under time.

On Sunday, after staying until 7:30 for the last runs Saturday and not getting home until almost 9 p.m., I felt so tired and blase that I was inches away from leaving midday before Snooker and Jumpers rather than face another 7:00 end time, and just going home and relaxing. Maybe sleeping. Maybe puttering in the garden. But nooooo, there I was all day. And it ended up somewhat better; Tika Qed 4 of 5; Boost another 2 of 5.

Sunday's Snooker course discouraged me. The 7 was the weaves, and there were only 3 reds on the course, and my timing told me that I had plenty of time to do three sevens in the opening, which meant that all the other super dogs (looking over the top-10 list, several of them are there right now) also had time to do it. It wasn't completely straight forward--a dog with good weave entries like Tika's had an advantage over unreliable entries or entries that you had to manage, but still, it was shaping up to be a speed course and we can't win at speed courses. Tika was near the end, and before I went in, I saw that 1 dog had already earned 51 points and a whole bunch had just gone for 50. So, for us to get a Super-Q, I had to go for the 51.

We bobbled one of the three weave entries in the opening--the hardest one--but not by much, and I was revved by then and so Tika feeds off that. I thought that bobble would cost us too much time, but we finished all the way to the end and the buzzer never sounded. Woo hoo! And it turns out that we were the fastest of the 51s to that point--but the last dog who ran did 51 and faster. So we got our Super-Q and a second place of 21 dogs, so I felt good.

And it almost made up for Saturday's Snooker, where she blind crossed me on the first jump, putting me on her wrong side, so then she had to lunge and bark and snarf at my feet while I tried to get her turned around; then after the first set of weaves I was still on the wrong side and when I tried to push through her path, we ended up with a whole major dance of lunging and snarfing, and by the time we knocked the #2 bar at the beginning of the closing, we were already almost out of time. Sheesh.

But then, for a weirdly blase end to the weekend, we had our Jumpers run around 6:30. With everything else wrapped up, a bunch of us stood around and plotted strategy while watching the 22" dogs run it, then walked it together to pick our final methods. Tika had a smooth, although not spectacular, run, although right near the end she knocked a bar and then didn't like a front cross that I did and stopped for a moment to snarf at me about it for a refusal. So it wasn't a Q, but all in all, a decent run.

Imagine my surprise to see in the results that we had almost 4 seconds of time faults, and our time was listed as almost twice that of the fastest dog. Now, I know that a snarf wastes time, but not THAT much. The time they gave us had her at 3.78 yards per second. Now (because I have my database) I know that the slowest she's ever run a Masters Jumpers course is 4.6 yards per second with TWO runouts (running past a jump and having to bring her back around). It matters only to me, because I like to know how we're doing in general, but all I can think is that the scribe misheard the timer's call. And it was electronic timing, so there was no start line for her to go over early or finish line to not cross. Weird.

Anyway, I've given up on Steeplechase Qing for her for Nationals. We've tried 6 times and failed 5 of them for one reason or another, and I don't want to go chasing it for another 3 weekends because we just don't have the ground speed against today's competition to make it to the finals at Scottsdale. We just don't. Two and three years ago I thought we had a chance, but not no more. So I'm bailing out of the VAST trial in 2 weeks.

I mean, she ran nicely this weekend in Round 1, but knocked TWO bars--which is probably just as well, because her speed was a full 3 seconds slower than the first place dog (and that's *with* a running Aframe), so knocking even merely ONE bar would have had us .04 seconds over time to qualify anyway, which would really have plunged me into a funk.

And she knocked a lot of bars this weekend. We haven't been practicing our bar-knocking drills. So much to do!

We *had* been practicing gambles this week, to the far side of a U-shaped tunnel. Saturday's gamble involved getting out the the far side of a U-shaped tunnel, and I thought we had it made, but the situation was just too complex and I couldn't get her lined up as nicely as it required. So no gamble.

And I did TWO stupid things in my pairs run, resulting in a collision and then, two obstacles later, an offcourse, and I felt like a dweeb. I didn't run it the way I walked it and if only I had-- You know how that goes.

I also unofficially announced that Tika just plain has running contacts in competition and I'm not going to fight it any more, since we need the time and since she hasn't been called for a down contact on Aframe or dogwalk in ages. So, the first thing she does in gamblers is pop the dogwalk contact. So I guess I have to convince *her* that she still has 2on-2off (because it tricks her into thinking that she's tricking me by slowing down a little bit and then blasting off at the last moment--but that's enough to get her into the yellow zone).

And on to Boost. Her weaves are getting there but still unreliable. Her propensity for refusing jumps is getting there but still unreliable. And she's knocking bars, too. So we have quite a lovely arsenal for finding ways to avoid Qing.

In Saturday's Standard, she kept all her bars up, had NO jump refusals anywhere on course, handled smoothly and beautifully--but ran past the entry to the weaves. When I brought her back around and put her in, she flew out at #10 and over the next obstacle before I could react, for an offcourse.

The Steeplechase was much the same. No offcourses, no jump refusals (and there were plenty of opportunities that I had worried about), but ran past the weaves once and I had to bring her back, then popped out at #10 and I made her calm down and come back and do the last 2 poles. On the way back around, she nailed them! But we were over time.

In her Jumpers run, there were no weaves, and she again avoided refusals (what fun, getting to actually RUN with her ALL the way through a course for a change!), but knocked a bar.

In her Pairs run, she nailed the weaves like she'd been doing them all her life, but ran past 3 jumps (one of them twice) and knocked 2 bars.

In her Grand Prix, she nailed the weaves at full speed and kept her bars up, but had refusals at 3 jumps AND the Aframe.

In her Sunday Standard, she again did the weaves like a pro--BUT knocked 2 bars, ran past a jump, AND went off course. I'd almost rather have offcourses than the others, because I know that those are handling issues and can be fixed with better planning.

In her Saturday Snooker, she knocked a bar on #6 in the opening but got through the closing for a Q; in Sunday's Snooker, I planned two 7s and a 6 but she changed that to one 7 and two 6s, although I managed to recover and we maade it all the way through, DESPITE missing (I think) two weave entries and having to come back around for them--that made us 14 seconds slower than the fastest dog on the same course.

She also got both Gambles this weekends, although the openings were messy. On Saturday, we bobbled a back-to-back dogwalk--I need to practice those a bit more (have practiced plenty of b2b A-frames, weaves, and tunnels)--and a b2b weave. Also popped out of the weaves early once and had to put her back in. So we wasted a ton of time, but managed to get plenty of opening points. On Sunday, it took us three attempts to get her into the weaves in the opening, but she did then stick them through to the end, it's just that once again we wasted a lot of time. (And I was doing weaves deliberately in all of these classes exactly to practice in a competition setting, so that's OK intellectually--just, emotionally, I want to do better!)

So it was a weird mixed bag. So much to work on. (Where have we heard THAT before?)

Baying at the Moon

SUMMARY: Why I dragged myself out of bed from 2 a.m. until 4 a.m. this morning

Mr. Moon in all his fullness.
Oh, no, a giant sky monster is taking a bite from ripe old Mr. Moon!
What it looks like exposed for the part that's now in Earth's shadow.
When I started doing long exposures like this, where part of the moon was still fully lit by Mr. Sun, I got this odd light-echo effect. I have no idea what causes it. Some artifact of the way the camera processes images or of the long lens? Anyone out there know?
About halfway through, 9 minutes after the previous photos. Once the shadow starts moving in, it moves pretty quickly.
Same time, exposed for the shadowed side.
About 3/4 of the way into the penumbra, another 9 minutes later.
Same time, exposed for Mr. Shadow. (Yes, I use respectful address for all large celestial bodies and their bodily functions.)
Almost there, and now the shadowed part is glowing sanguine to the naked eye. Before this, the reflected sun has overwhelmed the slight glow of the darker parts, so that we've seen only a diminishing white orb with our own eyes. Only longer exposures on the camera have revealed the dark parts.
Totality. It'll stay pretty much like this for the next hour or so. The challenge is that the moon is all so dark, now, that I have to take even longer exposures, and I don't have a clock drive for my camera, so it's just going to be blurry. This is about 6 seconds and looks fairly close to what humans could actually see.
To give you an idea--I wanted this exposure's lightness, but at 20 seconds the blur was too much. Mr. Moon really travels! You can see how far everything traveled in 20 seconds by the star tracks in the upper left.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Agility Rituals

SUMMARY: Patterns that we fall into.

I believe that some patterns in agility are good. These are rituals that let the dog know what to expect and give the handler something to be aware of and to focus on before and after a run. Some of mine have come about deliberately; some not. Here's what I do with my dogs before and after our runs.

For both dogs, I like to arrive at the ring about 3 or 4 dogs ahead of time (or 3 or 4 minutes). I want my dogs' attention on me when we're preparing to run, and I want to keep them excited, and I myself cannot keep up that level of attention and enthusiasm for much longer than that.

For both dogs, before taking them from their crates, I make sure that our Riot Tug (actually a soft version rather than the original) is nearby and that our competition slip-lead is in my hand.

Boost Before

Boost must sit when I put my hand on the zipper of her softcrate, and wait until I release her. Originally I thought I'd always put her leash on before letting her out of the crate, but between my back and my knees, I've mostly given up on that. Instead, I release her to come out and jump up into my chair where I can more comfortably reach her. I put on her lead and take off her collar.

Then I release her from the chair and present her with her Riot Tug, and we play tug all the way to the ring. I don't have to do much except hold on. While waiting to run, I'll try to keep her engaged with the toy, in particular after a couple of recent trials where she started getting spooky for no apparent reason if we just hung out. Just standing there and holding the toy won't work for that long. We practice sits and downs with a release. If there's a place where I can plop my backside, or if my knee is happy enough for me to kneel, I'll just play little games at ground level, where she's mostly lying down to just put paws and her mouth on the toy. We intersperse more tug.

One dog before we run, we play tug over to the vicinity of the ring exit, where I drop the riot tug. Then she gets to play tug with the leash back to the ring entrance. She walks next to me into the ring, where I stop ten feet back from the first jump and tell her to sit. When the timer says "Go," I step away from her with my opposite foot (a trick from obedience) and lead out to where I need to be.

Boost After

At the end of the run, she knows that she gets to play tug and is starting to look for her Leashie or Riot Tug, although I haven't taught that specifically, so she doesn't know (for example) to look for the leash hanging up. We'll play leash tug until we close to the Riot Tug, then I say "Wheeeerrrees yoourrrrr RIOT TUG?!" and she drops the leash, looks for the tug, and pounces on it.

We play tug back to our set-up, where I let go of the tug and she runs to and jumps into my chair. I have her do some nose touches, lefts, rights for treats, exchange her lead for her collar (I don't like my dogs being without visible ID for any length of time), and, if I have time, do a little snuggling, some light play, maybe a little walking around to cool her down before she goes back into her crate.

Tika Before

When I put my hand on Tika's crate zipper, she hits it hard with her foot. I tell her to cut it out and stop zipping each time she hits it. This was NOT my plan, but it has gradually decreased from digging frantically at the front of the crate every time I put my hand near it. She never quite completely broke through the soft crate material, but parts are very thin. (This has proven to be a hard habit to extinguish in the soft crate, as I have no way of rewarding her without opening the door. A soft crate with an opening top would help.)

When I get the door unzipped, she streeeetches with front feet out through the door, takes a step out, and streeeeetches her back legs. She's now partway out of the crate because I haven't maintained criteria of not putting the head out until released. Oh, well. I slip the lead around her neck and release her from the crate with my hand in her collar. I remove the collar, and she shakes herself thoroughly. It's amazing how predictable her own rituals are.

I verbally rev up excitement about the Riot Tug before presenting it to her and immediately go into interactive playing until she's holding tightly and growling. Otherwise, she disengages and goes about sniffing for scraps of food or treats in the grass. I run and play with her, doing whatever I need to to get her to regrab the tug, because she often lets go, until we're ringside and I release her from the toy. By then, we're both warmed up.

Then I do let her sniff around on a short lead. Who could imagine how many thousands of little tidbits of food are in the grass near the start line! I never knew until I got Tika. For all I know, she could be eating grubs or rotting grass. Any tasty little morsel like that.

About two minutes/2 dogs before our run, I work on getting her attention off the lawn and onto me. Just not with great excitement yet, because I can't maintain it. But I keep her head up out of the grass, scritch under her chin, massage her back, that sort of thing.

About a minute/1 dog before our run, I again get her engaged in the Riot Tug, and tug to the ring exit and, for her, drop it as close to the ring rope exit as I dare. Then I jog her to the ring entrance and get her to "give me a hug", which has evolved into her gently putting her front paws on my chest and really streeeetching out. She walks next to me into the ring, but, perhaps from stress or excitement, she's back to sniffing the grass as soon as we start to walk in, and I often find myself tugging on the lead or even putting my hand in it to hustle her along.

I put her in a Down as far back from the first obstacle as I can. (I need to see about determining an ideal non-bar-knocking distance for her like we just did for Boost and see whether it helps.) I struggled with getting her to stay in a Sit for years; her preference would be to stand up and start slowly moving forward, or to lie down. It finally dawned on me that it's perfectly OK for her to lie down, since she still blasts off with enthusiasm when released, and she's more likely to stay there. In fact, her start-line stay has become remarkably more reliable since I started Downing her right off the bat.

Again, I step away with the foot opposite her. I can lead out a long way with her, but I had better be prepared for her to take off as soon as I turn around. Usually she's good and waits, but that is not guaranteed, and I have decided that I can live with her waiting for me to turn around. If she takes off before that, I take her out of the ring.

Tika After

At the end of the run, she is so revved that she dives in at my feet with a great show of growling and yapping, grabbing at my shoes. My goal is to get my hands under her neck and hustle her out of the ring, running as fast as I can while hunched over with my hands around her, until I get to the leash or Riot Tug (whichever is closer) and can shove it in her mouth in place of my feet. Then we play tug briefly.

Then she's released the energy and is ready for treats. We trot back to our set-up (if I have the energy), where she gets treats for doing lefts, rights, high fives, and so on. More treats after the collar goes on. She has learned that she gets treats when I send her into her crate, so when I stop dispensing treats, she dives into her crate and looks hopefully at me. She might come back out and try it several times, as I don't give her the treats unless *I* tell her to go in.

If I can convince her to stay out of the crate, again, I'll do a little massage and petting, just some hanging out and cooling down. Then I tell her to go into her crate, toss some treats in, and go on my way.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

USDAA Weekend Brief Results

SUMMARY: Not what I had hoped for, but there are signs of hope.

What I hoped for on friday and what I actually got:
  • Tika:
    • Hoped for: Steeplechase Q. Got: No Steeplechase Q. (Knocked 2 bars.)
    • Hoped for: Grand Prix win. Got: 5-fault Q. (This extends our lifetime GP Qs to two clean Qs and 17 5-point Qs. Arrrrghhh!)
    • Hoped for: Wins or at least placements in everything else. Got: Q/5th place in Saturday Standard (for 1 whole top-10 point); 2nd place and Super-Q in Snooker Sunday (for 7 top-ten points); I'm quite pleased with the latter. (And 4 non-Qs and 2 other nonplacing Qs.)
  • Boost:
    • Hoped for: Grand Prix Q or Steeplechase Q or preferably both. Got: Neither.
    • Hoped for: Pairs Q and Standard Q. Got: Neither.
    • Hoped for: Good weave poles. Got: Mixed bag. She missed almost all--but not all--of her weave entrances, but, once in, popped out only 3 times, and I made it a point to do weaves in gambles & snookers for lots of opportunities. So--not as bad as some prior trials. But *weaves alone* kept us from a Steeplechase Q, and *weaves alone* kept us from a Standard Q on Saturday. Sigh.
    • Hoped for: Move up to Masters before Bay Team next weekend. Got: Enough Gamblers and Snookers Qs that we can--and will--move up to Masters in those.

Now I am exhausted and heading to bed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tika More Titles

SUMMARY: ASCA was a bonanza

I just got around to plugging our ASCA weekend into my database, and discovered that Tika finished a bonanza of ASCA titles. (I've never tracked ASCA separately before, because the only ASCA we had done were dual-sanctioned with NADAC, and NADAC was all that I cared about. So I had to go back through my old premiums (see, saving stuff like this is useful!) to figure out which were ASCA Qs also.)

In one weekend--running all at the Elite level--she finished her Novice Jumpers title, her Open Gamblers title, and her Elite Standard title. Are you impressed, or what?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

USDAA This Weekend

SUMMARY: Goals and backlogged

Well, I haven't even posted part 2 of my Central Valley travelogue from last weekend, and here it is another weekend coming up.

For Boost, this is my last chance to get her *first* Grand Prix and Steeplechase Qs for this year's nationals; if she doesn't get 'em this weekend, we cannot get 2 of each for this year and therefore no nationals competing for her (unless we finally manage to do it in Team the following weekend). If she does get one of either or both, we'll have 2 more chances for the 2nd of each.

REALLY for Boost what I'd like to do is to prove that we can do good weaving poles in competition!

And, in the deep dark recesses of my soul, I'd love to get [at least] one Standard leg and one Pairs so that we can move up to Masters before the 4-ring regional next weekend so I'm not scattered in so many rings all the time between the 2 dogs.

For Tika, I'd want to get her 2nd Steeplechase Q, which would finish her nationals qualifiers for this year. Already done in Team and Grand Prix. For Grand Prix, my goal is to place, not merely Q, or die trying (i.e., wild offcourses or too many knocked bars...).

And placements in everything else for her, too. I'm not goin' for mere Qs any more! Woo! Woo!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nothing To Do With Dogs

SUMMARY: Another link that someone else sent me that's just quick and fun.

You are The Star

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.
The Star is one of the great cards of faith, dreams realised
The Star is a card that looks to the future. It does not predict any immediate or powerful change, but it does predict hope and healing. This card suggests clarity of vision, spiritual insight. And, most importantly, that unexpected help will be coming, with water to quench your thirst, with a guiding light to the future. They might say you're a dreamer, but you're not the only one.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Fetching Story

SUMMARY: Dogs who provide a return on investment.

Is one never satisfied? Remington, a brilliant trick dog, wasn’t keen on “fetch.” I loved teaching him but ached for a fetcher. Then came Jake who, in his first hour with us, found each of the hundred balls abandoned by Rem. And—for the next 10 years—he dropped them at my feet, over and over. I wished for a dog less fanatical. Now there’s Tika, who chases but doesn’t pick up. And Boost, who picks up but requires a personal invitation to bring it. Oh, for Jake again! The fetch is always greener on the other side of the grass--

Ministory written in response to a challenge to write a story in exactly 99 words.

Retraining Tika's Dogwalk (continued)

SUMMARY: Having a plan

OK, I have a definite plan and I'm workin' it. The thing is, though, that I've got a trial this weekend and next weekend and then more than every other weekend from now through USDAA Nationals at the end of October. Do I blow off my dogwalks until I'm done retraining? That's the age-old question (well, in agility ages, anyway). I'll just have to decide before this weekend.

I experimented with stride adjustment using pool noodles as speed bumps, but that's going to take a tremendous amount of work to figure out what needs to be done. I'd find something that would look good for about 10 to 20 tries, and then she'd figure out a way to leap beyond the up contact again. And it's exhausting doing the videotaping and reviewing. And the suggestion of putting baby powder up the whole contact area to see where the feet hit is OK but takes work before every run and then some detective work after every attempt (it's not always obvious to me), plus it doesn't tell you where she's taking off *from*, which is useful info.

So I don't have time for that technique, and I'm not so convinced that it's a good one for an experienced dog, anyway, (1) because she already has "muscle memory" of how to do it another way, and (2) it's not a rewardable event.

I've not been enthused with hitting-the-target because, although it *is* a rewardable event, getting her to run to hit a small target (phone book, mouse pad, that sort of size) and keep running has been a tremendous challenge to me.

Then, last Thursday, another trainer/handler was working on running Aframe down contacts with a PVC box/frame around the contact zone, something she got from Rachel Sanders. The idea is that you train the dog to hop/step/stride into the box and then back out, using a clicker, and then put that around the contact zone. That way, the dog can pick her own stride to get through it, and it's a rewardable event. Eventually, you'd fade the PVC box. It looks like this on my reduced-size dogwalk:

I puzzled over how to get multiple repetitions on the dogwalk ramp without her having to do the whole dogwalk, and me being able to take her off it easily (lifting) if she misses, and have her concentrate on the box for a while rather than leaping onto the dogwalk. Finally occurred to me that I could just rest the planks on my table, and gradually raise the table to its full height--and since mine has PVC legs, I could actually make higher-than-normal legs, as long as it remains stable enough as the dog runs over it.

So we've had exactly 4 days of working in the PVC frame. I'm trying for 30 or more repetitions a day. She's slowly getting it, I think, but we're at a very slow speed at the moment, too. I'm trying to work quickly towards clicking when she hits the contact but rewarding at the down contact, to build an unbroken flow and speed back into the dogwalk performance.

Our classmate Ashley has made amazing progress with 5 weeks completely off the dogwalk, retraining a running *down* contact, and (he says) 30x a day. I screwed off all summer so I don't have 5 weeks. And now we're back to my original dilemma about what to do for upcoming competitions. Ah, well, that's my own decision for another day. I believe that I know all the pros and cons of doing it in competition while retraining. Just have to decide what I'm willing to sacrifice and when.

Travel to Central Valley, Part 1: Getting Out

SUMMARY: A weekend travelogue without the dogs.

It's been a couple of very busy weeks for me. As a nice change of pace, I attended the same annual birthday bash for my brother-in-law that I've attended the last 23 years--without my dogs.

And this time, other people drove, so I was able to take tons of snapshots of my route. However, I used my cheap snapshot camera and I was photographing through dirty windows, so there's not a lot of good focus on any of the photos. Oh, well, backseat drivers can't be choosers!

Getting Out

The south Bay Area is an interesting island of humanity trapped by geography. A couple of million people live in San Jose and the many communities around it, and there are only a couple of routes out of the Santa Clara valley (or back into it). If you thought that the evacuation of New Orleans by car was a disaster, try someday evacuating the Bay Area by car. Yoiks. On mere average weekends, it's a challenge worthy of Hercules.

If you want to get over into the Central Valley--which many people do--your routes through the Diablo Range are even more limited. And, since the main north-south route through California is Interstate 5, which runs through the Central Valley, lots of people want to get there. (There's also 101, which is the coastal route, but it's not quite as fast and is more subject to traffic at various places along its length. It's also more scenic and has more places to stop for food, gas, and lodging. But that's no help if you want to BE in the central valley.)

This weekend, I had to get from south San Jose to Visalia. Which pretty much means going over Highway 152 through the Pacheco Pass.

(Click map to see larger version that's more readable)

Pacheco Pass Highway (152)

State Route 152 is a funny (not ha-ha) throwback to our agricultural heyday. The first 20 miles consist of a 2-lane country road that winds among farms, ranches, vinyards, and open space, until it passes Highway 156 (another 2-lane road)--at which point, out in the middle of nowhere, it becomes a four-lane divided highway and stays that way across Pacheco Pass out to Interstate 5.

That's not a problem at 4 or 5 on a Saturday morning, which is when I usually bip through there on my way to agility. However, daylight hours during weekends are a mess. This is so COMPLETELY aggravated by the fact that the intersection of 152 and 156 (which ends right there at 152) is an uncontrolled intersection; people going east on 152 are supposed to drive straight through at the speed limit (55 MPH). People going west on 152 who want to get onto 156 have to turn left across this traffic.

So 156-bound traffic backs up on 152 for a mile or so as people wait for gaps to skeedaddle across. There aren't a lot of gaps. But it all worked fairly well until something--maybe Taliban-provided hallucinogenic drugs in the drinking water--changed. Sometime in the last half dozen years, some ignoramuses have decided that, when going east on 152 at 55 MPH, the thing to do is to STOP and let some of the 156-bound-traffic turn left in front of them. The result is a backup of virtually stopped cars on eastbound 152 for 10 to 20 miles.

I jump forward to our homeward trip Sunday night for photos. We pretty much sailed westbound, gawping at the poor eastbound suckers who were sitting...and sitting...
Just past the 152/156 intersection, we're breezing along at a reasonable 45 to 55 MPH. In the opposite direction: standstill. Beginnings of construction for new bypass can be seen on the right.

Two miles later, we're still moving; they're not. Construction extends a couple of miles from the problem intersection.
Another 3 or 4 minutes later.
About 10 miles from the first photo. Eastbound is still bound.

Fortunately, the state and feds have accelerated the funding for a flyover ramp and truck-passing lane from "10 years or more in the future" to "NOW FOR CRYING OUT LOUD". The downside is that there will now also be construction delays in that area for the next 2-3 years, which we encountered on our way out on Friday afternoon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Retraining Dogwalk Up Contact

SUMMARY: Been busy and motivated

So, now, with only a week and a half to go until our next trial, followed by a zillion trials between now and USDAA Nationals, I've found the motivation (again) to work on Tika's dogwalk up contact. My instructor asked a few weeks ago how often she was missing it in competition, and I guessed 10%. That was bad enough. So I went home and checked my database for '06 and '07, and out of 11 Grand Prixs, she's been called for the dogwalk up contact 3 times. That's more than 25%. In Masters Standard, out of 30 runs, she's been called on it 4 times. That's 13%. So it's a real issue. I *knew* it was... it's just a pain trying to decide what to do about it.

My current working theory has been that I'd teach her to hit a target with her feet and keep running, and then move that target to the base of the dogwalk. Well--

I started earlier this year (or was it last year? time flies when you're procrastinating) with a beeper board. Then, when she was paying more attention to me and my clicker than to the board, I added a treat'n'train 10 feet beyond that, so if she beeped the board, I hit the remote for the TNT. She just wasn't being accurate about hitting the board, so I eventually lost interest (especially since I had to set things up every time, and I'm just too lazy for that much setup).

So last week I went back to just the beeper board and throwing a treat ahead of her on the patio. After 2 days, the beeper board stopped working. Crap. I bought it used from a friend, but it worked fine BEFORE and it still wasn't cheap.

So now I've reverted to just a small phone book wrapped in black duct tape. And I'm discovering that she *still* doesn't have the idea of hitting it while running. So I've gone back to a combination of having her just step onto it and then rewarding with treats right on the thing, between her feet, so she's really aware of where her feet are, and releasing fast to a thrown toy or treat.

Meanwhile, I disassembled my dogwalk and laid the two ramps flat on the ground end-to-end and started getting Tika used to the idea that she still had to run from where I put her on until the end and do the 2-on/2-off touch at the end. Confused her a bit at first, but now she seems to have that idea. Then I need to combine them with the target at the beginning of one end, have her hit it, reward, and then release to drive to the other end.

I didn't want to get into a mode of having her stop; wanted one smooth motion. If I were a better trainer, I'd have figured out how to do this more effectively. But there seems to be no standard way of training running UP contacts. I've also toyed with the idea of putting a low hoop over the dogwalk entry, like we did in training with the Aframe for Boost to keep the dog from slamming into the surface but rather running up it. But although I think that might work with a young dog in training, to build muscle memory, I'm less hopeful of my ability to fade that with a dog who's been competing for 4 years already.

Likewise with obstacles placed on the up ramp. We experimented with tika trying to find a good spot, but she always managed to adjust her stride to go wayyyy over them. I did go out and buy some pool noodles the other week, too, because they're easy to carry around and bungie onto the dogwalk.

If I had TWO dogwalks, I could be working the hit-the-target and the hoop-plus-pool-noodle angle simultaneously, but I've got only one, and it's currently disassembled.

And then I have to decide what I want to do in class for the next couple of weeks--be a good trainer and avoid the dogwalk? Or quickly reassemble the dogwalk here and try to figure out how & where to place the pool noodles to get her to shift her stride?


Monday, August 06, 2007

ASCA Weekend

SUMMARY: Fun with friends, disaster on course.

Friends and dogs

When I was doing both USDAA and NADAC, I never truly realized how separated the user groups were; I just saw some people sometimes and sometimes I didn't see them. It wasn't until Saturday morning, when I spent the whole time chatting with people I hadn't seen in probably 3 years, that i realized how many people I no longer saw after I stopped doing NADAC/ASCA trials, and then ASCA split off on their own with the old NADAC rules.

Still, there were a lot of people whom I see regularly, and others who apparently know who I am but I hadn't met them yet.

It was a full trial, but only one ring with 5 classes, so only about 70 dogs entered, and a good-enough portion (like me) with 2 dogs, so not that many people. What a sense of comradarie among the ASCA folks! Everyone knows everyone; everyone recognizes everyone else's dogs, too, even though they're mostly all Aussies. And many of the dogs are related, too. I must say, though, that even for me, all the different Aussies are much easier to tell apart than all those black-and-white Border Collies.

Contrary to most USDAA trials--but no surprise--most of the dogs were Aussies, with only a bare sprinkling of Border Collies and a few other random dogs--a lady with bull terriers, a miniature poodle, a couple of small mixed breeds, but otherwise no small dogs and I can't remember that there were any other breeds.

Tika's ups and downs

And contrary to our previous CPE weekend, all of my runs felt like disasters. Tika qualified only 5 out of 10, and in USDAA terms, only 2 would have been Qs. Still, those 2 were very nice--both first places in Standard. Of which I'm particularly proud: Here, she was competing directly against 12 other dogs, and (sorry, unlike most of CPE), there were some very fast, experienced dogs AND handlers competing. The times for some of the runs each time thrilled me.

Tika was a good girl and did everything I told her to--the problem was that my instructions were too often NOT WHAT I MEANT AT ALL. For example, in one jumpers run where I did a rear cross to the right, for some reason I *also* said "right", so she turned MORE right than just for the rear cross, thereby bypassing the next jump and taking one off to the right. Duh.

Gambling thrill...in an odd way...

But you know what my biggest thrill was? This is kind of dumb, but the gamble on Sunday was quite challenging; only 6 of 30 dogs got it. We didn't get it. (There's a long story there, involving a mis-set timer and having to run the whole opening twice...my short story is that I'd have gotten it the *first* time if the timer had been working, and I'm stickin' to that story even though I have no rational way to justify it. :-) ) Anyway, after we failed the gamble, someone who always does very well wandered by and said in a matter-of-fact way, "Well, if Tika didn't get it, I don't see how the rest of us can hope to." That was my thrill! How far we've come, apparently, from way back in the dark ages with Remington and Jake, me hiding in a corner and sobbing my heart out because I'd missed my 30th gamble in a row or something like that and thought I'd never get an Elite or Masters gamble ever in my life.

So there's hope for everyone. :-)

Boost's weekend

Boost was very fast, nice start-line stay, mostly nice contacts although I used the opportunity (thinking of this as a Fun Match/Training Opportunity) to proof her contacts, and she actually moved 3 different times (out of 10 runs that's not bad) so I was able to do something about that.

She knocked bars galore, and I was trying very hard not to call over them. I did remember to set her up 10 feet from the first jump every time, and she in fact never knocked the first bar. We also still have issues with not taking jumps that are in front of her.

I've determined that she has trouble entering weaves when she has to bear left. We tried a couple of those multiple times before getting them. She had no problems with fairly straight or entering when she was bearing right. And that's supposed to be the harder one for dogs to learn! On the left turn, she tends to run past them.

And I found out that, at full speed in full excitement, apparently she won't do a tunnel entry that she's crossing the face of. I sent her back and forth across one tunnel face 6(!) times before she finally went in. And it wasn't a dark tunnel or in the shade. Sooooo more things to work on.

With all of that training in the ring, the bobbles, the knocked bars, and so on, we managed only 2 Qs, but they were again first places out of a good-sized class. So, when we get it together... someday...

ASCA Courses

Saturday's courses for the most part I didn't notice as being a lot more open and flowing than USDAA or CPE; maybe a little (except for novice jumpers, which was wayyyyy open all weekend). Sunday's the standards and elite jumpers were much more open. It was fun. It was particularly fun with Tika, because she's one of the few dogs would could be sent full speed straight ahead and make a 90-degree turn into the weaves and make it. Wooo-hoo! Someday I'll be there with Boost. I hope.


Here are some photos of the site. A friend was taking photos of the dogs all weekend, so hopefully she'll have time to look at them and post them somewhere that i can grab a couple.

Driving towards the trial site, 6:00 a.m. The beginnings of sunrise. Long stretch of road through the countryside. No one else in sight, so I could slow down to take a photo.
The trial site: Back yard of Workin' Paws in hollister. Their house is to the right of the garage. All the homes in the neighborhood seem to have 5+ acres. Their neighbors are very nice to be willing to allow events next door.

The site is cozy enough that I could crate right out of my car. Had all the doors and windows open plus sunshade everywhere on Saturday to deflect the rays. It was still cooler in the back of the van than most places at the trial site, except maybe directly under the one small shade tree. Saturday I had to change into shorts by 11ish (me, the no-shorts lady); on Sunday, the overcast didn't clear until noon, and the rest of the day remained almost chilly when in the shade, although quite toasty in the direct sun around 2:00. Heard on the radio that yesteday was the coolest (bay area) August day in about a dozen years.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another Bar Knocker

SUMMARY: Boost lays them flat.

We've been working on basic serpentines this week at home. Boost is getting a little better about not running past a jump when approaching from a drastic angle, but she is knocking knocking knocking bars.

In class today, I don't think she had a run where she didn't knock at least one, often 2 or 3 bars (at which point we'd stop and regroup and try again).

Our instructor (Jim this time) had me pace off 12 feet, then 10 feet, back from the first jump to put her into a sit-stay. Nancy (and others) have always said that, for ideal speed over the first obstacle, you want your dog to have two full strides before that first obstacle. I've always just put Boost as far back as I could, my theory being that that would give her time to get the feel of her stride. But she was knocking the first bar today, too. At 12 paced-off feet, Boost threw in a half-stride after two full strides. At 10 feet, she did 2 full strides and didn't knock the first bar.

Now I need to remember that in competition; pace off 10 feet pretty exactly and start her from there.

That doesn't solve the midcourse bar knocking. Some of that was me giving commands over the jumps, which is so frustrating because I thought I had that timing down after working with Tika, who is pretty danged fast around a course. But there's something different in their strides that throws me off with Boost somehow, or maybe I'm too worried about her pulling off the jump, which she still does a LOT because her commitment point is so late.

Well, this weekend at the ASCA trial with (in theory) fast, wide-open courses should be interesting. I'm looking forward to it more and more, in part because work is so stressful the last couple of weeks. Nothing terrible, just deadlines and too much to do.