a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: November 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What to Feed a Performance Dog?

SUMMARY: I know next to nothing about nutrition, but it's always a hot topic when it comes up.

Backfill: Added one more section of links, Nov 30 noonish

I feed my dogs Nutro Natural Choice Chicken and Rice. I got here down a long path.

Grocery-store kibble

My first two dogs thrived on whatever name-brand kibble we could buy on sale at the grocery store. Amber, a Shepherd/Golden mix, lived to 13 1/2 with very few health problems, mostly apalling flea-related skin problems (this was before Advantage and that ilk). Sheba, a siberian husky, lived to 17 and I don't think had a sick day in her life, even when blood tests in her dotage said that she should've been at death's door.

Move to Science Diet for digestive reasons

Remington, my third dog, threw up or had diarrhea constantly. It wasn't just the kibble-- Pigs ears made him sick, where my first two dogs had ingested them with no problems. So did rawhide, sometimes. A very occasional can of dogfood gave him diarrhea. And so on. My vet suggested two or three varieties of kibble, and we tried them all, and then settled happily on Science Diet when it seemed to cure his intestinal ailments.

Move to Nutro for weight and performance reasons

When we added Jake to the family, we discovered that his love of fruit combined with our highly productive fig, plum, and apple trees meant that he was battling weight gain constantly. Not good for an agility dog, and I didn't want to cut out his kibble entirely--an all-fruit diet, I suspected, wasn't the healthiest nutrionally for any dog, let alone an active agility beastie. My agility instructor suggested Nutro Max as being a high-performance food that also helped keep the weight off. We switched both dogs, and Remington tolerated that as well, and it seemed to help. Eventually I switched to Natural Choice when weight-maintenance became less of an issue.

More high-powered kibble

These days, the same instructors have been feeding their dogs a couple of different products. One, Caribou Creek, is developed and used by sled-dog racers--they refer to it fondly as "rocket fuel." It's expensive and they buy it by the pallet-load for discounts and allow students to also buy it at cost. Lately, they say, "We are feeding Solid Gold's "Barking At The Moon" kibble. It is a high protein/fat, low carb food with salmon as the main ingredient. The dogs love it."

The Raw (BARF) diet

Meanwhile, it appears that large portions of the agility community have gone to the BARF diet (stands for various things), basically raw food, that is, largely uncooked meat and bones. I have several problems with this:
  • Time. I'm stressed in my life without taking the time to shop for, preserve, and prepare this food. It's so much easier to buy a bag on my way past the neighborhood pet store, and to scoop a bowl of kibble.
  • Expense: Nutro isn't cheap, but for a limited budget, it's much less expensive than a BARF diet.
  • Quality. I don't trust the safety of raw meats in my grocery stores for *me*; why would I feed it to my dogs? Other people do. That's fine for them. Otherwise, you buy it from people who prepare the food for you from trusted sources. That's THEIR trusted sources.
  • Storage: I have one large bin for 50 lbs of kibble. That lasts me a month. I don't know that I could fit even a week's worth of raw diet into my fridge or freezer--they're already full.
  • Safety: Bones. I've had it drilled into me for so long that splintery and raw bones are dangerous for dogs that I can't buy into it. I think that most of the prepared foods are ground up, but I dunno. An agility acquaintance's dog died last year from a perforated something caused by eating a raw bone. OK, sure, sometimes dogs choke to death on kibble, too. Somehow that seems like less of a risk to me.
  • Nutrition: Huh, OK, this is where my lack of expertise and knowledge comes in. I just don't know and have no good way of finding out. Read this excellent post by a veterinarian on the lack of data about this. I believe that, based on my dogs' general health, that any name brand dog food is probably nutritionally complete.
  • Taste: I don't think my dogs care. You should see Tika leap into the air and salivate just before she gets her kibble. Not willing to put time, money, storage, etc. etc. into something that doesn't matter to them.

Links to more info

  • Rawfed.com, pro-raw, has a "Myths" page and other info.
  • BARFworld.com, a seller of packaged raw food, has a lot of info on their site promoting the raw diet and theirs in particular, just for comparison.
  • Dogaware.com has tons of info related to dog food, recalls, nutrition, and so on. The site owner is a proponent of raw diet but it looks to me as if she has taken care to be sure that most of the info provided is generally useful and unbiased.
  • Second Chance Ranch is anti-raw-food and has a second page with links to tons of vets and others who are also anti.
  • Azmira.com, a holistic animal care site, also anti-raw.
(Thanks to Elayne for the anti- links for balance here, although she's pro-raw.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Speed and Bars

SUMMARY: #7 and now REALLY probably final of several posts related to this weekend. Dogs' speed. Bar knocking.

Note: I'll be scanning in some course maps and posting in the previous posts probably sometime today. Check back later.

Tika's bars: In twelve runs this weekend (jumping 24"), Tika did not knock a single bar. Not one. Holy Toledo. Yet another argument for training her at 28" all the time because maybe it would fix the bar-knocking at 26" in USDAA. I'd just have to fix all the jumps in the universe to have 28". Or I could use 30"--lots of dogs (including Remington) did that for years before USDAA reduced the height. Several of the Power Paws jumps still have the 30" setting.

Boost's bars: She knocked fewer than she often does in practice, both at class and at home, but it's still an issue. I jumped her at 24", whereas she's at 22" in USDAA. I train her at 24" at home but 22" in class because all the other dogs are 22" and I just don't want to hassle with the height change, but they'd do it if I asked. Out of twelve classes: One double in Full House on a wrap; one bar in Standard, two bars in colors (where NONE are allowed), two singles in the next Full House.

Tika's speed. I don't THINK she's slowing down, but in the nonstrategy classes, she just wasn't #1 in speed even on her nicest, smoothest runs--of which we had several, with which I was very happy. The ones where you come off the course glowing with the sense of connectedness with your dog, no handling bobbles to kick yourself about, the dog moving fast and with excitement through the whole course. But even on these short courses (on half-size fields), several dogs beat her by a notable margin.

It's not like she's slow--e.g., in Saturday's challenging Jumpers course that everyone was moaning about while walking, we ran first and everyone was watching because of the challenging course, and we did it beautifully. I don't know how many people asked me (joking) right afterwards if I'd run *their* dogs on that course, and Art (the judge) yelled to the crowd, "See? It's EASY!" It felt good. And she WAS 4th fastest of 113 dogs who ran that course, all heights, levels 3/4/5/C. But Jag the aussie beat her time by a full second, and Suzy the wonderful little Danish Swedish Farm Dog beat her by over two seconds.

That means that, in a USDAA trial, there's have been many dogs faster than Tika. Of course, I know that already. I just wish I knew how to get that extra second out of her--I can tell by the way she chases squirrels that that overdrive button is in there somewhere.

Boost's speed: We had too many bobbles on all of our courses to be able to compare apples to apples. She was 3rd fastest in Saturday's colors of 105 3/4/5/C dogs, but she skipped a weave pole and knocked 2 bars. CPE's generous fault limits and generous Standard Course Times make for some funny placements: In Friday's Standard, Boost knocked a bar, so she took 2nd--but her time was HALF the time of the 1st place dog, who ran clean. In the opposite direction, in Saturday's Jumpers, Boost ran past the same serpentine jump twice AND she ran past a jump in the opening sequence, so I sat her behind the jump and led out mid-course--so I wasted a lot of time; but she still was fast enough to qualify...barely... showing that the score sheet doesn't show everything: She had no course faults but was 4.21 seconds over time (which Qs at that level in CPE). My fast little Border Collie, over time!

Challenging Jumpers Course

Here's the 3/4/5/C Jumpers course that everyone moaned about. It started with a very fast sweep around the outside of the course; it helped tremendously if you could lead out 3 jumps and let your dog handle his way around the jumps so that you could get into position for the serpentine. The second time through those same jumps to the tunnel, you had to do a threadle, and the third time, you did just a 180 in the opposite direction. I think that CPE people don't see challenges like this all that often. I had to drill into my head a mantra for remembering where I was in that triple loop; some people got through the serp and threadle OK but then forgot where to go after that.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

When Will They Ever Learn?

SUMMARY: #6 (and final--I think) of several posts about this weekend. Ellen never learns her lesson.

How many times--HOW MANY--do I have to remind myself: To pull a dog off an obstacle and to a closer one, it's a reverse-flow-pivot plus "Tika!", NOT a turn with the dog and "COME!"? How many timesssssssss? How many times do I have to post about it here in my blog?

BOTH of Tika's non-Qs this weekend were the same dagnabbed thing, and BOTH of them I walked the correct way, and BOTH of them I did wrong when I got on course and got moving.

Crud crud crud.

But at least she was fast.

Standard Level 4/5/C, Saturday evening

Here's the Standard course where I blew it with Tika. (Boost didn't stick her start line--for the first time in 11 runs--so we left the course.) I walked it repeatedly with an RFP and "Tika!", but she didn't stick her dogwalk, so I was way behind her, so I reverted to doing the wrong thing. I think that an RFP and "Tika" would still have worked from way behind her.

This course presented lots of handling challenges:
  • Opening #2-4. I have no idea why almost everyone handled it with the dog on their left. Almost no one got the dog into the #2 tunnel and still made it out to #3 to push them over the double. Some dogs were off-course to the Aframe because the handler moved too soon; many, many dogs came in past the double and had to be taken back around to get over it; some went past it into the #4 tunnel for an offcourse. A couple of people led out to the left of the #2 tunnel entrance, but not past the A-frame(!), so the dogs looked for them to their right as they came out of the tunnel. I led out on the left until I was past the plane of the Aframe. As Tika committed to the tunnel, I raced across the face of the Aframe, calling her name the instant she went into the tunnel, and front crossed between the tunnel and the double. It worked beautifully. You had to be able to hustle your buns, but much less than trying to go up the right side and push your dog over the double.
  • #5/6: Offcourses from #5 to #7, or they called the dog back to them as the dog came off the dogwalk so that they could catch up with them. I tried to drive forward with my shoulders and focus towards the #6 jump; Tika didn't stick her dogwalk and flew over the correct #6, and this is where I was barely at the end of the dogwalk, turned my shoulders to the left, and yelled "Come!" She blew straight into the right side of the tunnel without hesitation. I KNOW that an RFP and/or "Tika!" would have gotten her to the right place, dagnabbit.
  • #7/8/9: Dogs came out of the tunnel and back over #6 for an offcourse, or over #8 and straight up the dogwalk. People went through all kinds of gyrations to get through that space to the teeter. Because I was behind Tika and pissed off at myself, I ended up on the wrong side of #8 and we handled the path to the teeter by having her jump around my feet while I pushed her in front of me. Very professional-looking.
  • #12/13: I watched team after team either take an offcourse to #20 after #12 or pull the dog off #13 to the right and have to go back for it, or the ones who got it, really push their dog OUT after #12. I couldn't figure it out when I walked the course--it was a straight line for the dog from the weaves across those three jumps. I think what happened is that the handlers had to go in to the very end of the weaves, so to get around #11 and #12, they had to veer outwards, which pulled their dog past #13 on the right if they were behind the dog, or if they were ahead of the dog, they had to go out around #12 and turn suddenly in towards #13, thereby pushing the dog over #20. If you were laterally out from the dog about 5 feet at the end of the weaves, you could run in a straight line lateral to the dog and go straight over those 3 jumps, and it worked great for those of us who did it.
  • #13/14: Wide turns. To shave time off, it would've been nice to get a front cross in before #14. I couldn't get there with Tika. A couple of the fast handlers with fast dogs tried it and still got a wide turn, barely pulling their dogs in around them before getting into the weaves.

Clothing and Weather

SUMMARY: #5 of several posts about this weekend. It was cold but sunny. And agility is ALWAYS about the clothing.

Barb, Jessica, and someone else huddling around one of the large propane heaters. They kick out a lot of BTUs!
Judge Lesa McCann wore appropriate gloves.
Judge Art Malott dressed to wake us up in the morning.
Dave, co-owner of the WAG facility, pretty much always wears tiedye. Plus he's wide awake from looking at Art's shirt.
Susan (right), co-owner (and Dave's spouse), was so busy all the time that I could capture her only in blurred motion.

It was cold overnight. Cold. On Saturday morning, the dog-water bowl that I left outside the car had a solid frozen lid. Not thick, but all the way across the bowl. And not the bowls in the wire crates, which were uncovered outside. Odd.

Sleeping in the van, with down over and under me--two down layers over me, because I used my long down coat--plus a wool blanket--I was mostly warm. As the night wore on, if I changed positions drastically, I'd be quite cold until my body warmed up the part of the fabric that hadn't yet been warmed.

I made the dogs wear coats overnight. Tika gave me dirty looks but dealt with it. Boost threw herself all over the car in a bit of a tantrum and hauled various items around in a fit of excessive angst, but the coats stayed on. You know how it goes--if mom is cold, the kids have to put on a sweater.

During the day, WAG provided several large propane heaters, and individuals provided plenty of smaller-scale propane heaters. Really needed them only in the morning until maybe tennish, and then later maybe after 4ish. But they sure were nice to have. I wore my full-length down coat a lot in the morning and evening--boy, I am SO glad to have that. Except for my freezing fingers, it kept me toasty. I got a lot of "wish I had one like that" comments.

I didn't actually wear ANY tie-dye this weekend. However, there was plenty of it around. Maybe it's California. Maybe it's the influence of Wendy and her Wendy Wear on Bay Area agility. Seems to me we've always had a lot of tie dye, though. I think that agility and tiedye have a lot in common. I'm not sure what--it's just a gut feeling.

Turkey Trotters

SUMMARY: #4 of several posts about this weekend. A little info about the Turkey Trot and our Teams

The happy Top Turkey and the nifty embroidered badge we had to wear all weekend under penalty of funky turkey hat.
Blue Chocolate Sandwich.

Tika's Team

We assembled the team on the spot, including Tika, a fast German Shepherd named Trinity who often beats Tika in USDAA, and a pretty fast aussie named Rebel. I cobbled together a team name on the fly: "Tika Rebels against the Trinity." I've known who the handlers were but never talked to them much; talked a little more this weekend as a result of the team, which of course is one of the purposes for doing this game.

The other two handlers are slower than even I am--on this course, it was a bit of a handicap to be a slow handler--but their dogs are fast and all of the dogs are pretty experienced, so we were able to do most of the things that we wanted to do, and luck was with us also. We came in tops of 12 teams in the big-dog division.

Boost's Team

Arranged beforehand. I already knew one handler--we've been competing against each other in a friendly way since she was a teenager with her sheltie, Max, and I had Jake in his prime. She and a friend have very amazingly fast chocolate labs, Cajun and Lula. Cajun was among those topping Tika in some classes, but fortunately was in a different height division so didn't displace Tika's first places. (Whew!) We named ourselves Blue Chocolate Sandwich, and it turns out that we didn't quite synchronize our story and strategy beforehand, so we did more than almost any other team but in fact barely got more credit than most teams, just squeaking out a 2nd place. Still, I'm pretty happy with a 1st/2nd finish with my dogs. (Sure, what the heck!) And the labs' handlers are the nicest young ladies, besides being half my age and almost as fast as their dogs! Nice of them to team with this elderly, stiff-kneed, whiney old lady.

The Rules

Very brief synopsis. I've asked for permission to post the whole thing. The field had 7 different mini-courses of 3 or 4 obstacles. The farther they were from the start line, the harder they were, incorporating more contacts or, for the farthest hidden-in-the-corner wildcard one, a gamble with weaves. Each successful sequence earned you a letter. Goal was to try to spell TURKEY and possibly get more bonus points with wildcards.

Dogs had to alternate on course--do one sequence and get back over the start line before the next could go. You had 4 minutes for your team. Some things that complicated it were that, if you messed up, you had to restart your sequence to earn points (or leave the course and let your partner try), and if your dog accidentally took an obstacle from a sequence that you didn't mean to do, you had to do that sequence instead.

Elements of chance included:
  • When you completed a seqence, you got a sealed paper, which you couldn't open until you got back across the start line, so you didn't know what letter you had earned until then.
  • The same letter was worth various points at different times, so even if everyone spelled exactly TURKEY, odds were good that the totals would be different.
  • The points for each letter were sealed until the scorekeeper tallied them all at the end, so you didn't know the point values that you had accrued. This was tricky when you inadvertently got more than one of the same letter--you just had to pick one of them to use and hope that you were picking one with higher points.
  • The wildcards could be used for any letter, but again, the points were unknown until the scorekeeper looked at them, so you didn't know whether you were helping and by how much.

It was pretty entertaining, and there was some strategy to it after we had spent most of the day figuring out the rules, and also some skill in being able to get to the seqence that you wanted and completing it successfully.

As it turns out, Tika's team had 730 points, because we managed to earn two wildcards with pretty high points AND lucked out and got higher-point letter value cards, also. Boost's team beat 3rd place by only 40 points, and that was entirely on the strength of the one wildcard we earned, which happened to be very high points, while all our letter points were lower-pointers.

Might make more sense if I can post the whole thing later this week.

That Competitive Thang and Point Accrual

SUMMARY: #3 of several posts related to this weekend. I lose my head about training opportunities when I have a chance to win. Jackpot (Gamblers), Full House, and Snooker.

Rereading some of my old posts, I sound quite braggy. The thing is, especially after my first two dogs, it still astounds and delights me when we can outperform most of the other dogs. I'm not used to it! I don't take it for granted. And it thrills me to do it.

I love running with my dogs. Tika and Boost are bost so fast, it's quite a rush emotionally being out on a course with them. Like driving a race car might thrill one. But I do have several competitive bones in my body and I like excelling, too. CPE really gives me a chance to do it; I've commented on that before.

Fortunately, there are enough talented dogs and people in CPE to keep my head from becoming too inflated. Although not many dogs compete at 24" in CPE (where I run Tika because she's 26" in USDAA), several of the dogs who run 20" in CPE do compete directly against us at 26" when they do USDAA, and often whup our butts. It's just nice that, in CPE, it's not EVERYONE who regularly whups our butts.

In particular, I enjoy the strategy games (in USDAA and CPE) because I think I'm fairly good at figuring out good courses. My execution may leave something to be desired, and if something goes awry, I'm bad at thinking on my feet. But it's nice to have classes that rely on strategic thinking as much as speed.

Friday at the end of the day, Tika had earned Qs and 1sts in 5 out of her 5 classes. An auspicious start.
Boost was only 4 for 5, but still good for a babydog.
Saturday, 4p.m. Tika is now 9 for 9, and they're all really nice runs. I'm pretty happy. I'd have waited for class #10, but it was starting to get dark. Turns out she didn't Q in that one, anyway. Oh, well.
Boost, Saturday 4 p.m. Q rate is dropping; only 2 for 5 today.

Now, that doesn't mean that I don't want competition. I often tell the people who are likely to beat me (at CPE) what my courses are, if I think I have an especially good, high-point course. This isn't entirely altruistic, mind you--if we all run the same course and I still beat them, it gives my ego a boost. And if I don't beat them but they use my course instead of what they came up with, it gives my ego a boost for my ability to plan courses.

And, in CPE, I enjoy getting the first places--and they're well-earned, usually, even if Tika is competing directly against only a couple of other dogs, because she often has scores that are at the top of all dogs, all heights, all levels at the trials.

Maybe I just have a sagging ego that needs a lot of propping up, dunno.

We had five point-accruing classes this weekend: Two Full House, a Snooker, and two Jackpot.

Full House rules: You must get at least three one-point obstacles, two 3-pointers, and one 5-pointer, plus additional obstacles of your choice to make at least a minimum number of points within 30 seconds (35 for small dogs). If you take too long to get to the finish after the whistle blows, you start losing points. There are always three 5-point obstacles on the course, and they can be anything the judge chooses. If there are contacts on the course, they are 5-pointers, but the judge can designate others (weaves, doubles, combinations, etc.). Otherwise, it's like a gamblers opening--take each obstacle up to twice for points, standard kinds of obstacle points.

Friday Full House

I had a lovely plan, executed it beautifully with Tika, highest of all 137 dogs entered in the class. Two A-frames, neither of which she hit 2-on/2-off, but I was excited and wanted to go for it, so let them go. (Tsk. At least they were fast, not piddle down and THEN take off.)

Boost did the same course, and was lovely--DID stick her contacts, but she's just fast enough that we got through exactly the same course as Tika, except knocked the bar on the last 5-point obstacle, so she was merely the 3rd highest of 137 dogs. ;-)

Saturday Full House

This had no contacts; 5-pointers were 6-pole weaves, a double, and a broad jump. It was pretty easy to come up with a variety of loops that incorporated all of those obstacles twice for fast dogs, plus plenty of 3-pointer obstacles to supplement those. Once again, Tika executed beautifully; one time I wanted to do a tight wrap but she swept very wide, so at the end she was halfway through a tunnel when the whistle blew, so she didn't get those 3 points. She had the 2nd-highest score of all 130-some-odd dogs; the 3-pointer would've put her at the top.

Boost ran past a couple of jumps, ran OVER the broad jump, and knocked a bar, so she had fewer points than Tika, but still 8th highest of all dogs.

Friday Snooker

In this game in CPE, the highest points that you can get are 51, but it often takes some tricky maneuvering (and speed) to do it. Plus, if you make a mistake, you are whistled off and your point-accumulation ends. On this course, Tika was one of 8 out of about 95 dogs who got 51 points, but she was the 2nd fastest to do so, so only one dog beat her.

Boost sailed right into an offcourse at the beginning due to the handler misjudging the poor Border Collie's experience level.

Saturday Jackpot

This was a traditional gamble (wait for the whistle then do a gamble at a distance) with a tunnel to a teeter. I have a problem with Boost blasting out of a tunnel towards me rather than looking for the next obstacle, so I knew I'd have trouble with her in the gamble.

I had a nice opening-point course that I again really liked. Execution was the thing, though. Tika did not stick her Aframe, so I was behind her afterwards, and she turned back to me, getting in my way, to tell me that I was too slow, so I had to slow down and then get her turned back to where I had wanted her to go. As a result, she was just taking off for the piece-de-resistance final 3-point obstacle when the first whistle blew; therefore, we didn't get those points, and then we had some confusion before getting her into the gamble zone, but she did the gamble perfectly. Because of that "missing" 3-pointer, she was 8th highest overall of 105 dogs, 4th highest of big dogs (little dogs get 5 more seconds to accrue points); with those 3 points, she'd have tied for 2nd highest.

Boost just doesn't keep going when I'm behind her; she turns to see what I'm doing, then starts jumping around in front of me, FACING me, which makes it hard to get her going again. We ran into that twice in the opening, wasting a ton of time, so didn't get as far as Tika, and, as expected, although our timing was perfect for entry to the gamble, I could not in any way, shape, or form, get her to even take half a step in the direction of the teeter in the gamble. So she had respectable opening points but no Q.

Sunday Jackpot

This very nontraditional gamble had elements that made it very Snookerish, with mess-up opportunities for being whistled off the course. Once again, I came up with a course that I think had high-in-trial potential, but results weren't posted before I left, so I don't know--and I had forgotten about a 2-jump combo that was actually worth 5 points so didn't use it, which could have upped our score by at least 2 points without any effort, so maybe someone beat us.

Tika did everything I asked of her, except that she didn't stick the A-frames (duh--wasn't this one of my goals for this weekend?), resulting in long turns to where she needed to be, and as a result we ALMOST missed getting to the table in time--just half a second away from a non-Q.

The Booster had bobbles in several places, although her contacts were lovely, her tunnels are always superfast, and her weave poles were fast and correct. However, on the tunnel-under-the-Aframe bit, she TWICE popped out of the tunnel from the A-frame right when the first whistle blew, and while I stood there stewing about whether it was training in the ring to MAKE her do the damned tunnel or whether I should skip it and go to the finish, or what exactly I should do anyway, our time expired, so I got NEITHER the gamble score NOR the training opportunity. Brain freeze. Three days just too much agility for me.

Tika's Contacts

SUMMARY: #2 of several posts related to this weekend. Tika's contact speed looks good. Accuracy still needs work.

One reason that I've wanted to take time off from agility this winter is to work on Tika's contacts. We have a variety of issues:
  • Predictability: Doesn't always stop and wait for my release at the bottom. This means that she often gets ahead of me because I'm behaving as if she's going to stop, which leads to offcourses and refusals on the next obstacle.
  • Doesn't always even hit bottom, leaves earlier & earlier, lately resulting in flyoffs for faults (or zero points in point games).
  • Speed: When I make her stop or correct her, the result is that she slows way down on the descent. We just can't afford that time loss among the high-speed, high-drive dogs out there, if I want to try to get and stay near the top of the heap.
  • Dogwalk up contacts: Leaping over the up contact zone, resulting in faults in USDAA.

I believe that the first three are interrelated and that I can solve all of them with the same strategy. Since coming home from Scottsdale, I've been doing many, many contacts with this criteria to earn a reward: Tika must run as fast to the bottom as she runs up (which is always pretty fast) AND she must wait for me to release her.

I'm concentrating on high-energy rewards. She's a big food hog and loves her treats; it's been a challenge getting her to take a tug-toy as reward for her contacts, but I think that the treat rewards are one thing that has slowed her down. She's gotten much better about accepting a toy as reward recently. I'm still working on it, but there's improvement. And, very important now, I don't reward if she's slower than I want, rather than rewarding ONLY for the two-on, two-off position and waiting for me.

Sometimes I reward by letting her go into the next obstacle and then playing like crazy, but not too often; just want to keep reminding her that the contact is in a sequence and she doesn't get to slow down just because I'm not at the bottom to reward her. I'm trying to drive in and reward her within microseconds after she hits the contact, not to cruise over saying "goooood girl" before delivering the reward.

I'm concentrating on high-energy approaches to the contacts. I never just line her up and send her; I hold back on her collar (which she takes with high excitement), I play with the toy out of her reach, I beat the toy on the contact zone, I run to a tunnel before the obstacle and then send her. I'm trying to remember to mix up being behind her as she starts the contact, being ahead of her as she starts the contact, and running parallel. (I don't have much room in my yard for crossing in front of the contact, but I know that I need to work on that, too, to keep her from popping off as I cross.)

I've gone back to a lot of basic work, as well--driving to a nose-touch target on the ground; driving to a nose-touch target at the end of a contact training board; putting her on the contact on the down ramp, revving her up, and driving to the end of the contact to a nose-touch target. I'm trying to mix up standing still behind her, running with her, and running out in front of her. I think that this is helping because I can do many more of these than I can do full-length contacts.

I'm trying to be consistent with my command--"Climb! GO!! Touch!"--and not use my voice to try to build drive ("Go! Go! Go! Woohooo!") because I want my performance to be as consistent as possible so that I'm not giving extra cues in competition that it's OK to fly off or that it's OK to slow down.

I'm now trying to do high-energy corrections-- on the lie-down afterwards in competition (when she doesn't wait), rather than stop completely, assume a calm voice, make her lie down, walk past her, then release, I'm trying to do a drivey, high-energy down--so I yell "down" with as much excitement as I can, keep my own body and voice high-energy, run past her, release as quickly as possible. Because, in the past, I've noticed that, when I make her "down," this slows her down. So I want everything that she AND I do in relation to contacts to be high-energy and drivey at all times.

So, at home, I'm trying to make the corrections high-energy, too. No "oops" and just bringing her back around to touch. And I'm trying VERY hard not to ever let her back up a step to put her foot on the contact--if need be, I rush in and grab her before she can try it. I NEVER taught that, but I see her try it once in a while, and I've seen too many dogs lately get faulted for that.

I'm not bothering with 2-on/2-off on the teeter with her, and haven't for a long time, because the only times she's ever done flyoffs is when she doesn't realize that it's a teeter. But I have been working on speed and drive on that her WHOLE agility career, and she's doing very nicely. I almost never get sliding teeter contacts, but she does drive into the contact zone, and I release her quickly and this weekend her teeters were nice.

This weekend, every one of her contacts was fast. She didn't stick her 2-on/2-off dogwalks--ran through them without stopping--but she didn't fly off. I did make her lie down twice, and a couple of her Aframes were just lovely, driving to the bottom and waiting for me, eyes bright, poised to run, rather than simply trotting down and assuming the position, even after the drivey "Down" corrections.

I think we're making progress.

Up contacts? Pfah. I'm still not convinced how I want to do them, so I'm ignoring them yet again.

A Good Weekend

SUMMARY: #1 of several posts about this weekend. Working on our goals, plus we clean up in the Turkey Trot.

This Weekend's Goals

Goals were:
  1. Boost earn Qualifying scores in one Colors and 2 Wildcards to finish her Level 3 title.
  2. Win the Turkey Trot.
  3. Concentrate on Tika's contacts.
  4. Relax and have fun.

Goal 1: Finish Boost Level 3

Close but no Bonanza. She Qualified in both Wildcards, but Colors was a disaster--knocked TWO bars AND skipped poles in a mere 6-pole weave! But she was fast. :-) So finishing Level 3 will have to wait until our next CPE, which might not be until Bay Team's March one--I just don't have the time, money, or inclination to do all the available CPEs as well as the USDAAs.

Goal 2: Win the Turkey Trot.

The Turkey Dogs and their gorgeous first- and second-place gift baskets.
Success. Tika's team took 1st of 12 big-dog teams; Boost's team took 2nd. Susan has been trying to add more elements of chance as well as skill to the game to level the playing field a bit. So some of what we did was skill, some strategy, some chance.

Goal 3: Tika's contacts

Welllllll, I'll tell ya, I get out there on a course with the possibility to earn a zillion points and beat everyone else at the trial, and my competitive gland starts pushing out the competitive chemical signals to the brain, and fast contact takes precedence over accurate contact. I did enforce a couple of times. She did have legal contacts all weekend. There weren't a lot of opportunities to practice contacts. More in a later post.

Goal 4: Have fun

For a change, I did well at this. I had no particular "win/Q" goals with Tika, except for the Turkey Trot--which is all for fun anyway and carries no weight anywhere of any kind with anyone except me--and I know that Boost's C-ATCH is maybe years in the future if I cut way back on CPE, so no pressure there, either.

When I started the weekend, I looked at the lists of names of people running, and thought that I knew almost no one (my last CPE was in July, I think--you get out of touch). But as the weekend wore on, I found more people whom I do know, and made a point of trying to talk to a few more, including some whose faces I recognize although not their names.

Schmoozing and being with friends is, for me, one of the important things about agility. I entered only the first two classes (running in parallel) for this morning, and I'll tell ya, if I had concentrated in the morning on packing, I could've been on the road to home by 10:00. Instead, I watched several friends' and acquaintances' runs; schmoozed with various people about random things, not even all of it agility (Yes! It's true!); played a lot of frisbee with my dogs (usually too busy & rushed to do that). I still felt plenty relaxed and was on my way by noon. And traffic wasn't bad at all coming home after the holidays. Home by 2:00. Hot shower. Felt good. And I'm not exhausted as I usually am after a full day of agility.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Here's To Overabundance

SUMMARY: We had so much food today--don't know what they'll do with all the leftovers.

We were 14 for the family Thanksgiving celebration. And food for about 28.

Appetizers were laid out when we arrived. Pickles, two or three types of olives, several types of crackers, several types of cheese. Really good garlicky hummus with carrot sticks, which I've never had with hummus before and they worked really nicely. Mints. A few types of nuts, prepared in various ways. Other stuff that I don't remember.

Spread across the table for the actual dinner, we had huge bowls of so many things--We had a turkey and a honey-baked ham. Stuffing (cooked separately from the bird AND in it), some with bacon and onions, some without. Mashed potatos and scalloped potatoes. Three types of cranberry sauce. Corn, peas, and a greenbean casserole. Candied yams. Rutabagas fixed like squash or applesauce--very tasty, who'd have ever thought of it? "Rutabaga" always sounded like some kind of joke to me. Two types of jello salad. Rolls. I'm thinking that there must have been more, but it has slipped my mind at the moment, since I have candied yams coming out my ears and crowding my brain cells.

For dessert, five types of pie: pumpkin, apple, berry, cherry, and Reese's chocolate peanut butter. With ice cream and/or whipped cream. Pfeffernüsse.

Have I left anything out? There was a lot simply LEFT. I couldn't really bring any home, although normally I'd have been delighted to, as I'm going to be off at agility for the next 3 days. It was all very tasty and although I had only little tiny bits of not quite everything (and of only soupçons (turned out to be our word for the day) of 2 types of pie), I feel as if I don't need to eat for the next week. Ready to hibernate. But, no, gotta go to bed & get up at 4 a.m. to head to Elk Grove. At least I won't need to have breakfast. (Maybe. Except now my stomach is stretched out past maximum and might want MORE to feel full. ArgggghhhH!)

All very delicious and beautifully prepared and served in wonderful company. Give thanks for the opportunity to eat what we want to eat and to be with the people we love, and then for getting up in the morning and doing dog agility. Happy Tday, everyone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Go Dog Go

SUMMARY: Gratuitous photos of my dogs, running.

I've ordered prints of a bunch of photos from Pets and Their People Photography; these are from a trial in October. I like them because they show the dogs just hauling their furry butts across the grass for a change. (I'm pretty jaded to dogs going over jumps after all these years--)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Turkey Trot Dreamin'

SUMMARY: This weekend: Thanksgiving and hopefully some big turkeys.

This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I'll be at a CPE trial in Elk Grove trying to win our third consecutive Turkey Trot Friday night. Then I'd get to be the Top Turkey the rest of the weekend!

Jake won in 2004, with Tika just barely missing it (read blog post).

Jake AND Tika won in 2005 (read blog post).

I couldn't compete in 2006 because of knee surgery.

Unfortunately, Jake will be there this weekend only in memory, but he'll inspire me, I hope. Tika and I will be trying for a repeat in our height, and now Boost is competing in her first-ever Turkey Trot.

The Turkey Trot is WAG's invention. If you're entered on Friday, you can enter this freebie class Friday night. Every year, the rules are different, but it's always 3-dog teams in three height classes. In 2004, it was a straight 3-dog relay; in 2005, it was strategic pairs...er, triplets. The teaser for this year says "Brush up on your spelling and strategy planning..." Could be interesting!

It Takes Two To Tango

SUMMARY: Agility photo with me in it.

Photographers tell me that most people don't like having agility photos with them in it. Sure, I like having photos of my dogs doing agility, but I do it, too, dangit; it's a team sport and with either of us missing, it just wouldn't work! So I also like photos that show me running with my dogs. However, usually I have to ask for them.

This, of me and Boost, is from a friend who also does agility and photography and obliged me back in August at the ASCA trial.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


SUMMARY: Global warming! Fer shure!

My lawn has mostly died this year. I don't know why. I think I've watered it the same as I always do. The parts that have survived, even thrived, are the parts that I majorly resodded in the summer of 2005. The rest has simply been working at withering away with the faintest of grassy sighs.

It's November 18, and I still haven't turned on the furnace. I can't remember any year where I wasn't feeling chilled through to the bone in the mornings by the end of October and so turned on the switch that began funnelling my funds directly to Pacific Gas & Electric. Very odd.

Of course, I haven't had any other year where hot flashes have run rampant through my body. Thought they were gone, for a couple of months there, but now it's Return of the Hot Flash, or perhaps Son of Hot Flashes, or, at times, Hot Flash Meets Godzilla. Lately, I spend half the night...in bits and pieces...curled in a fetal position under a doubled-up down comforter (excuse me--duvet--), praying that my feet will warm up so I can get to sleep, and the remaining bits and pieces with only a token corner of the duvet pulled over my nether region (to maintain a semblance of decency in case the dogs look my way) while my sweaty arms and legs dangle outwards in random directions, hoping for a cool breeze.

It sounds awful, don'it? but in fact I don't for the most part find it as infuriating as other people seem to. I may talk to my MD about it the next time I go in, as it can be a might disruptive at times, but mostly it's just something that goes on in the background of the rest of my life and I deal with it sans conscious effort. In some ways, it's like having a standard transmission: At first, every start and shift is a challenge to manage, but gradually you get to where you just do it without even thinking about it.

And, if that's what allows me to keep the furnace turned off and more cash in my pockets, well, heck, yeah!

Agility Equipment: NADAC vs the Universe

SUMMARY: If you go to a NADAC agility trial to practice agility, what are you really practicing? (updated Nov 19, 9 a.m.)

NADACEveryone else1
Hoops yes no
Table no yes2
Spread jumps (doubles, triples) no yes
Chute no yes
Broad jump no yes
Teeter no yes
A-frame Low, no slats, padded High, slats4, unpadded
Dogwalk No slats Slats4
Tire Special 2-part displaceable doohickey Tire
Single jumps Yes; do they still allow wings? Winged or nonwinged
Weaves Yes, unstaked5 Yes, staked5
Tunnel yes yes

1USDAA, CPE, ASCA, FCI, AAC, AKC, CKC, TDAA3, probably others but I didn't check. Individual specs may vary, such as the length of the chute (collapsed tunnel) or of the contact zone.
2Table used sparingly in many org's.
3No triple or broad jump in teacup (TDAA) agility
4Slats are optional in several org's.
5 Just recently heard from someone else that a NADAC judge said that weaves are supposed to be UNstaked because the dog is supposed to be "weaving", not "pushing through the poles". I don't know whether this is a NADAC thing or just that one NADAC judge. Staking isn't actually called out in most rules one way or another. Usually says "rigid" poles; usually, rigidity is achieved by staking.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Post-Boot Camp

SUMMARY: Keeping up with some of the exercises.

Well, I'm not doing an hour of intense exercise and stretching 3 days a week as I was in Boot Camp, but I'm trying to keep up some of it. Every other day or so, I do a couple of sets of jumping jacks and of jumping rope, some basic stretching, and run several laps around my yard. Each lap takes about 25-30 seconds, depending on how many dogs I have to dodge, hoses I have to hurdle, and lemon tree hanging fruits knock me on the noggin. But it's all rapid movement of the legs and arms, balance, and aerobic activity.

Plus a very little weight lifting.

I'm still not back to walking a mile daily. It's been a couple of years now, probably, since I've done it daily. Probably only a couple or 3 times a week. Do it, Ellen, do it! Or, as our electronic sign board in the Cal Band used to say, because there weren't enough spaces for the whole phrase "DO IT BAND!", "DOIT ELLEN".

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Old Newspaper Article

SUMMARY: Ellen, Jake, and Remington make the front page

I was just updating the Bay Team's "members in the news" page and was reminded of the time that I made the front page of the Campbell Times (Campbell, CA, population around 39,000, suburb of San Jose)--back in 1999. Interestingly, the article is still available online. (Be sure to click "More".)

For some odd reason the photos make me look quite a bit younger than I do now--

Team Results--Finally

SUMMARY: Tika's team not quite top 50%.

USDAA finally posted PDF of the complete team results.
Place/ # of teamsOur total after 4 rdsBest total after 4 rds30th after 4 rdsNotes
105/201 670.13 936.51809.83 Would've been nice to crack the top 50%, and I'd thought we might have done so with our gamblers runs, but oh well.
Summary: Considering that our team had one E, two less-than-ideal Snooker runs, and accumulated 40 faults, I'm happy to be near the middle.

Speculation, because I can: If we had all finished our Snookers as planned (not inconceivable--we didn't pick hard courses, but had a knocked bar in the closing in one case and lost one's brain in the other case), and if we'd avoided the E because of the broad jump challenge in jumpers (but still had that first bar down), we'd have probably finished about 34th with 804.19 points. We'd have needed 6 fewer fault points (which translates to 2 fewer actual faults) or 5 more snooker or gamblers points among us to make the finalist 30, and that's really asking a lot all around. I'm still amazed that we got in last year. That was just our year!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Team Gamble

SUMMARY: Tika's Team Gamblers run, and some others.

Here's the Team Gamblers course from Scottsdale:

Tika's course: We started in the left side of the tunnel, bottom center, then back into the right side. Went between the two jumps to the tire; Tika went out almost to the weaves because I was racing for the right side of the A-frame and didn't work her turn very well, so some wasted time.

She made it into the A-frame and got a paw into the yellow because I planned my path to run in front of her as she came down. I pushed her immediately into the right side of the weaves, and she hit the entry beautifully. Her weaves aren't supersonic--closer to 3 seconds than 2 seconds--but that's plenty good enough with good entries. She turned tightly to repeat the weaves perfectly. From there, I wrapped her slightly around me to the A-frame and beat feet to be in front of her on the descending side; again, she got a paw in and I pushed her straight away from me, over the jump heading for the tunnel (it looked nicer in person).

However, I meant to work a turn after the jump so that she'd move into that box of jumps, but I didn't--she headed straight for the tunnel. More wasted time. I called her off as the whistle blew to start our gamblers period as she came back over the same jump, and I worked in 4 more jumps and out over the finish line, for 49 points.

I can't tell you which jumps I did; my mind went into autopilot. I will tell you that I walked about 30 combinations of jumps during the walkthrough so that I had a variety of wraps, figure 8s, serps, etc. in my comfort range from any starting position.

My teammate did basically the same course, but went back to the tire after the second A-frame. Looks like I'd have had time to do it, too, but after watching a couple of dogs be committed to the tire when the whistle blew (meaning that they hadn't taken it yet but there was no way to pull them off it), thereby losing all their gamble points, I decided not to risk it.

Tala (Boost's mom--I always have to point that out :-) ) was the highest-scoring 26" dog. I watched the run and now I'm not sure exactly what sequence they did, but it was basically ours but in mirror image:

Right side of bottom tunnel, back into left side, over jump to tunnel on the right side, back into the tunnel, jump, jump to A-frame, A-frame, weave, weave, and then 6 jumps in the closing, for 57 points. (They might have looped the Afr/wv/afr/wv).

Watching their run, I realize that that was a better path to avoid the wide turns that I encountered, and we could've used it to get at least 3 more points in the opening, I'm pretty sure (I'd have skipped the 4th tunnel). But I'd not have been able to get in front of her on the A-frame so might have had a flyoff for 0 points. Oh, well, no do-overs!

I have no idea what Luka and Ashley's path was for their trial-high 65 points, but they had 2 more seconds in the opening and 2 more in the closing. A few of the big dogs got 6 jumps in the closing (Tika had 1.5 seconds to spare after 5 jumps), they had plenty of time for their 7 (=21 points), so needed "only" 43 in the opening. They got in 2 weaves, 6 three-pointers, two 5-pointers, and two jumps. I'll have to ask what the path looked like.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tika the Gamblin' Dog

SUMMARY: Tika might not be a herder, but she's a gambler!

In class Wednesday night, Ashley, his wife & son, and Luka brought an incredible spread of goodies to celebrate their double Scottsdale win. He warned us to come hungry, and we did, but there were still fruit tarts and cheeses and a few other things left over. Tasty and much appreciated. But he and Luka took the evening off from actually doing agility--that's quite a week for the two of them, plus the family would've been bored to tears watching class all evening, I'm sure.

At the end of class, instructor J. set up a series of gambles for us to attempt in a friendly competition. Each gamble had 4 to 6 obstacles, and you got a point for each obstacle you finished correctly. At the end of the evening, Tika had a perfect score, and no one else came close. A couple of our attempts almost failed, but we managed 'em. My gamblin' girl! Who cares about a couple ol' sheepies! So how come we don't have more gamblers legs? Hmmm.

Foxes and Sheepies

SUMMARY: A long drive, Boost is a herding dog, Tika isn't, and there's a fox out there in the field!

I drove to Vacaville this morning with a lonnnnng-time friend; we've been vowing to do more things together and, after our trip to Golden Gate Park (sans dogs) a month or so ago, this was our next adventure, since I knew about one microbraincell more about herding than she did--maybe. At least I got to sleep in until almost 6! Not like 4 a.m. for agility!

Turned out to be a lovely day for a drive--beautiful sunrise with just the remnants of what had been rain clouds overnight.

The lecturer/tester, Deborah Pollard, was the one recommended to me by the testers in Arizona. I liked her style of working with the dogs much more, and she was much better about explaining to all of us naive onlookers about what she was doing, what she was observing, what the dog was doing, what might be some training things to note, and so on. All intriguing and educational. Now I know *two* microbraincells about herding.

Tika was the first dog up and really wanted to have nothing to do with it. She wanted to come back to Mom. She'd periodically dive in at the sheep, barking,and then lunge away to try to come back to Mom. Eventually Deborah had me come out in the pen with her, so then Tika reverted to moving away with her back to us and sniffing. D. asked me whether I intended to do herding with Tika, and I said not (especially now that I've seen 2 tests with her where she's not evidenced the moves), and she said that's probably good--Tika could probably learn to do herding, but "her heart's not in it," which I'd now agree with. Written evaluation includes "Nice dog but not for herding. Too much fear/prey drive." Here's a short clip of the first 2 minutes of Tika's session.

(I'll have to figure this out...  the old video format won't work, this workaround might or might not work, and Blogger apparently doesn't allow you to point to videos on your own site; you either have to upload it to YouTube--which I *can* do but I already have it neatly stored on my own site!--or to blogger, which takes up a lot of storage, which I'm already paying for and videos would be too much. Bah.  - ELF   Sept 9, 2019)

Boost, once again, did well. Her strong propensity to stay on her right lead (circle clockwise) really shows why she had no trouble making weave entries when bending to the right but always ran past them when bearing left: She really doesn't like being on her left lead! This gives me something to really be on the lookout for in agility--are there other patterns or situations where that weakness becomes apparent and manifests itself? And I could do some exercises with her just circling jumps on her left lead. Intriguing!

After I got home, I was standing in the kitchen telling my renter about the experience, half gazing out the window at the huge expanse of field (surrounded by suburban housing tracts) that will one day be a park, and noticed an odd-looking cat way out in the golden grass. "Is that a big cat," I asked, "or is it a fox?" "It's a fox!" he said, and we both ran for our binoculars.

Sure enough, there seems to be a fox living in those 300 acres. Wonder what'll happen to him (and, presumably, his friends and relatives) when they finally start building the park?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tika's Nationals Results

SUMMARY: Well, last post except for Tika's statistics.

ClassPlace/ # of dogsFaultsOur time/ptsBest time/ptsNotes
62/145 5 32.19 24.34 Left start line while I led out, slowed, almost stopped (wasting 2-3 seconds) in front of the 3rd jump; knocked bar when I told her to go. The run looks fast and smooth on video, but even adjusting for the lead-out issue, we're way behind the fastest dogs. How to improve that? I dunno--Tika will be 7 in February. Can we compete with the youngest, fastest dogs? Like Boost?
Summary: Good enough. Only 21 of the 26" dogs ran clean on this course, so with our mere 5 faults and a total point count of 37.19, we're in good position, and a full 59 of the 26"ers Eed, losing 100 points each, so even better for us.
125/145 n/a 21 59 An all-bar course, so Tika might still have knocked a bar somewhere, as her teammate did--but I did the unforgiveable and FORGOT WHERE I WAS GOING, so sent her to the wrong obstacle. Sheesh.
Summary: Bad news. But at least it's not 0, which some dogs managed.
90/145 10 37.87 30.33 Dogwalk and Aframe contacts. We lose speed on contacts because she slows down--and then lose points because she flys off. (At least this year we never got called on our dogwalk UP.)
Summary: Good enough; again, only 26 of the 26" dogs ran clean, and 27 Eed, losing 120 points, so Tika's 47.87 isn't bad.
30/145 n/a 49 59 Aa good run, she kept her bars up & made her 2 contacts. I might have squeezed in 3 more opening points, but it was too risky.
Summary: Very good. I'm pleased with this run, although it's not the 12th we placed last year.
??/201 n/a ? ? Still waiting. I've been in touch with the results person. She's had the PDFs ready to go for several days. For some reason she can't post PDFs, only JPEGs, and for some reason the person who CAN post PDFs isn't. She says that if she has to, she'll post all 27 pages individually as JPEGs, which'll take forever, and won't be easy for us to read. Hey--isn't this 2007? Are tools HARDER to use now? Jeepers. And it's FRIDAY already. Pleeeeeeze post the results!
Summary: Considering that our team had one E, two crappy Snooker runs, and accumulated 40 faults, I'm happy to be near the middle (which is where I think we'll end up). Looking at the 30th place team's (30 went to the finals) times and scores compared to our plans or actuals, even if we had avoided those, I doubt that we'd have made the cut. I'm still amazed that we got in last year. That was just our year!
Steeplechase classic 68/89 10 28.52 24.48 Flew off one of two A-frames and knocked the last bar (my fault). Her speed seemed better compared to the winner, but then, many of the best dogs didn't run this one.

Assorted Notes from Nationals Final Thoughts

SUMMARY: More assorted notes and thoughts.

"Free" handouts at check-in: T-shirt (nice, with 20th-anniversary info on back). Some sort of wallet or card holder thingie with the USDAA logo--I guess I'll donate that to my club's raffle. A round white plastic thingie with the USDAA logo, not sure what it's supposed to be, maybe a zipper pull? The usual nice keepsake pin. And--that's it.

Some final thoughts and memories:
  • Slim pickings at check-in (see photo):I realize that my entry fees pay for this stuff, but they couldn't find any vendors who wanted to donate or sponsor or even co-sponser check-in goodies? This is the World Championships, fer pete's sake. But maybe I'm spoiled; we don't usually give any check-in goodies at Bay Team trials any more. Hmmm, I wonder what they got in Norway at the other World Championships?
  • Vendors: OK, I'll admit that I mostly avoided the vendors this year to help my budget. But I always shop at Clean Run, and they weren't there. Neither was the vendor of the heavy-duty carts to whom I referred some people. Neither was the guy with the PVC dog beds for which I need replacement mats. In fact--the whole vendor area seemed extremely sparse. Are vendors not selling anything here and they've given up? Or did Westworld kill 'em (like Twin Creeks stupidly mostly did to Bay Team vendors)? Or did USDAA? That's always been one thing worth attending the nationals for--the shopping opportunities you don't get elsewhere. But not so much this year. Pity. One less reason to go.
  • Organization: Seemed to me that things went much more smoothly overall this year than in some past years. There were plenty of course maps, unlike in previous years. I still like the large computer displays with results, but they weren't showing all results (e.g., team standings), and although the binders were good for keeping the results organized, it was hard to stay up to date with 600 people all trying to read one page at a time of 30 pages of results. Overall, communication seemed to be better, things seemed to start on time, and I didn't see any major glitches with anything. A reason TO go.
  • Herding: For the second year, I took Boost for a 10-minute herding instinct test with three cooperative goats. Again, she seemed to do very well. But what do I know? The lady recommended a trainer in Vacaville (if someone in Arizona knows about someone in Vacaville, that speaks well), although I have no interest in driving 2 hours each way and paying a ton of $ to stand around while my dog gets all the fun. Still, my teammate noted that the border collie group with which she's associated is hosting an instinct test with real sheepies PLUS introductory lecture this weekend from the very lady recommended. In Vacaville. So I signed both dogs up; might as well give Tika one more go at it, since she flunked last year. It is scary signing the disclaimer about paying for damaged or destroyed livestock, but I think Tika's too much of a wuss and would be easily deterred if she seemed inclined to grab.
  • That lost purple riot tug After last year, when I lost two purple riot tugs and found only one, I was VERY careful with mine this year. But, lo, it vanished anyway. This year I got lucky; I checked lost and found one last time before leaving, and there it was. Whew! (I've put labels on 'em, but with all the dog activity, they don't stay.)
  • Getting whistled off: I thought that everyone was leaving the course after they Eed because they wanted to. Much to my surprise, when Tika Eed halfway through the Grand Prix quarterfinal and I kept going, the judge insisted that I leave. Someone told me later that, yes, that was in the rules somewhere (buried in 12 pages of fine print in the premium or elsewhere). Can you imagine driving 12 hours, paying $900 overall for your week at Scottsdale, and not being allowed to finish your run? At least we had 6 classes over the 5 days, not just one. And I realize that the days would've been much longer if they weren't whistling people off. But, jeez... it just doesn't seem right. (I finished the course anyway, saying "oh, sorry," or something like that, since I need to keep Tika moving or we'd be standing in the middle of the ring with her mouth attached permanently to my shoes.)
  • Reserved seating in the bleachers: Every year the premium says (I'm going to have to brush up on my fine-print memorization) that you're not supposed to reserve seating in the bleachers. Every year, people do it. So we do, too, because otherwise latecomers find no seats, or none near friends and teammates. The "out" is that it says that if the personal belongings are "unattended for any length of time" they can be cleared. So we counted how many people we had, amassed most of us at the bleachers with seat-saving towels, and arranged a schedule whereby we all took turns sitting in the bleachers attending our seats. Which is more than most people did--there were plenty of unattended belongings. There were things going on in the ring all day, and with more than one of us there, we had people to talk to, so it wasn't bad duty, and this still allowed folks to get meals, attend to their dogs, run their final runs, and so on, without getting shut out of the seating. It's not a perfect system. But I love sitting with all my friends and sharing information about the people who are running (or not). A big reason to go!
  • Attendance at the big events: I said "find no seats," but this year the bleachers never filled for any of the final events. This is the first year that I haven't noticed it being standing-room-only, at least for the Steeplechase and Grand Prix finals. Are people getting jaded? Funny. Maybe it IS time for them to move to a different part of the country so people again appreciate the opportunity to watch.
  • I can't say often enough how much I enjoyed watching all the final events. The full-crowd participation adds a lot, too; everyone is rooting for everyone to do well. I love it. And it provides inspiration for what to work on for next year to enable YOU YOURSELF to appear in the finals, you're SURE of it.
  • OK, I think that's almost all I have to say about this year. See you next year, with BOTH dogs! I'm SURE of it!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Nationals Videos

SUMMARY: A couple of our runs.

I can't believe that I forgot my camera for every run all weekend except Jumpers and Steeplechase Classic! How dumb is that, to go all that way and not get videos of your runs.


Here's a 3.5 MB video of Tika and her two teammates doing the Team Jumpers, with Rachel Sanders and Fable thrown in for comparison. This is where Tika took off while I was still leading out, then slowed way down as she caught up with me. I count that that little trick cost us 2-3 seconds on course time (I was wondering how we could've been 8 (!) seconds slower than the fastest dog; just didn't seem right).

I sound critical ("That sucks") of my teammate's offcourse because of the broad jump that so many people missed, but it was supposed to be an empathetic comment (that's how I'd feel if my dog missed something). Sorry, Carlene, really it doesn't bother me! But you can see you easily a dog can cut across the side of that dang broad jump for incorrect execution.

Here's a 1 MB video of Tika's Steeplechase Classic. Harder to see in this compressed version, but she definitely picks up speed and drive after the first Aframe, which is undoubtedly what caused her to leap over the 2nd Aframe contact. Then, before the last bar, I say "good girl," which you can barely tell on the video over the background noises, which is what causes her to drop that last bar. Finally, you can see where I'm trying to keep her from grabbing my feet at the end and get her off course.

Assorted Notes from Nationals Part Deux

SUMMARY: Random thoughts and photos.

  • Distance walked: According to my pedometer, I covered between about 7 and 8 miles a day. That's less than I do at a typical trial, where I'm often between 9 and 11 miles a day. One difference is that I had only 1 or 2 runs a day at Scottsdale, for one dog, versus walking and running 5 courses for 2 dogs (so as many as 10 walk-throughs a day) at a regular trial. Some of the distances here were immense, however; I clocked the walk from my crating area to the entrance to Ring 1--the farthest ring--at 5 minutes and .23 miles!
  • Knee and the rest of its body: My knee held up very well. I iced it only once, which felt nice, but I survived without more. I had to keep up on my ibuprofen to avoid a creeping ache. No swelling. And I enjoy walking; it feels good to move myself around, and I like burning calories. My right shoulder's bursitis, however, acted up, not sure why--too much tug-of-war? Too much photography wednesday and thursday? (I have bad habits when holding my camera.) Too many ice-cold, tasty smoothies with whipped cream? By Saturday evening, as we found seating for the Steeplechase finals, my knee was throbbing, my shoulder was so painful that I couldn't lift my arm, and I was developing a lovely headache. Fortunately for better living through chemistry, I popped some ibuprofen and downed them with a caffeinated diet Coke--and an hour later, everybodypart was happy happy happy. The rest of the weekend I was mostly fine.
  • Bloody nose: An odd thing; while sitting and preparing my lunch one day, my nose started bleeding. Just, poof, like that. Took a while to stop, and it didn't happen again. Dry air? Altitude? Air conditioning blowing on me all night in the hotel? Odd thing.
  • Hotel: The hotel was good except when the room keys didn't work the 2nd night. No one except me seems to find the pull-out sofa bed in the main room comfortable enough to sleep on. I've done it 4 years now, no problems; I'm so tired, though, I could probably sleep in a gravel pit. Internet access was excruciating slow at times--probably everyone got back to the hotel at the same time and logged in to do whatever people do on their computers.
  • Earthquake: We left San Jose Tuesday morning. That evening, a 5.6 quake hit east San Jose. When I got home, I found a few things tipped over or fallen off shelves, but only small, minor, lightweight items. No harm done. Would've been very scary to be in Scottsdale and have another Loma Prieta-sized quake--or bigger--happen while we were gone, though.
  • Bloggers: What fun it is to meet fellow agility bloggers in person! Got a chance to talk a bit with Days of Speed blogger Elayne and briefly with Team FernandezLopez's Sarah. The Internet DOES provide a real, human, social benefit.
  • Next year's nationals: I heard that it's definitely in Scottsdale next year. I heard that it might not be in Scottsdale next year. I heard that they'd like it to be in Scottsdale but that there are "issues" with Westworld. I heard that it'll be in Scottsdale but on a different weekend. I heard that it'll be in the midwest the following year. I heard that it'll be on the east cost next year or the following year. So now you know.
  • Enjoyment: Other than feeling like a dork when forgetting my Team Snooker run, and being really blue (for about 10 minutes) about not making the GP semifinals YET AGAIN, I truly enjoyed myself there. Chatted and hung out with many entertaining people. Enjoyed the weather except the very hottest couple of hours a day, but shade abounded--you could always steal someone's umbrella shade ringside. Watching top competitors from around the country and the world is a blast. Watching the final rounds, where super-fast dogs and handlers complete courses in amazing times, with astonishingly fast contacts and exciting handling moves, and placements determined at times by only .02 seconds (26" Steeplechase final 1st/2nd) or .01 seconds (16" Performance National Standard 1st/2nd) are pleasures that are hard to match anywhere. And it helps when several classmates, friends, and fellow Bay Teamers appear in the various finals, and do well, to boot.
  • More notes about the competition in general and Bay Teamers in particular are posted here (and more's still coming).
  • All my photos of Bay Teamers & friends of Bay Team and the whole site and event overall are posted here, with some commentary.
  • Sunset over Ring 1. As usual, every desert sunrise and sunset took one's breath away.
    Boost, watching another Border Collie play. (Oh, crud, 2 of these photos aren't rotated. Will fix later.)
    "Heyyyy--who gave you my camera??!"
    Our home away from home.
    Dining with friends at Chez Gourmet Fastfood--Sausages! Nachos! Hamburgers! Philly Cheese Steaks! Fried onion rings! French fries! Fat fat fat and more fat! Well, OK, really, they were well done for what they were. But I don't eat like that any more and just couldn't stomach several meals of it, let alone 5 days of it.
    My devil-made-me-do-it (pop contact, skip pole, bite judge) costume.
    A worthy thought that I tried to remember on a regular basis.

    Tuesday, November 06, 2007

    Cost of USDAA Nationals

    SUMMARY: It's a lot of fun, but be prepared to shell out the dough.

    If you're looking for a reason NOT to go to Nationals (it's a tough call--I had a good time while I was there, and all the final events are too wonderful to miss and five times better than seeing them in a video afterwards):
    $ 40Team shirt for one dog, with artwork from generous friend
    $ 45Grand Prix quarterfinals entry for one dog (less if you earned byes)
    $ 75Team entry for one dog
    $ 40Steeplechase entry for one dog (less if you earned byes)
    $ 30Two optional bonus classes for one dog
    $ 40Awards dinner
    $ 50Kennel space 5'x10' (for 2 dogs)
    $ 10Parking permit for 5 days
    $104.35Gas round trip from San Jose (750 miles each way at 23 mpg, $3.20/gal= $208.69, divide by 2 people; ignoring wear & tear on car)
    $333Hotel, slightly upscale & dog friendly, 5 nights: $665.95 (divide by 2 people)
    $ 15Ice for cooler
    $105.76Lunches & dinners & snacks for 6 days (all breakfasts are fruit & breakfast bars that I brought from home; 2 meals from grocery store; 3 meals fast food; 2 meals low-priced restaurants; rest purchased on site)
    $ 20Herding instinct test for unentered dog
    $ 50Five Lure coursing runs for unentered dog
    $____A week off work (or vacation time spent--your salary may vary)
    $____Shopping at the many excellent vendors whom you don't often find elsewhere (up to you; I avoided them this year)
    ~$900 plus time off workMy total (selecting from above items, as I didn't do everything)

    Assorted Notes from Nationals

    SUMMARY: Random bits

    • The temperature reached roughly the mid-80s each day. In the shade, I could handle being in my jeans, but since agility requires being out in the open (go figure) on most occasions, I ended up wearing my shorts for about 4 or 5 hours daily.

    • I finally figured out why Tika popped out of the weaves in the Grand Prix quarterfinals--I forgot to switch out of my hanging-around shoes into my running shoes! Drat!

    • The food vendor never turned on their cotton candy machine, which I'd been looking forward to, damn their eyes. But their mango/strawberry/peach/banana smoothies (with whipped cream) were tasty and refreshing.

    • During the day, we had to endure periodic loudspeaker commercials for the vendors selling in the vendor areas. Loud enough that they were hard to talk over. But you couldn't always hear what they were announcing when it was important USDAA competition info.

    • The Mystery of the Migrating Rings: The map showed the rings neatly numbered in a clockwise direction. However, on Thursday, rings 4 and 6 had changed places. On Saturday, rings 2 and 3 had changed places, but 4 and 6 were reverted. Something else was odd on Friday. If you thought it was hard remembering courses for 9 hours after your walkthrough, then just try finding your ring! (Probably to prevent adjacent rings from doing buzzer-sounding events at the same time. But not always.)

    • In prior years, walk-throughs started--and mostly completed-- before sunrise. This year, the earliest were at 7:00, with the sun just above the horizon. So we missed most of the sunrises, and had the sun in our eyes as we walked the course, but it was nice to get the extra sleep in the morning.

    • The usual overpriced awards dinner on Wednesday night was even more overpriced this year. Instead of having a room full of tables where you could sit your tired bod and chat easily with your friends there and at nearby tables, they had half a dozen tables on one side of the ballroom, another half a dozen at the other end, a row of chairs along one wall, and all the rest of the seating out on the patio, divided between two levels and one level split by the bar. Instead of having one buffet line with an assortment of salads, vegetables, and meats, they had four separate lines for different kinds of foods, all of them with meat, so you had to stand in line four times and weren't always sure what you were standing in line for. Someone said that this setup was supposed to encourage mingling. What it encouraged was spending most of your time in line trying to get food, and the rest of the time wondering whether you were missing anything because everyone else was spread out, out of your sight. When the costume parade and the awards presentations occurred inside, half the people had to stand because there was no room for them. A large contingent of folks didn't bother coming in from the patio. And then there was no dessert. I don't know whose idea this was, but it, frankly, sucked.

    We all received various compliments on our lovely Borderin' on K-Aus team shirts.
    Unlike two or three years ago, food onsite was limited, not very good, and extremely expensive. Here's my $8.50 lunch. OK, the corn dog was tasty, cooked just right, and hot. But $8.50?
    As our team sinks slowly in the west, the Arizona desert serves up one last sunset above the nearly abandoned crating tents.

    Lure Coursing Allure

    SUMMARY: Boost wins bronze; Tika just says no.

    Decided to run Boost on the lure coursing course this year. It's an enclosed loop with low jumps and tunnels through which a little furry thing that looks like a squirrel is pulled by a wire and the dogs chase it.

    People have talked about how much their dogs enjoyed it in previous years. Before one of Boost's runs, a Border Collie ran from nowhere, dashed into the course, and started hunting frantically for the little furry thing. Half an hour later, the same Border Collie came from nowhere and dashed into the course, followed by competitor and sometime judge Tom Kula, running and yelling, to the crowd's amusement, although the dog remained oblivious when there was a small furry thing to subdue.

    A fellow Bay Teamer had her Jack Russell Terrier in her arms, waiting. She had to hold her because the dog was shrieking and struggling in frantic desperation to get back onto the course. The Bay Teamer said that her arms and chest were torn up by the JRT's toenails. On Sunday, the dog tore its toenail out completely in its frantic efforts on course.

    Yes, some dogs love this stuff. So we gave it a go.

    A motor in the center moves the critter around the course, controlled by a person who keeps the lure moving at the dog's pace. The critter is attached to a wire, which wends its way around the course by wrapping around large red pulleys stuck into the ground. In most places on the course, the pulleys are off to the side, but at the beginning, the first one is dead in the center between the startline and the first set of jumps.

    Boost's first run wasn't bad for a first-timer; a little hesitant in places, trying to figure things out, but no sign of the spooky dog that I sometimes see.

    On her second run, she started to move, then noticed the spool and backed off to me. I encouraged her, got her revved up, and after two or three tries, she figured out that, if she hugged the fence and went NEXT to the first two jumps, she could get after the furry thing without having to go near the spool (which I think makes a funny noise as the wire zips around it).

    The next day, we did two more runs, at a time of about 17.70 seconds, which was fast enough for a bronze medal. Apparently the next day they had a dog do it in the 14-second range, which would have dropped Boost's run out of the bronze range, but at least ONE of my dogs ended up with an award for the weekend.

    I tried to run Tika, who loves to chase squirrels full tilt in the yard. Boost isn't usually interested in them, so I figured that if Boost was good, Tika would be better. Tika watched Boost run, which excited her almost beyond belief.

    When I took her to the start line, she saw the little furry thing and began pulling at the collar to go GO GOOO! I released her, she started to haul--and skidded to a halt in front of that damned pulley, then tucked tail (what there is of it) and ran past me back out the entry. She wouldn't come back to me for several long seconds, then came only hesitantly. I tried to rev her up again, but now she was pulling backwards instead of forwards.

    The lady suggested that I just walk her past the pulley, but as I tried to move forward, Tika went into full panic, flailing and shrieking at the top of her lungs, throwing herself against the fence while I hung onto her collar, and finally flinging herself sideways over the fence, still shrieking in terror. Quite reminiscent of how she reacts to going to the vet. There I was on one side of the fence, with no way to get over, but not wanting to let go of her and risk having her take off for the hills.

    Needless to say, I didn't try her again.

    Boost got one more run the next day, where she took off full speed, and then decided that the first tunnel was scary and didn't want to go through. She did, eventually, when I ran inside the course and encouraged her. After that, she had a fairly slow and hesitant run, but got through it looking quite interested in the furry thing.

    More info on this particular lure-coursing business:

    http://coursealure.com/ (including bad use of apostrophe).