a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: September 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Scully Retires

SUMMARY: Scully--Verwende Prinses--treats her friends to ice cream and it's COLD out there plus going nuts with the camera
You'd never guess that Scully is closer to 14 than 13. She's been mostly retired, trying to get just 1 last Q for her lifetime bronze but just not quite fast enough any more most of the time. Plus she's a LITTLE dog. Plus a princess. Scully's class-time retirement party was last night, so we visited the class and took photos of everyone there to celebrate.

OK, maybe they were mostly there for class. But Scully's human dad came up for the mini-party, too; he made awesome ice cream

and it was still excellent but would've been even more excellent had it been 2 days ago and 100 degrees instead of last night at 60 with a brisk and icy wind. Yesterday: Summer. Today: Winter. Gotta love california.

Scully could hardly hold still, she was so excited. This is about the only shot where she's not in full hyper motion-- with her human family, waiting for some ice cream.

Mostly the Little Black Dog looked like this in all the photos.

You would hardly believe that this little active fluffball, multiple agility champion and possibly the most-titled dog in the Mixed Breed Dog Club's history (to be exact: ADCH APD SACH RCH-Bronze SCH-Bronze TM-Bronze AKD-Gold AGD AJD; C-ATCH3 ExSN ExJP ExCL ExFH ExWC ChSN ChST ChJP ChCL ChFH ChWC ChJU U-CD MB-CH MB-CDX MB-RA MB-VM5; EAC EGC EJC CGC), spent the weekend in the hospital being treated for just-discovered kidney disease and a tetch of pancreatitis. She will be getting IV fluids two or three times a week for the rest of her life. I guess if you get ice cream with that, it's not so bad.

Other guests/students:
Sparkle (Scully's Little Black Adopted Sister):

Bernie the Beagle:

MinPin Belle:

Porsche the Wonder Corgi:

Savannah who whupped everyone's butts in 22" Masters Gamblers last weekend:

Dylan, who looks perfect in sunset lighting:

Sooner,  the Papillon whose ears drape gracefully down the sides of his head instead of standing upright in a butterflyish manner, and who was curious about everything except what it would be like to hold still for the camera:

Boost and Tika had to wait in MUTT MVR until the 2nd class of the evening. Tika demonstrates that a really good shake, when in a freeze frame, looks pretty dorky:

Still dealing with my little crappy point and shoot, which likes neither motion (great for photographing dogs) nor any kind of darkness (great for photographing around sunset). But as long as I was there and the lighting and sky were beautiful and the nearly full moon was up--what the heck--get artsy and all that.

Waiting their turns.

Walking the course.

No hamming it up for the camera from the instructor demonstrating push-throughs, nope, not at all:

Tunnel. Moon. Agility handler. What could simpler?

Moon. Field light. Instructor. Successfully finishing a course. What could be better?

More photos uploaded here but mostly of interest to class attendees.

Monday, September 28, 2009

About Tika

SUMMARY: May I brag? And list some statistics, too?
Just occurred to me: Hmmm, OK, Tika has been in Performance only since the end of April, but she's done very well in Steeplechase, Grand Prix, and Snooker, and I wonder where she shows up in the Top Ten listings? So I go to the USDAA page and look:

Heh, cool. I know we won't hold this (especially after this past weekend's Snooker disaster, and especially because I'm not planning on doing that many more trials this year, and also because who's likely to beat us at most trials? Hobbes and Brenn), but it's always fun to see our name in lights: Top Ten Performance 22" Snooker as of roughly the end of August.

Although, oh, interesting:
  • According to my records, in the last 3 trials we've earned another 13 points that aren't on there (but then, so has probably everyone else).
  • Out of Tika's 8 P3 Snooker runs, four have been Super-Qs (jeez, wish we could'a done that in Championship!).
  • Because I mucked up something in my database, I just realized that Tika earned her P3 Snooker title LAST trial! Woot all over again!

Not bad, for only a partial year. Not bad, for a dog who took 36 tries to get her first 3 Super-Qs in Championship.

How about Tournament Top Ten? Pfah, nothing listed on the web site that I see. But she has Qed in 6 out of 7 Performance Grand Prixs to date, and 5 out of 7 Steeplechase. Not bad, for a dog who Qed in only 11 out of the 42 Championship-level Steeplechases she entered--almost all the non-Qs with 5, and sometimes 10, faults. Now we're clean. Go figure. We like 22".

So how is my challenging, attention-deficit, fun-loving and now-getting-reliable Tika girl doing in comparison to other dogs? According to this USDAA page:
  • Only 192 dogs have ever earned the Silver ADCH.
  • Only 247 dogs have ever earned their Tournament Master Platinum.
  • If/when Tika finishes her LAA-Silver (only, hrm, 28 Qs to go), that's be one of only -- uh-- don't know because that's not listed on that page or anywhere that I'm finding. Gol dang.
Compare that to 9,946 dogs who have ever earned their Agility Dog (Novice) title, and who knows how many more who've competed some and never gotten even that far.

I think we're doing pretty OK.

Tika's Round 2 Steeplechase run from Sunday. Fairly smooth, not super-fast. It's 7:30 in the morning and we're starting behind the jump right in the center of the video, and I lead out towards the left.
My only real handling faux pas is that I was going to go for a front cross before the blue tunnel but wimped out--which was stupid, because I ended up coming to a complete stop and waiting for her, so I had plenty of time to get there and probably would've eked another second or so of speed out of things. Not sure it would've mattered--1st place dog was 4 seconds faster.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Aaaaaaand We're Home

SUMMARY: An OK weekend. Some things to write home about and others to just hope they're better next time.
OK, for all you short-attention-span theater types, here's what happened in a nutshell (almond probably):

  • Tika earned her 25th Championship Jumpers Q to complete her Silver-ADCH. Woooohoooo! Thrilled thrilled thrilled! (And a relief to get it done.) Now to do it all over again in Performance--
  • Tika Qed in Pf Steeplechase and Grand Prix yet again and had a lovely 3rd place Steeplechase finish to bring home a whopping $6.30. Better than a poke in the eye with a Snooker flag.
  • Tika Qed with a 2nd in today's Pf Gamblers, missed 1st by 1 point, would've ALSO been good for 2nd in Ch 22" and Ch 26"! AND that also finished her Performance Gambler's title. Yowza!
  • Tika and partner Qed and took 2nd in Pf Pairs.
  • Boost had an amazing Snooker run. Amazing. Like the Border Collie I've always wanted. (Too bad her clumsy mom negated the run with her elbow--more later.)
  • It was hot. Like, 99F hot (and I'm not sayin' what the F stands for). (37.2C) Observe the hot and sweaty:

  • USDAA has given in and now calls Performance Grand Prix "Performance Grand Prix" instead of "Performance National Standard" (try pronouncing "PNS" or "PeNaS" or whatever out loud). Now if only they'll do the same for Performance Steeplechase.
  • Boost had zero Qs on the weekend. Ze. Ro.
So--how hot was it? It was so hot that today was only 1 degree lower than the record-setting temperature for this date.
It was so hot that the dogs' fabric crates, under a canopy, were hot to the touch in midafternoon.
It was so hot that, instead of leaving the dogs in their crates as usual, I surrounded the fronts of the crates with the xpen and left the crates open to give them more air and access to the grass to lie on. (In this photo, moved xpen to one side to start packing up.)

It was so hot that even us delicate flowers of femininity poured profuse perspiration. OK, now try peeling off those sopping tight jeans so you can put on shorts. Yeh uh-hm.
It was so hot that, in the last run of the day, most of the Performance dogs didn't want to go down on the table. Even Tika. I'm thinking it wasn't that the table was hot; it was that they knew that if they lay down, they'd have to eventually get around to standing up again!
It was so hot that last night I left the van's doors & windows open 6-8" (any more & certain border collies might have gone exploring) and I *still* fried most of the night. (They claimed it was in the 50s overnight. Didn't feel like it.)
It was so hot that people were applying cold asparagus poultices to their necks to cool down.
However, I might be lying about at least one of those things. Well--maybe exactly one.

How did the awesome Performance Tika end up Qing in only 5 of 10 classes, yikes? It was a weekend of mostly so-closes:
  • Saturday Standard: Flew off the dogwalk big time. Rest of run lovely. Time would've been good enough for a 2nd place, despite heat.
  • Saturday Gamblers: missed her weave entry in the opening and I went back to pick it up again, which means that when the whistle blew we were starting UP the Aframe instead of leaving the Aframe, which meant that Tika did the gamble perfectly but was over by .17 seconds. Arrrrgh!
  • Sunday Jumpers: I led out about 6 steps and turned to discover that Tika had left her down stay and was standing about 6 inches from the first (26") jump. Think she can get over that without knocking it? Not a chance.
  • Sunday Snooker: FLEW off Aframe in opening, which meant I had to do a front cross where I needed to do a pull, which meant that she turned the wrong way after the next red, both of which meant that she was jumping up & barking at me profusely for  not being clearer in my instructions instead of RUNNING FULL OUT which is what we needed to do, which meant that in the #7 closing (tunnel//jump/tunnel) she was only at the jump when the whistle blew. Argh. 
  • Sunday Standard: For the first time in a VERY long time indeed, when I sent her out to a jump, she ran towards it, peeled away to bounce back and me, and then turned and took it. Refusal.  Jeez. Of course this time she stuck her start line and got all her contacts and kept her bars up.
How did Boost have a zero Q weekend?
  • Several runs with meltdowns, and not because of the heat (I don't think), but runouts, refusals, bars going down, missing weave entries--I WANT MY *NEW* BOOST BACK!
  • Sunday's Jumpers--OH so close! Pretty nice but one bar down in the middle.
  • Pairs: One refusal, but with Partner's 10 faults, we were .69 (!) seconds over time. So we were fast but not fast enough with the time-wasting bobbles. Sheesh! 
  • After assorted mess-ups, Eed entirely in Standard, Grand Prix, Jumpers, and another Standard.
  • Second-LOWEST points of 20 dogs in Saturday's gamblers.
  • And then there was Snooker.

OK, so here's the Snooker thang. It was worse than a speed course; it was a super-speed course. To do all three sevens and get thru to the end in 48 seconds required running around 3 sides of the field three times! It was just a bloody awful lot of yardage. I tried to think of a smoother, easier course for Boost, but there WAS no smoother, easier course.

But to get the full 51 points, you'd have to be VERY fast and, furthermore, you'd have to be PERFECT, not a bobble or wasted yardage anywhere. And, of course (and especially this weekend), Boost and I do not HAVE runs that have no bobbles or wasted yardage.

But I just couldn't come up with a better course. We were the next to the last dog of *all* dogs to run, so I had already seen that, out of 70 dogs who had already run it, only 3 who had attempted all three 7s had made it to the end, and (a) they had run their buns off, and (b) they were top-flight competitors with super-fast dogs, and (c) two of them had made it with only a fraction of a second to spare, and the third with maybe a second.

I came up with a plan where we'd do two 7s and a 5, which was also pretty smooth and we'd be more likely to get all the way through if we had any bobbles.

So. We lined up, I led out halfway across the field leaving her facing the first #1 red, and I released her, and we were off.

Well, jeez, she was PERFECT! Sure, there was the stupid thing where, on our way to the 2nd red, I hit the #2 jump's wing with my elbow on the way past and knocked the bar off. But after the 3rd red and Boost was flying and doing great, I decided to try for all 3 sevens. And she was AWESOME, just AWESOME! Did everything right! We did not complete the last 7--she was IN the last tunnel but had probably a stride to go to get out--but I was, needless to say, absolutely hyper-jazzed. THIS is the Border Collie I want! WoooooooohhoooooooO!

But there's that little issue about the knocked #2. Judge had to think about it (or she'd have whistled us off earlier--glad she didn't!), but essentially the rule is that the *handler* took the obstacle out of play, so Boost didn't have to actually jump it in the closing (bar was down), which negated all obstacles #2 and after. So we got none of our closing points.

I wasn't too surprised; I didn't know the rule, but I knew when I hit it that I was probably going to pay in one way or another. So our only class where Boost was not only excellent enough to get Q points but in fact Super-Q points, I screwed up by being clumsy. Sigh. But I am still buzzed from that run! What! A! Bordercollie!

What feels good after packing up on a very very hot day? Clean hands and clean, dry shirt and socks!

What feels good after a long, hot weekend of 21 runs? Air-conditioned MUTT MVR, ready to head home!

Dogs are ready to go.

What is a really really good idea after a long, very hot, very perspiring day before a 2-hour drive home with all the ice in your soda cooler melted? Stop at the Quick Mart and get a 44-oz. cup packed to the top with ice for $1.19 and then pour your soda over it!

What's a really really good idea to keep you focused and alert on the road after a long and tiring weekend? Funny tapes!

Okily dokily, good neighbor, I think I probably have lots more I want to say about lots of things, but I'm thinkin' that lots of lying in bed and sleeping would be an exxxxxxellennnnnt plan right about now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekend's Coming--

SUMMARY: USDAA trial in Turlock, will be hot.
I'm hoping that "will be hot" applies to our skills as agility competitors in addition to this 90-100-degree heat.

Have I been practicing ANYthing useful? No. Vowed I'd do bar-knocking drills with both dogs. But have I? No. Ran Tika at 24" and 26" in class this week and she looked great. No dang excuse for not getting that last Championship Jumpers Q when we have TWO chances!

And Boost is running very nicely, too, but the bars are starting to come down again. Must. Do. Drills. We just want that one Jumpers leg needed for our MAD! Sheesh! She's got twelve--count 'em, TWELVE Masters Standard legs! How come she can't get one *@&% Grand Prix? Or one Jumpers?

She's got four--yes, four--Masters Gamblers legs. How come not. a. single. Super-Q?!

OK, here's the status:
Tika in Performance 3:
  • Standard: 1 (!) Can't get Standard legs, either, apparently, but CAN get a zillion Steeplechase & Grand Prix legs! Go figure.
  • Gamblers: 4. One more for p3 gamb title.
  • Snooker: 3 superQs and 1 regular Q. One more Q any kind for p3 Snooker title.
  • Pairs: 5. So has that p3 title.
  • Jumpers: Can't get any Qs until we finish that dang 25th Ch Q!
  • Grand Prix (pf): 5 (2009 season)
  • Steeplechase(pf): 4 (2009 season)
  • Team (pf): 2 (2009 season) so she has her p3 Tournament Master title.
Boost in Championship:
  • Standard: 8. Needs 2 for her Standard Champion title.
  • Gamblers: 4. Needs 1 for her Master Gamblers. 
  • SNooker: 4 regular Qs. Only! Sheesh! This has got to be the easiest class in the world to get plain boring Qs in, and we cant' even do that. Need 3 SuperQs for her master snooker title.
  • Pairs: 12! OK, folks, see, time plus faults scoring AND only half a course. We can do this!
  • Jumpers: NONE NO EFFING JUMPERS QS. Ahem. Sorry for the yelling.
  • Grand Prix: 3 (none in 2009).
  • Steeplechase: 3 (one in 2009).
  • Team: 2 (one in 2009). So she needs 2 of any tournament for her Tournament Master title.
What's happening this weekend:
  • We're now in the New Year for 2010 Nationals Qualifying in the 3 Tournaments. This weekend, both merle girls have a chance at Grand Prix and Steeplechase. 
  • Two Jumpers
  • Two Standard
  • Pairs
  • Two Gamblers
  • Snooker
Supposed to be a smallish trial and supposed to finish early (3:00 or earlier) both days. I'll believe it when I see it.

Oh, and then there's the Lifetime Achievement Awards status, thanks for asking! The Silver lifetime award is 250 Qs. Tika is at 217. I'm thinkin' we'll make Silver easily within the next year.  But gold at 350? Hm. Not sure on that one. That's a lotta legs.

OK, gotta finish packing and doing those bar-knocking drills.

As if.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


SUMMARY: Random things from the treat jar of dog thoughts and lifestyle issues that have been piling up, gathering dust.
  • The Secrets Inside Your Dog's Mind -- Time magazine article about dogs following pointing fingers, recognizing words, sharing, and altogether acting more human than wolf, and why. Thanks Wishy The Writer for the link.

  • This lady (OK, me) walks into a Postal Annex (no, really!) with the merle girls, tells them to "down" and they do (and stay, I might add), and commences her transaction with the clerk, who, after a couple of minutes of business, says, "Pretty dogs. Are they trained?" Um...

  • Trying to cut back on agility events, and in particular avoid weekends of agility back-to-back... But wait (she says, remembering squillions of Gamblers briefings where everyone has to clarify the terminology--again--)--or is that weekends *in sequence*? Not sure how you'd do weekends back to back-- sat-sun then sun-sat of the same weekend? Nice trick if you can do it, and you should CERTAINLY get double points for it.

  • Johann the dog asked "What is your favorite toy?" Found it hard to answer. Varies from dog to dog. Sheba loved the floppy plastic left over from a beach ball. Amber liked hard plastic things or sticks. Remington liked his plush "flippy" and cardboard boxes. Jake was into nubby plastic squeakies. Boost likes her bone-shaped plush with a squeakie in the middle. Tika prefers nonplush things that we can play tug with, especially her Jolly Ball. Me? Hmm, maybe my Macintosh.

  • New Mac Mini arrived this week! Bought this old one in January 2001 (was a 2000-year model). Looking forward to getting the new one running. Have heard that the tools now for transferring everything are amazingly good. Or so "They" say. And you know how They are.

  • Even though USDAA has made the Performance program more like the regular Championship program--everything now the same for titling, but sometimes they shortchange awards and title names--and despite well-respected competitors' efforts to promote moving *over* to performance instead of *down* to performance, it still felt like I was giving something up to move Tika from 26" Ch to 22" Pf. But, I'll tell you, she is running so much more smoothly and comfortably at 22"--and winning and Qing a lot more, too--grins--that I'm beginning to like the change. Although I still find myself qualifying her successes by saying "in performance, of course."

  • Still haven't decided for sure on a camera. Do I go with the Rebel series (the XS or the new t1i)--or the midrange not-quite-pro series (40D, available only refurbished, or 50D)? Price *is* an object.  So many things going into the decision, though. Almost decided on XS this morning, then almost on 40D. Probably one of those two. Would love the 50D but not sure I can justify the extra, which I'd rather spend on a lens or two.

  •  Hand touches: Taught Boost a hand touch to my palm very thoroughly and then realized to my dismay that this prevented teaching “shake”/”high 5"/”wave” etc. This year I decided to  change the Touch to only the back of my hand when held straight down, and Shake to the palm held level.  Maybe will post on how I converted, if anyone's interested. Taught Tika the new touch, too; she already had the Shake. Now both dogs know the distinction. Although sometimes in the heat of the food moment, Boost touches and shakes simultaneously. Overachiever.

  • OK, I admit it: I go places without my dogs. Lots of places. Hiking. Traveling. I see them all day every day and work or play or walk with them several times a day and I'm often ready to just not do dogs.  If more hiking around here were off-leash legal, I'd probably take them more often. But, unlike so many of my agility friends, I need lots of vacation from my dogs! Perfectly happy leaving them behind. Sorry, merle girls, life's hard.

  • But now, I retire for the night to my king-sized bed. WITH the merle girls. Life's not so hard after all, is it, me pretties!

Belay Them Contact Trainin's Fer a Wee While

SUMMARY: Today be Saturdee, Septembree 19--Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Ahoy, all me dog-lovin' shipmates an' kin! I vowed that this voyage I wouldna miss International Talk Like a Pirate Day. On accoun' o' I be homeport a lot this moon, I figured that this be a good time t' point 't ou' t' sea dogs an' land lubbers alike. Nay that I be havin' anythin' t' do wi' "pirates"--er, sea dogs. Nay at all. Nay.

So get yer piratical buns ou' thar an' start talkin'! 'T dasn't matter whether ye be havin' swabbies around wi' whom t' converse; canine shipmates wi' do.

What will me dogs do when I be talk like a gentleman o' fortune t' them? I spake "Arrr, ya scurvy dog!" t' Boost. She didna be havin' much t' say; jus' sat up an' eyeballed me wi' a patient expression an' stopped pantin' fer a minute. Then th'lassie hid behind the cap'n's chair.

Tika responded t' "I'll keelhaul ye, ye landlubber!" by gettin' t'er feet, waggin' th' lass' wee stub o' a nubber tail frantically, then movin' into a different part o' th' foredeck 'ere I couldna get at 'er.

I be thinkin' that me dogs be nay into conversin' like seafarin' heartys.

(Besides checkin' ou' th' "How t'" link on th' official site, here be a couple o' translators t' help ye, ya lily livered scurvy curs! And I be meanin' that in th' most respectful way, o' course.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blogging Comments Update

SUMMARY: Playing with the blog universe.

Blogger (Taj MuttHall's blogging software) is implementing a variety of what could be fun new features for their 10th birthday. We might not be able to use them all, because we host our blog on our very own site (Tajmutthall.org AKA finchester.org), but we'll try 'em all because we're geeks and it's easier than working on rear crosses!

Today--redoing how comments display. Let's see how this goes--

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nothing Is Happening Here

SUMMARY: Here we are. Yes. [Twiddles thumbs.]

There is a USDAA trial this weekend and it's within my limit of 2 hours from home, but we are not going. Part of my program to cut back on agility and reclaim my Real Life, which I can barely even remember preagility, it was so long ago. I am doing more hiking. I like it. I am doing crossword puzzle tourneys. Well--one, anyway. I liked it. I am even thinking about doing some yardwork this weekend. After all, I've been in this house 9 years this month and it's probably about time.

I will be home to celebrate my dad's birthday with the family. How weird is that, that I should be not at agility on a family celebration day?

Around me, the world is full of happiness and light, darkness and sorrow.

Just before the last trial, Knack the Border Collie, a really nice, fast Border Collie, who had been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma--same thing that killed Remington--crossed the rainbow bridge. Knack was not that old. Maybe Remington's age, but I think younger? (Rem was 9 and a half.)

Radar the Rodent Pointer, who was in our class many years ago, suddenly became really ill last week. He went to the vet and they discovered a huge hemangiosarcoma tumor on his spleen, which ruptured catastrophically while he was at the animal hospital. Just like that, Radar is gone. He was 12 and a half, but the day before, he was a healthy and active dog.

Last week, Tika's Nationals DAM team teammate from last year, Apache the Terv, had found himself a totally awesome team, because among other reasons I am not going to Nationals this year. His Human Dad didn't really want to go last year, but I twisted his arm and they went and had a great time and Apache did so well that if we had all done that well, we'd have been in the finals. This year he had a team to make that happen.

A few days ago, Apache suddenly became really ill. He went to the vet and they discovered a huge hemangiosarcoma tumor on his spleen, which had ruptured but not quite catastrophically but has metastasized into other organs. I visited him Wednesday night and his Human Dad and I talked a lot about everything related to losing dogs and getting dogs and life with dogs and disappointments and successes, and we ate ribs and I took a bag of freeze-dried liver treats and fed most of them to Apache.

They are not going to the Nationals. Apache is ten and a half and was still running great Masters USDAA agility at 26".

We are all hugging our dogs tighter and tighter every day. I cannot lie that it is a downer, especially because it so strongly brings back Remington's illness.

But, OK, all is not despair. Apache's and Tika's classmate, Luka, is off in Austria at the FCI World Championships, with two other very local dogs, the amazing Bay Team border collie Icon and the steady-under-fire sheltie Wave. And our instructor is the coach and it's very exciting to have so many people we know out there.

Tika and Boost are healthy and happy. They both ran well in class this week. They are running well in the yard, but we're still doing a lot of simple things just to have fun, mostly running from one tunnel to the next and over some jumps in between. Because we don't have another trial until, oh, say, NEXT weekend.

The lawn is growing in a spurt of autumn enthusiasm. The local fresh fruit at the grocery seems particularly wonderful right now--nectarines, pears, strawberries. Yum. Eating lots of it.

I am going now to hug my nonhuggy dogs again and go to bed with them alongside.

We are here, with not much to report about our own lives.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Crossword Results

SUMMARY: I was right--ended up about in the middle.

The complete crossword tourney results are now posted here. I placed 29th out of 57 contestants.

I had perfect scores on the first 3 puzzles but missed 3(! more than I'd have guessed) on the last one. But, even had I had a perfect score on that puzzle--which would've added 225 points to my score--I'd have *still* placed only 27th! And that's because of the phenomenal time bonuses that others received.

Like that last one, which I barely finished in 59 minutes out of the allowed 60--the top placer finished in TWELVE minutes! I'm just nowhere near that league. I can't even hope to get to the Over 65 (age) category--a bunch of those sharp-minded "seniors" finished way above me.

(Details on scoring were in my prior post. Only thing that' interesting that I don't understand is that the maximum number "wrong" appears to be 99 several times--I'm wondering whether that's a "too many to bother counting" score?)

So, OK, I like being in dog agility where I can be within fractions of a second of the winner--or sometimes even win--not 48 minutes slower than the winner! (Although some of my runs have felt like that.) Guess it's back to working my contacts.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Crossword Scoring

SUMMARY: Compared to dog agility scoring--

OK, after that huge post the other day about Qing in USDAA, thought I'd put up some notes about crossword tournament scoring. If I remember correctly, it goes like this:

* 10 points for each correct answer (across and down).
* 150 bonus if your entire puzzle is complete and correct.
* 25 points bonus for each minute under the scheduled time that you turn it in.
* 25 points penalty for each incorrect letter or empty square, subtracted from your time bonus.

We did 4 puzzles--two 15-minute ones (I finished in 7 and 6 minutes, respectively) each with about 70 answers, one 30-minute one (I finished in 8 minutes, if I remember correctly) also about 70 answers, one one-hour one (I finished in... cough...59 minutes) with maybe 120 answers? That last one prevented maybe a quarter of the contestants from finishing within the hour, so i felt pretty good about getting through it.

So a perfect score on all 4 puzzles would've been around 3900, plus 25 for each minute under time--and people were turning in their puzzles in HALF my time, even on the ones I felt pretty fast on!

Sixty people competed. But, unless I misheard, the top 3 scores were in the 650-to-750 range. This tells me that people weren't getting anywhere near perfect scores.

I'm dyin' to see the results and scores. Don't know how long it'll take to post them. Of course, I'm spoiled with our club secretary posting the results for our agility trials within a couple of days--and that's a few thousand runs, with almost 500 dogs in dozens of different heights, classes, and programs. So how hard could it be to post single scores for 60 people? :-)

They probably have to double-check the scorers' marks on the individual pages, and load the results into the computer for all 4 puzzles. I would assume that the computer calculates each person's score (after the scorer has counted errors) so they don't have to do it manually.

Anyway--still eagerly waiting--

No Cross Words at Crossword Tournament

SUMMARY: Different kind of Saturday competition.

ADDITIONS: After original posting time/date--scroll to bottom.

I'd never entered a crossword-puzzle tournament before, but I do a lot of crosswords, so I thought I might give one a try. Summary: It was fun, and I don't yet know how I did, but I didn't win. Now--compare and contrast to dog agility.


Dog agility: Spend up to two hours on Friday packing MUTT MVR. Another half hour to an hour printing the running orders, making sure I've got copies of my confirmations, directions to the trials, etc.

Crossword tourney: On Friday, find the registration form that has the address on it.


Dog agility: Go to bed Friday at 8. Get up at 4 a.m. Don't feel like eating yet. Take the dogs into the yard, no matter the weather, to potty them, & load them into MUTTMVR. Load cold drinks & refrigerable snacks into the cooler. Make sure I have my banana holders to protect my bananas from all the brouhaha. Drive 2 hours in the dark to the agility site.

Crossword tourney: Go to bed at usual time Friday. Get up at 8 a.m. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and do the crossword puzzle in the paper. Give dogs breakfast. Grab a soda and a banana. Drive an hour to Alameda. (It's the first rain of the new rainfall year, but I don't have to be out in it.)

Dog agility: Spend an hour hauling my gear, setting up my canopy and such, walking and exercising the dogs. Sometimes stand in line to check in or get dogs measured. Find course maps wherever they're located.

Crossword tourney: Park across the street. Walk up the stairs--

-- and through the door, into the room, pick up my name tag, and sit down anywhere.

Just one round out of about five a day.
(List of competitors in running order)


Dog agility: Negotiate the day's schedule covering hundreds of dogs and more hundreds of runs in 3 rings, keeping track of how far down the running order the dogs in my current ring are so that I can be there on time and not too early, keeping track of whether a ring is delayed or going faster than planned, check back with the gate steward regularly, refer frequently to my multipage catalog to see what class is next and which of my dogs is in first, etc.

Crossword tourney: Refer to hand-written schedule on wall. From my chair.

Dog agility: Work my buns off all day, probably at the score table, but also tracking down equipment, people, answers, and so on. No time to browse the vendors.

Crossword tourney: Finish a puzzle way early. Go for a stroll and see that the high school woodshop makes and sells dog houses!

Dog agility: Get my dogs out regularly to stretch their legs and/or potty them. Play hard before each run, run with them in the ring, cool them down and reward them afterwards. Check their water. Check whether the sun has moved around and their crates need shade. Apply covers to avert (a) Tika barking at passing dogs or (b) Boost throwing herself at crate sides at active dogs.

Crossword tourney: Browse the students' hallway art looking for pictures of dogs. Here's a painting of a hand painted to look like a doghead.

Dog agility: Admire and pet many other people's dogs as the day goes on.

Crossword tourney: During one break, stroll around the building and discuss this woman's rescue dogs. And admire them and pet them.

Dog agility:
Fight my way through the crowd around the accumulator sheets and wait my turn to look at the results for the class I'm interested in (typically 4-5 classes each day for each dog). Find my dog somewhere on the *#(!&# accumulator sheet. Figure out our placement (if it's not obvious). Copy down our time & faults & points & the SCT & the yards & the winning dog's score & ... what?...yes of COURSE that's all important!... When I get home, spend 30-40 minutes typing it all into my database.

Crossword tourney: Wait for them to announce the top 3 finishers. It's not me. Wait for them to post my single numeric score on the web site, sometime in the next few days.   [Update later: I'm about in the middle. Very happy with that.]

Dog agility: Repeat everything for a 2nd full day. Then finish up around 5 or 6 in the evening on Sunday. Potty dogs. Potty myself. Change my shoes and maybe my sweaty socks and shirt. Tear down my canopy and everything and repack the car. Put away all the score table gear. Help tear down and move all the equipment and tables and ring ropes and so on and so on. On the road maybe 7 p.m., exhausted. Maybe take a nap on the roadside on the way. Crash in bed as soon as I get home.

Crossword tourney: Finish at 3 right on schedule. Potty myself. Drive home. Spend the rest of the day doing fun things. Update blog and photos.

Which reminds me: See a lot of other photos, with a brief story narrative, about my day in Alameda including Victorian homes & other old buildings, cool student artwork, and like that, here at my usual photo site.

ADDITION: Added the next day (Sept 13, 2:00p.m. PDT)--

Dog agility: (Typical)
* Organization hosting the trial: The Bay Team.
* Held under rules of sanctioning organization: USDAA
* Benefits: Bay Team is a not-for-profit corporation. Most profits go back into maintaining our equipment for hosting trials. But we also sometimes do demos for other charitable orgs doing fundraisers, and every year we donate money to one or more dog-related charitable org's.

Crossword tourney:
* Organization hosting: Bay Area Crosswords
* Held under rules of sanctioning organization: ACPT
* Benefits: All profits go to The California Dictionary Project, whose goal is to supply every 3rd grader with a dictionary.

Dog agility: Regular celebrity appearances at local USDAA: Greg Louganis, perhaps the greatest Olympic diver of all time, competing with his JRTs and now Border Collie. And doing fairly well, I might add.

Crossword tourney: Celebrity appearance: Tyler Hinman, youngest-ever winner of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, featured in the film Wordplay, and now an unprecedented 5-time champion. Helped run this event and contributed the final puzzle, which will also be next week's New York Times Sunday puzzle.

ADDITION: Added about 30 minutes after original post:
Oh, yeah, one more thing:

Dog agility: cost to enter 2-day agility competition with 2 dogs: $300.

Crossword tourney: cost to enter one-day crossword tournament: $20

Dog agility: Entire weekend of quality time
 spent with dogs with lots of excitement and exercise: priceless.

Crossword tourney: A couple of hours of relaxing time doing something fun and different by myself: Priceless.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

USDAA Qualifying and Titling Rules

SUMMARY: Some of the arcanity of USDAA scoring.

I'm skipping Starters and Advanced qualifying (Q) requirements (sorry, nonmasters) because they're fairly straight-forward (I'm speaking relatively, of course).

On to Masters/P3 and Tournament, because that's where one accrues the most Qs over your competition lifetime. As a source of entertainment, qualifying requirements and title requirements change periodically, so keeping up with it could be a regular hobby.

OK, there are two somewhat parallel sequences of titles that you achieve with your Qs: The basic titling sequence and the lifetime titling sequence.

The basic titling sequence includes things like your MAD (Master Agility Dog), RCh (Relay Champion), TM (Tournament Master), ADCH (Agility Dog Champion), and so on. You can follow this sequence in either Championship program ("Masters") or Performance program ("P3". You have to start anew with each program; masters Qs don't transfer to P3 and vice versa.

The lifetime sequence is just that: Lifetime Achievement Award bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. This counts ALL Qs of any type that you earn in Masters, P3, or Tournament (performance or championship). For example, it takes 30 (specific) masters Qs to earn your ADCH. If you then move to performance and earn your APD (Performance championship), it takes another 30 legs. You now have 60 legs towards your LAA awards.

To earn your basic titles, you need Qs in the regular classes of Standard, Gamblers, Jumpers, Snooker, and Pairs Relay. For the major titles in this group, you also need Tournament Qs (Steeplechase, Grand Prix, Dog Agility Masters (DAM) Team).

For your ADCH or your APD, you need: 5 each of the regular classes plus 5 tournaments, with at least one of each tournament type.

Is that all perfectly clear now?

Here's the annoying thing about the DAM tournament: You have to do a DAM jumpers, DAM gamblers, DAM standard, DAM snooker, and DAM relay to get JUST ONE DAM Q. None of them count towards titles in your basic titling sequence. All that work for ONE Q?!?

Back in The Day, Team Snooker and Jumpers, if I recall correctly, could also be counted as regular Qs for your snooker & jumpers titles, but they did away with that because they operated under different rules than the regular classes.

However, starting last year, USDAA finally saw the light again and allowed the four individual DAM classes to count towards your Lifetime awards. That is, they don't count towards your basic title sequence, but they do count towards your Lifetime Achievement Awards (LAA), which is wonderful.

But the qualifying requirements are different. In regular classes, there's a certain known minimum standard that you must achieve to earn a Q, which means that in theory everyone at a trial could Q in every class, no matter what anyone else does. For the Team individual Qs, however, you must be within a certain range of the best performers in each class.

To do this, you take the top 3 dogs (in your height and program) and average their scores. Anyone within 15% of that average earns one of these bonus Q. Yeah, in theory, everyone could also Q, but that raises the bar high enough--especially at the regionals--that it's more difficult to earn those Qs.

Except that Tika the wonder-performance-dog, who seems to love being at 22", has Qed in every one of her Team events in the two tournaments we've entered. Huzzah.

Hey, is any of that clear? It made sense while I was writing it--


In Masters/P3 Standard, to earn a Q towards basic titles, you must have a clean run and be faster than the Standard Course Time. This Q *also* counts towards your LAAs.

In Championship/Performance DAM team Standard, to earn a bonus Q towards your LAA, your time plus faults must be within 15% of the average of the top 3 dogs' time plus faults. These do *not* count towards your basic titles.

Well--so--since I suspect everyone's eyes are now glazed over, let me just say that, between Masters and P3 and all Tournaments, Tika now has 217 Qs towards her LAA awards. 150 was her LAA-bronze. Another 33 to go to her Silver.

And over and out.

Behind the Bay Team USDAA Southwest Regionals

SUMMARY: What classes we offer, why, and how

Just a note: I took no photos over the whole weekend, not one. Hard to believe. Never tried to hand off my camcorder to anyone to video any of our runs, either. Fortunately another Bay Teamer took some shots. Unfortunately, this is me and Tika leaving the Steeplechase ring after she came out of the tunnel limping, and me rubbing her down a bit afterward. Ah, well, it's photos anyway. Thanks, Sandra!

Bay Team's regionals seem to go very smoothly. In fact, so do most of our trials. Some of it comes from lots of experienced people jumping in to help. Some of it comes from having one miracle of a club member who makes everything happen from mostly behind the scenes. Some of it comes from our lock-step rotation groups.

The rotation groups work very much like they do at the USDAA Nationals, although I can no longer recall whether we did them first or the nationals did them first. For a small trial where all the classes can fit into one ring, or even two, it's not necessarily needed. But we've found that, with 3 rings or more at ANY trial, rotation groups make a huge improvement in how trials run. First, it reduces conflicts to almost nothing. Second, it makes it easier for people to work because they know exactly how the classes will change.

Here's what we do: Divide all the masters and tournament dogs into an appropriate number of rotation groups--3 for smaller trials, 4 for bigger trials and regionals. Assign everyone who's in the same family or on the same team to the same rotation group. Try to keep everyone who's in a small height class in the same group to reduce jump-height changes.

You might imagine that this is no small task. Our supreme show secretary has a program that pulls out all the chains of these relationships. It becomes an issue only when, say everyone at the trial is somehow related to everyone else at the trail--sort of a 100 degrees of separation thing. Then some manual tweaking has to occur. I can't imagine doing all of this manually, but I suppose it could be done.

We put one class into each of 3 or 4 rings, then rotate the groups through the rings. For example, on Saturday, the four DAM individual classes were in four different rings. First round, group A ran Team Gamblers in ring 1, group B ran Team Jumpers in ring 2, etc. We wait for ALL rings to finish the first rotation--this is key--then give a 5-minute break for whatever needs to be done to get the rings and workers ready for the next group. Groups rotate clockwise to the next ring, and everyone again starts at the same time; now Group A is in Ring 2 doing Team Jumpers, and so on.

Repeat until everyone has run all the classes.

To facilitate this, we have a microphone goddess who waits for all the rings' chief ring stewards to confirm that all of their workers & judges are ready to go.

It works best when there is one more group than there are rings--so, for example, on Sunday and Monday, we had 3 masters/tournament rings going, with the same 4 rotation groups, so one group was always off and in THEORY would be available to fill out our volunteer ring help positions. Usually this works well.

The other big part is that--just like at the nationals--everyone has to walk all the courses first thing in the morning. We do those in rotation, too--everyone gets something like 8 minutes to walk each course.

This works very well. USDAAers now seem to accept this, although there was some resistance when we first did it. CPEers--including judges--often have a hard time with this. They do not WANT to wait for the other groups to finish. And some competitors complain... "If this ring had run straight through, then *I* could have gone home 3 hours earlier." Yeah, right, means you're not sticking around to help in the other rings to help everyone else get home earlier. And you've got only one dog who's entered in only 3 classes--we should optimize our schedule for *you* rather than for the more typical competitor who's in all the classes and has a 40% chance of running 2 or more dogs?

But we are firm, and it works. Most people like it because they can relax. They know that they're not going to miss a walkthrough because everyone walks through at the same time.

When everyone has rotated through all the rings, then we rebuild for our second round of the day (if there is one), walk them, and run in the same way.

On Friday, we had one class: Pairs Relay. Fewer people entered that evening. We simply split the 22/26" championship masters dogs into one ring and the rest of hte masters/p3 dogs into a second ring.

On Saturday, the four DAM individual events ran first, then Grand Prix round 1 and Team Relay ran in the afternoon.

On Sunday, Masters Standard and Gamblers ran in 2 rings and Steeplechase Round 1 in the third; in the afternoon, we ran the Grand Prix Round 2. Original plan was to split it into 2 rings by rotation groups, but we had so few qualifiers that it all just ran in the same ring.

Similar on Monday: Masters Snooker, Standard, and Jumpers first in rotation, then Steeplechase Round 2 in one ring.

Worked like a charm.

We had one other ring for starters and advanced classes that did NOT go in rotation with the masters/tournament classes. If you had dogs in starters or advanced, you could indeed have conflicts, and we made it clear that that ring had precedence because there were so many fewer dogs. But if you weren't in St or Adv, you never had conflicts all weekend, never!

Very nice, much more relaxing than, say, a couple of my experiences before rotation groups: At USDAA Nationals in 2000 or 2001, where I had nothing for 5 hours, then ran my two dogs in 4 different rings virtually simultaneously (so lots of working out conflicts and trying to be there), then had nothing again for 2 hours. And again at one of our first four-ring trials, where I had a starters dog and masters dog and once again ended up in 4 rings almost simultaneously, with Masters Snooker where I couldn't move my position much and starters where the class was so small, etc. I exclaimed as I ran from ring to ring, "Four rings, no waiting!"

Our superuber secretary has also developed a database application through many years of experience that helps schedule all the classes, prints the reports, and so on, and for a few years now has also done all the calculations for Team and Steeplechase. Very helpful.

So: Regionals. How do we decide what events to offer? Have to offer the three Tournament events: Team (which is 5 classes), Steeplechase (2 rounds), and Grand Prix (2 rounds). We also want to offer enough of the regular classes to make it worth people's time to come. But not so many as to make the days brain-numbingly long. We've learned the hard way to not try to cram in too many classes.

And that's about it!

Monday, September 07, 2009

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The--Not Best of Times

SUMMARY: southwest regionals personal results

A summary because I'm very tired and need to go sleep. (OK, I lied, this is turning into more than a summary.)

Tika the down side

Tika ran beautifully this weekend--ALMOST perfectly. Out of 14 runs, she Qed in 10. Two of those four were completely and totally my fault; she ran perfectly what I asked her to do. OK, I can deal with that. The final two were sad and then almost heartbreaking.

That danged last 26" Jumpers leg, the one that Tika needs for her silver ADCH--knocked the first bar again! Jeez, she ran so smoothly the rest of the way!

Then, last run of the weekend: Steeplechase Round 2. At the Regionals! We've done great! I think we can beat almost all of the dogs in the class if all goes well. I'm revved and excited; I think it's our kind of course. Two Aframes, which Tika can gain time on with her "modified running contact" if she gets a foot into the yellow zone, and the course is laid out such that I can be right there to add emphasis. I've got her revved and excited, too. I lead out only a couple of steps and then release her for added excitement rather than a longer ideal lead-out. I sprint for the first front cross and make it, and we're on our way! We make it through the first 13 obstacles of a 19-obstacle course, including a gorgeous legal running A-frame. She is HAULING and I am feeling good!

#14 is a tunnel. Tika blasts in--then yelps in pain and hobbles out on three legs. Oh, poor Tika! Oh, sad me! The judge looks inside the tunnel to see whether he can see anything--nothing. No idea what happened. Did she slip and fall? Stub a toe? I jollied her up a bit, since she can be a drama queen at the slightest little thing, and she looked perky, but then when I tried to get her running again, she wouldn't. Took her off the course, rubbed her a bit, then tried walking her around. Definitely, definitely limping.

Took her back to her crate, more massage. She relaxed and enjoyed it, but stood up and limped again. Left her in the crate for half an hour, came back to get her out again, and she came out hunched over--like the sore neck/back/whatever it is that she gets--and favoring the same foot. Gave her some rimadyl. An hour later, she still wasn't comfortable coming out of the crate and wanted to lie down.

But 2 hours later, after I'd packed everythign up to go, she felt fine and wanted to run run run and was disgusted with me for holding her back. I'm sure it was the rimadyl kicking in. Will have to see how she feels tomorrow.

I guess I'm glad that she held up so well for three and a half days of agility. I'm always watching for any sign of soreness with her now, and there was never anything. She was in full form right before that run.

And there's yet another reason not to go to Nationals: Tika actually has a good chance of doing well in all the Performance events. BUT. It would REALLY suck to get down there and then have her come up sore again, unable to run.

Tika the up side

Tika ran clean in Pf Pairs Relay; her partner's not the fastest but they Qed, completing Tika's performance relay title.

Tika ran clean and very well in Team Standard, for a 4th out of 20 dogs.

Had an excellent opening and OK closing in Team Gamblers, for a sort of average 12th of 20.

Got the highest possible points in Team Snooker, placing 4th of 20 only on time vs other dogs who got the same points.

Ran a gorgeous clean Team Jumpers run, placing 3rd of 20.

And popped her dogwalk in the Performance Team Relay, but between Tika and her excellent partner Brenn, after the cumulative 5 rounds, they place second! for a silver medal! among 36 teams at the Regionals. Human Mom is proud and pleased.

Tika's Performance Grand Prix Round 1--I couldn't have been happier; she placed 1st of 19 dogs! And only 3 dogs Qed! It was a tough course.

On Sunday, Tika's Perf Gamblers run was excellent, missing 1st place by only a point, so placing 2nd of 21 for a Q.

Her Performance Steeplechase Round 1 was gorgeous. Not a high placer; one dog had a stunningly perfect run and beat Tika by 3.5 seconds. The times of the 2nd through 7th place dogs ranged between about 39.75 and 40.5 seconds! Yes, in good competition, the times are so bloodly tight that a tenth of a second costs you. But it was plenty good enough for a Q to go on to Round 2.

She did well in Grand Prix round 2, although I didn't signal a threadle well enough, and she veered wayyy away from the correct path, barely missing an off course, and wasting probably 2-4 seconds (hard to tell); still, she placed 4th of the 10 dogs in that round, off 1st place by about 6 seconds. WHich is really an eternity. But I'll take it.

And on Monday, although we didn't quite get all the points we tried for in Pf Snooker, neither did almost anyone else, and our points were high enough for 3rd place out of 32 dogs and another Super-Q. Yesss!

Other than the Jumpers and the Round 2 Steeplechase, the only things she didn't Q in were the two Standard runs--which are proving to be as elusive lately as Jumpers Qs--and they were both so pathetically my fault:
* We were clean almost to the end, then I noticed in periphery that the jump she was about to take didn't have a number on it, and I second-guessed myself on the correct course and pulled her off it. Turns out, of course, it was correct--the cone had just been knocked away from the jump. So an otherwise perfect course marred by a 5-point refusal.
* I left Tika in the weaves and went out for a jump off to the side to manage a tighter turn, trusting her usually awesome weaves to finish the last couple on her own. Apparently took my eyes off her and moved too firmly, because I didn't know that she had popped the last weave until the judge blew the whistle. Other than that, the run was perfect. Sighhhh--

So, summary for Tika: What a wonderful agility girl she was this weekend! Very happy with her. Very sad that she was sore, because usually she loves to play the game.

Boost's weekend

The baby dog (who is now over 4 and a half) is doing SO much better! Continues the last 3 weeks of sudden "I get this game now!" behavior.

Friday night, Pairs Relay, she teamed with her mom. It was very cute--reported that the two of them waiting on the start line to go were like bookends, not only physically resembling each other but with exactly the same eager, ready-to-go pose. Boost knocked one bar near the end of her half, for a 5-second penalty, but between the two of them, they had the 4th fastest time of ALL SIXTY! teams and still placed 6th even with the faults. An awesome way to start the weekend.

Boost's Team runs weren't steller, but OK. Worst one was Snooker: She hit the first red and I froze, ready to push her off the next obstacle if the bar fell. The bar didn't fall, it kind of bounced. So I turned and put her over the next jump--and as she was taking off, the *#&@( bar FELL! So we were whistled off, for 0 points.

(One partner also Eed in Jumpers, and with all of our assorted missteps and issues, we were sure that we weren't going to qualify. What another heartbreaker to discover that, after all was said and done, our total 948 points missed qualifying by 6 points! Oh crap! Just four successfull obstacles in that Snooker run would've qualified us. Or just about anything else that any of us missed on, anywhere in our 5 runs. That's almost worse than missing by a mile.

On Sunday, Boost's Jumpers run was SO ALMOST wonderful; she kept up all her bars but earned a refusal when she ran past a serpentine again. That would be the OLD Boost, but keeping the bars up and not having other refusals or runouts is the NEW Boost.

Her Steeplechase Round 1 was kind of a mess. Oh, well.

Her Gamblers opening was nice although she startled me by missing her weave entry big time, and I had to stop and put my hands on my hips for a moment, so we didn't get as many points as planned, although it would've been good for a placement with the gamble. BUT--She actually did the hard part of the gamble but then was too busy looking at me to take the next jump right in front of her. Sighhh---we'll keep working on that.

But she delighted me by doing fairly nicely on her Standard round--only a few gotchas, like coming up off her elbows on the table, delaying the table count by a few seconds, and a couple of other bobbles that I don't remember--but none of them fatal! So we Qed and even placed as high as 14th out of 94 dogs. Human Mom pretty happy with that Border Collie!

On Monday, we blew Snooker early because I tried to do a wrap and she turned the wrong way then backjumped. But she did keep her bars up.

Then she redeemed herself with a completely flawless Standard run. She went down on the table immediately and stayed down. She stuck all of her contacts AND didn't veer around at the end, so I didn't have to either make her down or try somehow to get around her, so she had to hold them for only a fraction of a second before I released her. Kept her bars up. NO runouts, NO refusals, NO turns in the wrong direction, NO turning and waiting for me to catch up to her. Placing 6th of 79 dogs! Yowza! VERY happy Human Mom! Very talented looking Border Collie!

And so the trial sinks slowly into the sunset--

My knee help up just fine; weather was lovely; rotation groups worked great in keeping the trial moving well without conflicts. The only other bleahhh thing was Boost having diarrhea Friday night, keeping me up a good part of the night, then ending up soiling her crate partway through the day, poor puppy. But she never acted ill; it cleared up just fine, and I slept fantastically Saturday and Sunday night.

Speaking of which--goodnight!

Friday, September 04, 2009

This Weekend--Hopes and Fears

SUMMARY: USDAA Southwest Regional Championship/Qualifier

This weekend my club, The Bay Team, hosts one of the six(?) annual Regional events for USDAA, the oldest and the most interesting and challenging agility venue in the United States.

Until last year, if you took 1st place in Steeplechase or Grand Prix at a regional, you earned a bye into the finals at Nationals. No more; firsts this weekend aren't special. The advantage here is that all qualifiers in Grand Prix or Steeplechase Round 2 earn byes into the semifinals at Nationals.

Of course, first you have to make it to round 2. In Grand Prix, you just have to run clean; in Steeplechase, your time plus faults has to be within 25% of the top 3 dogs' average score. Those Qs count towards titles and send you to the quarterfinals at the nationals (AKA round 1 at the nationals).

However, to get the bye into nationals semis, you have to do well enough in round 2 this weekend in comparison to the other dogs who made it to round 2. In Grand Prix, you have to be in the top 50% (I think, jeez, why isn't that in the premium? That's what it used to be). And in Steeplechase, you have to finish within 15% of the average of the top 3 dogs.

Plus there are all the regular classes.

My fear is--based on last night's performance in class--that I'll be forgetting courses again; I must have forgotten half the courses we ran.

My hope is that the dogs will run as well as they did in class last night. Tika ran two courses at 26" without knocking any bars, for example. Boost is running like a champ.

And once again, I try not to focus on titles too much, but for the record:
* Tika Jumpers Q at 26" completes her silver ADCH (that's like a regular championship 5x over).
* Boost Jumpers Q completes her MAD (master agility dog).
* Tika Performance DAM and either GP or Steeplechase earns her performance tournament master title.
* Boost gamble earns her masters gambler title.
* Tika needs 2 Performance Standards and a performance Jumpers for her performance MAD--of course she can't get the jumpers until she's finished that last one at 26".
* Tika Pairs Relay Q earns her performance masters relay title.
* Boost needs the first-round steeplechase Q to be qualified to run Steeplechase at the nationals. If we go. Which we won't. Unless boost wins round 2 this weekend. (It is to laugh! I laugh, ha ha!)

OK, better go back and get ready for four (groan) days of agility. I won't be online at all (unless I decide to come home one of the 3 nights after all) until Monday evening at the earliest.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Black Mountain Hike Photos

SUMMARY: Another hike sans dogs.

Too hot to take the dogs; not allowed on this trail anyway.

Just a dozen photos of lovely sunsetty scenery with my crappy point-and-shoot here. If you have arachnophobia, watch out for the first photo, which comes up by default.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Focus Pocus

SUMMARY: Nancy Gyes graciously allowed me to post her tribute to Focus. (I was going to excerpt from it, but there's nowhere to shorten.)

"Focus Pocus"

Geri Hernandez' incredible dog Focus died this morning here at Power Paws. He would have been a very young five years old in just a few days.

It was a nice morning, Geri and a couple other friends were here to train, we walked the first course, Focus got warmed up, and Geri ran him through half the course. He did not take a cue to get into a tunnel, and while were laughing at the error, he just dropped to the ground and was gone. We did CPR all the way to the vet, but there was never a moment that he showed any life after that point.

He was such a cool dog; friendly, silly, intelligent, sensitive and curious. When Geri would come for training he would come into my home and like he did anywhere he visited, he had to poke around all over the house, just being nosy and checking out every piece of furniture in every room and stick his nose in every closet. That done he would return and sit in Geri's lap while we visited. It was just so "him".

He was one of the most remarkable agility dogs I have ever met. He read Geri's mind usually and was as biddable and willing a working dog as I have ever met. That is rarely combined with the athleticism, speed and teamwork that he demonstrated every time he competed or was trained.

I never ever saw him miss a weave entry or exit, but I was told he did so once:) And he never failed to make Geri laugh at the occasional errors. He was a star. At 4 years old, and Geri's first time on the World Team, he took 4th place at the FCI World Championships in Finland last year. He was her first border collie, and her first real agility dog. The 4th place finish was the "best ever" for a first time world team member. This was after he won the AKC Nationals at barely 3 years old. He had a couple MACh's, an ADCh, and a lot of friends and admirers in the agility world.

Geri was his biggest admirer, and the rest of us were close seconds. No one was luckier than her to have been owned by a dog like Focus. No one is sadder than her at his loss.


Nancy Gyes, friend to Focus

Very Sad News

SUMMARY: Focus, Geri Fernandez' world team dog, died today.

We just got notice from the world team coach that Focus dropped dead on the agility practice field this morning. They said that he went from alive to gone, in half a second, no sign of life.

Focus, last year's (?) national AKC champion, is one of only four dogs on the U.S. Large Dog World Team (through AKC). World championships start Sept 18.

Focus, an amazing Border Collie, was slightly older than Boost is now. I can't imagine Geri's heartbreak in so many ways.

This is the third Border Collie around here in the last year or so who is gone just like that. A younger dog, out for a hike and swim, dropped dead on the spot. Another friend's older border collie bounded out to the start line, staggered, and collapsed.

In the last case, they found a ruptured tumor on the spleen, likely hemangiosarcoma, same thing that took Remington (and so many other dogs I've mentioned, including Knack, another agility friend's border collie, just last week). I've heard so many stories about dogs with hemangiosarcoma literally dropping dead with no warning. But I don't know that we'll know what causes all of these sudden deaths.

I knew Geri and Focus only slightly, as they're from SoCal. They came up and practiced in our class just a couple of weeks ago. None-the-less, once again I'm gut-punched by another sudden loss.

Here's a video of their amazing collection of runs at the AKC nationals last year. [Sorry for the repost, those who already got this via email.]

He Whispers So Quietly, No One Knows What He's Doing

SUMMARY: A review of Cesar Milan's book.

I knew a bit about Cesar Milan even before someone gave me his book-- from reading & hearing descriptions; had seen a couple of his shows. I knew that most Dog People I know--trainers and behaviorists especially-- think that he's the worst thing to happen to dog training in decades. I wasn't impressed with what I saw; I felt sorry for the dogs, sorry for the owners.

I read his book. There are some things that he says that I like. Dogs need exercise. You must be firm with your dog. OK. That about sums up what I agree with in the whole book. The rest seemed like smoke and mirrors--OK, THAT example seemed to work for him, but really what went on behind the scenes? What happened after he left the room? What happened on the days he DIDN'T write about?--or like just appalling lack of understanding or engaging in all the progress that's been made in companion animal training in recent decades, reverting to I Am The Bigger, Stronger Beast method.

But I'm not an official dog trainer--although I've studied in that direction. I'm not a behaviorist--although I've learned so much by working with people who are, and interacting with so many people and their dogs (and my own six, too).

Here's a review by a professional; it's the most clearly thought-out explanation of why it's a bad book at the very least. (It's near the bottom of this page, which also lists brief reviews of other fairly well-known training books.)

Last Weekend, This Week, This Weekend

SUMMARY: Surviving in agility

Last weekend's summary:

1 Q for Boost out of 9 runs (Pairs. Yeah, well, I got a million of 'em. Need some other kinds of Qs, please, thank you very much).

3 Qs for Tika out of 9 runs (Pairs; Gamblers, in which she placed 2nd of 15; Snooker, in which she placed 2nd of 14 for a Super-Q). Also got 3rd of 17 in the other Gamblers--high opening points but only 2 dogs got the gamble.

Human Mom forgot course or blatantly mishandled, resulting in non-Qs:
3 on Saturday of 10 runs:
* Boost's Standard, overran a rear cross for a refusal, our only fault!
* Tika's Steeplechase, got ahead in wrong place and pulled her offcourse--not our only fault, but our only offcourse fault
* Boost's Steeplechase, forgot where I was going & sent her off course. Boost was clean in what I asked her to do.

3 on Sunday of 8 runs:
* Tika's standard: Forgot to do key front cross, so course looked wrong, so pulled her off obstacle for a refusal. Our only fault.
* Boost's Grand Prix: Tried for a tough serpentine and wasn't even close, causing a chain of disasters on that & ensuing 2 jumps; the rest of the course was clean.
* Boost's Jumpers: Tried to front cross in wrong place, therefore sending boost past a jump that she then backjumped.

I have seldom been so frustrated with myself. I'm not always perfect, but this was one disaster after another.

And then there were the Tika issues--the Tika's Evil Twin issues--
* Tika's Pairs: Missed dogwalk up (ok, sometimes happens) and FLEW off dogwalk down. Luckily we still qualified.
* Tika's Saturday Standard: Knocked 2 bars, FLEW off the dogwalk, FLEW off the Aframe, putting her way ahead of me so she turned back to me instead of taking the next obstacle, earning a refusal.
* Tika's Steeplechase Rd. 1: Hit the broad jump, knocked a bar, flew off the Aframe.
* Tika's Grand Prix: I was on her correct side coming down the dogwalk, working hard to get her to hit the contact, which she did, but barely slowed down and zoomed into the wrong side of the next tunnel although I YELLED "Tika! TIKA! TIKA!!" because I know that "COME!" doesn't work for her. Now, apparently, "Tika!" doesn't, either.
* Tika's Jumpers--only class at 26"--the only Q she STILL needs for her ADCH-Silver--. Got her out early. Used a handful of food plus toy to do bar-knocking drills on a 26" jump. All kinds of angles & directions & crosses & everything. She was great. Then in the run, she knocked the 2nd jump. The rest of course was perfect.

I could hardly believe it; she has been running so beautifully at 22" with hardly a fault. How could my weekend come to this?

I am abashed to admit that I finally could hold it back no more and sat in MUTT MVR for about 10 minutes--twice--and sobbed. It's been a long time since I gave in to that impulse, but in fact it got to where I couldn't NOT cry, and I didn't want to be taking it out on my dogs or on other people. It was so hard to be cheerful with my dogs when I felt like such a failure as a handler and a trainer. And I KNOW that I just came off of two or three really great weekends, and Boost actually ran very well this weekend, and I REALIZE that my dogs are happy, healthy, love doing agility, love being with me, and are still relatively young.

I blame it on 4 hours of sleep Friday night, 5 Saturday night. Various reasons for sleeplessness, a good portion of which was the heat. And I'm sticking to that story. Like I was sticking to the sheets.

So this week I'm just not feeling motivated to practice. (OK, I wasn't feeling motivated last week, either.) I did rearrange things to practice some gambling yesterday based on Saturday's gamble that almost no one got (despite this being the 3rd time in about a year that we've seen almost this exact gamble). And of course dogs did everything perfectly almost every time, even as I made it harder. Bah.

I should be doing a billion rear crosses with Boost. I should be doing a zillion contacts with Tika--although she's always perfect here and in class and seldom in competition, it would be good to get a lot of reminders into her head.

I should at least be doing SOMETHING agility-like with the dogs all week.

BECAUSE this weekend is the Southwest Regional! Three and a half days of agility! In which Boost will not be competing for the gorgeous Grand Prix winners cups because we couldn't get a single bloody grand prix leg all year!

Starting Friday night with Pairs, then all day Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, down in Prunedale again. We're praying it won't be anywhere near as hot as it was last Saturday!

Here's what I've said about Nationals: If Boost wins local GPs and/or Steeplechases, or wins or places at the regionals, I might reconsider going to Nationals. She's been running so much better these last 3 weeks, it seemed like it might be a possibility. But between us, so far no luck. At least she's earned ONE measly mumble mumble Steeplechase Q so far, so can compete in THAT this weekend.

Tika is on a Performance DAM team with our old nationals partner Brenn. They could do well--they have before (won earlier this year; also finals at Nationals a few years back). They could crap out--they have before, and Brenn is coming off of several weeks of rest for an experimental bone marrow transplant (I think) to try to help her recurring arthritis pain. Our team name: "Here We Go Again."

Boost is in a DAM team with new partners Sheila--not super fast but pretty darned reliable black & white Border Collie--and Cayenne--pretty danged fast but (her Human Mom claims) not so reliable--a red and white Aussie. We'll be "Cayenne Boosts a Sheila."

Attendance is down--10% fewer dogs than last year, which had 10% fewer dogs than the year before. Economy? Agility fatigue? Less reason to attend since 1st place no longer earns a bye into the finals at nationals? Dunno.

In 2007: 529 dogs, 340 humans, 4670 runs, 75 championship DAM teams, 41 PVP DAM teams.

In 2008: 487 dogs, 313 humans, 3939 runs, 64 teams, 26 pvps

This year: 430 dogs, 298 humans, 3598 runs, 59 Teams, 37 PVPs

Not that I'm complaining; should make the weekend not quite so long and exhausting, but still--we're losing a bit of that feeling of the Nationals Warm-Up Event for all the people & dogs who show up who might also be at Scottsdale.

I'll be on score table, as usual. I'll be sleeping over in MUTT MVR instead of driving the hour home every evening.

I'll be trying to recapture the I'm Doing This For Fun feeling. Because, really, why else do it? I have enough stress in my life without VOLUNTEERING for more stress.

See you all there.