a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: December 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Taj MuttHall Year In Review: 2009

SUMMARY: Statistics and observations for the year.

Trials competed in: 16. My lowest number since 2000 (with a high of 23 in 2003). So made some progress on my vow to do less agility and more of The Rest of Life.
  • CPE: 4 trials, one of which was only 1 day. Tika didn't participate in 2 because she was sore. Boost didn't participate in one because she was sore.
  • USDAA: 12 trials, one of which was only 1 day.

Runs: 270
  • Tika: 139, 76 of them Qs
  • Boost: 131, 30 Qs
  • CPE: 42, 32 Qs
  • USDAA: 228, 74 Qs

Tika titles earned:
  • GCH-Silver (Gamblers Champion silver, 25 Qs in championship)
  • TM-Platinum (Tournament master platinum, 50 Qs with at least 10 in each tournament class)
  • SACH-Silver (Standard champion silver, 25 Qs)
  • PR3 - Performance3 Relay (equals RM in championship, 5 Qs)
  • ATD - Accomplished Tournament Dog (equals TM in championship, 10 Qs with at least 2 in each of the 3 tournament classes)
  • PK3 - Perf 3 Snooker (equals SM)
  • JCH-Silver (Jumpers Champion silver, 25 Qs)
  • ADCH-Silver (equals 5 ADChs -- 25 Qs in each of 5 regular classes plus tournaments)
  • PG3 -  Perf 3 Gamblers (equals GM)
Boost titles earned:
  • CPE CL4-S (strategy games, level 4)
  • RCH (relay champion--10 Qs)
  • GM (gamblers master--5 Qs)
  • SAM (standard agility master--5 Qs)
  • TM (Tournament master--10 Qs with at least 2 in each of the 3 tournament classes)

  • Tika earned all those P3 titles only between March and September, moving gradually into Perf as she completed silver in each Championship classs.
  • After only 6 months in Performance, Tika is just one Standard Q away from her PD3 (MAD equivalent) and actually needs only 3 standards and 4 Jumpers for her APD (ADCH equivalent).
  • Tika qualified for Nationals in all three tournaments (Steeplechase, Grand Prix, and Team)--in BOTH championship and Performance!
  • Of Tika's 6 performance Snooker Qs so far, 5 have been Super-Qs.
  • Boost qualified in Steeplechase 3 times this year--which is 3x more than she had qualified in her entire preceding agility career. ( I mean, before 2009, she had only ever qualified once.)
  • Boost might hold the record for the most consecutive Masters Jumpers runs with no Q (36). But we keep coming very close--might get some someday!

Buster Cubes cracked open: 1 (as of this morning. Congratulations, butthead Boost.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

PVP Silver Team

SUMMARY: Photos from Labor Day USDAA Regional

Just got these lovely photos from a friend. This is Tika and her Performance DAM Team (AKA Performance Versatility Pairs) partner, Brenn, with their silver medals after coming out 2nd of 36 teams after 5 rounds at the Regionals. One of the high points of our agility career.

P.S. The shirt I'm wearing is our team shirt from when Tika, Brenn, and Skeeter went to the final round at Nationals in Team a couple of years back. Another high point. And I'm SURE that shirt is why we did so well on this day.

(Thanks, Erika, for the photos.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Got Animal? Got Agility?

SUMMARY: Agility is not speciesist.
Agility was invented for dogs. Apparently dogs have such a great time doing it that all kinds of different animals want to get into the act. What did all the species of the world *DO* for entertainment before that fateful exhibit in England in the late 1970s?
Added these additional links January 4, 2010 (thanks, you guys, for the suggestions in the Comments on this original post):
Thinks I haven't found:
  • Pig agility (one pig doing one jump, not worth a view)
  • Snake agility
  • Ostrich agility
  • Other suggestions or links you've found?

Boxing Day Hike

SUMMARY: A-hiking we will go, a-hiking we will go--
The morning after Christmas dawned cold and cloudy, frost on the grass, with rain predicted for the 2:00 hour. I decided to take the Merle Girls for a hike up Coyote Peak, which we haven't done since August, I think. However, as I'm recovering from a cold, we didn't start at the base and go up 1000 feet. Instead, we started on the hunchback between the two Santa Teresa County Park peaks at just under 600 feet. Coyote Peak is at 1150. We took some alternative trails so did some extra upping and downing, so still probably got in 700 or 800 foot cumulative gain over about 3 and a half miles.

On the way up, you can tell it's winter because the hillsides spring to green life after the rains begin.

Boost (and Tika, too) wanted to graze constantly. Really, I do feed them.

The skies looked like they might be thinking about possibly considering getting ready to rain, but nothing imminent.

Boost is such a mama's girl; didn't want to stay within the friend's control even long enough for me to snap a photo.

To the east, Mount Hamilton (at over 4,000 feet) and its observatory moved in and out of clouds and fog.

We made it! I'm not as tired as I thought I might be after three or four weeks with hardly any walking or hiking or agility (between Tika's sore toe and the holidays and all--), and of course the dogs are hardly even breathing heavily.

Compare to the same scene from August (read the post):

I could zoom in on downtown San Jose to our north, but it remained somewhat obscured by overcast and moisture-laden air. Fog hovers over the southern end of San Francisco Bay much to its north.

Someone who'd been here before us had played numerous games of tic-tac-toe in the soil atop the mountain.

I posed the Merle Girls for some nice, green-grass, mountain-backed photos.

Sharing the top of Coyote Peak:

And as we were getting ready to descend, the sun began breaking out from behind the clouds, and Mount Hamilton and Lick Observatory lit up brilliantly against the dark skies behind.

Arachnophobes, watch out for the next photo--as we descended towards the parking lot, my friend asked what was that on Tika's face? A tick, crawling along, looking for some good canine real estate. When we got back to the van, I spent about ten minutes plucking ticks off the dogs (mostly Tika, mostly her legs and face) and tossing them aside downwind--sorry, whoever comes into the parking lot next! Could've gone looking for rocks to crush them, but it was taking long enough to detick as it was.

When we got home, I filled a tiny Dixie cup with alcohol and began combing the dogs for ticks. Most came from Tika (her nice dense soft fur is apparently very attractive to ticks; Boost's sparser, harsher coat apparently doesn't attract or hold them as much). I never stopped finding them--pulled off about 40 over the next hour to hour and a half of constant looking. My back and arms finally just couldn't take it any more. I checked their heads and necks periodically for the rest of the evening, found one or two more each time, until finally the last time I looked I didn't see any *in that area* (which is the most attractive to them), so I called it quits and have kept my fingers crossed. The good thing is that they keep wandering around for hours and hours looking for location location location, so they're very easy to remove the first day, haven't even started trying to bite yet.

We did not have that tick problem back in August. But I was also more careful then about keeping the dogs out of the grass, and this time I not only didn't try, I actually encouraged them to lie there! Doh!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Photos of Holidays Past and Present

SUMMARY: Those were the days, my friend--and so are these.



(The one in the middle here is on the left in the preceding photo.)

1966 - Sam still puppyish

(Me in long blonde hair. Dad in blue plaid shirt.)

1978 - Amber comes home

(Me in long blonde hair.)

1983 - Sheba and Amber

2001 - A rare three-dog Christmas (Jake, Tika, Remington)

2009 - The Merle Girls


(Mom in green, Dad in back.)


(Mom in white, Dad in blue plaid shirt (some things NEVER change!). And these are the sisters and the cousins and they number up by dozens and the aunts!)

Who Eats Better?

SUMMARY: In which we analyze our Christmas goodies.

So, really, who eats better, dogs or us?
These are the doggie treats Tika couldn't keep her saliva off yesterday:

"You will be begging your dog for a taste!" No fooling! *I* start salivating every time I see them sitting on the table. And get this:

There's no liver or pork belly byproducts or anything else dog-like in here. So the big questions are:
  • Why was Tika so convinced those were dog treats?
  • Can I eat one? I mean, they were a gift TO Tika and Boost from my cousin's dogs, not to me. Would that be thievery? Do I have to ask permission? I know Tika would want them all for herself given a real option.

Now, students, compare and contrast to the peopleie treats that Human Mom received:

Extra credit: WHAT peopleie treats did Human Mom receive?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thanks, Santa!

SUMMARY: Do you detect a theme among some of our gifts?
Tika had no trouble at all identifying which one would be more appreciated by Dogs than by Humans. And she'd like to start appreciating as soon as possible, thank you very much.

Christmas at Taj MuttHall

SUMMARY: It's a beautiful morning.
  • Frost on the grass that melts the moment it's touched by the sun. The sky is brilliant blue; not a cloud to be seen.
  • The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has declared this a Spare The Air Day. We must restrain ourselves from burning that Yule log as long as the weather conditions insist on trapping everything in the valley for us to try to inhale. It's still SO much better than it was 30 years ago.
  • The Merle Girls took Human Mom for a walk to the park this morning and rejoiced in frisbee in the dew-laden grass until even Boost didn't want to run any more. Tika wore her bootie on her erstwhile sore foot and there's no sign of soreness at all. HOOOOOray.

  • Gifts are wrapped (although some still don't have ribbons or bows).
  • I get to see my WHOLE family this afternoon! Two years in a row--it's a miracle. Might try for another photo if they're actually all in the same building at the same time.
  • I say: "Dog bless us, every one."
  • Daneen says: "Wreck the halls with Dals and Collies!" (Or: "Wreck the halls with cows on dollies," for those absurdists among you.)
  • Mallary says: "Hope you're having a great dane!  All the best for the howlidays and the new year!"
  • Tracey says: "Fleas Navidog!"

Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, and the best of everything to all of you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Best Corgi Christmas Photo Ever

SUMMARY: Just go look.

Corgi channels christmas tree.

Oooh, thanks! many muddy paws for permission to repost it here.

Holiday Music from Taj MuttHall

SUMMARY: Only the best hijacked and misused lyrics from KTMH.

I needn't burst into "Bark us all bow-wows of folly," as Pogo already did that many years ago.

Instead, while shaking and rattling our lovely jolly ball in the yard and listening to the dogs' collar tags jingle, we came up with:

Jingle tags, jingle tags, jingle all the day,
Oh what fun it is to play at tug-of-war this way,
Jingle tags, jingle tags, jingle all the day,
Oh what fun it is to play at tug-of-war this way!

Dashing through the yard with our fav'rite jolly ball,
Running very hard, trying not to fall.
Our bods are lean and lank, have great mobility.
You know what we have to thank--it's dog agility!

Oh, jingle tags (etc.)

OK, back to the drawing board--

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Soooo Close On Top Ten, But Noooo

SUMMARY: Tika's injuries take us out of it.
With USDAA events entered through the end of November, Tika has dropped to 11th place in Snooker Top Ten and tied for 12th in Gamblers Top Ten. Because of her sore toe, we couldn't compete Dec 12-13 with a chance to pick up more Gamblers and Snooker points.

Not sure whether there's have been enough Top Ten points to push us back up in there even if we placed, but maybe. Ten dogs, that would be 5 points for a first place, 3 for a 2nd. 5 might have pushed us back into range, but the odds of us actually winning either or both were smallish--we've been doing 2nd place about as often. And of course many of the other dogs are likely competing in December as well, picking up more points. So, ah, well, it could've been our year. But at least--We'll always have Pairs.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Boost and Tika Just Because

SUMMARY: A few gratuitous photos from earlier in December.

Tika at the Sylvia Trkman handling seminar, wishing she were the one running with Human Mom.

Boost at the Trkman seminar, taking careful mental notes for her next course run. The mature Masters-level dog.

Boost in our hotel room at the Santa Rosa trial, playing with the other Border Collie. Really, honest to goodness, she's playing. She shows so much toothage when she wrestles with other dogs. Not looking so Mastery maturey now, are we, cupcake?

In Three Days It'll Be Christmas Eve

SUMMARY: Welcome to winter in San Jose.
My Christmas tree is up--smells great. Not clear whether I'll actually get around to decorating it before Christmas. Hope I can at least get the lights on. (I traditionally leave it up until Twelfth Night, so that's not so bad.)

Good thing I got the Merle Girls holding down my stack of leaves this morning; now it's pouring outside. Oh the weather outside is frightful...Let it rain! Let it rain! Let it rain!

Candyland Agility

SUMMARY: Best gingerbread house of the year.
For those of you who haven't finished assembling your gingerbread or candy house yet this year--and who among us has?--here's fellow Bay Teamer Tania's (and spouse's) offering as an inspiration to you. As San Jose Sharks fans, they provided a rink on which the Sharks can practice (because they need all the practice they can get), but even better a whole agility yard! With sugar-coated Aframe, candy-cane weave poles, and a red licorice jump bar balanced on life-saver uprights. I'll bet Santa will have trouble getting his reindeer back to work after they have a chance to play here! (Remember you can always click photos here for larger versions.)

(Thanks, Tania, for letting me use your photo. This is SO cool. Brings back memories of the creative candy houses my dad made for us every year.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Going To Agility Class

SUMMARY: I love going to agility class and here's why.
Agility class is way across the valley, up a winding road into the hills. At certain times of the day, the commute is a bear. And that long and winding road is, well, long and winding. When I first started (1995(!)), I desperately tried to get anyone at all to make that drive with me, it was SOOO long and SOOO far away.

After all these years of driving it once, twice, or even three times a week, I no longer think anything of it. Really, if weather and traffic are at their best, it's only about a 20-minute drive.

And I love going. Oh, sure, so very often these days I am stressed about how much I have to do and how little time I have, and if I were to stay home for 3 hours instead of going to class (10 minutes to close up the house & computer & get treats & such, 25 minute drive there, 15-20 minutes to potty the dogs and get set up, 90 minutes class, 15 minutes to take off shoes, put away dogs, etc., 25 minutes back down the hill... it adds up) then I'd be able to get so much more done.

But saner heads prevail (as in dogs who will be INsane if I don't go). Plus I pay for it whether I go or not. Waste not, want not.

No matter how stressed and overwhelmed I am before class, how tight my chest is on my drive up the hill, by the end of the evening I am relaxed, breathing easily, cheerful, imbued with a feeling of having accomplished something of value.

The evening is structured, so I don't have to make major decisions. I have to listen and watch and learn. I have to figure out how to handle a course--but with ample confirmation and assistance from the instructor.

Sometimes I'm frustrated with my dogs or myself. Like last night, that serpentine into the tunnel with Boost where she knocked the bar every time no matter what I did. Or coming out of the tunnel and wrapping over the jump, where she knocked the bar every time no matter what I did. Shades of some of my futile bar-knocking exercises at home! But I had an expert watching and helping who could confirm that I was doing the right thing, and identify what the dog was doing, and give some suggestions for later.

A safe, helpful, useful environment.

The view from Power Paws is stunning. Last night, instead of seeing miles and miles of sparkling valley lights, we saw only a swath of lights around the valley's perimeter surrounding a mysteriously dark center. We gathered at the edge of the field to observe, and realized that low-lying fog had obscured many square miles of homes and businesses. The instructor talked about some of the things he's seen in the weather patterns from their aerie on the top of the hill as we stood together, wondering and admiring.

And there are the friends. We chitchat a bit, we joke in class, we laugh often--far more than I do in my regular everyday life.

Last night we had a reunion of our old Wendesday Night 8:15 class, who got to be so tight together. Then Lisa's dog broke (structural issues), and I couldn't manage 2 classes a week any more so dropped that one, and Jenn got a new puppy and decided to focus on him instead of her older dog, and Ashley moved to the world-team class on a different night...

But last night we all came up to celebrate Ashley and Luka's triumph from last weekend's AKC Invitational. (He not only won all four preliminary rounds, but won them with the fastest times of any dogs in any height at the event; then he won the final round with the fastest time of any other dog in any other finals group. Pretty big achievement.)

He brought his crystal bowl engraved with the 16" Winner title, and his gigantic blue and purple ribbon, which I could hardly take my eyes off because I looooovvvve blue and purple. Classmates brought food that nearly overflowed the small tables out in the field that PP keeps on hand for the occasional treat. We feasted on grasshopper pie, tamales, crackers, various cheeses and sausages, guacamole, chips, a variety of drinks...gosh, only 24 hours later and I can't remember it all.

We ate and chatted and congratulated Ash multiple times. Now I know how a small town feels when the boy next door becomes the starring Superbowl quarterback. We're all so proud, even though we really had nothing to do with his success, which was all his own hard work. Makes us feel good. Maybe we hope his skill and success will rub off on us. We all fondled the ribbon and the bowl, and he didn't even try to stop us.

As I drove home, I realized--dang! how could I not have taken any photos!-- but also how lucky I am to have such a wonderful place to go with my dogs, such an excellent opportunity for bonding with my dogs and my friends, for learning something new, for getting some exercise and fresh air, for relaxing and stretching and getting back in touch with the reality that there's more to life than just getting things done at work and around the house.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Are There So Many Agility Organizations?

SUMMARY: In some parts of the U.S., you have almost a dozen sanctioning organizations, or "flavors," to choose from. So--why?

NOTE May 18, 2024: I just reread this and realized that many listed items have changed or gone away. Someday maybe I'll update this... -Taj MuttHall ... OK, I just added or marked things in red that I know have changed. But I've been out of the sport for several years.

In my previous post, I listed the various organizations that provide rules under which people can compete and earn titles in dog agility. So, why so many flavors?

Let me ask you this: Why so many types of vanilla ice cream? There's regular vanilla. There's premium vanilla. There's low-fat vanilla. Sugar-free vanilla. Vanilla bean. French vanilla. Vanilla with chocolate chips. Vanilla with cookie dough. OK, which of those would you regularly stock in your freezer? Which would you never touch with a ten-foot set of weave poles? Sure, they're all vanilla, but the differences are important.

The agility organizations are just like that. Sure, they're all dog agility, but the differences are important.

Here are just a few examples (note that I'm not fluent in many of the organizations so most examples are with those I'm more fluent in):
  • How often do the rules and/or the equipment specs change? Examples: 
    • USDAA has a reputation for moving slowly and ponderously, much to many people's frustration (just ask about allowing 24"-spaced weave poles, to name one). ]
    • UKI tries  to manage flexibility and communication when changes are proposed.
    • NADAC has a reputation for changing things frequently, seemingly at the drop of a hat. 
    • Either of those extremes can drive people nuts, especially club organizers and equipment purchasers.
  • What equipment is allowed?  Examples:
    • NADAC has disallowed the teeter-totter and spread jumps as dangerous. And the closed chute and maybe others? They also added hoops and maybe others
    • UKC allows (even requires) the swing plank, sway bridge, and crawl tunnel, which none of the other organizations do. 
    • USDAA allows double (2014?) and triple spread jumps
    • Some people don't want their dogs doing certain equipment--or DO want their dogs doing certain equipment.
  • What are the specifications for individual obstacles? For example, 
    • NADAC prohibits slats on the aframe and dogwalk as safety hazards (dogs stub toes, break nails, etc).
    • USDAA requires them as safety elements (prevents slipping, gives dogs better grip going up, etc.)  2014: I believe that USDAA now requires rubberized contacts without slats.
    • CPE allows either one but the club is supposed to state it in its premiums. Some people feel that slatless dogwalks confuse their dogs versus the teeter. Some people feel it makes no difference.  
    • As another example, the length of the yellow zones on the contact obstacles vary. If you have a long-strided dog with a running contact, you might prefer CPE's longer contact zones over USDAA's.  USDAA's Aframe was considerably higher (therefore steeper) and NADAC's considerably lower (therefore more running than climbing) than "average" for a long time.
  • How obsessive are the rules? For example, 
    • AKC has become extremely strict (some say unreasonable) in stating exactly when you must remove the leash from your dog at the start line, what you can and can't do at the start line, and what penalties you face if you don't leash your dog immediately at the finish line. 
    • USDAA is much more relaxed, although all organizations want the dogs under reasonable control.
  • How many faults are allowed and what kind? For example,
    • in USDAA Jumpers and Standard, your run must be clean to earn a Q, even at the Starters level. 
    • In CPE Jumpers and Standard, you can earn Qs with a variety of faults, which decrease as you go up in levels. 
    • USDAA and AKC count runouts and refusals; CPE and NADAC don't. 
    • USDAA judges the up contacts as well as the down contacts; I think that most or all other organizations don't.
  • How high does your dog have to jump?  
    • All organizations base the jump height on the dog's shoulder height and then some throw in extra qualifiers (length of dog's back versus legs, age of dog, etc.). But where they divide the jump heights and how high those heights are varies considerably. 
    • For example, my dog Tika must jump 26" in USDAA unless I move her to Performance, where she can jump 22".  Boost must jump 22", unless I move her to Performance, where she can jump 16". 
    • In CPE, Tika's *regular* jump height is 20" and Boost's is 16"; CPE gives two additional tracks of competition, one 4" lower than regular, the other 8" lower than regular. So I could in theory jump Tika at 12" and Boost at 8". 
    • Some people do not want their dogs jumping the higher required jumps or their dogs simply can't jump the higher jumps, usually for structural reasons (some dogs aren't built for jumping).
  • What's the atmosphere like at trials? 
    • CPE participants generally find that it's a relaxed atmosphere.  CPE has so many levels and height groupings and low qualifying requirements that lots and lots of people earn Qs and placement ribbons. In addition, CPE trials tend to be smaller--CPE allows clubs to limit entries.  
    • USDAA events tend to be intense. USDAA has many fewer levels and fewer height groupings, so placements are harder to come by. USDAA trials can be huge; USDAA does not allow clubs to limit entries. Around here, 3- and 4-ring trials are not uncommon.
    • UKI--people seem to think it's friendlier? Wayyy back I judged a couple of novice trials for UKI, so I don't really have enough experience.
  • What are the courses like? 
    • NADAC and ASCA courses tend to be open and flowing. 
    • CPE courses tend to be small and generally fairly simple. USDAA courses are usually large (using most or all of the 100x100-foot field) and can be technically challenging. 
    • AKC has a bit of a reputation for tight, choppy courses. 
    • UKI wants fast, flowing, challenging courses that don't jerk the dogs around a lot.
    • Teacup courses are designed exclusively for small dogs, who may have a variety of challenges on courses on which much larger dogs also run.
  • How fast does your dog have to be? 
    • CPE's course times are extremely generous. 
    • USDAA has some classes that require that your dog be in the top 15% in his class to earn a Q. 
    • NADAC times are extremely tight; your dog had better be fleet of foot, particularly in the upper levels.
  • What variety of classes are offered? 
    • AKC for the longest time offered only Standard and Jumpers; recently added the FAST (sort of gambly like). 
    • USDAA offers Standard, Jumpers, Gamblers, Snooker, Pairs Relay, and the tournaments Steeplechase, Grand Prix, and DAM Team (although the tournament classes are really just slight variants on the regular 5 classes). Also in late 2000s (?) added Masters classes, standard and jumpers, intended to be technically complex and modeled more on European courses.
    • CPE offers 7 different classes, some of which are similar to USDAA classes and some of which are entirely their own. 
    • NADAC offers 6 or 7 classes (I've lost track), which  are mostly different from those offered anywhere else. 
    • UKI offers classes similar to what you might find in USDAA or AKC.
    • Some people (like me) love the variety. Some people (particularly those who start in AKC) find the variety intimidating and prefer the clarity of simply  numbered courses.
  • Are mixed breeds allowed to compete? 
    • As of late 2000s, AKC allows mixed breeds in sports such as agility. Can you say "AKC" (not)? Other organizations don't care what your dog looks like, as long as she's healthy and sound and old enough.
  • Do you want to compete at the top of the sport, possibly including internationally?  
    • AKC's program is affiliated with the FCI for their world championships. 
    • UKI agility started in the U.S. in the mid 2000s. It is based on the English UKA. Has grown immensely in popularity since [as of 2014]. Not sure about international competitions
    • USDAA's program is affiliated with the IFCS, lesser-known and not [yet] as prestigious.
    • CPE has no international affiliation. It's not a particularly competitive venue. Only a few of those who are at the level where they could be finalists at AKC or USDAA national events will compete in CPE trials. 
    • Some people feel that competing against the best that the sport has to offer helps them to improve their own performance. Others prefer not to have to compete against those who have made agility competition their primary focus.
    • There are I think 2 or 3 other international competitions besides the FCI now, and that's all I can tell ya.
I could list many other chocolate chip or low-fat variations, but this should give you an idea. Now time for some nice peppermint-stick ice cream.

Monday, December 14, 2009

nYAAO! Yet ANother Agility Organization

SUMMARY: In case the umpteen variants currently available aren't enough for you, here's another one coming your way.

Noted agility seminarists Greg Derrett and his significant other, the formerly Bay Area local person Laura Manchester [Derrett], are bringing their new agility organization to the U.S. You can read about it on the UKI (UK Agility International) web site.

That's  in case you aren't already flush with conflicting rules and equipment in these other umpteen agility organizations, almost all of which are available here in profusion although perhaps not in your neighborhood (in alphabetic order):

  • AKC (American Kennel Club's program)
  • ASCA (Australian Shepherd Club's program--rules are what NADAC used to be)
  • CPE (Canine Performance Events)
  • DOCNA (Dogs On Course North America)
  • NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council)
  • TDAA (Teacup Dog Agility Association)
  • UKC (United Kennel Club's program)
  • USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association)
And that's not to mention the Canadian org's if one happens to live in that vicinity. And if you compete internationally, there's the FCI and the IFCS agility venues as well. Eeeegads.

I'm not saying that any existing agility organization is perfect or couldn't use improvement. UKI might be the be-all and end-all of agility that solves every issue that anyone has ever had with agility and people would be willing to drop their lifetime title pursuits in other organizations to start over there. But wait, how about this: Hey, the Bay Team is a big organization with a lot of ideas and experience; maybe we should start our own flavor of agility, because WE know how to DO IT RIGHT!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Boost Title Surprises!

SUMMARY: Boost has two new titles! Sort of--

Unusually for me, I am way behind in updating my run-tracking database. I just went back through my notes from this fall and discovered that Boost earned her Gamblers Master title back at the end of October! (That's 5 Masters Gambles.)

And that she earned enough tournament Qs this fall, including this weekend's DAM Team Q, to complete her Tournament Master title! (That's 10 tournament Qs, with at least two in each of the three.)

So she has:

Standard Master (5 Qs) plus 4 extra (one more for Standard Champion)
Relay Champion (10 Qs) plus 3 extra (two more for RCh-Bronze)
Gamblers Master (5 Qs)
Tournament Master (10 tournament Qs)
Snooker: 4 regular Qs and NO Super-Qs (needs 3 for the Master title)

Anyway, pleasant surprise to add those titles. And now really to bed.

Gamblin' Boost

SUMMARY: Q in Team, good and almost great in Gamblers, and... that's it.

Boost's story this weekend included many chapters of knocked bars, popping out at the end of the weaves, and checking back with me constantly instead of taking jumps. Oh, yeah, and several runouts. Drat. Back to square two on all counts. How many times do I have to fix her weave poles, fer crying out loud? But she was fast and happy and her start line stay and contacts were spot on.

Saturday's classes consisted entirely of the three-dog DAM Team event. (All 3 dogs do 4 individual events, then combine for a relay, and the combined scores determine whether you earn a Team Q.) Recently, USDAA started allowing your performance in the individual events to count towards Qs for your Lifetime Achievement awards, but you have to be within (are you tired of this formula yet?) 15% of the average scores of the top 3 dogs in your height/class.

In Team Standard, Boost knocked 2 bars and popped the weaves, which I had to fix. Not fatal in Team; it's off courses in Team that kill you. Both her teammates did better than Boost and also ran without off courses, which is a pretty good grouping for Team.

In Team Gamblers, Boost had a pretty good opening--would've been better without 2 knocked bars and me forgetting which side of the teeter I wanted to be on to pick up another 5 points, oh, well, and then we were in perfect position for the gamble. We picked up a 20-point gamble (there were 10, 20, and 30 point choices), which was pretty good as not many dogs at all got the 20 or 30 pointers and quite a few didn't even manage the 10. We ended up placing 4th in 22" out 40 dogs, and her teammates were close behind her at 7th and 12th, so after Standard & Gamblers our team was in 4th place out of 25 teams.

Team Snooker knocked us back a bit, we thought--all three of us scored in the 30-to-40 range (with 4 reds available meaning that in theory 59 points were possible), but a late rush of dogs not wanting to do well in Snooker left us down a bit overall but not by much. (Boost spent the opening doing runouts and "what, THIS obstacle?" dances and in the closing got whistle for running past a jump.)

Team Jumpers we were all a bit worried about; very fast dogs with a couple of really wide-open stretches of just plain running plus tough call-offs. Boost knocked 2 bars and popped out at the end of the weaves (sound familiar?) but we did not off-course. Both our teammates Eed with off courses, so even our crappy run turned out to be the saving run for us.

And in the 3-dog relay, Boost knocked only one bar and, just for variation, headed into the weave poles but turned back at the last moment to see what I was up to, earning a refusal, but her teammates ran very nicely and again none of us off-coursed, which is also excellent for Team Relay. We ended up Qing fairly solidly, placing 7th of 25 teams after combining the scores for all 5 classes. Thanks, Lucy and Beadle!

Sunday, in Grand Prix, I apparently moved too soon and pulled Boost past a serpentine jump for a runout, then getting her back over it, she knocked the bar and then another one (2 jumps again). She did do the weaves OK, but the preceding obstacle was the chute and she somersaulted out of that--never seen her do that before--so it wasn't a pretty approach to the weaves.

In Steeplechase, we had two sets of weaves. She knocked--yes--2 bars, did the first set of weaves beautifully, ran past 2 jumps that we had to go back for, and then the last set of weaves she popped out at the end again and I didn't catch it before going on, so we Eliminated there, too.

Master Snooker wasn't awful--we placed 8th of 32 dogs, but it still wasn't a Q (one point short) and that's for two reasons: (1) She knocked a bar on a 7-pointer in the opening, so we didn't get those 7 points, and then she spent half the course checking back in with me instead of just &#*@(% going over the jump in front of her! Wasted SO much time. So by the time we got to #7 in the closing-- a 4-part combo--by the time she knocked a bar in the middle of it (2 bars again), our time's-over buzzer sounded. But so many people crapped out so early in this snooker, as I said, it was still a pretty good run given this particular course.

Master Gamblers. Sighhhhhh. Do you ever see a gambler's opening where the high-point course is so obvious to you that you think it's most everyone's going to do the same thing and the really really fast & good dogs are going to get in even more obstacles than you, and then you watch almost everyone do something different from yours and come in much lower than your plan--which should be 48 if you do it absolutely perfectly, although I really expected 47? Like people were getting in the 32-42 range mostly.

Well. So. It was our kind of course. And we did it perfectly right up to the obstacle before the gamble. That was a jump that would've been our 48th point. I actually expected the whistle (to start the gamble) to blow before we got to it, and I shot her over it and the whistle still hadn't blown, so I changed direction abruptly trying to figure out what other obstacles I could take, blown away that we still had time left over, and she knocked the bar.

And we were racing *away* from the gamble when the whistle finally blew. Turned and headed back, but we approached awkwardly to the first jump, and she did a bunch of "this jump?" kinds of things without actually looking straight at it, so the judge didn't call a refusal, and she sailed over it without knocking it.

The gamble included three jumps and a set of weaves, and the way we'd been going, I didn't expect her to actually do it, or to do it with faults. But she went fromthe jump to the weaves, did the weaves perfectly, did the next jump perfectly, and then danced around in front of me instead of going to the last jump, and when I finally got her turned around, the whistle blew as she was in the air for the last jump. All that wasted time-- just about a second over time. So no Q.

BUT out of 70 Masters dogs, one dog got 48 in the opening and one other got 47 in the opening. So I certainly can't complain about our execution on that part of the course!

The weather provided off and on rain showers all day Saturday and into Sunday morning, but not awful downpours. The weather was cold but not anywhere near freezing.

Tika got to come out of her crate to practice tricks instead of doing agility, but probably not nearly as much as I should've done with her. No sign of sore toe, but Saturday mid-morning she came out of her crate hunched over and not wanting to do tug-of-war like she does when her neck gets sore. And I'd been blaming doing agility for aggravating the neck. Apparently not. She remained off the rest of the day, but Sunday was absolutely fine again.

It occurred to me that Remington exhibited the same kind of seemingly-out-of-nowhere hunching over and then the next day fine several times before we discovered that he had that hemangiosarcoma tumor on his heart. It's a little scary, actually, how much it reminded me of that. Now I have to decided whether I want to pay the huge bucks for a screening ultrasound to find out whether there's anything there. I'm particularly sensitive since we've had so many dogs in our club die of hemangiosarcoma in the last year or two.

Hate to end the post on that worried note-- But we are all home safely, dogs are already dozing off (even though they got all that great crate rest at the trial and on the drive home), so I will sign off and head to my own comfy bed now, too.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods to Agility We Go

SUMMARY: To Santa Rosa in near-freezing temps for a USDAA trial.

Tika's not competing this weekend because of her sore toe. The trial is an interesting mix of events: DAM Team and Strategic Pairs on Saturday, then rounding out the Tournament classes, Steeplechase and Grand Prix on Sunday, along with Snooker and Gamblers.

So, no Jumpers. No chance for Boost to finally get that first Masters Jumpers leg to cmoplete her MAD. Ah, well, just as well, gives me a chance to work on bar knocking and stuff again later. Because in gamblers, dropped bars don't matter so much (as long as it's not in the gamble), and in snooker they matter somewhat but it's still possible to Q with a dropped bar. Probably not Super-Q, which is what we need, but still. (And maybe Santa Rosa will break my dry streak of Super-Qs for Boost; worked for Tika a few years back and then she got several in a row. Who knows.)

Grand Prix, dropped bars do prevent you from Qing; Steeplechase a dropped bar might not prevent you from Qing if you're really fast (which Boost is) and don't make any other mistakes, so that's OK.

And in Team, dropped bars for the most part don't count against you very much (except if it causes a really low score in Snooker).

So it's a good weekend for a dog who knocked bars like crazy in class wednesday night and I don't have time to go out and work those exercises today.

Plus it's danged cold. At least overnight in Santa Rosa it's supposed to drop only to mid-40s (4.4 C) instead of mid-30s (-1.1 C) like last night. I am NOT sleeping in my van this time around, as convenient as it may be.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dang and Tree

SUMMARY: No agility for Tika. So we found ourselves a tree instead.

Tried Tika over just a few obstacles, jumps at 16" and then 12", in class tonight. Boom, came up limping again. So that's it for her for a few weeks; obviously this isn't going to recover quickly. Scratched her completely from this weekend's trial.

Boost: Knocked bars bars bars. Must do drills the next 2 days. Argh. Cold. Wet. Grumpy.

So, as a pick-me-up, guess what we grabbed on our way home this afternoon?

Boost helped.

But guess who still had to drive.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Silvia Trkman Tricks Seminar

SUMMARY: We'll have fun fun fun till our human puts the goodies away.

Last week, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, I had the opportunity to do something that I almost never do any more: Sit in over an hour's worth of ugly traffic to make a 35-mile drive.

Ha! But that's not the only thing. I used to teach Remington tons and tons of tricks. I loved it. Loved adding to his ever-growing list of things he could do. The usual stuff: Hold a biscuit on his nose and walk, sit up, wave, limp, jump onto anything I pointed to, say his prayers, be embarrassed, count, do figure 8s around my legs, play the tuba... you know. Except for playing the tuba, not really. But agility gradually took over my brain. Now when I want to fine-tune something, it's usually weave entries or contact speed or rear crosses or playing the saxophone.

Ha! Kidding about the saxophone, too, none of my dogs play instruments. But now that you mention it, that would be a good trick to work on.

Anyway, I audited two nights of Silvia Trkman's tricks seminar. Tricks were geared towards stretching, balance, targeting, and other nifty things that are extremely useful to agility dogs (but are fun for ANY dog). A Bay Team member has a lovely indoor facility (Javadog Training Center), which is extremely rare here in sunny California, and so we could work on a cold, dark winter's evening in a beautiful indoor setting.

She gave brief descriptions of each trick, explained a little about how to shape the trick, then let all the participants work on the trick for about 15 minutes. She said that an "operant" dog (that's actually Susan Garrett's term, not one Silvia used) should be able to learn any one of her tricks in about that amount of time. Several dogs did pretty good; several others really had little or no experience shaping and few or no tricks.

At least my dogs are fairly operant because I dink around with shaping them to do stuff from time to time.

Because I had just picked up Tika from the vet the first night, she and Boost were there with me, hidden in the back of the room where we wouldn't get in the way of the paid participants. So I took the opportunity to work on my own dogs with some of the tricks without assistance from the instructor.

I think I'm pretty good at shaping. Not an expert, but I can coax some things pretty quickly out of my dogs. Sometimes I get stuck--more in a moment--and half of being able to shape well is to figure out how to get around your dog's mental blocks.

One trick was to have the dog grab a pole with her front leg and hold it (picture them sitting up and doing this with a teddy bear. Very cute). In one session, I made great progress with both Tika and Boost in the time others were working with just their one dog. They weren't quite holding it yet, but I was out of time.

Another one I worked on a little was having Tika do a figure 8 BACKWARDS around my legs. I picked her for this one because she already does backwards on command (I use "beep beep beep" like for a truck backing up) and she already does figure 8s around my legs. This was tough to get started. Silvia had suggested standing against a wall or corner so that, when the dog backs up, the only place she can go is through your strategically placed legs. Well, Tika backed up against the wall and stayed there. Took me a while to figure out what angle of approach worked and what stance of my own helped. I got her to do one backup through my legs two or three times, and I was sweating at the end of it.

Another I worked on was having Boost ricochet off my torso. Silva started by having people teach the dog to jump onto your lap and then into your arms while you're standing. The trick for that, she said, was to get the dog to be turning his head as he arrived at you, because it's much easier to catch a dog who's sideways to you than coming straight on. Lucky me, when I taught Boost to jump into my arms, she figured out that turning bit on her own. So I just needed to expand on that.

I started by placing myself at an angle on a chair (no actual lap) and encouraging her to jump up, then throwing a toy and telling her to get it as she turned. Gradually I stood up more and more, continuing to throw the toy but still with a slight bend in my legs so she had somewhere to land and still catching her slightly, but not impeding her in immediately going for the toy. We made good progress, I think, but I worked up a sweat on that one, too.

The most popular tricks that she had people start on--and that I think we're going to see a lot more of in our area--were the dog standing on 2 legs. Sure, on their hind legs, that's pretty easy to shape. But how about doing a handstand? As it turns out, shaping that's not too bad, either. But how  about standing on the legs on one side of the body? Or kittycorner legs? She demonstrated with her own Pyrenean Shepherd, La. So wonderful to watch! And now I have ideas on how to shape it. (E.g., for kittycorner, you teach one rear leg up and then while they're doing that, you ask for a shake on the opposite front leg, assuming they already know that, too.)

Silvia didn't go into this sort of detail, but did mention in conjunction with other things some of the key pieces in shaping (for anyone who hasn't taken a seminar in shaping or read a good book on it) include:
* Breaking things down into really really tiny pieces, as small as needed to make progress.
* Being able to reward the dog regularly, every few seconds, or the dog can become frustrated or bored and progress halts.
* Timing. You have to click (or say "yes!") at the instant that the behavior you want occurs, not a moment before or after.
* Patience to start with, for the dog to do *anything* *anywhere near* what you want.
* Click for behavior, reward for position.

For example, another one I worked on with Boost was walking backwards. To shape this behavior, I started with the dog standing up facing me (I was sitting for better view of her feet) and waited for the tiniest movement backwards. People often want too much. I start with half a fraction of an inch backwards with even one foot, which dogs usually do fairly quickly as they're looking at you and figuring out what you want. So I'm watching her feet, not any other part of her body, so I can click at the instant that any foot moves backwards a millimeter.

Immediately after the click, I reward for position: I don't want her to come towards me, as that defeats the lesson of going backwards away from me. So I toss a treat between her front legs, so that to get it, she has to take another step backwards. When she does that (even if she doesn't have the first treat yet), I click again and toss another treat between her front legs. If the dog cooperates, you can be clicking/treating constantly for EVERY step backwards until she gets too far away to throw the treats accurately.

I had Boost backing up there in the back of the classroom within just a few minutes.

You can also teach a dog by leading or luring , for example by luring them forward with a piece of food. I taught Remington to back up wayyyy back when by walking towards him so that he had to back up. I think that makes the dog pay more attention to what I'm doing and wait for information from me, when what I want in a tricks dog (AND in an agility dog) is one who thinks about his body and his movements and figures things out for himself so I don't have to micromanage him every step of the way. I started working with clicking and shaping when Remington was several years old, and he loved it, too.

About dogs' mental blocks:

Tika confounded me with backing up (when I taught her probably 5 or 6 years ago) because every time I tossed a treat between her front legs, she stepped forward into a turn to go back and get it, so I couldn't get the constant click-click. I had to find creative ways to keep her from doing that. Like put her next to a wall on the side that she preferred to turn. I think I even set up a couple of chairs at one point on either side of her. I had to use the right kind of treat and practice so that it landed JUST between or barely behind her front legs so that it was easier for her to get it just standing there or moving one foot backwards. It was a challenge, where Boost was a breeze.

Yesterday I was working on teaching both girls to nest one food bowl inside another. (This is a Silvia trick from one of her videos; Boost's breeder Tammy was there and her dogs were doing it, so I came home with that idea.) Both dogs already pick up their food bowls and drop them near me, so I figured this would be a cakewalk. Tika picked it up pretty quickly--it is so amazing to see the dog figuring out the space that she needs to maneuver through to make it happen.
Boost, however, has made a concerted effort to drop the bowl anywhere the other bowl was NOT. It has been challenging, and I will continue to work to find clever ways to get her to drop the bowl under her own power nearer and nearer to the other bowl. I haven't figured it out yet, and neither has she. It's always something. It's a good mental workout for both of us.

And you never know which dog will get stuck with what--Boost, after all, was the dog who learned how to get into a box a couple of years back (this was also one of Silvia's tricks at the seminar) by watching me shape Tika into doing it! That dropped my jaw in amazement--after 5 minutes with Tika, when I called Boost over, she immediately jumped into the box.

Anyway--if you want ideas on tricks and to see many of the tricks she introduced at her seminar and a squillion others, visit Silvia's video page. I love watching her videos. She obviously loves her dogs and her dogs love doing the fun tricks with her.

Updated an hour later: I took my camera with me both nights but took only the one photo. Fellow Bay Teamer Team Whisner took photos, however; see her blog post.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

How Do You Find Me? Let Me Count the Ways

SUMMARY: Search phrases that got people to click somewhere on my web site.

Finchester.org is my primary domain; it consists primarily of almost 7 years (!) of Taj MuttHall blogging (TajMutthall.org is a subdomain, in case you hadn't noticed), but its other main section is pages of information about my experience with hemangiosarcoma. There's also a little bit of other random stuff, but not much, really. So it's mostly Taj MuttHall.

My hosting company track searches that people do on the web, when they click on a result of the search that's one of my pages.

So, of the 500 or so search phrases in November, some make a lot of sense to come here:

  • various phrases with the word "hemangiosarcoma" (22) and other illness-related questions (30 or 40)
  • "taj mutthall" and "taj mutt hall" (5). But woe to those who came here while searching for "taj internet call" or "in what cartoon was a dog named taj".'
  • Searches for fellow bay teamer Rob Michalski and Wings the Tervuren, who won the Scottsdale Steeplechase (and whom I posted about briefly I'm sure), like "Robs Wings Steeplechase" or "Belgian Tervuren Wings Steeplechase" (15).
  • Searches for bellow Bay Teamer Ashley Deacon and Luka (won 2 Scottsdale finals and I've posted about somewhere) (2)--I'm guessing there were fewer searches landing on my site this year in part because I said less (maybe) and in part because they've won so much now, but Wings hasn't.
  • Assorted searches for agility course maps (14).
  • Requests for info about snooker (30), including "agility snooker for beginners", "border collie snooker rules", "how to play snooker in agility", and others.
  • "Crate games" in various forms (15); have mentioned these on multiple occasions.
  • Rachel Sanders running Aframe info in various forms (well over 10); did post a couple of times after doing her seminar.
  • "dam team names" and "dog team names", oh, cool, there's a potential fun web page to create!
  • "kate elliott wallpaper". OK I did one post that had her name and "wallpaper" in it. But why would someone be searching for Kate Elliott wallpaper?!
  • Geri Hernandez and Focus--I did post about that after her dog died suddenly. Many searches ended up here.
  • "coyote poop pictures". Yup, I really did post some.
  • "getting started photo chia pet sequence". Yup, I really did post some.
  • "alternate verses for there is nothing like a dame". Yup, I really did post some, but not sure they were looking for dog-agility-based lyrics.

Some things, however, amused or bemused me:

  • Why on earth was someone looking for the world's most expensive polo shirt? ("most expensive polo shirt", "expensive polo shirts",  "polo shirt most expensive", "why are polo shirts so expensive", and so on (20).  Because they probably ended up on my post about my USDAA semifinals shirt, The World's Most Expensive Polo Shirt.
  • "dog playground equipment", "dog play equipment", and similar (34). What did they find here that matched?
  • "what's going on with facebook" (3)
  • "mud mud glorious mud mp3" (3) (Yep, I posted a link to it at some point, but even I can't find it now.)
  • "candy" (2)
  • weaving flowers (2)
  • "there's a dog doing the limbo" (2)
  • "agua e vida or sierra club or amnesty international or greenpeace" (1) (yeah, they'll get a lot of that kind of info here. Not.)
  • "names of the dogs at Havasu Falls" (2). Well, isn't that interesting. I never thought to ask about any of their names, but I did post a bunch of their photos last year.
  • "free video sex", "self checkout should get a discount", "child exploitation at cirque du soleil", "purple christmas" (Hee hee hee), "unusual chairs", "poo diary", "squish the tunnel", "mongol horde costume", "how to play away in a manger in xylophone", "head for the hills paint color", "what are all the storms bad posture can cause", "scary things to do outside at night", "can a cat gnaw through wire mesh", "beth ann bonner nude photos"-- well, who knows what thoughts lurk in the hearts of web searchers!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Best Dog Quotes

SUMMARY: Well put, from Roger Caras.
"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole."

“If you don't own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”

"I am as confounded by dogs as I am indebted to them.”

“Some of our greatest historical and artistic treasures we place in museums; others, we take for walks.”

From Wikipedia:
Roger A. Caras (May 28, 1928-February 18, 2001) was an American wildlife photographer, writer, wildlife preservationist and television personality. Known as the host of the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Caras was a veteran of network television programs including “Nightline,” “ABC News Tonight” and 20/20 before devoting himself to work as president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and to becoming an author.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Purple Foot

SUMMARY: In honor of Tika's sore toe.
Tika has been wearing a little purple and gray hiking bootie on her sore toe since Wednesday. I've been taking her out on leash into the yard, trying to keep her from running and pouncing, but still playing tug of war pretty enthusiastically, which probably still puts a lot of pressure on that toe.

I've been throwing the purple jolly ball for Boost, who brings it back, then I play tug of war with each dog, then throw it for Boost again, hanging onto Tika's collar. Tika has burst into a run a couple or three times when I'm not expecting it (off leash, pottying, then a squirrel or alien invasion or whatever catches her attention). But I've seen no signs of limping.

Did the same this morning. After our play session, decided to take a purple photo. Came inside to get the camera. Went back out with the dogs not on leash--because this is the boring part--and the tripod and the camera; Tika became very excited, did the sproingy antelope thing with about four leaps in a big circle and came up with her paw in the air looking distressed. Curses, egads, and zounds.

I took her bootie off, put it back on, gave her some treaties, did the photo thing, and she stopped looking so pathetically miserable, but with still a distinct hitch in her giddyup. I'm thinking she's not going to be competing next weekend. Me not happy.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Running With The Boost

SUMMARY: More photos from Monday. Thanks, Rob.
What a good little start-line-stay doggie!

Hustle hustle hustle.

What a good little contact Boostie!


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Trkman Masters Handling Seminar

SUMMARY: Good personalized help and some nice pointers.

Boost and I participated in Silvia Trkman's Master Handling Seminar on Monday. Goal is to identify and execute the tightest lines through a course.

Silvia is so good at watching your run and remembering everything about it, then giving you intelligent suggestions in a manner as if she's talking to a peer (not to an idiot or a beginning or a pathetic handler who'll never be as awesome as she is). I loved it.

(If you're not familiar with Silvia's name, she's a multiple-time world champion and one of the most interesting dog-trick trainers around: Go to Youtube and search for "silvia trkman tricks" and see some of what she does.)

She didn't have a detailed bulleted-point agenda or system. She said that every dog and handler has to choose the handling system that's best for them. For example, she disliked blind crosses "for 15 years" until she recently got a Border Collie who is too soft for both front and rear crosses, and blind crosses work great.

She looks SO young. I poked around a bit: She *is* young. Best as I can find so far, she's either 27 or 29. Just barely more than half my age, and she has been a top European competitor since the late 1980s. Think about it!

Her primary suggestions weren't any that I hadn't heard before in one form or another, but she was able to help each of us use and prove the strategies on 5 different courses:

Dog must know where she's going, not just the next obstacle but the one after that, so cue cue cue with body language and voice.

You HAVE to be there. Hustle. Be clear in what you want the dog to do (e.g., don't gesture at a tunnel that the dog has to take at a weird angle while you're running; you have to be right there and take a litttle step/push to get the dog in. Hard to explain without a drawing, sorry. Just--hustle!)

Use voice cues particularly for turns. Have to cue before the turn, not over the bar or after the dog has landed. She has different verbal cues for turn left, turn right, wrap tightly left, and wrap tightly right. (How to teach those was Tuesday's seminar, which we didn't attend.)

Dogs must must must have independent weave entries & completions and dogwalk & Aframe contacts if you want to play with the big dogs (so to speak), and often just to be able to get around a course successfully. And that's from any oddball angle. Not so much the teeter, because you've usually got plenty of time to run with the dog and still get to where you need to be.

Don't stop moving! If you hustle to get there and then are standing there waiting, that's TOO much hustle and it'll slow the dog down. Move fast and the dog will, too.

Sometimes you just have to trust your dog. (She managed to set up at least one scenario where all of us checked back on our dogs and they all then either hesitated or took the wrong obstacle, where if we ran looking straight ahead, the dogs ran, too.

At the end of the day, she said that she was impressed with how well we all did and how fast and accurate our contacts were. We said "flatterer" or to that effect, and she looked taken aback and said, no, really, I mean it. And it's likely true: Among other excellent participants were Rob and Wings (winner of this year's Steeplechase championship and often a finalist) and Rachel Sanders (winner of various prior national championships & often a finalist), and those are the people we're competing against every day, so we know where we need to be.

(Thanks to Laura Hartwick for first 2 photos and thanks--I think--to Vici Whisner for 3rd.)