AKC, Course Map Chants, and Murphy’s Laws of Agility

So this past weekend we did an AKC trial. I was smart and entered the 2 days it didn’t rain! I used to do this particular trial all the time but haven’t gone to it in a few years. There’s always a conflict with something closer, but I really want to get going on Jay-ven’s AKC titles so this time it won out. It was fun seeing people I don’t run into that often … and to count the double-takes when they saw me there. Not one but TWO people I knew got MACH’s – that was nice!

Two weekends ago, we were at a CPE trial on a beautiful, secluded site. A gruelling hike to the tenting area, even from the drop off zone, but perfect for a dog like Jayda because everything was far from the rings. This weekend’s trial was a BIG outdoor trial – about 3x as many people and lots going on. I knew it would be challenging for Jayda, I think I underestimated HOW overwhelming it would be.

Re: Jayda’s Agility Skills

When it comes to technical skills and her understanding of handling cues, Jayda is definitely playing with a full deck … but occasionally she gets flustered and drops her cards.

Jayda isn’t afraid of people – she likes most people. She just doesn’t deal well with new things and people sitting elbow-to-elbow all around the Excellent ring watching her run was initially too novel for her. Two jumps into her first run , and she had an “OMFG” moment, leading to a few extra, random jumps. I got her attention back, picked up the course at the nearest obstacle and ran the remaining 2/3 sans weaves but otherwise cleanly – to my surprise, earning us a bit of applause from ringside. It must have been a fairly impressive recovery? Aw, thanks you guys :)!

She was still a little stressy during Open Standard – ran a nice course but lost it in the poles.

Raven fared much better, picking up a whopping 67 pts her first time in Novice FAST (with 7 seconds to spare), and a 1st and Q in Nov JWW. Everything’s interesting, nothing phases her – she played tug with me and kept sticking her head in the equipment buckets looking at all the kewl stuff in there (Jayda wanted nothing to do with those creepy buckets.) If she had a complaint it would be that there was an awful lot of walking for her short little legs.

Murphy’s Law of Agility Trials:

If you have classes in multiple rings, you will at some point in the day have to be in two places at once, regardless of how carefully the trial schedule is planned. The odds of this increase exponentially, depending on how many dogs you are running.

With Jayda popping the poles twice in a row, I was determined get in some weave review work in before Sunday. It was dark when we got home Saturday but fortunately we didn’t have to be there early the next morning, so there I was in my teeny little yard at 6:30 AM Sunday with a tape measure and my stick-in-ground weaves. While setting up, I saw some mushrooms towards the end of the little grass patch – UGH! I’m MAJOR paranoid about mushrooms, so that meant I also had to get out the trowel and dig up my yard before we could practice. By the time I was done, I had just enough time to reinforce a couple of sets of weaves – oh well, better than nothing!

Saturday was perfect weather – moderate and sunny. Sunday was cloudy, cold and windy. Wind is not Jayda’s favorite thing – things blow around, move, make noise … way too unpredictable!

Murphy’s Second Law of Agility Trials:

Your dog will be farthest from whichever of those 2 courses you need to run first. (If you try to cheat this law by setting up your crates equidistant to both rings, YOU will somehow end up on the opposite side of the trial grounds.. like in the porta-johns or something… when they start calling you.)

Murphy’s First and Second laws made an appearance for Jayda’s runs on Sunday. I never take her out early because she stresses, but I thought I had time to check on ring 1’s timing and still get her to ring 3 in time for her run. As luck would have it, 2 dogs weren’t there and I arrived at ring #3 just AFTER they marked me absent and were setting up the next height! Ack!!! Fortunately, the judge let me run at the end of the class. Took Jayda back to her crate, went back to ring #1, which was now just about to walk Ex JWW.

Afraid of missing her run AGAIN, I kinda rushed the walkthrough. There was also a big crowd of people walking, so it’s not like it was easy to get your bearings in a couple of quick passes. I do, however, have a little trick that I use: “The Course Map Chant”.

The Course Map Chant™ (“CMC”) Method of Course Memorization:

When walking the course, make up and memorize a silly little ditty (optionally set to music), telling yourself what handling you plan to do and which direction the course goes. For example, a jww course may go something like this: “One two cross, three four cross, bear right 6 7 8 – weave – 10 … eleven cross, push out, ser-pen-tine and done!”

When I’ve adequately walked a course, I do my little chant in my head while running and everything just flows. If I haven’t walked the course enough, I have something to fall back on (besides the numbers) to me keep from getting lost, though my timing will suffer. It may not be pretty but it can salvage an entry fee, and with AKC entries at a going rate of $24 for the first run in these parts, … well … salvage baby, salvage!

So I did my quickie-walkthrough grabbed Jayda and headed over to the other ring … only to have a dozen things cause delay after delay after delay. With the dog that stresses when she waits – wonderful! Between that and the wind and course builders starting to anticipate setting the next course, by the time I got her into the ring I was sure we were headed for a one-way trip to Meltdownville. I took off her leash, squeezed her shoulders, told her she could do it…

And we had an AWESOME run! We used our one-refusal ticket with a false start at the poles, but once she went in my 7AM training paid off and they were perfect.

How awesome? The judge actually came up to us afterwards and told me how much she enjoyed watching us! She thought it was “very pretty” and liked that I was nice to my dog the entire time – wow, and what a sweet thing to say :)!

Ran from there back to the Ex JWW ring, where it was almost our turn. By this time I was feeling more confident and knew Jayda had at least run off some of her nerves, but that was the “busy” ring again.

We had a little hesitation in the poles when she eyeballed the crowd for a second, but I got her through clean and ran the rest clean and under time! Had some wobbly spots where I had to rely on “the chant” because I wasn’t 100% sure where I was going, but Jayda’s such a good egg – she made us look good.

After a LONG break, I ended the weekend with an exhilarating JWW run with Raven, where “sticky-pup” amazed me by going into obstacle focus for several jumps, diving ahead into the poles at full speed …and sticking them! Damn, that girl can weave! Woohoo, Babydog! Just one little moment of “the bouncies” near the end to slow us down, but that was good enough for a 29″ run, a 1st place Q and a title. On to Open!

Raven also saw her cousin Zinna at the trial – the two girls thought this family reunion called for a party, but since we were waiting to run, the timing (not to mention the location) was rather innapropriate so Terry and I had to be the fun police. A play date may be in order – can you say “22 lbs of cuteness :)?”

A little of this, a little of that

Feather2First, I think I ruffled a few feathers with my last post! Wasn’t intentional – while the post was triggered by some comments on another blog, it was essentially just general venting, not aimed at anyone in particular. I participate in all venues that are within my “travel radius” and I am quick to clear up misconceptions I hear about any of them, whether they come from an “AKC person” or a “USDAA person” or a “NADAC person” or anyone else. BUT, at least in my area, there is some definite “dissing” of certain venues and a sentiment on the part of SOME people that only those which produce team members for international events are worthy of notice and anything else … well, your titles may as well have come out of a Cracker Jack box! I was on the receiving end of a couple of snide comments at an AKC trial this past weekend from someone I’ve known for years. I laughed them off, but seriously – it gets old after a while!

In the last 3 weekends we’ve done NADAC, CPE and AKC trials. I’ve realized that one of the things I LIKE about doing multiple venues is the versatility which it demands from both dog and handler. I love the challenge of running my dogs in flat out, full extension, “pedal to the metal” NADAC one weekend and attacking a technical Excellent JWW course the next. For me, it’s a rush to succeed at both :).

(The down side of “cross-trialing” is it takes longer finish advanced titles in any of them – there are only so many weekends in a year and only so many dollars in a checkbook.)

If you were to ask my dogs, Bryce likes NADAC best these days. That’s because they let him run at 8″, and even though we don’t do contacts any more, there are still 4 different games he can play! OK, so he doesn’t LOVE Hoopers (he’s “old school” and doesn’t think hoops are real obstacles) but still, he’ll even take that any day over sitting it out in the car. Retirement isn’t his “thing” – once a workaholic, always a workaholic.

Jayda likes CPE best, but that’s probably more the trial sites than the organization itself. A lot of them around here are quiet and secluded – just her style. Jayda finished her ChCL (Colors Championship – 15 total Q’s at Level 5) the other weekend.

Raven likes everything. She’s been bringing her “big girl brain” into the ring more often than not as of late, and putting in some really nice runs. We still have issues to address, excessive handler-focus being one of them, but she’s a little pistol and a blast to run :)!

Agility Venue Bashing

I’ve been playing this game for quite a while now (since 1994 – yikes!) and one of the things that’s always annoyed me is agility venue bashing or “neener, neener – my venue’s better than yours.”

AKC, USDAA, NADAC, CPE … I’ve done well in all of them through the years, and I’m game for trying anything new that comes along. When you “cross train” a lot, the first thing you learn is that every venue is different and they all have their pros and cons. Believe me, I can be a world-class whiner and could come up with a pretty good list of gripes about any of them! But to label one “better” than another? Or even more ridiculous, assume that the teams that participate in a particular venue are less skilled than those who compete primarily in another?

I spend a lot of entry fees in two venues that seem to bear the brunt of this attitude: NADAC and CPE. Heck – even NADAC people turn up their noses at CPE :)! Why do I participate in them?

When I started out with my girls, those were absolutely the right venues for us at the time. NADAC’s open courses and smooth flow gave Jayda the confidence and speed she so badly needed. “Sloppy handling” is a common accusation from non-NADAC participants, but I have to say that if anything, NADAC forces me to be very conscious of my handling – a bobble or a spin or even an inefficient line can so easily put you over time (even with a “fast” dog!)

CPE is awesome for babydogs – being able to do short courses like Fullhouse and Colors is a fabulous middle step to decreasing reinforcement density in a genuine trial atmosphere. Both venues are also very accomodating for semi-retired veteran dogs – my old guy has plenty of games he can still enjoy SAFELY in both venues.

Last Spring I went from weeks of nothing but CPE and NADAC to a 3 day AKC trial where Jayda qualified all 3 days in jww – 2x 1st place in Open and again the next day as a move-up on a pretty tight/technical Excellent course – one of only 3 “A” dogs to qualify. Damn, those out-of-control NADAC dogs and their sloppy handlers :).

ARE there teams running in NADAC who lack the necessary control for other venues? Yes. ARE there teams in CPE who “get by” with gawdawful handling and a lot of luck? Of course there are. But each venue brings it’s own particular “flavor” to the table and if you look at them with an open mind and a POSITIVE ATTITUDE, you’ll realize that each one offers something unique that can enhance you and your dog’s teamwork and skills.

At the end of the day it’s the relationship with your dog and how you perform as a team that matters, right? So please don’t assume my dogs and I are “less-than” because I choose to play in a different venue!

NADAC in lovely New Paltz, NY

This trial was almost cancelled due to a low early turnout – when I sent in my envelope with a checkbook-busting 18 runs worth of entries I prayed that we at least wouldn’t have monsoons – I wasn’t disappointed! We lucked out with a beautiful weather weekend – still a little warm for September, but no rain and it wasn’t brutally hot. We can do that!

I had entered Bryce in an optimistic 6 runs, which is more than I’d been running him lately. I was a little concerned how he’d hold up, even though it was all shorter novice courses.

He loved it! He started the weekend turning in the 3rd fastest time in the entire Novice Jumpers class – 4.19 YPS for his Outstanding title, then Q’d again in Hoopers and Tunnelers. He was looking pretty tired by tunnelers, but came out the next morning like gangbusters and put down another tunnelers run that left me running my a** off to keep up with him! Close to 4 YPS – by no means his personal best, but for an old man with cancer and assorted achey, creaky parts it was pretty impressive! He went on to Q in his other 2 runs for good measure, beating Raven by several seconds in weavers (she scrambles, but he ran it perfectly) and ending the trial with another good jumpers run. Such a little “pro” :)! He was tired, but happy to have gotten so many chances to play!

Raven had a nice weekend too, though there was an unwanted return of the “cut in front of Mommy and jump on her” nonsense on several runs. Damn – we really need to work on obstacle focus!!!!! Still, she got the last leg of her Novice regular (standard) title, got a Q in Novice Weavers, and Q’d in both jumpers runs to get her Open Jumpers (OJC) title. She made a good attempt her first time in Open Regular, I won’t be moving her up to Elite Jumpers until she gets more independent because between the bouncing and the excessive checking-in she simply won’t make time. Instead, we’ll play some more in Open. Or maybe I’ll start running her in tunnelers/weavers/touch n go for a while and get her Nov. Versatility.

Poor Jayda – she tried, but it wasn’t her weekend. Wrong course in Touch n Go, popped the weaves in Sat. regular, then over time, over time, over time … she got one little 5 pt Q in Elite regular on Sunday. I noticed she was picking up her head in the weaves – I need to target that back down, because if she scans around and sees something, she’ll either pop out or lose a lot of time. I was sure she’d gotten Jumpers on Sunday – it was a nice course for her – but I had a little mental lapse and sent her very wide at one point, and that was probably just enough to put her over. Ugh – I hate when I do that :( !

Still, Jayda did get a very pretty award from NADAC for her Novice Triple Superior the other day.

Return of the Lazy Blogger

No, I haven’t abandoned my blog (though it may look that way!) Been busy, haven’t had much to blog about, and it’s so much easier to write a sentence or two on Facebook than compose a big blog post. But I do have some catching up to do, so here goes:

Bryce – celebrated his 12th birthday on July 10th, his 3rd since his cancer diagnosis. It’s a sobering thought that he’s now survived longer than some people with his type of cancer! He’s still doing agility – 4 Q’s away from his CPE Jumpers Championship and picked up 40 pts in NADAC this past weekend. I can potentially run him in 2 1/2 more NADAC trials this season and am wavering on what to enter. He needs 105 more points for a lifetime 1000 points. Or, 3 Q’s in Open Weavers would give him his Open Versatility but jeopardize our chances of getting the points, because one missed entrance or popout will put him over time in Open Weavers.

It may seem strange that I still have goals for him and maybe some people think I should just enjoy running him. I DO enjoy every run with my wonderful little guy (and he’s still loving it too), but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a few more goals! I wish the dance would never end and it keeps my focus off the inevitable.

Jayda and Raven (aka JayVen)The girls are doing well. Jayda is 2 Q’s from a C-ATCH, finished her AKC OJP last May and got her first AJP Q the same weekend. We’re (gasp) doing TWO AKC trials this fall, hoping to finish her OAP and maybe the AJP too. Down on the table problems were the only reason she didn’t get her OAP in May so the rule changes have me feeling quite optimistic :). In NADAC, she finished her Novice Triple Superior in May, got her OAC and her first OJC Q this weekend – the girl’s on fire! OK, maybe it’s a slow, smoldering fire, but a fire nonetheless. Love my big Jayd-Jayd :)!

Raven’s growing up and starting to run really nicely for me. I can’t believe she’s almost 3 already – she’s still very “puppy.” She’s also quite the little Princess, but that’s a blog post in itself! Distance work is an issue – she’s the “stickiest” Sheltie I’ve ever had – but she’s getting better. That’s going to be our winter project. Jayda could benefit from some work in that department too, especially if I want to get her Open Chances title! While NADAC Novice was cake for her, Open’s just a little outside her comfort zone.

Kitties are all doing well. Things got ugly for a while after I brought in Hat, but they’ve finally settled down a bit. Biki still doesn’t like him – nothing personal, just because he’s a CAT and he’s in HER house – but she seems to have resigned herself to his presence. His old BFF Cassie’s become my new porch cat and become pettable! She also likes the dogs, especially the girls, who are disgusted but tolerant of all the enthusiastic PDKA (public displays of Kitty affection.) She’s pretty and petite with a tiny little voice, and once she finally got brave enough to let me touch her she can’t seem to get enough of it! Anyone want a kitty? I hate thinking of her spending another winter outside and would be happier if she were inside somewhere, safe and loved!

I’ve been busy with work and pouting and crabby lately because I trashed my lower back 2 weeks ago. How? Possibly moving storage boxes around earlier in the day, but I really don’t know. All I DO know it that sitting is bad, standing is OK. Fortunately, walking and running seem to be good so I can run my dogs – priorities, ya know! I actually feel a bit better after the trial this past weekend. My new trial job is Gate (because I don’t have to sit or bend.)