Thursday, March 10, 2005

Do It Clean

January 8
Up at 6:00 am on a Saturday??!! I must be crazy. Or a dog agility addict. This weekend's trial is in Golden, about 40 minutes from my house, pure luxury considering the 9 hour drive to Lawrence, Kansas last month and the 2 1/4 hour drive I'll have next month. There are several agility organizations in the U.S. that you can compete under and of them all USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) has the toughest performance standards and highest jump heights. Also the courses are way more technical than the other venue I compete in so when I do well in USDAA I feel really good about it. There are 3 levels of competition and you have to work your way up from the bottom. I'm currently in the middle level (Advanced) with both dogs and it's Lola's first trial in Advanced so I'm not expecting too much from her. She's also still producing lentil rice soup so I'm a little worried about her but she seems energetic & full of herself so I decide to run her anyway and pull her if she seems at all off her game.

The object of agility is to get a 'clean' run (ie, no mistakes) as fast as you can. If you do it in the time alloted you get a 'Q' or qualifying score which counts toward your title. Once you get a title, you move up a level. Once you're in the highest level you work towards your Championship title. It sounds crazy, I know. When I first learned all this stuff I thought it was insane, there was no way I was going to get caught up in all this stupid title nonsense. It's just freakin' dogs running around an obstacle course, why complicate it? But once you do it for a while you can't help getting caught up in it. The nice thing about it is that you don't have to beat other people, a Q is a Q no matter what place you came in. I'm not really a competitive person so this system is great for me. I love getting first place but if I don't it doesn't matter all that much to me as long as I Q and I'd rather Q than get first place.

The first event is a regular old standard agility course. Both dogs have beautiful runs but Cody decides he'd like to add an extra jump to the judge's course and Lola hits the teeter with a little too much enthusiasm earning her some faults. Cody, a Border Collie mix breed from the pound, is very 'independent' minded and was a challenge to train. He was a high strung stressed out mess when we first started trialling and he'd run out of the ring, make up his own course and/or run off to sniff. Now 3 years and one shoulder surgery later he's doing great but still has his moments. One of the differences between running races & agility is that you have to rely on an unpredictable animal and not only on yourself. You can put in all the training but dogs are dogs and you just never know for sure what they're going to do.

Despite the faults Lola ends up with second place. Cody is not even in the money since his mistake earns more faults. I'm still pleased though since the dog's were running really well.

Next class is a game called Gamblers and it's one of the hardest classes as well as one of my favorites. You have 30 sec's. to earn as many points as you can then the whistle blows and you have to do the 'gamble' which is a sequence of 4 obstacles. The challenge though is that you must stay behind a line on the ground that's a fair distance away from the obstacles. There's lot's of strategy since you're making up your own course. You want to pick obstacles that will get you the most points but you also need to plan a course that will be exactly 30 sec's. long and flow right into the gamble. It's always a thrill for me when I plan it right and the whistle goes off just as I hit my last obstacle. Today's plan works perfectly and both dogs get the gamble and Q's. Cody ends up in 2nd place by 1 point and Lola ends up in 4th since she faulted some of her obstacles and didn't get all her points. Lola is much faster than Cody and almost always beats him so this is a bit of an upset. Neither dog really cares as long as they get their treats at the end of their run.

Snooker is the last event of the day, another game. It's too complicated to explain but basically you choose your opening course again trying to get as many points as possible then you do a closing sequence. There's a lot of strategy here too since you get whistled off the course as soon as you make a mistake. I usually play it conservative and choose a flowing course over points so that I won't get whistled off. You need a certain number of points to Q, after that it's only about placements. My strategy pays off and Lola ends up in first place, Cody in second. The only trouble is that they both make errors in the same place on the second to last obstacle and when I add up my points I figure I'm one point shy of Q'ing for both dogs. One stinkin' point!!! What a way to end the day.

I get home at 5:30 pm, fall asleep on the couch at 8:30 pm and aside from a zombie march to bed at some point I don't move until the alarm goes off at 6:45 the next morning. Time for round 2.

January 9
I'm not a morning person and I'm usually pretty toasted by day 2 of a trial. This is my excuse anyway. It's not that I'm going senile, nope, couldn't possibly be that. The standard run seems really fun and easy when I walk it beforehand but somehow when it's time to actully do it for real with the dogs I manage to leave out a section, with BOTH dogs. Doh! I don't even realize it until someone tells me afterwards. At least we had other faults elsewhere but I still feel stupid that I cheated myself out of some course time. No placements or Q's for those runs obviously.

However my mood soon improves when I go to check the Snooker scores from last night. It turns out I added my points wrong (maybe I am going senile) and the dogs did in fact have enough to Q. I'm not sure where my brain is this weekend but I sure hope it returns soon.

Last run of the day is Jumpers which is simply a course with only jumps and tunnels. This class is fast and furious for both dog and handler. I'm no sprinter and I'm so clumsy I've actually knocked jumps over myself trying to dash into place on the course and not watching where I'm going. Cody has a beautiful, fast run but knocks the bar on the second to last jump for no particular reason earning some faults. Lola attacks the course like someone set her ass on fire. She likes to bark while she runs and the more excited she is the louder the barking. She's so jeeped up and loud I can barely hear myself think. Somehow we make it through with no faults. She easily takes first and Q's. Cody's effort was good enough for third even with the fault.

I get home around 5:30 again and I'm truly exhausted. It doesn't sound like much but in addition to the competition I volunteer for other classes, setting jumps, running leashes from start line to finish line, etc. There's a lot of walking and time standing on my feet, thing's I don't do a lot of normally. It's mentally tiring too, all the waiting around (I spent about 19 hours total at the trial for about 15 minutes total in the ring) and worrying over the dogs. Nonetheless, I can't wait until the next trial! It truly is a sickness.

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