Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mobile Agility Trial - Maxie and Lucky

Maxie 6 runs, 2 XJ Q's, one 4th place
Lucky  6 runs, 4Q's 2 NJ, 2 NS, 4 1st places
Videos posted here.

This was Lucky's first AKC trial, and Maxie's 2nd Excellent B trial. Each dog did 2 runs each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, meaning I did 4 runs per day for the first time, 12 in the whole weekend, plus a match run with Maxie on Thursday. Dogs ran small to tall all weekend, Maxie ran first thing in Excellent, and Lucky was the very last dog to run each day in Novice. So 3 long days for us.

Poor Lucky, such a sweetheart, endured without complaint 4 days of either being crated, on leash, controlled in the ring,  confined to hotel room at night, with only about 15 minutes of playing fetch with me in the grassy areas if no other dogs were around.  As soon as we got home she cavorted her muscular self around the back yard for 2 hours, wildly running, leaping, chasing imaginary squirrels, shaking her toys.  I have to figure out a better outlet for her to enjoy some personal freedom at trials.

I had Lucky (a 20.25" height dog weighing 40 lbs.) jumping at 26", which she cleared with a several inches to spare, but I caught a lot of flack from people concerned for her shoulders and ruining her career with long-term injury. This concerns me too, of course, except that she's been jumping 2 foot fences since she was 10 weeks old and jumps 5' fences now, several times a week. The arguments that impressed me the most, though, were Susan K, with her boxers, who said that just because Lucky "can" jump high, doesn't mean that's the best competitive style for her. This was further confirmed when Lucky NQ'd on an otherwise qualifying jumpers run, due to the extra time it takes to jump higher. She missed qualifying by 3 seconds. She could have made the time but for a run by at the first tunnel, and a stop before taking one of the final jumps, but there was no time cushion for such mistakes.  These considerations decided me to jump her 20" in Amite in 2 weeks and see how that goes. Tracey calls 20" an "unfortunate class" due to so many entries at 20" and only 4 chances to place. Lucky was the only dog entered at 26", so naturally if she Q'd, she won 1st place!!! And everyone knows how much I love those placement ribbons!  Susan K, on the other hand, says "placement" means nothing toward titling.  All that matters to the seasoned competitor is the Q's - accuracy + time.

Maxie's performance was less than stellar! 2 Q's out of 6 runs. The NQ's were mostly small errors, only one screwup per run. He nailed 5 of 6 of his weaves, but ran behind me to the A-frame I was blocking on one run, on another I called tunnel and he was going straight for it, almost in it, when I mysteriously blurted "OUT", and he obliged by swerving around the entrance! Why I did that I have no idea!  On another he ran past a jump then turned back and took it backwards.  His videos are posted here.  At least he didn't sniff the ground, visit the bar setters, or pee on the tunnel this trial -- a huge improvement.  Lucky, in fact, was amazinging focused on me most of the time, which was clear in the videos.  She had one "stare-out-the-window" moment while in the weaves, but finally completed them.

Trial Site Summary:
 (I've decided not to clutter up this blog with this detailed information.   I'm starting to keep a separate page called Trial Site Summaries (see link on upper right hand column) on all the sites I've been to, including photos and videos.)

Suffice it to say, I stayed alone at the Red Roof Inn, and find staying alone much more restful than having a roommate.  I need down time to rest, reflect, and process.

Michael and Maxie
Michael Loftis' photography booth was right next to me and and did a brisk business all weekend.  I myself could hardly wait to see the photos of Max and Lucky, and will certainly purchase a few. Besides which, they were wonderful neighbors. It was my first trial with Maxie and Lucky together and I thought they would keep each other sufficient company in side by side crates, but when I took Lucky away to compete, Maxie went into fits of howling.  Of course I was away and didn't hear it so Michael and his wife, who own a papillon, ended up babysitting Maxie quite a bit. In fact, Maxie and Michael took quite a shine to each other and I often found him holding Maxie on his breaks, Maxie slobbering him with kisses, etc.  They make a striking pair.  Took this snapshot with my 2G iPhone.  No flash.  Not bad!

Friday: Michele Fletcher, nice courses, not too difficult. She was very pleasant, very fair.
Saturday and Sunday: Blair Kelly, impecably dressed in white starched pants, white shirt and tie, blue jacket. I liked his loud voice and whistle so we didn't miss our cues or briefings (some judges barely whisper), always positioned himself in the middle of the ring so he was often in video camera range. Nice curvy courses, not too difficult yet sufficiently interesting.

Lessons Learned:
  1. My running and stretching exercises have definitely improved my ability to run faster and stagger around less.
  2. Maxie needs Willow as a crate mate. It appears Maxie won't tolerate being left alone. No problem, as Willow loves coming along, isn't much trouble, and does fine if left alone in the crate while Maxie runs.
  3. Lucky needs practice with jump chutes to lower her trajectory and lengthen her stride.
  4. Solid down contacts are an absolute MUST, and must be trained for from the very beginning. No dog, even Maxie size, should ever be trained to do a running contact. I saw too many dogs, including Lucky, NQ due to a contact fault. Michael Loftis photoed many spectacular see-saw fly-offs at this trial. Here is only one example.
  5. I tried doing Sat and Sun videos in SP instead of HQ format. Didn't seem to make a bit of difference in upload speed or quality. It's all still crappy. I'm asking Santa for a better video camera.
  6. Maxie will not sit or down on the rubber topped table. Thank goodness they changed the rule to a 4-on about the same time those rubber tops came along. Anyone who thinks dogs can't feel the surfaces under their feet, think again!
  7. The popular notion that "it's ALWAYS the handler's fault", is wrong. Sometimes the dog gets it wrong, as witnessed this weekend by some perfect handler executions that the dog misinterpreted or wasn't paying attention.
After uploading and watching so many agility videos, I have begun seeing a pattern that I had not noticed before -- elusive movements, a certain cadence, the invisible cord holding a team together or, if broken, causing it to fall apart. I began to realize why I have been bothering to do all the fricking work involved to take, upload and label all these videos. It isn't because the people I video will ever appreciate it. The truth is, it isn't primarily for them.  The truth is, money simply can't buy enough lessons and seminars to teach me what watching these videos over and over has given me. It's like art or music appreciation lessons. The untrained eye or ear simply can't see the subtlties, the nuances. It takes thousands of repititions to begin to understand, on an intuitive level, to internalize, what makes a team work well.  I see an accelerated improvement in my own performance because of internalizing this information.

I sometimes get Chinese Takeout when too busy to cook, and I always grab the fortune cookies and save for opportune moments like coming home from trials and trying to assess what happened.

"Failure is the path of least persistence."
"Failure is a dress rehearsal for success."

So appropo, and so odd how we both got messages about failure, in light of all the NQ's Maxie and I have gotten so far in 2011 (9 out of 12) and witnessed this weekend. One thing, these agility folk don't let their failures stop them, so I feel I'm in excellent company.

Upwards and onward!

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