Monday, June 28, 2010

Columbia River Agility Club AKC Agility Trial Recap (Trial 5 of 5)

Last weekend wrapped up a five weekend stretch of AKC trials for Vegas and I in our goal of earning one of the five coveted invitational spots for Great Danes. I was actually pretty sad that our "run" was over and not nearly as tired as I thought I would be of the 'get up and go' early for that many consecutive weekends. We most likely won't have any more AKC trials until Labor Day weekend but do have two CPE ones scheduled, one each in July and August. So our summer will be more free for the beach, the mountains, hiking, walks, biking, and chilling out.

For now, here's our weekend recap starting with Saturday. I entered us in all three runs both days, Fast, Standard, and JWW. The way things panned out each day, that is what order we ran our classes. My youngest son came along on Sunday but I don't have video for Fast either day - Saturday because there wasn't anyone to video and Sunday because chief videographer, Zach, was snoozing in the truck.

As our friend, Rachel, and I walked the Open Fast course Saturday morning we thought for sure there was little chance of our dogs nailing this one. The lead up to the send wasn't great and the distance just seemed insurmountable for our dogs without at least something to build momentum. Of course that is the point - the dogs are supposed to be able to go out on command. However, we're neither one really as there as we would like to be hence our concern. Other than that the course was nice...and even with the send challenge, there were good options for what obstacles to hit and what path we could make on our way to trying it.
The path I chose was the single jump that faced the a-frame to the a-frame to the tunnel that was in a "U" shape under the dog walk. We hit the weaves, and I sent Vegas on to the jump in the send. She did great and although I called the tunnel she came out toward me and, I believe, across the line. I sent her back to the tunnel and she took it. Leaving the tunnel I called her to the teeter and we took the single jump after to the finish jump. The clock registered 28.83 seconds and I had counted our points to 58. We needed 55 points in less than 32 seconds. Success! Well, when the results were finally printed and posted in the book, it said we had just 50 points and were an NQ. I was rather upset and after talking with Rachel decided to go talk with someone at the score table. At first I thought perhaps the scribe didn't write everything s/he was supposed to. It turns out that the issue was really something in the computer. I got the results corrected and we now have just one leg left on our Open Fast title. Go Vegas!

Next up and not too far down the line was Excellent Standard. This course presented a few challenges. The first one and one that really irritated some of the other competitors was the #7 jump which was a wrap back to the dog walk. They even made a comment to the judge who said, "My course was approved by AKC." Good for him. Sure, I analyzed it and walked it a couple of ways trying to figure out the best option, but if I wasn't worried overmuch with a Great Dane.... So, what I decided to do and what I am excited to say worked well and shows in the video was to wrap on the outside (toward the circuled 1 you can see on that jump). This gave Vegas a much straighter shot to the dog walk - very important for a giant breed. They need their footing solidly on the obstacle and with only 12", straight on is the safest approach. From there, I would't have guessed we would have a ton of trouble until we got to the weaves. However, Vegas bounced off the table again. Not sure why - just another training issue. Then I struggled with getting her to lay down. All in all this made or the run to be quite frustrating.

In walking the course, I had thought to do a rear cross after #12 and before #13, but after I had sent her on ahead over #13. Well, I ran her too far and crossed after #13 so what happened next was my fault. She ended up taking the #5 jump which gave us an off course. Her weaves were fine at that point but then she launched off the a-frame and missed her contact which gave us a failure to complete. So, all in all, those things on top of the time it took us to run this course made for a big, fat non-qualifying run.

Our last run for the day was JWW and, despite loving agility, we were super excited it was only 12:30 when JWW started. We were able to get out of there at a decent time and I even got to go enjoy my son's last baseball tournmant game of the day. This course looked perfectly doable although when walking we had quite the "pile up" after the trip going into the weaves as each of us intensely debated with ourselves and each other how best to accomplish the entry without an off course. Needless to say, there was a challenge!
The rest of the course was actually not as challenging as sometimes it looks when you see the potential for off courses. It flowed well and the tunnels were placed in just the right spots to allow (some of) us to catch up. Of course, despite well laid plans, things can go awry. I had really planned on holding back at the triple. I wanted to be sure to accelerate enough for Vegas to fully take the jump and not pull short and knock barsk but I wanted to decelerate at the right moment to prevent her from going to #16 versus the weaves. Well, what failed to be in the back of my mind is Craig's training - "Never use a front cross if you aren't certain you have room." Except I thought I did. I didn't expect to get ahead of Vegas during the 9-12 sequence. We had a failed entry into the weaves because I pulled out a front cross but blocked her entry thus inhibiting her making the right choice. So, darn. Especially tough to swallow since this was our next to last chance to qualify and earn MACH points for the invitational period.
So, that ended our Saturday. One Q and an additional leg for our Open Fast title. We came home to a hot house. Vegas stayed home while the little one and I went to the ball game. She was happier than happy when we got home though because I brought her kids with me.


Sunday was more of the same and, again, I was a little sad that it represented our last day of a long stretch of fun. All day I had to tamp down the nerves that threatened to rise up and overtake me what with the goal staring me in the face. Of course Vegas knows nothing of the goal so I forced everything to be about her.

Again, Fast was first. This course was definitely doable although I knew I would have to support her down contact on the a-frame as she likes to leap off. Score! She did it and the rest was cake. The problem is I didn't recongize her speed was slower and tried for the weaves. She was in the middle, having taken the correct entry, when the buzzer went off. I hustled her out of there but it still took us almost 10 seconds to get over the finish jump (she took another jump on the way plus went around the finish) so we lost points. I was mostly mad at myself as I was only going to have her take the double and head for the finish, not practice the weaves. This was a great course and I was really hoping for our Open Fast title but it wasn't to be.
Our route on this course began with the tire. We then headed for the 9-point combo. She took it albeit a bit slow, then we hit the teeter, the single jump, and then the a-frame/jump send combo. The tunnel followed and that's when I chose weaves instead of the double. So, our NQ was my fault.

Next up again was Standard. This time it was a bit longer since we were running small to tall. The first challenge came right away. The jump to weaves was just off set enough that figuring out how to get her into the weaves presented me with a handling challenge. I chose to go on the outside (left) whereas the right would have been easier. Perhaps she would have nailed it, perhaps not. I don't know. I do know that she missed the entry and we had to start over. From there things were really good and we had no problems and were under time. So, it gives me something to add to the "work on" list.
After some down time, some rally obedience practice time to get us tuned into each other (and kill time), we were up for our last run of the day and our last chance to earn some more MACH points.

Okay, this course was a doozy. It was meant for running, for sure. I couldn't decide for certain to handle the first stretch on the inside or outside. It seemed to be easier on the inside but less likely to avoid a mishap. I chose the outside and Craig walked with me giving me some pointers as to where to be, etc. He made sure I knew I would need to run like mad and work constantly to encourage Vegas. I really felt like I did although I'm not sure how much of that the video picked up. However, the video is endearing as Craig was right there next to my son the whole time coaching us as we went. I just got to listen to it today when I uploaded to YouTube and get a chuckle each time. He's been so helpful to us.

So, I started out on the outside. The only real issue was the pinwheel that was the 5 through 8 sequence. Getting into position and not taking an off-course jump. Even the weaves weren't that big of a deal - at least once I got Craig's guidance on making sure I "had her head" coming out of the tunnel. Although you can't really tell on the map, the jumps were pretty much at minimum distances apart not leaving much for stride room for Vegas. Again, a challenge of running a giant.
At the end I got a hold of Vegas, gave her a big hug, told her "good girl" then looked at the time. I had a breakdown in the ring as I put her collar on and just had to sit down and hug her outside the ring. She ran her heart out and did all she could. Even later the judge said he was rooting for her - he remembered her from the first trial we went to at Argus Ranch over Mother's Day weekend. We managed to qualify and complete our fifth MXJ leg but didn't earn any MACH points. The SCT was 38 seconds. We ran in 37.13. Yes a Q. I was heartbroken cause I couldn't ask for much more out of my girl. She ran like a dream and she gave it her all for me. It's frustrating as we are always fighting the clock much more than most of the dogs running. We came in 13th place.

So, that was that. We came home and she drank, she pottied, and she rested. She had two small meals and crashed for the night. And now she gets a couple of weeks rest before our next trial, a CPE one in Turner. We ended our run with two open Fast legs, in Excellent A standard but no legs, five Excellent B JWW legs, and 9 MACH points. If the AKC ever gets their records caught up, I'm hoping we're in for the invitational. Right now they are backlogged to the fifth of June.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Evergreen Golden Retriever Club AKC Agility Trial, Day 3 (Trial 4 of 5)

Today we were running small to tall again. Two more chances at qualifying runs; one change at some MACH points. I planned to get a little extra sleep, pack up our room, and not arrive until around 9:30 today since the schedule indicated Excellent Fast would run prior to Excellent Standard. That was right around perfect as an hour or so after we arrived we were working in one ring for the open standard class and then got to walk. The course looked really nice. I was pleased with how it walked and I spent so much time watching people run it I practically had it memorized. The hardest part appeared to be the chute to the jump the weaves as the obstacles weren't set straight at each other. After the chute it required a bit of a pull toward the jump then a push to the weaves.
Prior to going in the ring I did everything I could to rev Vegas up. We went outside and did a few jumps. Then I stretched her legs out, stretched her back and neck, then gave her a vigorous rub down like I have taken to doing. Then I was telling her, "You wanna go play?" and trying to get her to tug, jumping, bouncing, just happy. Not sure if I overdid it or she just had a moment. Regardless, the run - what there was of it - wasn't pretty. She overshot the weaves....came back and did them splendidly. Her speed was remarkable. Then when I said here at the jump to direct her to the teeter, she decided the dog walk was more appealing. Then I had to follow her all the way to the end of the dog walk, she was just acting like she wanted to go do random stuff. She was flighty, bouncy, goofy, and yes, having fun, but clearly not of the team mentality. So, I pulled her. We went outside, ran around the property, went in the off leash area and she got her romping out of her system. Then she went to her kennel for a couple of hours of quiet time.

It was around 2:30 before we got to run again. We were one of the last 10 dogs or so to run from the entire trial. Again, I watched a ton of dogs run the course. Spots I thought would be problematic didn't seem to be an issue for the other dogs running. It wasn't until I had watched about 50 dogs that I also noticed there was no tunnel in this jumpers course. Can we say hallelujah? One less thing to slow us down....
There was definitely room to be concerned in this course. The jumps seemed like they were everywhere. Lots of people got lost and sent their dog over the wrong jump. It was easy for the dog to mistake a jump for the right one, too. The jumps were only yellow and magenta though so I tried to "memorize" the course according to the colors. The weave entrance wasn't straight on. I'm starting to wonder if straight on entrances to the weaves are not good for us. I used to be afraid of anything but straight on but now we have better luck with angled entrances. Hmm, something to think about....

Regardless, I decided to run her hard. I cheered her all along. I was able to make the front crosses where I needed to. I shouted encouragement as we ran and I figured I would just run the course whether she was there or not. Vegas done me proud and to a round of applause she finished in 39.03 (darn the .03) and earned 4 MACH points. That gives us a total of 9 MACH points right now and should put us in 5th place nationwide. Yahoo!!!!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Evergreen Golden Retriever Club AKC Agility Trial, Day 2 (Trial 4 of 5)

Today we ran tall to small and were supposed to have started right away at 8am with Excellent Standard in one ring. It turns out the trial got booked enough that one judge would have exceeded the maximum number of runs to judge in one day. So, Excellent Fast ran first judged by Craig Josling and then we got started. We probably ran right around 9am. The course was nice although quite a few zigzags that presented almost obstacle discrimination type challenges. The maps are a little rough. I had to take pictures of them with my BlackBerry because a bird pooped on my map.
I was really pleased to see the way Vegas started the dog walk...actually the entire thing was pretty fast for her, at least especially compared to lately. I wasn't sure what caused her to not take the weaves at first until I reviewed the video. At best I think I must be crowding her. I was fairly close to the weaves and I think I need to trust her and stay back more. As you can see from the video after, she did really well getting through them and continually picks up more speed. The rest was pretty simple. She could definitely be faster on her sit on the table...that costs us an extra two seconds or so each course. Inevitably tomorrow will be a down...hopefully she can be cooperative and not cost time. I like her consistent pace as she runs. She's not slowing down and lolly-gagging. She's steady, solid, and energetic. All in all, a good run.

Then we got to hurry up and wait. I had Leo out for quite a while since he was not happy being crated. He is starting to build a fan club of his own. We walked around, ran some, chatted with people, browsed at the vendors, and watched the goings-on to do with the Golden Retriever specialty. All in all, it was pretty boring between runs as it was rainy, wet, and gross outside. Both dogs were getting wet, muddy, and stinky.

When Jumpers was finally set, I was fairly pleased with the course. It looked completely doable. In fact, it was. Here is the part where I get highly peeved. Somebody not only had treats on their pocket while walking the ring, they managed to drop one on the ground!!! What would be the likelihood the tallest dog running the course would find it? You got it. Ugg! I was so irritated. We started off well and she was moving at a nice speed just like her standard run. I made a front cross just beyond the #6 jump and looked straight at Vegas with her head down right in front of the jump. I called her and she looked up, chomped like she was chewing, and we continued through the course flawlessly. OMG, there was a treat down there!!!! Talk about frustrating, especially since we finished with two plus seconds to spare which could have been three or more had she not gotten distracted by food!!!!!
Needless to say, I was pretty peeved and still am. Maybe I need to scream into my pillows for a couple minutes to get it out of my system. Damn because that cost us points we need!!!!!

On an agility note but unrelated to the trial, I was super excited today to pick up my order of 2x2 weaves from Agility A Go-Go. Now I'll be able to start working on Susan Garrett's weave pole strategies with Leo. Yay! Plus, 3 C's Dog Show & Grooming Supplies was there and I got an exercise pen mat of my own finally. Double yay!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Evergreen Golden Retriever Club AKC Agility Trial, Day 1 (Trial 4 of 5)

Well, we're down to the last two trials at the end of the AKC invitational qualification period. I entered Vegas into Standard and JWW today, tomorrow, and Sunday, then she runs next weekend at another local trial and we'll see where we end up in the rankings.

Today was awesome. There's just no other way to explain it. Vegas was amazing. I don't have video because my memory card was full, but not for lack of trying - thanks, Karen!

Our first run was Open Standard. Being a Friday there weren't nearly as many entries so things were moving along pretty quickly. Plus our class was small - only 4 dogs at 24". We also aren't the only Great Danes running this weekend. Our friend, Marta, from Olympia is here running her two brindles, Jive and Hunter. Jive was in our class and ran after Vegas and I. Here is the course:
I will say first off, jump #1 was not nearly as angled as it looks. I set Vegas right back against the wall just inside the ring and we could look straight to the a-frame. She ran the course really well. Our only hang up was her huge launch out of the chute where she then ran past the weaves. I'm not sure if my verbal queue was late - probably - but I got her back and she nailed the weaves fine through the finish. This single refusal cost us a 5 point fault. However, our score was 95 and our time was 52.73; SCT was 59. We qualified after Marta and Jive in second place. This was our OA run!!! Yay - the elusive third leg is finally complete. 

We then had a couple hours until it was our turn for JWW. SCT was 46 for 174 yards. 
I'm not thrilled about the first obstacle being a tunnel but in this case I just made sure we had enough distance that I could help Vegas gain some speed before attempting it. I then was able to quickly move behind #2 so I could call her over and be in position to move through the next sequence. She was running fast! I tried really hard today to spend a decent chunk of time with her before each run, giving her bits of treats, rubbing her down, stretching her, and getting her into "play" mode. I had a couple of bobble moments where I was just slow on queuing or afraid I was getting lost. Someone commented after how well she collects herself when she's on the wrong lead due usually to my handling. For instance, the jump from 9 to 10. I was slightly late queuing her to make this turn and getting myself positioned and she had to recollect to make #10. Then I thought I was too close in and would cause her to "push" out from the weaves but I stepped back and it all worked. The tunnel was a bit tricky to front cross at the end of the weaves and push her into the far side of the tunnel...but again, she did it! We finished in 43.56 seconds and earned two more MACH points!!!!

All in all, a great day. The venue is gorgeous. There's going to be quite a few vendors as the Evergreen Golden Retriever Club is having their specialty there with conformation, rally, obedience, and more. Two more days..... 

Portland Agility Club Trial Recap, June 12 & 13, 2010 (Trial 3 of 5)

I never got around to recapping last weekend's trial so I'm going to try to do it in a nutshell and just move on to this weekend. Suffice it to say, last weekend wasn't all it cracked up to be. Long story short, I had a problem with my entry I wasn't able to work out with the trial secretary (and AKC was less than helpful) so we ended up being entered in Excellent A Standard and Fast which was incorrect (Both runs should have been open level.) and accurately entered in Excellent B JWW. So I knew going into the weekend that we wouldn't have a chance of finishing the elusive third leg for our OA. Saturday morning as we were waiting to run, I made a decision. So often I watch the upper levels run and wish I could run the course. I decided running in Excellent Standard would provide me two opportunities. The first opportunity would be to run the course and see what the differences were from the open to the excellent level. Second, it would allow me to see if we were indeed ready for that level. Going into it with a more positive mindset or, as I told people, "making lemonade," made the runs all the more enjoyable even though if we qualified it would not count.

First run both days was Saturday. I'm not going to recap them as Sunday I missed our run and Saturday I used it as a warm-up and really didn't try for the send bonus. Here is the course from Saturday, though, for review.
Next was our chance at the Excellent Standard course.

This course definitely was designed with some pitfalls. The first was the fact that the #2 obstacle, the chute, way overshot the jump you had to go to for #3. This meant really being in position and calling your dog back at the right moment so as not to cause them to come toward you in the chute and get tangled. Then you had to go to #4 which was set at 90-degree angle to the #13 jump. Obstacle discrimination! The slightest handling bobble could cause the dog to go off course. Next was the teeter which was fine and then a jump to the weaves. It was nice to have the weaves set straight on - we've had a lot of 90-degree entries lately. Somewhere along the way I've learned to trust Vegas more with her weaves and she did great. She was on my left going through the weaves and we were turning the opposite direction after. It worked pretty well, if slightly slow. The video will show what I mean. Next was another discrimination area...the dog had to go to the table not the tire. It was a down on the table and she rocked. Fairly darn quick considering how much she dislikes this "move."

Next was another discrimination...the a-frame versus a tunnel. Fortunately coming off the table I could be in place to "block" the a-frame as I directed Vegas. Are we starting to sense a theme here? Next up was the jump to the a-frame and then a jump dead ahead of the a-frame. What I never considered Vegas would do so was slow to react and prevent her one error, an off course, was for her to take the jump to the left of the a-frame coming down. It looks far enough out on the map, and it was, but Vegas took that jump before I could stop her or call her off it. The rest was fairly straight-forward and if not for the off course, she was within time so would have qualified. So, opportunity number one - success! We truly were ready - and I learned to be more vigilant. Or so I thought....

Thanks to Lindsay for videoing us in this run!

Our last run of the day was Excellent B JWW. Another chance for MACH points. Another leg toward our MXJ. I blew it. Lesson not learned, or hadn't sunk in yet. Vegas took the tunnel right after jump #1...something I didn't anticipate or plan for. Craig says I wasn't watching her. I'm sure he's right.
He says I should have kept pushing her after to run it through as it should have been Q or not. He's right. Nonetheless, it was a clean course beyond that darn off course. Definitely tricky but what's nice is that we're handling it. Tight turns and jumps that could throw her off...they're not.

Sunday I missed our Fast run as I said. I got to talking. It turned out fine...I was considering scratching anyway. It was warm enough I didn't want Vegas to overdo it before JWW as that was the run we had the most to gain from. Just like the previous day, our next run was Excellent Standard. Same thought process...making lemonade.
This course had some people pretty peeved. The primary problem and where many teams got hung up was at #16-18. The tire to the jump (#17) was a really tight turn back with a sharp turn again following. Throw in a dog walk and it spells trouble. There are other obstacle discriminations present in this course, too, but not like the one from Saturday and nothing nearly as challenging as the aforementioned problem. However, I didn't really sense this being as big of a deal...perhaps because I wasn't running a wild and crazy BC or Doberman. Vegas ended up qualifying running the 62 second course in 61.51 with no faults. She was one of only two dogs in the 24" height category for Excellent A that qualified. Nice to know we could do it!

Our last run of the day was another shot at JWW. Our lovely friend Laura videoed for us. We didn't qualify again. I'm not sure what was "off" for Vegas that weekend for JWW, but we definitely we're cohesive, at least not at the beginning. I did register what Craig had said the day before though, and pushed her hard after our mistakes.

So, no keeper qualifying runs over last weekend. But, the standard runs showed me we have what it takes. And that was worth something.


Oh, and here are two pictures from Saturday taken by photographer, Joe Camp.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nina's Photography

Here are some photos of Vegas over the last six months or so taken by Nina Sage with Nina's Photography. Nina attends many of the dog sporting events and specialities in the area along with her daughter and takes endless photos of our dogs doing what they love.

And last but not least, our win pictures from High in Trial. Our friend, Rachel, and her Boxer, Harry Potter, were photographed with us since they went High in Trial on Sunday the 30th. It made for a really rewarding experience and super cool to share it with a friend. Our judges for the weekend were Carol Mount and Rhonda Crane. Thank you!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sunday's Videos

Again, many thanks to Lindsay for videoing these for us Sunday in the rain. I'm especially excited to have her JWW run on video since it was for her first MACH points.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

German Shepherd Dog Club of Oregon AKC Agility Trial Day 2, Invitational Qualification Trial 2 of 5

I had hoped beyond all ability to hope that we wouldn't see horrible rains overnight and today but it was all for naught. It rained badly. When I got up to let the dogs out this morning it was misting so finely it was almost as if it was coming sideways or we were in a wet cloud. After feeding the dogs I went back to bed to read and catch up on some emails as the trial wasn't set to start until 9 for ring 1 and 9:30 for ring 2, and we didn't run in either of the first classes. Vegas and I just hung out in bed for a couple more hours and finally headed out for the trial around 10:20 am. We arrived and poured the buckets of water off the canopy of our tent, then proceeded to arrange everything again and get Vegas' kennel set up for her to rest in between runs.

Our first run of two today was standard. Unfortunately the judge for standard was the same judge we had for JWW yesterday - so the course was wheeled too tight. The course was really nice though, on a positive note. Considering the potential for damage because of the darned rain and muck, I was watching dogs and handlers closely. The dogs only had issues in one or two spots and that was primarily the extremely fast dogs like BCs and Dobes. I decided to run with Vegas and let her set the pace for herself. She set a fast one at the start; unfortunately our weaves stalled us out again today. Not sure why she's not solid on the weaves in Standard but fine in Jumpers. It continues to baffle.
I led out a few feet from the tire heading up the right side. I was a bit late on queuing the jump #4 so rear crossed after Vegas had taken jump 3, with me moving across jump 3 more toward the middle of the course versus toward the left (and a-frame). Usually I would have crossed before the jump. It didn't seem to affect her too much though and I just turned my focus back on. We made contact on the a-frame and I called her in time for the dog walk coming out of the chute so she turned the right way. Then on the table I had to move to the side where the fencing/edge of the ring was as I feared her getting a table fault. She stood up once on the table after the judge started counting so we had to sit again to finish. Wasted time. I was worried walking the course about the obstacle discrimination between tunnel and dog walk. Usually she'll choose the dog walk. This time I was in position, anticipating, but she just did the right thing. Everything was fine until we got to weaves where she didn't take them right off so that was our first and only fault of the course. Of course that meant we lost time and that was that. We finished it in 67.65 seconds. Course time was 59 seconds for 142 wheeled yards. With one refusal and eight time faults, we didn't Q so we didn't finish our open standard title again - darn.

The JWW course was a nice one today. Good flow, somewhat challenging turns, offset jumps down straight lines just to keep things interesting. And the weaves. They were set at a left hand turn over a jump. Having Vegas on my right is not her preference when weaving. Craig walked the course with me once and gave me some good pointers. He really wanted me to trust her on that turn to the weaves. He said she would see them and, in explaining where I should be in relation to her and the weaves, I must say I was nervous as it was farther away from her than I would normally be. Basically I would try to control it more and I'm probably crowding her more than I think I am.
And she did it!!!!!!!! She ran this course beautifully. She was such a good girl. Smooth. Fast. Sturdy. Confident. I love this girl!!!! She ran like a dream again - all heart and all commitment and loyalty. What a dog! This course was wheeled at 160 yards for a course time of 43 seconds. Vegas did it flawlessly in 39.04 seconds and earned her very first MACH points - 3 of them!!!!! In looking at the score book it looks like that put her fifth behind the Dobermans. Fifth to the Dobermans - whoohoo! And Craig was right; I trusted her with the weaves and voila! she did it all by herself. Good job, Vegas!!

(I'll post video later. I forgot my camera so thanks to Lindsay I'll have video as she stood out in the rain to capture our moment on film. Thanks, Linds!)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

German Shepherd Dog Club of Oregon AKC Agility Trial, 2 of 5

Today marked the first day of the second of five trial weekends in a row. It was warm! Yesterday morning I had the heat on getting ready for work. Today I was ready to lose the long sleeved shirt when I arrived and before I was even done setting up! Many thanks to our awesome friend, Jami, for saving us a spot and doing all the hard work in the rain yesterday setting the pop-up up. I also want to point out how exciting it was to have our good friends, Lindsay and Bess, back and running with us! So, with all our friends in place, how could today go wrong? Well, I'm glad to say it didn't - at least from the perspective that we had fun and Vegas was a complete rockstar again. Man, I just love that girl. She is all heart and all smart.

Since I'm tired I'm going to make this relatively short. We started with fast and then waited a few hours. When we were almost up to run JWW, they started walking Standard. I did my best to "stay cool" and a big thanks to Lindsay for holding Vegas while I walked Standard (and for videoing us today). Very much appreciated.
This first course map shows the course unmarked. The send bonus doesn't look too difficult on paper or walking. There were two challenges, though. First, there wasn't much leading up to the send to give Vegas momentum. Always interesting as we learned last weekend. Second, the end contact on the dog walk without me supporting Vegas - although the dog walk is less of an issue for us than the a-frame. Below is the course map again but this time it is marked to show the course I plotted and walked for us. 
Fortunately Vegas was right on with me. I was a little late on queuing her for the second jump in the 180 (7a & b) but we still got the points. The send got us and it took a couple tries to get her going without momentum which was a bummer - but I anticipated that going in and did the best I could. However, she did take the send and even nailed her contact on the dog walk. Unfortunately, as you'll hear in the video, she ran out of time (We're only allotted 32 seconds.) as she came down the dog walk so that is why you hear the judge call a Fault. I finished the course as planned anyway so that she got her warm-up and felt good about what we did. 
After we "hurried up to wait" our next course was JWW. The course was wonderful - although I was concerned about the tight spaces. It appears the judge drew the course to the exacting minimums AKC allows between obstacles. Whew - not an easy feat for a Dane. Fortunately we'd practiced (a long time ago!) bounce jumps, so if need be I knew Vegas was capable. 
Oh, and did I mention it was hot out? Poor baby girl was hot and I know she wanted to drink more but, of course, being paranoid of bloat I only allowed her sips at a time. The good thing was there were faucets with very cold water near the ring and she loves her fresh water. I was also able to wet her underbelly and ears and back some, too, to cool her down after running. There was a lot on the line again for JWW - it's our chance to earn some MACH points. But I had to steel myself for just running and having fun. As I hung out waiting and chatting with Lindsay, it started to look scarily like our standard course was getting ready. I really need to get that last open standard leg so we don't have this kind of conflict - it happens way too often. Of course as I'm hemming and hawing - fretting - about what to do and worrying about not getting a walk through or having two courses in my head at a time, they started walking as there were still two dogs ahead of me in JWW. Cest la vie, right? What can ya do. So the time came for us to run....
Vegas ran this course like a dream. She was clean. She was precise. She was responsive. She even did her weaves right away - quick - straight out of a tunnel. I was so proud of my girl. I thought, too, we had Qd and earned a MACH point. The following is part of the video...not all got recorded which is fine, but I wanted to include this part as it shows head on Vegas coming through the weaves. She is moving pretty good for a big girl and it was a nice perspective.

So basically we ran over time is all. Everyone had thought we did it and we got so many compliments on how well she handled the course. Someone did say later that the judge is known for wheeling his courses very tight which results in shortened yardage which means less time. The person who told me this said she watched him wheel that course today and chuckled to herself about how unrealistic he was where he wheeled for big dogs. So imagine what that does to the giant dog's time? Anyway, I'm trying not to focus on that although it's a good tidbit if it's true as I may not want to enter under this judge again if we're going to get shot in the foot by time. Regardless, disappointing in the actual results but I was overjoyed at how well Vegas did. She was such an incredible girl and couldn't have performed better.
Last up was standard and it was right after JWW. She barely had time to catch her breath but I was able to keep her under the shade tent at the start line and she lay down on the cool ground where it was still damp from having had so much rain lately.
This course didn't appear too difficult. I liked it well enough although I had some concerns about the chute back to the tire. As you'll see on the video, I didn't call her soon enough so she initially turned the wrong way as she didn't know where I was or what I expected. The other thing I didn't do well was to step in on the weaves to prevent pop out. So, that cost us a ton of time. Hopefully now that will be ingrained into my brain so we don't continue the pop out problem.

Sooo, today was a no Q day. Vegas got soaked down with water after her run, some fresh water from the faucet, her soft serve on the way home, and a turkey drum for dinner. She's been sawing logs ever since. Tomorrow is another day - here's to no rain but cooler temperatures and a lot of fun for my baby girl and me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Countdown for Invitational Qualification - Trial 1 of 5

Last weekend's four-day Memorial Day weekend trial marked trial #1 of 5 weekends in a row that Vegas and I will be competing to try and earn a spot amongst the Great Danes to the AKC Agility Invitationals this coming December. Going into this weekend we had one Open Standard leg and one Excellent A JWW leg. Although Standard is important, we were really focusing on and counting on the JWW classes to help boost our chances. We needed to get into Excellent B so we could start earning MACH points with each qualifying run (that was under time).

The trial was hosted by the McKenzie Cascade Dog Fanciers club and held at the Lane County Fairgrounds in Eugene, OR. The trial ran from Friday through Monday offering FAST, Standard, and JWW runs for the first three days and Standard and JWW on Monday. The kids and I kind of made a mini-vacation of it and went down to Eugene on Thursday evening and returned on Monday afternoon. To put a smile on the kids' face I even bought us tickets to see the University of Oregon Ducks baseball team play the California Golden Bears on Friday night at PK Park.

Without further ado, here is how the weekend went in more depth than I posted last.

The first run of the day Friday was Open Fast. Originally the first ring, Excellent, was supposed to start at 8:30 am and the second ring was to start at 9am. It turned out they only had one microphone system for the judges so the Excellent ring had to finish before the second ring could get started. That delayed things a bit but our Fast classes ran quickly as there are not as many entered at that level. Here is the course:

If you look at the upper left of the map, that is where the send was. I really didn't have a lot of hope going into it to get Vegas into the tunnel as it was a ways out. However, she surprised me as she so often does. We entered the course on the left and I run her straight through the jumps that went up the center of the course (heading toward the far, back, right) and then swung left to the jump leading toward the send. Not sure if it was due to her extra energy, being the first run of the weekend, or just my good girl, but voila! she did it and we then flew over the a-frame. We still had some point accumulation to do so I took her through the tunnel as that was worth a good number, over the teeter and managed to squeeze in a blind cross to send her over the 6a jump. I thought we had it but I must have been off slightly in my timing as she dropped the bar. She did go ahead and "flip" to take the 6b jump and we ran down the line to the finish. We qualified for our first Open FAST leg and a great warm-up to start the day, too. For Open FAST, you are allowed 32 seconds and must get 55 points including the bonus. We scored 61 points and ran it in 25.07 seconds.

Our next run of the day was Excellent A JWW. I should mention I had put Vegas and myself under a lot of pressure at the last trial and ended up a nervous and emotional wreck. This weekend I had to change my mindset and just tell myself (and Vegas) over and over that we were going out to play and have fun. I had a few momentary twinges but for the most part that worked much better and people even commented on how relaxed she seemed. Knowing this was the first of four attempts at JWW this weekend, I was really pleased with our runs - including this one. Vegas handled like a dream. She was such a good girl and the issues we had were completely my fault.
There were a few tricky parts in this course...not difficult - just tricky. At the beginning you'll see as we make the turn into the #3 jump that we were going into a pinwheel. There wasn't great access for me to get into the middle so I did what works so well for her which was to "flip" her with my outside arn. You'll see she's not moving as fast as she could be but she responded well and made a nice smooth turn. Everything after that until the tunnel went very smoothly. The tunnel constituted a refusal fault and was completely my fault. I didn't push her into it or support her long enough and make it clear she was supposed to take the tunnel. I moved off just slightly too soon and she pulled with me. Similar to the first twist in the course, there was another challenge the last few jumps before the weaves. As you can see, we were completely in sync but need to work on speed. I was especially proud of her for taking the weaves all the way through like a champ.

The last run of the day was Open Standard. I really didn't know what to expect this weekend from Standard. Vegas hasn't let me down with taking the weaves in JWW for the last couple of AKC trials but she's refused them or done "run bys" in Standard. We've worked really hard at them the last three weeks, using our yard stick-in-the-ground weaves, a pouch of treats, and a lot of bouncy fun praise. But, the proof was going to be this weekend.

Did I mention what a rockstar she was? Well, just in case I didn't...Vegas was a completely wonderful partner almost the entire weekend. She was cooperative, assertive, fun, and responsive. Our Standard run was a lot of fun because she ran the entire thing. The only issue, once again, was a handling error I made.
I probably mostly psyche myself out more than anything about weave entrances. In this course, the weaves were about even with the tire so I knew she would have to come back to them. However, there were some things on our side. 1) Vegas would be on my left and she handles the weaves ever so slightly better with me in this position. 2) There was room after the tire to turn back and face the weaves head on. I trusted her and she didn't let me down. She took to the weaves right away and finished them. I wanted to whoop and holler but we had a job to finish. Next up was a 90 degree turn into a tunnel right after the weaves. I couldn't make a move before she was out of the weaves so it meant quick thinking and acting. My friend, Rachel, and I had discussed our next move. The chute was next followed by a series of jumps. In theory I could have used the "flip" move on the two major turns in a jump sequence down the ring but I was concerned about being able to do it and have her read me successfully. I decided somewhat last minute (last walk through) to try what Rachel and Harry Potter were going to do which was a quick front cross in front of the jump after the chute so that I would be on the correct side to guide her through the next few jumps. However, I was concerned about her going into the chute - I felt like she might back out if I moved too soon. That split second hesitation cost me - and her - because she saw me make the front cross and was too far out when she took the jump. Vegas bumped the wing with her hip and took out the jump which the judge took to be a failure to complete the obstacle. She was fine and acted like it didn't even happen; in fact, I didn't know the full jump was down until we were done running. She struggled a bit on the table with her down - something we still need to work on, but she did do it quicker than she has in the past. We finished with a "F" fault (failure to complete an obstacle) in 58.45 seconds. The course yardage was 158 yards and had an alotted time of 65 seconds. Again - we would have been well under time were it not for those minor things. So ended Friday and a good start to the weekend despite our low Q rate.

Saturday was a super tired day spent fighting to smile and stay positive. The baseball game got out somewhat late (after 10pm) and then we had to drive back to the hotel, get the dogs pottied and settled, and then wind down. We also happened to have some very rude hotel neighbors who made it seem more like a low-budget apartment complex than a hotel and decided yelling, making noise, banging doors, and having screaming kids running up and down the walkway until after midnight was acceptable. This led to Vegas "woofing" regularly out of partial alarm and partial alertness. So, needless to say, running small to tall made for an even longer day.

Again, we ran FAST early in the day but then played the hurry up and wait game for our rings to be ready/available for our next runs. FAST was a complex course that we realy didn't have a hope for so I basically just plotted a course that would allow Vegas to warm up good.
As you can tell from the map, there was a full 15-foot send into a 200 degree turn toward orange fencing and a wall with no lead-up (speed-up) obstacle. I don't have any video because the kids were sleeping, but I was fortunate enough to get Vegas within about two feet of the first jump so I know it's just time and practice that will help us to get sends down better. In retrospect I wish I hadn't tried for the send bonus so many times as it really burned up time I could have spent just practicing on the course. Now I know for next time and at least Vegas wasn't distressed.

At this point I don't remember what we ran next, JWW or Standard. However, Vegas ran like a dream and I couldn't be more proud of her. She was such a great girl.
This course was pretty straightforward to start out with. I debated on my position at the teeter as to how best to guide her into the tunnel after the jump. As often we debate, push or pull? In this case I decided to pull but my verbal queue was later than it should have been which is why Vegas initially headed to the right and the tire. Nonetheless, we stayed on track. I always wondered when doing CPE and AKC would bite me in the butt. Well, it started to this weekend. The table in CPE will from this point forward be a stopping place, not a springboard. I learned quickly what to do in case Vegas were to consider doing what she did here - the next day I stood in front of the table on the direction she was heading so she would have to go through me. Worked like a charm. So, that was a table fault. The next challenge was the row of jumps leading into a 90 degree turn to the left for the weaves. I had a couple of choices. 1) Stay on the right side and "flip" her into the weaves after the double. I would have to make sure my queue was just right and I didn't bang into the double on my way past it on the inside corner. 2) Try to lead out from the table and front cross before or as Vegas got off the table and be on the left of the jumps heading up #11 > 12, etc. There was also the concern regarding the a-frame and its appeal. 3) Front cross after #11. Based upon the table incident, I immediately crossed off option #2. #3 became an impossibility based upon her speed. Therefore I got to use handling technique #1 by default. I just did it and hoped and trusted - and it worked!
And that completed what was our second leg of Open Standard (which I discovered that night - I originally had it in my mind that it was our first).

We finished with a score of 95 in 52.05 seconds. The yardage for this course was 141 yards and the time was 58 seconds. The deduction to our score was from the table fault and we ended up with a second place ribbon.

Sunday we ran FAST again. This time the course was a bit more complicated looking but shouldn't have been that difficult. There were three options for the send bonus - two 90 degree angled jumps, one with a left turn, one with a right turn, or a series of two parallel jumps. Based upon our need to run and use this course as a warm-up, I chose the send bonus that was a left-turn at 90 degress. See the original course below and following that the course with my notes.
 So in the second you'll see pink and blue. Those colors represent the lines for the bonus that we could not cross. The purple path is the path we took. I could not get Vegas out and over the second jump in that left turn of our send but was successful coming around the big loop and doing it from the opposite direction. However, once you have committed to a "send" and failed to do it, you are not eligible to complete one of the others. So, no Q, but she did prove competent at completing that distance work - just not when it counted.

No video for that run because my videographers slept in.

Next up was another Open Standard opportunity.
This course presented some questionable handling areas. Where to make the transition? Rear cross or front cross? As Craig always says, "If you aren't sure if you can get there in time, don't do a front cross." Turns out he's right. Case in point: Friday's course where Vegas knocked into the jump. It's just not worth it and as I'm learning with Vegas, the result could be a potential injury for my dog. As this course played out, I just don't have the ability to work enough distance yet to get out and head of Vegas to make some of the maneuvers that would make course handling simpler. So, we went with next best thing which was our good old flip to turn. As you'll see in the video, the transition from #3 to #4 was for me to "flip" her out that direction.

The next thing the video has helped me to realize is how slowly Vegas is moving across the dog walk these days. I am not sure what is causing that but I think I need to get back to her core strengthening and hind end awareness work. She's taken quite a few falls in her agility career but never in a trial. She doesn't appear to lack confidence but she's certainly careful of foot at times. I dug up this picture which shows a very simple exercise we used to do...just using a taped up phone book as a base to turn around which puts her hind end in control of her body's movement.
Step Aerobics 'Dane' Style
The next issued which seemed to be a trend this weekend was her jumping off the table. I need to work more on that and also just the firmness and seriousness of her stay in that environment. For now and while things matter so much I won't trust her to stay on the table. That mistake cost us time and caused a table fault. The next few obstacles were fairly straightforward. Using a rear-cross while she's in the tunnel works out great and tends to be a bit easier on my legs than front crosses.

In reviewing the video I can hear me calling "weave" before she took off for the jump before the weave poles so I'm not sure what caused her to carry out so far and then take her time to loop back to me. However, that was another problem that cost an additional second or two plus a fault when she didn't stop until she had gone between poles one and two from the wrong side. The next challenge I had planned for was the jump turn to the teeter and the table being there. In CPE, the table is our "game over" point. Here it is live and would be an off course. I knew I didn't have a lot of hope in getting on the other side of the weaves to be in better position for the jump, so I knew I had to be prepared to RFP or something to keep her heading toward the table if I sent her out and around the jump after the weaves. As you can tell from the video, being prepared is good but it happened to be unnecessary in this instance. She headed right toward the teeter and we finished the course. Over time, too many faults, but we had some good moments, too.

Our last run of the day was Excellent B Jumpers - our first chance. The course looked like a lot of fun and flowed well. Starting with a tunnel is not super common, and not bad, but not my favorite way to start a course. If possible it's nice on such a giant dog to have some momentum into the tunnel. On this course, it just meant me entrusting her to take the tunnel then beating it over to be ready for a front cross before she came out of the tunnel so I was in position for the next few obstacles. Fortunately everything went off without a hitch here until we got to the weaves. She popped out and I can't figure out why. Fortunately I brought this up to Craig and he gave me a simple pointer that helped Sunday to prevent it and I will continue to use this as long as I feel necessary. I do have to give Vegas huge kudos here for handling the maneuvers I keep calling "flips" so well. To identify a flip, just watch for my arm to go straight up right before an obstacle. This is a signal to her to change direction and it works remarkably well. It led her straight into the weaves without me having to be in front of that jump and turning her.

After watching a ton of dogs on this course, I was a little concerned about getting lost after the weaves because several handlers ended up taking their dogs in different directions as of the second jump. Fortuntaely I remembered and Vegas followed through well. Another conundrum was whether to try to fit in a front cross before the triple or to trust Vegas. Sticking with the Craig-ism that if I can't get there, I stuck to the outside and rear-crossed after the obstacle following the triple.

The only other error in this course was coming out of the tunnel and I recognize that as my fault. I sent Vegas into the tunnel and then called her as I was headed into position. When she came out of the tunnel she went in the direction she had heard my voice. Another something for me to remember. I'm still learning....

Whew, the weekend was winding down and we were definitely ready to head home...and yet bittersweet that the trial was almost over. We meaning the kids and I. I think Vegas was getting a little tired, too, due to lack of sleep in the hotel and not having her heat blanket with us for the bed.

One other thing that had happend Sunday that was super exciting was at the general briefing. I had missed general briefing every other morning as they did it so early but for some reason Sunday they called briefing mid-morning. I happened to have Vegas out and was wandering around visiting with my oldest son, Kane. We went to briefing between the rings with Vegas in two. They talked first about some of the legislative issues surrounding land use that are going on in Oregon and what is being done about it and then they moved on to give out the awards for High in Trial for Saturday. I didn't even know they were doing the High in Trial let alone by breed groups. My son commented that maybe Vegas would get something and I had just told him, "No, that kind of thing normally goes to Dobermans and Border Collies, etc." Then they said, "The High in Trial award for Saturday goes to Vegas." I was in shock! to say the least. My mouth dropped open and I just stood rooted to the spot. My son fortunately recovered faster than I did and went to get our ribbon as I finally reacted and loved all over Vegas. Talk about a fait accompli! Here is the picture I took of her Monday when we got home and headed to the park for a bit.
We showed up later on Monday to give us more sleep time and time to check out. Turns out we could have slept for a few more was a long wait. When we finally ran, it was a toss-up if I was going to have to walk JWW before I even got to run Standard. It was close! Rachel Vegas and I jump in front of her and Harry Potter to give us an extra minute or two. We ran then I came out of the ring, passed Vegas to my son, and walked the JWW course. Here is the Standard course:
 The first challenge in this course was just making sure I sent Vegas in the correct end of the tunnel. This was mostly accomplished by twisting my shoulders in the direction she needed to go and if you pause the video at 16 seconds you can see I am facing at a 90 degree angle away from Vegas as she takes the blue winged jump. That went off smoothly and the next challenge was to stay on the right side or beat feet to make a front cross. Once again...Craig-ism. This time I was able to make it and got the front-cross in after the jump following the tunnel. And on we went.... Unfortunately I think I pulled off at the next jump just slightly too early because the top bar fell. Please note the lesson well learned from Sunday...I stood in front of her on the table so she couldn't "bounce." And off and running we were. I knew I couldn't successfully get ahead of her over that jump to be on the other side of the a-frame so I just "winged" it and planned for a front cross at the bottom of the a-frame. That worked just fine and didn't hinder her progress into the tire, something I always want to be careful about. With giant breeds they just don't have the maneuver room with the tire that other breeds do. Unfortunately Vegas decided pole 10 was the end again and we had to restart our weaves. All of these things cost us a lot of time that would have otherwise resulted in a fairly fast course. So no third leg and new title for the weekend with Standard. BUT, I never once left the ring with Vegas. She ran the courses, did her weaves, didn't disengage, and all in all performed well. She just helped me remember we have things to keep working on.

Last run of the weekend...#12. Another shot at Excellent B JWW and MACH points. Here goes.
 Can I just say, I love watching my girl's floppy ears as she runs! She runs in such a bouncy way that her ears are up and down all the time. Such a happy girl. There was really just one concern in this course and that was jump # 14. I had already made the assessment that it would be easiest to "flip" Vegas out toward the wall and talking with Craig confirmed it. However, for some reason it didn't go as smoothly and we almost NQd on that alone. Not sure if you can hear in the video but I sure found my voice there! It worked but cost us the time that we might have had to gain a MACH point or two. Oh well....we learned. AND, not to ignore the greatest part, Vegas did Q in the run which resulted in our first leg toward an MXJ.

And that is that until the coming weekend, which at this point is really soon! Stay tuned.