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.

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