Monday, December 19, 2011

Our First Invitational Experience - Saturday

Saturday we were scheduled to walk our first round (Standard) at 8:45 and run starting at 9:10. We were running in the later group of 24" dogs. They were running about 30-45 minutes behind mostly due to issues with the sod/surface. That was an ongoing problem all weekend. The sod strips laid down were just two feet wide. I guess they used sod last year as well but didn't have any issues. Per some in the know, the previous year's product was four feet wide and much thicker with a dirt base/substrate. This was very sandy and probably less than two inches thick. In our first class and first round of the weekend, it was getting torn to shreds any area where the dogs were moving fast on a directional change (E.g. 180s, 270s, and also the weaves). It was getting treacherous with some dogs skidding out, sliding onto their shoulder, etc. A common sight throughout the weekend....

Originally they were pouring sand on torn up spots. Then they were pouring sand and stomping it down. Then they were patching in the pieces of turf that went flying. In the stands it seemed a consensus that the biggest issue was the dryness of it all. You can tell the surface doesn't look very green. True, it's not getting sunlight but if it were just laid and was good quality to start, you'd think it would look a little better. Of course I didn't have any idea what had been used previously so didn't have anything for comparison. But I was surprised at the rapid deterioration. Friday it had a bit of spring when you walked on it. By Saturday morning and our walk through, no spring. So anyway, without beating a dead horse, I'm surprised there weren't a ton of injuries from those dogs sliding. Thankfully AKC was very diligent at working at it and re-rolled turf when a section was irreparable, watered those areas down to help congeal them together, and even Gail Storm could be seen on hands and knees tamping the surface down. At one point Sunday she even rebuilt part of the course "on the fly" in order to avoid the 24" dogs running the same path the 20" dogs were and risking more problems. I think it was a lesson learned. From what others had said of last year's surface, these problems weren't an issue. Apparently the thickness was about double as was the width of the  turf rolls. So hopefully this year was a lesson learned and next year will be better.

Courses throughout the weekend looked challenging but doable. Mostly they were handler heavy with multiple options depending on where your dog was or where you were.

Round 1
Round 1 was a Standard course designed by Mike Lappin. We were to be judged by Nalle Jansson. In the pictures above, imagine one of those pink-robed poles on the left side right next to the #2/8 jump. That's about where I wanted to be to send Vegas into the tunnel so she had a running start. A running start makes the tunnel easier and faster for her. Someone asked if I could send her in diagonally from somewhere in the vicinity of the opposite side of the #2/8 jump. I debated on it but ultimately came to the conclusion the best entrance for her is straight on. All that meant is I had somewhat limited space between the jump and the pole and I wanted to be sure I didn't knock the bar with my butt. :) From there, most handlers were making a front cross before the weaves. I knew how appealing the a-frame would be to Vegas and also that I would have time and room to make a front cross after the weaves, if need be. Ultimately I rear-crossed the teeter which worked well for us. By staying back on the weaves, too, I avoided wasting time on allowing her to jump and run out far and having to pull back to the weaves. My biggest concern, like it has been lately, was the down contact on the a-frame. My timing has to be so precise with when to call the contact, where my deceleration point is, and when to move on. I have yet to master exactly what it is so it gives me much angst in preparation for a run over that one small component. Based upon normal handling, I planned to rear cross 10 with a "flip" command of an off-side arm. I figured I would then be between the jumps and able to call her around the 180 (plus) then rear cross (again with a "flip" or "switch" command with an off side arm) 13-14. I knew I would be on the left for 15 to 16 but figured I would rear cross 16. I knew I had to rum out the length of the chute before moving to the dog walk, which was fine. So that was the plan and all went fairly well.

What I could never have accounted for was that Vegas would be a bit clingy and less independent on some obstacles. Or perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my signals. Either way, our first "issue" was after the a-frame (Hooray - she nailed the a-frame beautifully!) at #8. I thought I sent her and went to move off toward #9. She pulled off #8 causing a refusal. I corrected her without an off course and moved to #9 and 10. We seemed to be back on track and then she missed #12 and I had to correct. She seemed to want to come between the jumps. Our next issue was at #16. I think I trusted her again to take the jump and she peeled off again with me and that made our third refusal. All for all for a first run, we completed every obstacle, had no off courses, but accrued three refusals. We were within time though, so that was good as well. I went into this run with the mantra that we were running just like we do at home. I couldn't let myself be any more mentally psyched up than seemed to be inevitable so I decided I had to run "just like always" and figure that was what had gotten us there anyway. Going into the run with my head in that place was a lot better. Prior to making that decision I had butterflies like nobody's business and I knew that would transfer to Vegas, too, which was no good. With my head in the game, I laughed off the things that happened, called Vegas a "silly girl," and knew there wasn't really any way I could have known she would need me to stick closer. A lesson learned and one I was prepared for with Round 2.

Our score was 85/100; SCT was 62 with our time 55.359. That put us in 98th place in the 24" class out of 122 dogs.

We had lots of time between round 1 and 2. In light of Vegas' normal reaction to being crated, I figured I would just keep her with me walking around, watching, etc. We wandered through the meet the breeds booths, watched the "Eukanuba Incredible Superdogs" show, talked with people, and tried to watch friends' runs. Of course I took a TON of pictures. 
The dock diving pool was in the same hall as agility. We stopped to watch some of the dogs jumped. Vegas was over-the-top engaged. I wish that meant she would be interested in doing it, but she was more just tuned into and keyed up by the other dogs who get so intense. Somehow it triggers an insanity switch in her and makes her a bit nutty. Basically from the pictures you can see she was tuned into the dogs on the dog and in the water and when they jumped or when their toy was thrown she charged and ran in a semi-circular pattern at the end of her leash. I finally had to leave that area as she was just too amped up and I was afraid she would strain herself sliding on the slippery floor in her frantic rushes back and forth. Needless to say, she was entertaining not only to me but those around us.

The very first Dane to ever earn the prestigious MACH title was Morgan, owned and handled by Keri Caraher. Keri has been participating in a traveling dog act called the Superdogs in Canada for the past few months and was asked by AKC to perform at the invitational. So we went over and watched their show on Saturday after our first run. Basically they do all sorts of "dog fun stuff" with some quippy commentary, showmanship, and cool equipment thrown in. They also demonstrate disc dog stuff and demonstrate the incredible physical ability of some of the dogs.
Above and for the next couple of pictures, the dogs started on the red platforms, ran jumping through the red/black/white standard, went into the tunnel, looped around the silver dog bone, back into the tunnel, and returned to the platform through the jumps.

Again with the amped up and active dogs, Vegas was attuned.
Here is Mega and Keri.
Notice the fair competition....Great Dane versus Chinese Crested. Who do you think will win? Poor Mega; she's way cuter for sure.

Next they brought out a set of 24 weave poles decked out with cool silver streamers. The dogs that really got going sent the streamers flying - it was really pretty. Above is K8, another of Keri's Danes. K8 was a crowd pleaser particularly on Sunday.
I think it's so adorable how both stand and hug Keri. Vegas doesn't mind jumping up but prefers to do so for only a second at a time and certainly doesn't care to extend her legs up onto my shoulders and relax her elbows against me.

Above is Ethan and Power. Power is a Belgian Malinois with a ton of drive and athleticism showing off her mad disc skills.
This was one of my favorite parts of the show! The dogs played musical mats. The dogs were to walk with their handlers around the silver bones and when the music stopped, the dogs rushed to lay down on a mat. The last dog not "downing" was eliminated.

This cutie Vizsla got sent to the penalty box more than once because he was mat obsessive. :) He was a bit anxious and kept going to the mats instead of remaining outside the box and walking. In the Sunday show we caught, he made it to the mats first despite the penalty box.
This was pretty incredible. There was a thick foam cushion for the dogs to land on and the bars got higher and higher for dogs that cleared the previous height. Below is an Ibizian Hound who cleared the highest - 13 bars on Saturday for a total of about 5 1/2'. Amazing!

After the Superdogs show we went in the conformation hall. Turns out Danes weren't showing Saturday so we headed to the Pom ring. Caught the tail end of Best of Breed and snapped a couple pictures. The black in group didn't turn out at all - too bad. I think it took 4th or 5th - select perhaps. The rest were orange.

Having so many amazing friends and supporters both at home and around Facebook-land, I tried to take some pictures of the booths for some of those friends' breeds. Above, the Pumi for my friend, Twylla, who has her first Pumi, Furgie.
Above and below are the Bullmastiffs taken because my friend, Andrea, has two of them. I think we walked past these two (above) both days and they never moved. Flat out in their costumes. Embarrassment or exhaustion? You decide....

Just a random shot of Vegas when we were walking around.
A frequent routine of ours surrounding agility trials has been getting Vegas ice cream, usually from Dairy Queen. At the Orange County Convention Center and my hotel, my options may have been slightly  more limited but there was an ice cream vendor. I saw their prices and about flipped. The sales person didn't speak English too well and didn't seem like she understood my question about whether they could be flexible on price and just sell me a small single scoop. Yea. I decided I just couldn't justify $4.25 for a single scoop of vanilla. Love you Vegas, but I could have bought her four treats that would have lasted a lot longer from another vendor I had seen.

A woman had just finished paying for her ice cream when she observed this interaction. She heard/saw me decline to purchase anything and pulled out her wallet. She told the sales person shes would purchase it and to give the ice cream to Vegas. I tried to decline but she wouldn't take "no" for an answer. So Vegas had an unexpected and benevolent friend. She enjoyed her treat thoroughly.

Round 2
Our Round 2 course was JWW designed by Terri Campbell and judged by Mike Lappin. First thing to note, of course, as those who follow my blog know, was the single tunnel on course. Yay for that even though it was a 20'. In watching the other classes, the area to hang up dogs and handlers the most was the 180s at 9 to 10 and and then not hitting an off course to 14 or the wrong end of the tunnel plus the 180 of 13-14. It was a tight course no matter how you looked at it and very much required the handler to be on his or her toes. Definitely no time to relax and just run your dog. You had to be ready for adjustment at any moment should he or she land just outside of what you expected or not look at you and read a queue like you're used to. The wrap at 15-16 was not great either as some dogs saw the off course tunnel and went for it, and it just slowed the ending versus allowing a nice home run stretch. This wasn't the kind of course I had seen from Terri Campbell in the past so I was a little disappointed.

My plan was to work from the right with a front cross after #3. I knew I could pull her back to the weaves. Another big issue other dogs had was going off course after #7 since there was quite a bit of distance and they were moving out ahead of their handlers. Naturally they turn back toward their handler and, "Oops!," take 13 or 14 or.... So my goal was to move out off the end of the weaves far enough to make a front cross that drew a long straight line down through 8. She still picked up enough speed that I had to throw an off side arm to side her out to 8, though, but thankfully I was prepared.

I had a concern after the 180 about sending her into the tunnel with my left arm and rear-crossing. Sometimes she seems prone to back out, particularly since the issue with the chute. Worst case scenario I figured I would run the outside of the tunnel. Fortunately she handled it fine. Keri reviewed the course map with me and suggested pushing out at the tunnel exit to shape the #12 and begin her turn. This was very wise because many, many dogs landed perpendicular to the jump then had a hard turn back to #13 and or they hit the #8 jump as an off course. In that regard, 12-14 was really more of a serpentine which we totally have down! I had intended to turn her to the outside after the #15 wrap to go from 16 to 17. Unfortunately, as the video shows, she didn't see my queue so my timing was clearly off. We had knocked the second jump bar anyway, but whew, there was some adrenaline pumping action at the end.... See for yourself.

She was a crowd pleaser, for sure. This was the round we had the announcer telling a bit about us and while I heard a bit of it, I remember the crowd even more. Despite our knocked bar at the beginning, the people watching were pulling for us during our struggle at the end. It was really, really fun to hear them when we finished our run.
Our score was 95 (just one fault, the knocked bar) and under time by 3+ seconds. Cumulatively, we moved up from 98th to 81st even with two faulted rounds. My goal was still a clean run (at least one!) and a super pretty ribbon. But at that point I was thinking I hadn't queued her for the turn at 16 and caused that fumble at the I'd had a break down after our run over her knocked bar thinking something was wrong. Keri watched the video late in the day and told me I had queued it. Small difference but at least I didn't forget. I was late, though, clearly or she would have seen it, read it, and acted on it.

All in all, we moved up in ranking plus our overall faults were lower. And she wasn't needing me to stick so close and was running like I was used to. So things were looking up.

So that was that for Saturday. We did some more visiting, watching, and wandering, and finally headed back to the hotel around 6:30. Val and I ordered pizza on the way and Keri met us in my room where we chatted and had dinner. After they left I took Vegas out on another potty walk for the night. I brought my camera again in hopes of getting a better picture in front of the nutcracker....
This picture (above) was actually taken leaving the convention center earlier.
"Not gonna look at you."
"What's that? Over there..."
"Ain't gonna do it...."
Much more cooperative in front of the tree.
Too bad I chopped the top off the tree in both pictures.
Random and strange... a phone book outside of our room. It was there until the day we left.

Recall I said I had a breakdown worrying about something being wrong with Vegas when she knocked a bar? Turns out there was. She pooped three times during the day, once she almost did so inside the building which is completely unheard of. Something was certainly off and all I could figure is that it was her traveling food. I mentioned some time back about buying a dehydrated raw, NRG. We've used it quite a few times before for a weekend trip out of town, etc. I had opened two of the three boxes I bought, one of which had grain, one which did not. No issues other than softer stool and more of it. Well, at the third time of the day I was stressing. It was a lot to go. And she wasn't drinking a lot while some of her excrement was quite loose bordering on diarrhea. She went again when I took her out before bedtime; that made the fourth time of the day.

She was fairly wiped out about 10:30 pm or so; I went lights out about 11:00 pm. She woke me up before 2 am to potty. Guess what? She pooped again. Wow. Five times in one day. This NRG stuff was not working for us - at least not on this trip. I don't know if it was just sensitivity, if it is the grain - which she is completely unaccustomed to - or if it was the travel, too. Poor girl. But thank Dog she woke me up to go and was able to hold it until we got down from the 15th floor, out the lobby, and into grass. Whew!

So I made the difficult decision to fast her on Sunday morning. I'd already given her a really good massage and stretched her. I couldn't do much else and the cause of everything seemed to be food and gut related. If her tummy was processing food that often throughout the day, no wonder she couldn't extend for the triple and we were having troubles. As I fell back asleep for a wake-up alarm to come in just four hours, all I could think was how I was going to make it through the morning getting ready when she wasn't going to get food.....

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