Category Archives: trials

I’m not as good at this as I want to be….

I know what you’re thinking. “She’s going to talk about getting better at agility.” Nope.

I want to be better at not looking for that pretty little single letter (no, not “E”) in the results. I want to stop walking the course and thinking about protecting the Q. My favorite part of many runs is when Rush knocks the first bar and from then on I can let rip and go for distance and speed and challenge my training. So why the <> can’t I just as if Rush had knocked the first bar every single time? It’s more fun, Rush actually loves running like that, and our good bits (often, pretty much everything but that first bar) are amazing.

I want that Q.

I’ve written this before. To get the Q (with Rush), I have to not want the Q. I have to trust Rush to do his best and do my best. I have to stop thinking about the Q and think about how to be aggressive and competitive with the course. I have to pretend that there’s no Q on the line.

Did I pull that off this weekend? No, I did not. I had great bits–especially Rush’s weaves, which are truly stunning, fast and furious and reliable–but I made stupid mistakes in each and every run. Mistakes that partly came about because I was thinking about Qs and not about being the best I can be. (Rush, of course, is always the best he can be.) In two runs I was as aggressive as I want to be and I pushed for front crosses that were not a success (knocked bars after in both cases), but only in those two runs. Even then, planning for those front crosses (instead of a nice safe rear cross and a wide turn) gave me butterflies of nervousness.

I want to not want the Q. To not want the external approbation that comes from a fast time and a single letter. It’s another challenge, brought to me by Rush, the dog who is changing my life, whether I intended to change or not. Sigh.

Joe Camp on the other side of the camera

Joe Camp takes a lot of photographs of agility dogs. He’s an amazing photographer and I’ve been at more than one trial where his photos were the high point of the trial for me. (“Even if I didn’t get a Q, look at these amazing photos!”)

Saturday Joe was running Riggs for Lisa in FullHouse and I asked him if he wanted to run Rush, too. After he ran Riggs at the beginning of the 20″ dogs, he took Rush for about five minutes and played with him in the field. At the beginning of the 24″ class, he walked into the ring with Rush and I followed, so that I could run his leash.

This was the result. Note that Rush and Joe had never run together before. Good handling on Joe’s part, and good dog on Rush’s part. (If you’re wondering where I was while Rush was running, I’m wearing a turquoise sweater, and you can see me at two points during the run.) (And yes, that was a Q in FullHouse.)

This photo is my current favorite Joe Camp photo–but it is really hard to choose!

Photo by Joe Camp

Photo by Joe Camp

Time off… And I got out of sync…

Jay and I went to Palm Springs for almost three weeks and I did ZERO agility with Rush and Dancer. I ran with them, played ball in the yard with them, hung out on the couch with them, fed them lots of good food, massaged them. Spoiled them, as they deserve, just for being the wonderful companions they are.

Then I came back, did one practice with Rush (and a little with Dancer) and went to an AKC trial with Rush and did four runs a day for three out of four weekend days.

Friday was a flaming disaster. Rush lunged at me for my poor timing, which I richly deserved. We utterly failed to Q. Hardly a surprise, since I was late with every cue, frantically trying to keep up with him instead of giving him the information he needed when he needed it even if I was behind, and in general a mess. I threw away a FAST Q by being greedy for points—I gave him terrible signals and he responded with a lunge and I walked him out…

Saturday I worked with my jumping skills group and worked on zen handling and timing with Rush, then went back to the trial Sunday. Things went better. Rush got a Q in Time to Beat (and 8 points for the fourth-fastest time), and moreover, he responded when I sent him to his leash at the end of runs. There were astonishingly lovely bits to all his runs.

Monday was better than Sunday. Qs in Time to Beat and FAST. He finished his Time to Beat title in style, with the fastest time in the class by almost four seconds. In Jumpers, he took a curve of three jumps to the weaves with me twenty feet away–although my handling was not as elegant in other parts of the course and I had to make him stop and settle for a moment. In standard, he entered the weaves and came straight out the other side, always a sign that I should have made sure he shat before the run. He did then take the weaves and the rest of the run went beautifully–of course.

I am encouraged that we are having so many good parts. It’s down to being (generally) one stupid mistake on my part. This is huge.

Oh yes, and he went to his leash on three of four runs. Progress. Huge progress.

Behaviors and goals

Yesterday I wrote a lot about my goals for the year, and a little about how I hoped to reach those goals. I thought about those goals this morning as I ran (without a dog!) slowly. I thought about that mantra of dog training: you can reward behaviors but you can’t reward a dog for something it didn’t do. That got me thinking about my own behaviors. I have a group of goals that will require me to change my behaviors if I am going to reach those goals. So this post is about behaviors.

  1. Goal: weight loss.
    Measurable Behavior: record everything I eat (corollary: measure and weigh what I eat).
    MB: eat fruits and vegetables when I’m hungry. (Alternative nebulous behavior description: make better food choices.)
    MB: follow Weight Watchers program.
    MB: attend 3 of 4 Weight Watchers meetings every month. (I’ve been doing WW for a while now. It seems to be working, even if I hate the whole “support group” vibe of the meetings. It’s not easy being an introvert.)
  2. Goal: run faster, more easily, for longer distances. Improve sprint speed.
    MB: build to twenty-five miles/week (which will help with goal 1, too) by adding 5% per week to current 15 mi/week. (Reduce mileage when trialing for a weekend.)
    MB: run 5x/week on non-trialing weeks. Run 3x/week when trialing on Saturday/Sunday.
    MB: do one hill/sprint workout/week.
    MB: add “tempo runs” to one run/week. (Tempo runs are short/fast/light twenty-second intervals in a regular run.)
    MB: build toward a weekly long run of around 6 miles.
  3. Goal: try ISC dog agility events.
    MB: enter ISC events. Evaluate results.
  4. Goal: work toward Rush’s C-ATE title.
    MB: enter CPE trials.
  5. Goal: improve our (Rush/me as team) performance in Jumpers dog agility courses.
    MB: train “go on” and “switch” cues. Learn to use them effectively.
    MB: train more effective use of blind crosses.
    MB: train toward handling at greater distances.
  6. Goal: build toward bicycling a Century (100 miles) in late 2015 or in 2016.
    MB: starting in April, ride at least twice a week, once on hills, once for distance. (NOTE: it may be necessary to modify running behaviors to accommodate the cycling behaviors.)
  7. Goal: write more articles.
    MB: write two articles/month (outside of this blog).

Looking back and moving forward

I’m really having trouble with the whole idea of 2015 being a real thing. I was born in 1955, mid-twentieth century, came of age when we didn’t trust anyone over 30, and next July I will be twice that. Of course, I know now how ridiculous the idea was–there must have been someone over 30 we could trust, even in the age of Nixon–but I’ve now come to the idea that one should hesitate to trust anyone of any age. (Especially politicians, but that’s not a topic for this blog.) Anyway, here it is, almost 2015, and the last New Year’s Eve I remember clearly is the panic of 1999-2000, when everyone was all worried about our software breaking down (Y2K and all that). Me, I was busy panicking about Jay being in the hospital that evening–he got his appendix out on the last day of 1999. (The hospital did have backup generators.) (And everything was fine, in the end. Just scary at the time.)

After that digression (I can hear Holden Caulfield’s classmates yelling “digression!” but I’m ignoring them), back to the matter at hand here. I’ve spent weeks thinking about my goals for 2015. I had huge goals for 2014–and I met most of them. I took Rush and Dancer to CPE Nationals in Minnesota (and Rush won his height class in FullHouse and Jumpers), Dancer got her C-ATCH in August and Rush got his C-ATCH in October, I beat my previous best time at 5K, and I lost a few pounds (not as much as I would have liked, but better than gaining). Jay and I did a long bike tour–Astoria, OR to Crescent City, CA–self-supported down the Oregon Coast. Four days (of the nine) were my longest bike rides ever. The longest day was 56 miles. And the last half-mile was uphill. My first bike tour. Not his first (nor his longest). I got asked to write an article about agility for someone else. (And they want more.)

Much of what I want to accomplish in 2015 is a continuation of 2014. I want to lose another twenty or so (or maybe a bit more) pounds, so I can focus that mental energy on maintaining instead of losing. I don’t think I’ll ever hit a point of not having to watch what I eat–or not being hungry–but there’s a huge amount of energy going into tracking weight loss and food right now, and I’d like to reduce that outflow a little. (Maybe I should write about losing weight instead of dog agility; it’s occupying nearly as much of my brain these days.) I read some research recently about visualization that suggests it’s important to visualize both the positive outcomes and the possible obstacles in the path. I know my obstacles; I need to think about how to climb over them. (I could imagine that I’m Rush, surmounting my difficulties in the same spectacular way he goes over the a-frame. There’s an image–clambering over a pile of body fat as it melts away….)

So continuing my weight loss is one goal. Last year I had pretty much the same goal… and didn’t lose the twenty-five or thirty pounds I wanted to lose…. but I didn’t gain. Sigh.

Next continuation is the dog agility goals: first, I want to work toward Rush’s CPE C-ATE title. It’s a time-consuming title, requires a lot of trials, and I want to do slightly fewer CPE trials this year, so there’s really no way he’ll get the title in 2015, as it’s not numerically possible. Rush will need twenty Qs in each class (and then some extras that can be in any class)–it already looks like Jumpers will be our biggest challenge. Second, I’m not going to try for Nationals in any of the venues. 2016, maybe, depending on where things are. Third, Jumpers. Jumpers needs work in any venue. It’s terribly challenging for me to keep up with him without the built-in pauses created by the contact obstacles. Finally, fourth is ISC. For the first time, I have a dog who can compete in the ISC classes, so I want to give them a try; I’m signed up for ISC at the January PAC trial, so we’ll see how that goes… (Last year, one goal I did not end up pursuing was trying to take Rush to Rose City to run the ISC classes there. I’m really not ready to run ISC in public. Maybe next year.)

The dog agility goals are all kind of nebulous and vague… Rush will turn four in May, and I’m pretty sure he’s amazing and brilliant (what did I do to deserve this dog?!), and Dancer is slowly retiring herself (no more AKC), and as she does that, I’m trying to figure out where I want to go next. A lot depends on achieving my running/sprinting goals (see below), which in turn are related to my weight-loss goals (as above). It sounds very intertwined, and of course it all is. I’m really glad to have a reason to get up every day and go out to run and play with my dogs. I’m contemplating (as I’ve contemplated in the past) doing some obedience or rally with Dancer. I did sign up for Denise Fenzi’s online precision heeling course. We’ll see. Dancer actually has a nice walk-with–it might be fun to work on a formal heel cue. She enjoys training and I enjoy working with her.

Running goals: speed and endurance. I want to go further, faster, more easily. I started last year with the Couch-to-5K program, barely able to run one minute (I started with walk-one-minute-run-one-minute and found the first few runs horrifyingly difficult). I’m starting this year able to run for most of an hour (as long as I walk about one minute out of ten)–albeit running very slowly–and I want to get faster and run more easily. Losing weight will help. Sprint work will help (and make a huge difference with keeping up with Rush in Jumpers, too). Hill work will help with strength. My knees are so much better than they were last year. I can sit down slowly without having to hold the arms of the chair and I can get up without holding the arms too–and without my knees hurting. That’s a flaming big deal. I bought a book on serious running training that I’m hoping will help. (This one: Daniels’ Running Formula-3rd Edition. I get a tiny commission if you buy through that link.) Since I like measurable goals–since you can measure whether or not you’ve met them (duh!)–the measurable goal here is a 11:30-pace 5K (a bit less than 36 minutes).

Jay and I are planning a weekend trip to bike Crater Lake. After that, I’ll contemplate doing a Century. Maybe 2015, maybe 2016. Eventually I’ll have to do one. Everyone else in the family has (although Stacia’s wasn’t a formal one) (which doesn’t matter, because Stacia wins this event anyway, since she biked from Portland (OR) to Williamsburg (VA) self-supported and mostly unaccompanied, which gives her the ability to one-up almost any cyclist).

So that covers dogs, cycling, running, and weight loss. All very boring. Finally… I want to write some more articles. Maybe even sell a few.


Memorizing the course and determining handling strategy: the walkthrough

A friend asked me about how I memorize the course, and that got me thinking. I still get lost from time to time, especially when I see the course as “not logical”–and I have no real idea why I consider a course illogical, except that illogical courses, to me, are the ones where the turns have no flow to them at all…

When I walk a course, my first pass through the course is where I identify my landmarks for handling. I’m going to use this course as an example (because I really like how Rush ran the course, and because I enjoyed running it). The judge was Lisa Dempsey. In this course, the landmarks were the first tunnel, the teeter, the weaves, the a-frame, the jump in the far corner (two out from the a-frame), and the last jump.

My description of this course is: curve to tunnel, loop to teeter, front cross line to weaves, front cross to a-frame, push to jump in corner, turn and sprint to the end. How did I arrive at that description? By working from the end to the beginning. Once I knew I would need to sprint to the end, that set my path from the weaves. Then I had to figure out how to get to the front cross I needed after the weaves…

Which brings up the question of flow… Flow, to me, is creating a path where the dog can run in extension, without drastic turns that run the risk of the dog sliding on the surface. It’s quite possible to have a course with a 180-degree wrap of a jump and have two paths for the dog, one that requires the dog to slow way down and another that allows the dog to continue to run. Sometimes the slow path is faster further along in the course–by setting a path that allows the dog to open up from that point–sometimes, not so much. In this course, the jump in the far corner after the a-frame–in my opinion–was best handled by turning Rush to the right, with him on my left so I could send him on to the jump early, and then start sprinting down that closing line. With a slower dog–Dancer, for example–I might have stayed on dog’s left past the a-frame and rear-crossed that jump in the corner.

A good chunk of my walkthrough is about working out my strategies for handling. With Rush, I usually need to have two possibilities for each turn in the course. On this course, I hoped to make the front cross before the teeter, but utterly failed to get there, so had to make it after the teeter. I also considered–and walked–a blind cross at the teeter, but felt that the strong left turn called for a stronger cross. I don’t like to rear cross the teeter, which I realize is a training issue. I just don’t want the dog (Rush or Dancer) distracted while doing the teeter, and I think rear crosses done after the dog starts the teeter are distracting to the dog.

I wasn’t worried about getting from the start to the teeter, because I have a solid leadout with Rush. I needed my leadout to set the path to the triple and then make sure he went to the tunnel, but once in the tunnel, I could just bring him around that curve to the teeter.

That left the middle bit: from the teeter to the weaves and the front-cross after the weaves. I knew I had no choice about that front cross after the weaves, and I knew exactly where the line was for that front cross. How to get there? I needed to trust Rush to get in the weaves and stay in the weaves even with me a good distance away and running for that front cross. That’s another training issue–and I train for that eventuality pretty much every time we train. Even so, you can see that I barely made it in time!

As for remembering the course when I run, I always take a moment to look around the course and repeat my handling strategy to myself before I take off the leash. Then I take a deep breath, blow it out, tell the dog to wait–and I start.

An interesting handling challenge

Judge Lisa Dempsey created a nicely nested set of courses this weekend at the Doberman AKC agility trial. The transition from Excellent Standard to Time to Beat (T2B) was pretty straightforward, making course-building go quickly. Here are the opening four obstacles of each course:

handling challenge


The left side is the Time to Beat course, the right is the Standard course.

When we were walking the Standard course, there was a lot of discussion about  whether to be on dog’s right or dog’s left for the start. To me, there was no question: dog’s left. I knew Rush would look at me as he came out of the chute (obstacle 3) and I wanted him to see the left entrance to the tunnel, not the right. Big dogs ran at the end of the class, and I watched a lot of handlers lead out on dog’s right–and then watched their dogs make a swoopy turn to the tunnel, looking first at the handler, moving right, then left. At least a few dogs got the right end of the tunnel before the handler could redirect them. I ran the opening (obstacle five was the dogwalk, straight out of the tunnel) with dog on right–and Rush didn’t take a single extra stride from the chute to the tunnel.

I watched the course builders make the change from Standard to Time to Beat–and I saw them simply substitute the triple jump for the chute. And I saw them add in a jump, so that now the opening looked like this, with an off-course option right next to the triple:

handling challenge 2

It’s a little jump, a single-bar wingless jump, barely noticeable next to the triple jump. And it completely changed the handling. In Standard, I ran with dog on right, making a nice smooth arc to match the curve of 1-2-3, then rear-crossed the tunnel and ran straight to the dogwalk. I was concerned that if I ran the curve from 1 to 2 in Time to Beat, I would send Rush straight over that off-course jump. I also realized that he would see the tunnel as soon as he jumped the triple, and would know that was the next obstacle. By contrast, with the chute, the dog can’t see the the next obstacle until they’re out of the chute and check in with the handler.

I set Rush up straight with jump 2 and at an angle to jump 1, led out past the second jump in a straight line, dog on left, and released him from his stay as I ran straight from the point between the triple and the off-course jump. Rush landed the triple halfway to the tunnel and went straight in, even as I curved to the right to pick up a line of jumps across the top of the arena.

Weekend Results

Rush and Dancer and I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Mt. Hood Doberman Pinscher’s AKC agility trial.

Dancer had only one run, on Friday, where I discovered that she really hates jumping 20″ now that she’s been jumping 16″ in CPE. She stutter-stepped the approach to the triple so badly that three people asked me if she was injured (she also ran around the double). I scratched her from her two remaining runs, made the decision that she would be doing no more AKC, and got her a massage with Peggy Osborne, whom she adores. Peggy found a sore spot in her shoulder and also her usual mild soreness in her back. Dancer was clearly very happy with the massage, prancing proudly afterwards and letting me know she felt better. Still…. no more 20″ jumps for my girl.

The weather was very chilly, dry, windy, below freezing in the mornings. Rush loved it. He was fast and focused, and a bit of a brat. Friday, no Qs in Standard or Jumpers…. but a screaming fast run in Time to Beat, for first place in the 24″ class (27.47 seconds).

Saturday started with Excellent FAST; Rush Qd easily, with 77 points, first place (26.62 seconds)(and his Excellent FAST title). No Qs in Standard or Jumpers. Standard was almost clean: I was too far behind and Rush got an off-course at the second to last obstacle. And once again, a screaming fast run in Time to Beat, 25.98 seconds, for first place. More about the Standard and T2B courses in another post. Jumpers was a disaster. It started with jump, jump, jump, weave, then a sharp right turn to the next jump–Rush looked left instead of right as he finished the weaves, then ran through the weaves instead of wrapping the last pole. Between obstacle 4 (the weaves) and obstacle 11 (triple jump), he managed to get two off-courses, knock two bars, and chalk up four refusals. All of it my fault, because I was so thrown off by the wrong turn at the weaves. I guess that scenario is one more thing to train! (Hmm… I thought I had trained it. Who knew?)

Finally, Sunday was just two runs. Standard was challenging: it was what I think of as a sprinter’s course, where you run the entire course flat out, just hoping you’ll be there in time. The judge (Peter Liu) said he ran big dogs and had designed the course so the big dogs could stretch out and run. Rush did exactly that, and I did my best to keep up with him. He finished the 188-yard course in 43.65 seconds (and Qd with another first place, finishing his Excellent Standard title); keep in mind that includes a five-second table count and probably another three seconds for his stopped contacts. He was flying! (I don’t think the judge’s big dogs are as fast as Rush. Just saying.) From there, we went to the Jumpers course, where Rush again ran fast and furious–and I managed to direct him successfully, so that he Qd, took first place in Excellent JWW 24″ and ran the 172-yard course in 28.11, the only 24″ dog below 30 seconds.

I don’t generally think of myself as a competitive person, but this weekend there were a lot of faster, better, handlers with big Dobermans with stride lengths comparable to Rush’s. I enjoyed watching them run their dogs and seeing how they handled that big stride–and I was thrilled to find that Rush and I could compete at that level!

Tricky bits

The judge for the Top Dog trial was Cheryl Huffman, who has kindly given me permission to post some segments from her courses this weekend. There were two course sections where I struggled with how to handle Rush through the course because of his speed.

The first section is this one, from Saturday’s Standard run:

standard tricky bit

12-13-14-15 is a sprinter’s line–it was all I could do to not get too far behind Rush–and a push to 15. From 15 to 16, not so bad, but then… which way to bring the dog to get to 17? I walked it with a post turn, dog on right, over 16, to a front cross (the red path); I walked it with a push to the far side of 16, rear crossing 16, 180-degree-turn to 17 (the blue path).

standard tricky bit paths

I decided that the push to the outside of 16 (blue) made more sense for Rush. Watching other people handle the turn, most of them chose the red path.

You can see video here. Notice that I had to stop Rush just before 15 so I could catch up to him to handle that bit… That would be why I’m trying to get faster.

I ran into a different problem in the Jumpers course on Sunday. Here the path from 7 to 11 requires that you push the dog along the line of jumps past the off-course tunnel (the exit end of tunnel 11). When I walked the course, I was worried I’d be so far behind that Rush would turn and see the tunnel. I needn’t have worried. He was going so fast that he bounced 7 to 8 and couldn’t have turned to the tunnel if I’d wanted him to (note to Cheryl: I assume we’ll be seeing that course again, this time with the turn to the tunnel the correct path?).

jumpers tricky bit

You can see video of the run here. Note the handling error at jump 2, where I stopped, which called him to me instead of over jump 2. Fortunately, he handles backside jumps well, and using the backside meant he had a nice line to tunnel 3. And no refusals are called in CPE, thankfully.

Rush and I try a little AKC

I haven’t done any AKC with Rush since the Puget Sound Poodle Club trial in April–but the lure of a trial at Ridgefield–twenty minute drive–on an empty weekend was just too much. I signed Rush up for all four classes each day and Dancer just got to run Time to Beat (which she enjoys, mostly).

I liked the courses much more than the last time I tried AKC. Maybe it’s because Rush has gained some maturity; maybe I’m a better handler. Maybe the courses were different. I don’t know. Rush managed three Qs and one not-so-bad on Friday (and finished his Open JWW title), three Qs and one not-so-bad on Saturday (and set the time in Time to Beat). Sunday, however, I learned just how badly it can go when I’m tired. I’d done a 5K run with Stacia (a few minutes faster than last year, which was good)–and I just didn’t have what it takes to run Rush. He got distracted by a lovely girl poodle, as well, which didn’t help. No Qs on Sunday.

(Dancer didn’t get any Qs, but she enjoyed herself and ran with enthusiasm.)

Official results, Rush:
Excellent FAST (Friday): 61 points, 25.17 sec
Open JWW (Friday): 22.89 sec, SCT 38 sec, 124 yds, 95 points (a spin before the last jump)
Time to Beat (Friday) (video here): 9 points (3rd), 31.41 sec, SCT 30.43 sec
Excellent FAST (Saturday) (video here): 79 points, 28.96 sec
Excellent Std (Saturday) (video here): 43.44 sec, SCT 66 sec, 178 yards
Time to Beat (Saturday) (video here): 10 points (1st!), 29.43 sec