Stars in Alignment

We’ve been busy. Well I’ve been busy and the dogs have been intermittently busy. We are in the final throes of ramping up for the business, things seem to be going as well as they can and life as I know it is about to end. Which is why I am cramming in as much agility as I can, while I still can.

Forest and I had a few one day trial jaunts in September. Nothing too exciting happened, we were a bit out of sorts, but he was still a trooper. Weekend-before-last however we got back into things full swing at our old haunt of Tewinkle Park in OC. He was barely short of a perfect weekend, and I was beyond thrilled with his enthusiasm and speed! He also finished his MXP, and, we only have one leg left for his MXJP–not so shabby for just moving into Preferred this year and not trialing a whole lot!! We have something silly like 1 Q and 80 points left for Nationals. Even if we dont “make” it, I am SO proud of him. I can’t believe he is enjoying it as much as he does, we’ve come a long way.

The flashier “little brother” really knocked everyone’s socks off, including mine. After his usual routine of getting his crazies out for the first class or two, Phin finished his AXJ on Saturday, then went on to win T2B on Sunday, got his first AX leg, and got 2nd place out of 46 20″ dogs in his Masters JWW debut. Wow. Our JWW run was one of my favorite competition runs yet–he was fast, but the reason I believe we did so well was I chose a different handling path that required less collection. Most everyone else chose a wrap while we went for the extension option around the other side that also required a side change… Nailed it! So much fun. He isnt as fast as the very fastest BCs, but, if we can consistently execute “creative” handling solutions that others may not see, well then look out. 🙂

We were also lucky enough to have more time with Daisy the few days immediately after the trial. This time we talked about planning strategies and the dog’s weight shift and better paths for front crosses among many other good things. She and my friends the Hills are the reason we have been able to get better and better at what feels like a fairly exponential rate over the last 6 months, to me at least. I am very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to connect with all of them. However, I also have a pretty dedicated tenacity once I know what I want. And I want the best teachers I can find, and I will do what I need to do to make it happen. And then here we are.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Seneca quotes (Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD)

Speaking of, I have yet another little something I have recently begun planning for as well. Another “opportunity” that I had to work at a bit to arrange. We’ll see if it comes to fruition… If so, not til at least this time next year. But, I will be waiting patiently and thanking my lucky stars in the meantime. And hugging my two current superstars lots too. 🙂

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Western Regional Recap

I’ve been getting buried by other things, but I really want to get this out. Better late than never and its been written in chunks as I snatch time away from other things I “should” be doing. But this trip, long term, means and meant a lot. So I will make time to make my recap happen.

If you’ve read the blog at all in the last 6-8 months, you probably know that the Western Regional was more than a competition to me. It was a very important event in a much bigger scheme of our agility career. And it had nothing to do with our results, and everything to do with literally how we got there.

My goal was to put Phin on a plane, in cargo, and for both of us to survive the experience relatively unscathed. If we are ever going to hope to go to Nationals, or Try Outs, or anything in Capital Letters, ala the “Big” end of the scale, the ability to be comfortable flying is huge.

I was TERRIFIED at the thought initially, but via some guidance (thank you Daisy and Clear Mind online course), I came to the realization that it was doable, and necessary, to include in my overall goals. So, I took a deep breath, and booked our flight up North. Then tried not to think about it too much.

We headed out to the airport on Thursday. It was HOT and sticky and ucky, but fortunately it was late in the day. I got dropped off by Pete, and a very nice curbside Alaska employee brought us a cart for Phin’s crate. We made it to the ticket counter where everyone was very nice, though I had to restrain myself from physically intercepting the over-zealous ticket agent stuffing her face against the crate door and screaming at Phin about otters (flying into Monterey, of course, otters…). Fortunately he was far too over-stimulated to react to the shrieking lady, instead was looking straight at me like, “What the HELL do you have me signed up for this time?” I was able to take him out again for a walk and then back in the crate he went after TSA made sure he wasnt transporting any switchblades or lighters. I watched him go through the door into the secret airport baggage place, and I’m not going to lie, my heart was in my throat. Yes, I’m a thirty-something adult, pretty put together, who almost cried at the sight of her dog being whisked away by the TSA guy. Shortly thereafter I realized that while I had all of Phin’s travel requirements checked off, I didnt do the best job preparing my own. I somehow managed to not bring a current ID. I had an expired DL, which somehow, some way, got me through security. Then the long and agonizing wait to get on the plane. Again, thanks to my barely muffled hysteria, I also managed to then leave my expired DL and boarding pass back at security. As we were finally boarding I figured this out and darted back down there. They had it and said, “We called you over the loudspeaker multiple times, you didn’t hear us?” I mumbled something about a dog, and headphones, snatched my things out of her hand and ran back towards the gate.

Fortunately it was a relatively small flight, so we actually boarded on the tarmac. I was able to see him drive up the conveyor belt onto the plane. I told every Alaska employee I came in contact with that I had a dog in cargo. Fortunately, they all seemed to humor me for the most part. I was a pest until they brought me a little note saying he’d been loaded on the plane. At that point I said my secular Hail Marys and buckled down for the flight. Once we were airborne, I was able to mildly calm down as at that point we were all in.

We landed, and I unfortunately was not able to see him get off the plane which kinda freaked me out. I booked it out to the baggage area and just as I got there, a door opened and they wheeled him out. He was moving, so I was able to take a big breath. They said is this your dog, and as I nodded affirmatively they began gushing about how cute he was, etc. I said, “Oh thank you.” As soon as he heard me the shrieking sirens that only Phin can conjure began. “Mooooooooooooommmm!!!!! Get me the &%^$# outta here!!!” They looked shocked and told me how quiet he’d been the whole time. I laughed and thanked them.

Fortunately the airport was small, and all but dead, so I was immediately able to let him out of the crate. We headed to the car rental counter where I was able to cajole the very nice lady to rent me a car even though my DL was expired. She was my hero, she did not have to do that, technically she shouldnt have, but thanks Pamela for saving me when I needed something easy to happen.

We got our rockin’ mini van and we were off to Motel 6. Phin was understandably less-than-thrilled to be back in a moving vehicle, but after some bad driving we made it to the motel unscathed.

And the rest, in some ways is history. I could detail out our 14 or 15 runs over the rest of the weekend, but, I have a video of highlights that will do it justice instead. Lets just say he was absolutely fantastic and that I could not be prouder of how he recovered from the flight and ran like a champ. So, so pleased.

The trip back home was only half as traumatic, so I hope after only a few more times we’ll both be pros at the whole aviation thing.

He now is in the second week of our two week long “active rest” period. We are hiking as the heat allows, swimming, playing ball and working on basics. As in revisiting sits (“tuck”) and downs (“fold”). Many of his behaviors are not precise and my verbals are crap. So, no agility, but we are still keeping up some important stuff. No trials for him til October, though Forest will get to be special and we’ll be sneaking in a few one day-ers here locally to see if we can rack up a few more Qs towards his National qualification.

So thankful Fall is almost here. Trying to squeeze in as much agility as I can before my life is over by roughly the end of the year…

Aging – Agility keeps us young

This is my bit for the quarterly Dog Agility Bloggers Action Day.

When I first read the topic was “aging” I had many thoughts on what I could write on. The early age at which dogs are started in agility. The age of which many dogs are still run in agility, too many well past their prime, let alone comfort levels. I could go on a defensive tear in regards to the topic that seems to be big online right now–all the “young” and athletic handlers that are getting away without training their dogs on these “newfangled international” courses…. But I’ll leave all of those alone.

Instead I want to confess something. Not about my age–which hopefully remains a mystery thanks to my semi-athletic build and very greying hair!–but about what I’ve always believed and recently have come to change my understanding of.

I’ve always thought other people knew the secrets to life, including those who were older than me. Most everyone else had it more together, had it more figured out. That their feelings didn’t get as hurt as they were wiser and more experienced. That somehow as life goes on things just get better and you get tougher and well, you just “get it”. And by default, that means I myself am less emotionally confident or stable or experienced.

In some ways that “theory” still remains intact, but I have had quite a few experiences recently with many agility friends that has made me realize that we are all the same “amount of human.” People who have been doing this much longer than me, who I look up to, still get their feeling hurt by others. They still have dogs that can be very, very difficult. There is no magic bullet, via experience or anything else, that just makes the ride smoother. Its always going to be a challenge, regardless of how long you do this. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Agility is a crazy metaphor for the rest of life, and I am so fortunate to have stumbled upon it. The people I have met and the experiences I have had, and will have, will continue to shape me and frame a lot else of what goes on in my life. Even if it is “just agility”, we have no choice but to learn how to survive criticism and failure, how to deal with a situation you cannot fix or control, test our work ethic and dedication, how to befriend someone you just met seconds ago, how to be a good winner and a better loser.

This constant path of discovery, reinvention, testing and failing, patience and perseverance must keep us young somehow.

All of my best agility friends, both younger and older than me have helped me learn these lessons. Age does bring wisdom, but it does not reduce the humanness of us all. We are all in this together and our attitudes and passion for the sport are what define us, not a numerical label.

There are quite a few ladies out there I know, competing well into their 70’s and beyond. Two of them I had the privilege of sitting by at the Regional this last weekend. As they buzzed about with their multiple dogs flitting from ring to ring, I could only think that I want to be like them, many decades from now. Fit, and passionate and totally inspiring. Agility keeps us young. Keep on keepin’ on.

The Good, the good, and well, the good.

We have been a happy crew for the most part around here lately. Things are heating up with my back-burner-secret-business project and I am hoping I can make an official announcement in a month or two on that front.

The dogs have been awesome. We’ve been trialing, getting in more quality seminaring than we deserve, and practicing both on our own and with some really great people. Its been paying off.

Forest only has to get 7-8 more Qs, in either JWW or STD and he’s qualified for Nationals. I can’t believe that, typing it or saying it out loud. Whether or not we go is basically beside the point, just the fact that we have a very good shot at achieving that is so awesome. I am so proud of him, and proud of myself for sticking with it. He’s powered out his QQs, all four, in only maybe five trials this year? Maybe six? He is so consistent now, with just the occasional bobble. He does still have issues with the teeter, but we’ve been actually practicing(!). My bigger concern is actually that once he does get more confident in a trial setting that he will leap his dogwalk. That I have barely trained, but, it is what it is. If we make the crazy decision to go to Nationals, I may have to come up with an actual DW plan then!

Phin is doing great. We have banged out 2 of our Excellent JWW legs recently, which is funny considering how long it took us to get out of Open JWW. Standard is obviously more of a challenge now. He gets so fired up that still, the contacts are our main issue. But, we are getting closer and I really have been working hard to stay on track with practicing contacts.

Two weekends ago he had his ISC debut. Leading up to it I was quite nervous, fretting that 26″ would be too much for him. Lucky me, I got to see Daisy just a few days before, and so we jumped him up just over a few courses. She said he looked great and she didn’t see any issues. So that floated me going into it, and I walked in the ring feeling confident. He ran beautifully, and we were clean other than two bars. One was at a very big, very wide, and very untrained ISC-style double, which the poor man had never seen before. My bad. I’d say 60% of the dogs across all the height classes took that bar. The second fault was also 100% my fault–a badly managed backside where I didnt plan my handling strategy well (front-blind-no-too late!!!) and got in his way. He made a herculean effort to not take me out and instead got the bar. Sorry pal! But, overall he was spectacular, I couldnt have been happier with how he performed. He also WON 20″ Time 2 Beat that day, as well as his Ex JWW class. He only missed a clean STD run by one bar. If only we could run ISC first thing at every trial and get his ya-yas out we’d be cleaning up. 🙂

Next weekend is our big trip, plane and all. USDAA Regional in Prunedale, here we come! I know I will be stressed when we are at the airport and in the air, but I have had enough time to ready myself for it that I think we’ll be okay. And once that initial flight is over and done with, it’ll be all gravy from there. I love traveling with my dogs, and he has already shown me what a trooper he is. Plenty of friends will be there and hopefully we’ll meet some new ones too. Really looking forward to our mini-vacation, I have a feeling it could be the last for quite some time.

Habits

We’ve had a long last couple of weeks, agility-wise. Seminaring and trialing and lots of stuff in between.

I am glad to say it all ended on a high note, as some of our trial days were a bit rockier than I would have liked. On Sunday, Phin got his first Ex Q and won his first “big boy” class, Ex JWW, with a smoking YPS of 6.6. It was our kind of course–kind of basic, super-fast and straight on with the ability for me to send so I could stay ahead. I swear, once we get our contacts cleaned up he will be a Steeplechase demon.

All of Phin’s contacts are degrading, as is his start line. I pulled him for the first time ever for breaking his start line on Sunday in STD. I think that’s only the second time he’s ever actually broke the start line in a trial. He had glorious starts on Saturday–two great ones in T2B and JWW. In STD on Sat, I got a gift from the agility gods–I set him up, he started scootching as I led out, and I was telling him to “WAIT”. Then the ring crew said “Stop! Stop! Timers are off!” etc etc. So I got to pull him off the line for a minute which was perfect. Once we reset his start was lovely. Too bad it didnt hold til the next day. Too much allowing by me of the scootch, now I am paying. So, back to making him stay at home a LOT, as well as retraining a “do-not-move-a-single-toe” sit.

I am also retraining his teeter, as I did a horrible job of that to begin with. No clear criteria means no real behavior. Shocking. So, now following Jen Pinder’s Sizzling See Saws method. Not trialing til month-end so hopefully if I am good I can cram enough retrain in there. And if not, no more trialing for us until I do. Trying to continue on with the box work, mostly on the flat, as well. He did 3 A-frames over last weekend and I think he was 2 for 3. So, onward with all of that.

Forest got his third QQ this weekend! Poor guy was running in STD on Sat and some dogs (not agility people) were allowed to lunge and bark at the fence as he was running by. We held it together for a very messy Q that run, but when we headed back in there the next day I think that was all he could think about and it was a flashback to a few years ago with me having to cheer him along for the first half of the course. Poor guy. His weaves were horribly slow and bad all weekend, I am going to try to get him into see a chiro this week to make sure nothing is wrong. My poor Bun. Once he was through the weaves both runs on Sun he flew, so fast, like a different dog. I hope he’s feeling okay.

RE my/our “habits”… I have finally been able to define the lens through which I want to view Phin’s runs for the rest of this year. Its all about building habits at this point. Which is why I pulled him for his start on Sunday. Which is why I need to go back and fix things I didnt do a perfect job of the first time. I cant push for a “win” or even a Q at this point, its all about the habits. Good ones that will hold for the many years to come.

I had a bad few trial days a few weeks ago, due purely to my own frustration. And it started coming out in ways I did not like. But I thought on it, and the thought of “good habits” rose to the surface. And then I felt so much better. Agility has so, so many things happening all at once. Some things you can control and some you cannot. But reinforcing good habits, and sticking to my defined criteria… That I can control and I should and I will.

Goals and (Collected) Strides

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My handsome beast…

My last post sure was… rant-y. Eeesh. I was all off-kilter with the thought of Phin being injured I guess. Fortunately it passed quickly and we were able to proceed on to that weekends trial without any physical issues.

We had a few moments of beauty, mainly on Saturday, but overall the trial was a bit of a rough one. But, it was rough for the reason mostly that I was holding to my criteria. I am taking Daisy Peel’s online Clear Mind course, and one of the things we discuss is that you have to prioritize your trials and treat many of them as “training” in order to get to those bigger picture goals. Which is so right, but pulling your dog from a class you paid $$$ for is never easy. I did it twice on Sunday and while I know it was the right thing to do, it was not something I enjoyed in the slightest. It did help our third run, but by the fourth and fifth runs I was toast for the weekend and had other things (mainly my client’s Malinois) on my mind.

To focus on the good though, we had a great Steeplechase run on Saturday and got our first Tournament Q. We also had a great time in Master’s Challenge Jumpers. I made a poor handling decision on one section that got us an off-course, but for the most part I was happy with that run, especially considering the “challenge” of it. I also started practicing my new mental routines, and while I still need a LOT more practice, mostly I felt a lot more confident and focused as we were going into the ring. That didn’t help the fact that Phin wanted to do 2 hit A-frames, but I was much more focused up until that point–hah.

The online class has also helped me drill down, focus and follow thorugh on things I know we need to work on. I have been diligently re-working on our A-frame performance over the past few weeks. We’ve gone back to the grid on the ground and when possible, an A-frame at the lowest height with the box. I’ve really come to realize that in order for Phin have a successful A-frame performance that he has to run it in true collection. He easily, and willingly, will often do a 2 hit A-frame, which has been our recent problem in the ring. In order for him to hit the yellow, he MUST collect over the apex and again to stride into the contact zone. This is not something he naturally likes to do, so we have been running the grid on the ground for at least a few minutes everyday to try to get that striding ingrained in his little brain. I wish there was another magic solution, but as far as I know, that’s it. I am curious about other trainer’s successful running A-frame strategies. I never did hear wind of how Susan Garrett trains hers… And I know Linda Mecklenberg has something online as well. How many ways can you skin a cat? I know at least one sorta-successful way, so I guess I’ll just keep slogging along at it.

We are changing our training venue yet again. I have been invited to head out to a new place for a sorta-experimental forming group. We’ll see how it goes, but I do already know I will get more feedback than I have been getting for quite some time now. My handling needs more consistent help than what I can get over one or two days of seminars every few months. We saw Karen Holik last month and when she asked who I trained with and I said “Right now, no one,” her response was “I can tell.” Yeouch. She was being funny, but, still was a little tough to hear! So, fingers crossed this new option works out. Definitely will be a trek, but I think it should be worth it.

We have a lot of agility coming up, which I am looking forward to (and am trying not to dwell on the A-frame issue!). We have one day of AKC this Friday up in OC at one of my favorite venues. Then we head out to our new class next Wednesday, get to see Daisy that Friday, have USDAA in OC on Saturday, then down to SD for AKC on Sunday. Then 2 days of AKC for the following 4th of July weekend. After I’ll that I’ll have plenty to chew on and evaluate ala my new goals assessments and strategies skills! 🙂 It will be fun regardless and that’s the most important bit after all.

BLARGH Action Day; Improving Agility and the Power of Standing Idly By

Today is the quarterly Dog Agility Blog Action Day, and this event’s topic is Improving Agility Organizations. I have thought a bit about it, I even submitted a few recommendations to the AKC upon their recent review. However, as I sat down just a few minutes ago, other than listing out a few specific details that I believe would help the competitors of the two organizations I compete in, I did not think I had anything insightful or original to contribute.

The main reason being, I am in a FOUL mood. Why? Because I stood idly watching something today, that I could have prevented, and it ended up as a large FAIL. (Lest I am about to lose you here, I will circle back to DABAD, promise.) My family was over, and my 2 year old nephew was having a ball—literally—playing with Phin. As he was playing I was keeping a loose eye on things, but also trying to cook, engage with my guests etc. At some point, they moved to the stairs, with Tyler standing at the head of the stairs, chucking the ball about 2 feet to the midway point, ball flying wildly and Phin leaping, climbing and spinning, mid-staircase. You see where this is going…. Phin in all of his insane athleticism was not missing a beat, but in the back of my mind I started hearing alarm bells. But I was distracted with the great importance of the frittata and popovers and passively chose to avoid setting off either Tyler (who is easy to set off), or his mom (who is all but a saint and could have cared less). I let them do their thing and keep each other occupied.

Fast-forward ten minutes, Phin shows up on the deck with a bloody pad and a solid limp. Mother-F*&^%*$#!!!!!!!

So now, he is in his crate, resting for the time being, but class is cancelled for him tonight as I am assuming our trial will be this weekend. Fingers crossed I can have my vet tech friend take a peek at it tonight to at least give me a direction on what she thinks it is.

I find myself in this situation in life, not frequently, but more than I would like to admit. I see something happening, going a certain way, and instead of diving in to prevent something potentially worse from happening, I hold back. Its quite sad actually, but public pressure and social mores of not hurting or disturbing another person’s actions run deep.

So WTF does this have to do with Improving Agility Organizations? A lot. Don’t stand around and just watch it all go by. And especially don’t stand around and COMPLAIN. If you want change, make it happen. Stop things from happening if you see them going awry—whether that’s someone manhandling their dog at a practice jump, or a clatch of competitors mouthing off about so-and-so, or a kid throwing a tennis ball for your dog down a flight of stairs. Change comes from action, not after-the-fact verbalization. Or god help me, even worse, venting anonymously online or on facebook. It can be scary, it is hard to stick your neck out there, but that’s how it works. Those who sit idly by get burned. Take it from me.

And that’s all I personally have to say about that.

There are many much more concise and thoughtful posts about the subject here.