Monday, August 22, 2011

A Step in the Right Direction

It seemed fitting for some reason that this past weekend’s trial was held on a test track.  Kind of helped get me into the right mentality looking at all those banked turns and upside down cars.  When I first got out of my car, I thought… on your mark, get set….GO! Let the 2012 tournament season begin!

Yes, for whatever reason, our qualifications for next year are starting in August this year. OKfine. Gives me plenty of extra stress free time to get those scary Grand Prixs.  Since its August and since outside and me and The Dog are not usually friends in August I decided to just enter the first day with the tournament classes.  Good move I think, and we were even rewarded with some unusually decent weather.

Good move, because although I felt a bit sad to not be coming back for day two, I ended up having two pathetically exhausted dogs on my hands Sunday.  Based on their extended tours of duty on the couch yesterday, I can’t help but feel that two days of up early, long car ride and tons of runs would have been too much and counterproductive to the whole ‘funpositiveagilityexperience’ which was the ONLY goal after the dreaded Regional. 

That being said, I think The Dog and I both had fun and maybe we won’t all quit agility to go join the circus after all. 
We began the week with some really amazing practices. Tuesday I decided we would go to class and run our sequences and that was it- no toy, no babysitting, just go.  Result? She was perfect on her dogwalks. PERFECT. It even rained and she was still running.  Perfect on everything, actually.  I didn’t worry about her doing her thing for one second.  Wednesday wasn’t *as* good- I think class gets her far more excited and I can get more out of her then solo practice time.  But she still hit/ran all the dogwalks.  Friday I took her out and set a course, warmed up and walked in as though it was a trial. Perfect!  No looking for the toy after the dogwalk, good reps, happy dog, it was a blast.

So I was really confident that THIS time, THIS trial, we would surely get SOME level of transference of behaviors.  Not just on the dogwalk, but also hopefully on our other scary spots (weaves, starts, controlled sequences).

You know what? I think we did.
We started in Jumpers.  Normally, I can’t get a good “GO DOG” worthy run if we start with Jumpers. She’s not as into the class (where are the CONTACTS???) and it’s harder for me to focus too until I get the 5 Hour Energy coursing through my veins.   I was extra concerned this time because she was first dog in the ring, which she has never been.  I like letting her get revved up watching other dogs; I’m pretty sure that is her Zen moment. Without that, it was just me worrying about forgetting the course and her with zero excitement level/agility focus.  So we went, and it was surprisingly nice for all it could have been.  Then I heard the timer didn’t start.  Another first- she’s never had to rerun.  And we had to go again immediately.  I literally walked away from the line asking for advice as to whether this rerun would crush her soul. Which sort of put me out of position and forced me into my original plan B for handling. Which was actually kind of awesome. How often do you get the chance to try a course again with the alternate plan? And how often does that plan totally work and end up being the winning run? For us? It’s a first.

Next was Snookers- it was a crazy plan, one that could go either way as far as shut down/over excite. Happily- over excite.  Unfortunately I dropped the ball and fell into ‘watch the pretty doggy’ mode for a second when I forgot my plan. NOT the course to forget your plan on.

Next we did Gamblers, Grand Prix, Steeple and Standard all boom-boom-boom (…boom).   I decided, for the first time EVER, to throw the Gamble to work the dogwalk (gasp, shock!). I needed a good set up, which meant negating the Gamble, and I knew that if she happened to do the dogwalk even remotely close to how she should I would need to finish up and reward pretty dang quickly. No time to bother with the gamble there. (Plus, really, we’d had a bit easier version of this gamble a few months ago and we failed that one.)  Tragically, she apparently lost a leg off the dogwalk going up and spent some time scrambling which killed the speed, but considering that? Her recovery and end performance were really good. So we ran out and got the ball.  Happy dog.  Then in Grand Prix she had probably the closest thing to home performance yet. It was a little high, but worthy of much woo-hooing anyways.  In reality she probably missed it, but my woo-hoo was very convincing so the judge gave it to her. What is given may then be taken- followed up by a glorious refusal (totally my fault… stupid tiny invisible wingless jump! I knew I would miss it!). 

Steeple was lovely and clean with a nice time, so at least we are down one qualifier for next year.  Standard was also clean, even with me getting LOST (WAY too similar to GP!).  Not an amazing time- she was weaving sooooooo slowly.  Kind of all day. But definitely noticeable there.  This dogwalk was ‘in’ by a lot, but more of a collected stride. I *think* that was the combination of running into nothing and me cueing a front cross.  I’ll take it though because she COULD have leaped (which, into nothingness is pretty common still) but was very certain that she had to finished the plank.  Foundation peeking out? Maybe!   

Here’s a montage (sorry, no kicky 80’s song to accompany) of her dogwalks: 

I’m going to take this as a sign that we are on the right track for now and keep on keepin’ on.
So yeah.  Overall, very good courses for her- certainly they were interesting for me. Footing was really hard on the dogs though. Especially for a full day of running. 8 runs (pairs was in there, but it was a disaster), two bars (both absolutely me), NO missed contacts, NO off courses, NO sad dog. Except for the weaves.  I’m choosing to blame the footing- it was very pokey and slopey and she is a sensitive soul about footing in the weaves.   And since she didn’t seem sad anywhere else I think it’s a fair guess. 

Oh, and after some careful R&D recently, I’ve designed a new motto.  It seems to have helped.  It certainly encompasses a lot of thoughts and realizations I’ve had lately.

“Worry about the course- not the dog.”  

Really, it’s quite deep.  

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