31 May 2011

Seri and Seminars!

Had a chat with a friend on the phone and another online, and I am going to keep Seri at 20" for a bit in AKC, but I will at least try to get her back up to 26" in AKC. If nothing else, perhaps she can try for WAO or EO next year. If not, then it'll be on Strafe's shoulders!

Saturday June 18th I am doing a special seminar on Backsides and Blinds, at our place, outdoors in Elkton MD. $150 for a whole day seminar teaching you how to be comfortable handling backsides of jumps and all kinds of blind crosses. We'll start with the basics - how to teach the maneuvers, how to handle them in short sequences, and we'll slowly work them into harder courses till you're fully immersed! I have several spots still open in this, and it will also be a good one to audit if you've got a youngster coming along!

Friday-Sun August 26-28 I've got Carrie Jones out here to Elkton, on Friday giving private lessons for $100/hour (must prepay to hold your spot), Saturday is a Masters Seminar, and Sunday is all about International Challenges! Carrie is a great instructor, and I'm happy to have gotten her scheduled out here as our first hosted seminar. She's super nice and easy to talk to, and semi-local to boot!

Forms for both seminars can be found here! The downloads contain bios and info about the seminars, as well as registration forms.

29 May 2011

Deep Thoughts (without Jack Handy)

First, before I mull things too boringly, I am working on building a website to promote myself and brag on my dogs. Link is in the list already. Yesterday I had trouble getting it to update properly, and so the schedule page and the linke for Strafe's page are currently not working. I will get on that soon.

Second. Mulling. A rambling post about Seri follows:
We are lucky in this country to have so much choice about what height our dogs can jump. For instance, Seri can jump 20" or 26" in AKC, or 22" or 26" in USDAA. Most of her career I've spent at 26", because with her insane athleticism, I have had hopes that she would be a World Team candidate. Last year she strained her wrist, which took 4+ months to heal. That wrist now "pops" if flexed, but doesn't usually cause her pain. Sometimes her "good" wrist does, but it's still rare. This year she jammed her shoulder, 6 weeks rehab, and will need a good few months to really strengthen it before she will be ready to be successful at 26" again. We trialed this weekend at 26", but only 2 runs per day. Her shoulder held up, but she hit several bars each day. She did improve after the first run (where she hit THREE bars), only hitting one per run after that, and in her usual difficult places where I know she'll have trouble. But I am at a bit of a mental crossroads with Seri. Not only did she hit a few bars, but she still has those moments where her brain simply seems to take its leave and run off for a vacation for about 5 seconds. She jumped off the table early in both standard runs, which she normally doesn't do. She turned away from me and started weaving in jumpers due to no handling cues that I gave. She plowed through every single bar where I was front crossing, or facing her - which is normal, sadly. She did do several blind crosses really nicely, on straighter lines than she's done in trials before. She did hold her stays, she did stop on her dogwalk. She also stopped on her seesaw. But what I'm really wondering, is if she really will ever be a World Team dog, and if not, why don't I just drop her to 20"/22" where she will almost certainly be less likely to drop bars. The single trial I ran her at 20" last fall when she was coming back from her wrist rehab, she qualified in JWW two days in a row. That's never happened at 26". And what it really all comes down to is this: I want to do world team. Me. But Seri may not be the dog. I may have to wait till 2013 to attend Tryouts again. I guess I will have to wait and see, but i really hate that attitude - I really, really prefer to have my next year or so planned out, at least in a general fashion, as far as the goals for each dog. Kiba, due to her size and jumping, has already been designated a "Nationals only" dog, Drifter is "International" but no longer at 26", and Strafe is obviously too young. Seri was, in my mind, classified as "Future International". But perhaps she should be in Kiba's class instead? I think the thing that really gets to me is that I am sure that on actual, international-style courses, she would not be having nearly as much trouble with bar knocking. But our local regular AKC trials have pinwheels and straight lines all over the place, and almost always, the spacing is tight. Usually between 15-18 feet. I think this is why she's better at USDAA Tournaments; they tend to have larger spacing, followed by interesting segments that require her attention. She can do those. It's the plain old lines/pinwheels that are too close together that get her every time. Regardless, though, she still has impulse control issues mid-course. I suspect they may be better if I can handle somewhat more aggressively, keeping her focus, which lower heights may allow. But it's impossible to know for sure. At what point does one adjust high goals with a dog? When the dog tells you it's not for them? When physical issues prevent it? When you feel like you're just not getting the consistency? I do believe any dog taken on World Team SHOULD be consistent. Seri is NOT. Perhaps a year at lower heights might improve this? Impossible to know. I do know I'd like to take her to Reno for AKC Nationals, at any height, and she is certainly fast enough to be competitive in 20"...

Sorry for the ramblings, just putting it all in writing. I think every handler should try to do what's best with their dog, for their dog, and at some point, the handler's goals and the dog's ability might not match up. It's recognizing that point that is difficult.

28 May 2011

Seri, TBAC Day 1

I had entered this AKC trial before Seri's shoulder went all weird on me back in April, but she's doing so much better I got the OK to run her. I only got to train her on sequences one day, Wednesday, before this weekend. Aside from that she's done nothing but walks and occasional jump grids for strengthening, so she was a little extra wild. In the first run, JWW, she handled well but knocked 3 bars down. After she cooled down, I stretched her shoulder out and it popped, and I actually had felt that it needed to pop (felt "out") when I'd worked on it last night, so this was actually a relief rather than a concern. In Standard my main focus was just handling well, and actually stopping on the dogwalk with her "new" (retrain of an old behavior but with a new verbal) stopped contact. She had  some other bobbles on course, almost slid off the see-saw, hit one bar where she had to converge towards me, and jumped off the table mid-count. But, she DID stop on the dogwalk, and not only stopped, but actually stopped *and waited for direction*, which is a huge step for her. The reason I gave up her stop last fall was that she just wouldn't do it in the ring, and her running behavior is fairly reliable so I figured why bother. Now my thinking has changed again, in that I really just want some reliability from her, so we can qualify for Nationals, and not worry about screaming at her to prevent off courses. For Seri, i think her mental state at trials right now requires a stop. Perhaps you'll see the run again some day, in a Final event or something, but for now, we are stopping.

In a sad, freaky note, while we were walking Standard someone collapsed outside the rings, and they called the paramedics, and I heard later that he had a heart attack (and died!). Very sad and disturbing to have that happen at an agility trial, but I guess in life that happens sometimes. A large collection of people, running on a warm day. Although in my almost 20 years of agility, I can't recall that ever happening before.

26 May 2011

A few more photos from Jeanette Hutchison

Our team did so well, we did a lot of running around victory laps on Sunday! Drifter enjoyed this a little too much!

22 May 2011

WAO Part Two - the Competition!

Well once the anxiety of releasing my dog from quarantine and getting him measured in was over, we had our final practice. Drifter popped off a dogwalk or two in the outside practice ring, which  made me a bit concerned, although he did the one inside quite well. Later that night we discovered his toes were all quite sore, so I suspect that was the culprit. One thing I've found with a good solid running contact is that usually when something goes wrong, the dog is sore somewhere. We also had our brief vet check, and I got to tell the vet that he was right last year, that Drifter really did have a heart murmur. He didn't seem to remember, but he was the first one who ever told me he heard something unusual. What a way to check in to IFCS, with "Has anyone told you your dog has a heart murmur?". That was a shock.... Anyway, this year I know exactly what it is, and that he's perfectly fine.

Friday dawned bright and early, with our hotel-site shuttle bus arriving at 6am. I did ok with the time change, and luckily this year our hotel had nice dark curtains, so i was able to sleep past sunrise at 04:30 or whatever ridiculous time daylight starts in England in the summer. We got to the site and our first task was getting course maps as soon as they were released so that we could all decide who was running the Team class for each jump height. Much of our team consisted of very experienced handlers, so this was a hard task simply for the depth of the talent to choose from! Usually it boiled down to personal preferences. I was game for Team Agility 1 in the morning, but another dog in my height seemed more eager and since Drifter is no spring chicken, I didn't mind her running it. We had Snooker first thing instead. Why do they always start with Snooker? IFCS did too... Anyways, Snooker was not overwhelmingly difficult, however if you wanted to get all 7's in the opening you had to be able to heel your dog past multiple obstacles, which is NOT one of our strong points. We usually excel at Snooker simply because if I stand at a "pinch point" I can pull past one trap area, and then send to the next obstacle. But this style wasn't possible here, and so I went for a plan I knew we could do easily, and finished our 47 points more than 6 seconds under course time. We ended up 7th in that one, the only class we didn't get a ribbon for.

The afternoon was Biathlon Jumping for me, and Team Jumping 1 for the team. The Team course was *very* technically challenging, involving some Snooker-like traps where you had to pull past and send. Regardless, I was sure we could handle it, and so we were selected to run it as the 22"/55cm dog. Drifter ran that course brilliantly, with only a single bar which he knocked in a somewhat odd fashion, and I think the footing must have given out on him at the last second because as he was about to take off, he suddenly tried to add another stride, which failed. Otherwise brilliant, and our other 2 Team dogs ran it cleanly, and so Team USA won that round of Team Jumping 1. our next afternoon run was Biathlon Jumping. This course was more similar to what we see in the US, and was from a judge I am already somewhat familiar with. Drifter did well, and we placed 3rd, which meant we were in 3rd going into Biathlon Agility on Sunday, a good place to be considering we are usually relatively faster in Agility due to our running contacts.

Saturday morning was 2 Individual Pentathlon classes, which we weren't entered in, and Team Agility 2 in the last ring. After some discussion, I was again chosen for Team since i was sure we could handle it, and I wouldn't be hurried or hassled running 3 courses all at once. Again, Drifter ran the course great except for one minor fault; apparently he came off the dogwalk just above the contact, reading my turn cue a bit too early perhaps. This was our first dogwalk in competition, and I actually thought he had hit it when I was running the course, so obviously he didn't miss by much. I decided I'd just be OK with that since his striding didn't seem off. Team USA won this individual class as well, even though one of our dogs went off course, so it must've been quite tough for all the teams. Saturday afternoon was the Gamblers class, which was the 2nd half of the Games Championship. Scoring was simple enough, where you just add your Snooker and Gamblers points together to get the final scores. It was tough going in reverse order though, because I have a very strong Gamble dog, but I did not know ahead of time whether the last 6 dogs in my height would be able to do the difficult gamble or not. For my opening plan I changed last minute and imitated the enormous point-gathering plan of the English handler who ran Rusty the malinois (fabulous job!), going absolutely balls to the wall and doing 19 obstacles in the 32 second opening. It worked perfectly and we were in great position for the closing gamble, but as he approached the jump I said his name softly so he wouldn't jump it in too much extension, and unfortunately he took that to mean "don't jump" and he turned and earned a refusal on the jump. I circled him around and did the gamble anyhow, and he did the entire difficult 20-point gamble and was only .7 over time even with the refusal, so if I'd just kept my mouth shut and let him jump we would've had 20 more points, won the class, and won the entire Games Championship. Imagine me, the quiet handler, didn't keep my blasted mouth shut!! Oh well, we still got 2nd in Gamblers, and our teammate Jeannette won the Championship, which was well-earned as she is known as a bit of a Gamblers guru in our area.

Sunday was a slightly less early day, being all inside in the main ring, and all Final Rounds! I thought this was a great format, and it made for a great day of everyone watching the same ring, feeling the pressure, and cheering each other on! First up was Individual Pentathlon, again not my class, but several Americans did very well, with Karen Holik winning the 16"/400cm height Championship with the amazing Sizzle (who is TEN years old!!) and Dudley and Linda placing and earning medals for the overall as well.

After that was the Team Final, which was a four dog relay course, and it was quite a test. Again, I was selected, and again we did very well except for one minor fault, when I tried to pull Drifter in to serpentine a wall jump, and he didnt' quite decelerate enough to make the corner and came round the wall, but I stopped him and quickly corrected it so we only earned a very quick refusal. Our Team was in 2nd coming in, and even though one of our Team members earned an off course in Relay, it looked like we wouldn't have been able to catch the first place team anyway, so we ended up 2nd overall for the Silver medal! Lots of fun!

The very final class of the event was the 2nd half of the Biathlon Championship - Agility. I really liked this event, because with only 2 runs, and being scored faults then time (not time plus faults like Pentathlon) there was a lot of pressure to run clean AND fast. I love pressure like this, and this was the only run all weekend where I could possibly classify my feeling as truly "nervous". However, I have a great ability to turn heart-pounding nervousness into excitement and performance, and that's exactly what we did. Drifter gave me a great run, with only one scary moment (well two if you count where he almost broke his stay, but I usually have a contingency plan for that) where he almost turned the wrong way on the jump after the dogwalk. Great run. Great way to finish the weekend, by winning the Biathlon Agility class, and the overall Championship!

WAO Team USA 2011, Shamelessly stolen from Ivette White's facebook album:)

This event was a LOT of fun, and I thought the attitudes of all the competitors was really great. It was somewhat amusing to have full teams for every single country from the supposedly "United" Kingdom, but nobody really minded because it really increased the number of great dogs in attendance, especially since the German and French teams had to pull out. Next year the event is in Belgium, and all medal winners are automatically invited back. that's very tempting, but Drifter is going to be 9 this September, which means he'll be more than 9 and 1/2 by next May, with a heart murmur and a bad toe. I think he's done with international competition. But perhaps we'll see how Seri's doing next year... Basically I will be trying to decide between the EO in Sweden, or the WAO in Belgium. No way can I ever afford to do both.

21 May 2011

World Agility Open 2011, Part One

Drifter shows off all his loot from the WAO. Ribbons are for: 3rd in Biathlon Jumping, being part of the winning Team for both Team Jumping 1 and Team Agility 2, 2nd in Gamblers, 1st in Biathlon Agility, 1st in Biathlon Overall (also one of the medals around his neck) and 2nd place Team overall (the other medal).
We ran in 7 classes, and didn't place in only one (he was perfect in Snooker but I didn't plan aggressively and so we were 7th).

OK, the run-down on the trip. PART ONE!

Well really part one was back in the fall when I got him measured to see if he could really be under the 50cm/19.69" required to be on the team for the 550mm jump height (22"). And if he relaxes and stands properly, he is under every time. He's close enough to make me nervous though. Anyway, that done, we won our spot in Grand Prix Finals, so application was easy. He passed his chest x-ray to keep tabs on his heart condition, I booked all of his and our flights, and so on Monday the 9th of May off we went. Last year we had issues flying out, but this year I double-checked all our paperwork and thought I had everything under control. The Continental PetSafe office had my papers in the back for a good long while, which made me nervous, but then they took him without a hitch (after I paid my exhoribitant shipping fees, sigh). The flight out was fine, not too late, not too turbulent. Without the volcano, it was less than 7 hours air time from Newark to London.

The hitch came later. After landing, the 5 of us who were on the same plane got breakfast at the airport, since it takes several hours for the dogs to clear customs. When we went to the Animal Reception Centre, the hitch occurred. The other dogs on our team all cleared fine, but apparently the tapeworm medication my vet administered was not on their approved list, so they required Drifter to get an approved one and be held for 24 hours before he could be released out of quarantine. THAT threw a wrench in my plans. I was riding the team shuttle bus from Heathrow across to the South West of England to our hotel. I decided it was best to keep with that schedule and then rent a car from Bristol to go get Drifter the next day. Luckily he is not a horrible "momma's boy" and isn't too stressed out by strange people and surroundings. I did feel bad for him, as he's never been kennelled before, but what else could I do? There's no arguing with the government! So DJ and I rode the bus to the hotel with our luggage, but with no dog:(

The next day I got a ride to the Bristol Airport (about 20min from our hotel), rented a car (also a hassle, since our American bank didn't want to approve it at first!), and drove the 2 hours back to Heathrow to fetch Drifter. So that was extra expense on 2 accounts - the last minute car rental, and the kennel/medication fees at the Reception Centre. He came out of the kennel OK, but was peeing a lot and I suspect he was too neat to do much "business" inside a kennel run. He detests messy places, as far as bodily functions go. Either way, he ate his food, and seemed none the worse for wear on the 2 hour ride BACK to the hotel again (I am quite familiar with that stretch of the M4 now, by the way!)

i made it back in time for our unofficial team practice, where the hot topic for team members with running contacts was the dogwalk. It is higher than our usual US dogwalk by about 6" (15cm) or so. That changes the entire angles of the up and down ramps, and seemed to affect our dogs' striding a bit during practice. The 2nd practice on Thursday was also a dogwalk focus group, and most of the time all of the team did fine on it. Check-in went smoothly for our team, despite my nervousness about Drifter's height. if he stands "tall" he can definitely be over the cut-off, but I held his treat, stood him properly, and he relaxed right into his nice stand for a measurement of 19.44", well under the required 19.69" to run in our height. Measuring was MUCH stricter than it had been at IFCS last year, and 4 dogs at the event actually did measure up and had to run at the higher heights.

I will get into the competition tomorrow, but I am hoping to have some video sometime soon. A team member's husband recorded all the runs of everyone on the team, so we are hoping we can get them from him!

20 May 2011

Home Again

We're all back  home again now, I will try to post a full summary of the trip over the weekend. Drifter did quite well, putting in several solid runs for Team USA, helping win the Silver. We came in 4th overall in Games (Snooker + Gamblers) and but for a refusal at the beginning of the gamble, we would've won the whole thing there. But the big news is Drifter is now the 2011 WAO 550mm Agility Biathlon Champion! What a great way to end his international career (short-lived though it was, involving only 2 trips;)

Now as a medalist he is automatically invited back, but as of right now I don't plan to take him. Perhaps Seri will go in his stead, we will have to see how she does over the next year.

Also, I believe Strafe has grown a bit while I was gone. He got groomed, and I'm pretty sure his nose looks longer anyway!

08 May 2011

gone for a few weeks

We are leaving for England TOMORROW, and I won't be updating the blog while I'm gone. I will, however, try to post basic results to twitter and/or facebook. I will have my Droid with me, but will be skimping on internet unless they have free wifi at the site that I can link up to. We'll see.

Decided to watch Tryouts on Agilityvision this weekend. Great courses, much more international challenge than the year I went (2009), when I thought they were just a little too easy (except the whole one-bar-disease thing). I did see some people using blind crosses nicely, but you can tell who trains them, and who just threw them in there. The dogs who've been trained to do them, do them well, and the handler doesn't have to do weird back-twisty things to make sure they don't come up on the wrong side. If you train it, you can trust your dog to understand it, and you don't have to do the quick-twist shoulder change to pull them around an obstacle (or tell them to take one). Lots of iffy serpentines and push-throughs as well - it takes a lot of timing and skill to do those properly, and the courses were really separating the highly skilled from the, well, normally skilled. Obviously you can't be totally awful and still get to this event!

I have decided on a plan of action with Seri. I am going to run her at 26" at the AKC trial I've already entered the end of May, and the Regional 2 weeks later in June, but I've pulled her from Team so she only has 4 runs over 2 days, instead of 11. After that, I'm going to run her at 20" in AKC for the  month of July, and see if some extra conditioning and strengthening work added to the lower jump height helps her get her head in the game. Then for the 2 trials I'm running in August we'll bump up to 24" as an intermediary step, and then for September back up to 26" again. That way we still have Sept-March to collect her Tryouts Q's, but we'll have 2 months of lower jumps to try to help get Nationals Q's (more QQ's, and deadline is earlier).

Looking forward to our trip! Drifter is ready!

05 May 2011


I decided to withdraw Seri from contention for IFCS. Her PT has serious doubts about running her in so many runs on 2 weekends in a row, just a few weeks after I return from England. I will spend the time instead on strengthening her. I will run her at the NE Regional, but I am pulling her from Team and just running a couple classes on Saturday/Sunday.

Oh well, I hadn't really been planning to try out anyway, and instead I will focus on getting her physically stronger. We will run a few months of AKC at 20" to try get our mental focus and Q rate up, then we will work back up to 26" and see how she does.

04 May 2011

Been mulling all afternoon/evening. Do I really care about IFCS this year? No, not really. I sent in my form just because I was already doing 3 of the 4 events, and it seemed silly not to do so. But. . . it would save me some money and travel time and hotel costs, and would make my trip to the NW in July a week shorter (less time for others to watch my dogs). So I'm leaning towards withdrawing so that I have some time to really, REALLY build Seri up physically. I'd rather have the deciding factor be her mental state, not her physical one. If she misses weave entries because her upper back is sore, and knocks bars because her pelvis is flared, it is hard for me to judge whether she is ready for Tryouts or not...

ETA - also the absolutely grueling IFCS point gathering schedule! 11 runs over 3 days, seriously? That's just nuts, i would never put my dog through that many courses given the choice. I am careful with my dogs, and as my physical therapist drills into people, every jumping effort, every landing, is hard on your dog. Expecting your dog to do 20 obstacles, 3-5 times a day, 3 days in a row - that's probably about 200-300 jumps!!!
People are starting to leave for Tryouts. I wish I was going, but alas, i don't have a dog for it, again, this year. Last year I might've made more of an effort to qualify, but at that point in time it wasn't allowed for IFCS team members to be on the AKC Team. So Drifter has lost his chance. 26" was too much for him, and after his on-and-off toe issues (now resolved - the ligament is damaged now but causes him no pain), and then a hamstring pull, I decided not to jump him 26" anymore. He's not a big dog, and he's got a short neck so it's difficult for him to throw his weight around at the last minute. That's OK, the WAO will be our last world stage, and even though we didn't get a chance to prove ourselves at the FCI world championships, at least we proved we could beat the best in the country, and hang with the international crowd at 2 slightly smaller (but still fun and difficult) world events. If nothing else, I have gained a lot of experience in handling a dog under pressure (Drifter and I both thrive with it!), and on difficult courses. I was hoping I could use that experience to get Seri to Tryouts for 2012, but with her slowly accumulating minor injuries, and propensity to never act her age, I am not sure if she will ever quite be ready for that. So I may not be back at Tryouts till 2013 (if Strafe turns out to be as mature as he appears to be).

I think I am ready for WAO. I'd like to get one more brief training session in, but it is raining today, and I won't risk running him on wet grass right now. He is doing well physically; not as fit as I'd like, but not sore either. His flight resrvations are all arranged, I think I found a nice kennel to watch him while we tour London, and I have a car reserved for the 4 days after the trial that we are sight-seeing.

Seri's shoulder is healing well, but she's not 100% yet. She's stepped up to being allowed to do some short, low, jump grids to help build strength, and when I return from England she'll be on a shoulder/core strengthening program. If she isn't able to handle that, I will have to withdraw her from IFCS consideration, since her 4-star and Regional events begin in early June, just over a month from now, and for points, she is required to run in quite a lot of classes (5 Team classes, 2 GP, 2 Stp, and 2 IHC - 11 classes over 3 days!)

I am almost certainly going to try running her at 20" in AKC over the summer, to see if that is easier on her body (less airtime, less impact on landing), and to see if the reduced airtime and more time on the ground, and just easier jumps, will perhaps keep her more mentally tuned in on the courses. If she can go to AKC Nationals as a serious contender at 20", that is nothing to sneeze at, even if I'd prefer that I could run her at 26"...

02 May 2011

First Seminar at the new place...

If you're semi-local, you can plan to come to our first seminar at our new location in Elkton MD. Carrie Jones is coming Aug 26-28 and giving one day of privates and 2 days of seminars! The flyer is here!