Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Day, Happy Dogs

The last post was slightly depressing in nature, so I thought we needed something more cheery and uplifting.

The never-ending winter from hell is still upon us as you can see from all of the snow in these pictures, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The last few days have actually given us sunshine and above-freezing temperatures! Yesterday it reached 41 degrees and today the thermometer on my car read 47 degrees! Above zero!

I took the dogs walking yesterday on the trail we discovered last fall whilst out looking for Lucy the lost Klee Kai (who was never found, by the way; sad). I chose that trail because I figured it had a better chance of not being muddy like the bike trail, which gets soft and squishy every spring.

Silly me. There was still over 4" of snow pack on the trail yesterday, and that was following several days of gradual thawing. We went back today since I figured it would still be fine and I was right (the pictures are from today). There is still a lot of melting that needs to happen. Our back yard looks about the same. We are pretty much down to the solid ice layer that needs to melt now, though, which means we pretty much can't do anything back there.

The dogs have LOVED getting back out on the trail to romp and run. We've been leash-walking around town the last week or two and I tell you, it blows. None of us are fans of the constrictions of a leash. Well, Kaiser has no choice... But at least on the trail he gets all 23' of his Flexi.  :o)

Everyone came back to the car panting both days and we were only out 30-40 minutes at a time. They just never stopped running. Today they were a bit naughty.... We walked in the opposite direction and apparently entered the land of squirrels. Surprisingly, it was Luke who ran off on us. Likely the only reason Secret didn't follow is because she had already tree'd a squirrel of her own.

Tomorrow they say it might get up to FIFTY degrees! Too much more of this and I suppose we'll be stuck to walking the streets again, but hopefully it's only a short time before our trails are snow- (and mud-) free. And the yard of course -- who can forget the yard? I really want to get back to training the dogs again! In general, though, I'm just looking forward to being back outside. It's been a long winter...

In agility news, I've decided to keep Secret out of the NADAC trial in April. She's already past her NATCH 2 points in Regular and Jumpers -- lord knows we don't need any more of them at the moment -- and if I entered her only in Chances that's about the least motivating option on the planet for her. So, that said, she'll sit this one out. I am going to go ahead and enter Secret (and Luke) in the USDAA trial over at New Berlin the last weekend of the month. Hopefully by then we'll have actually had a chance to train again and maybe Secret will remember that agility is supposed to be fun. Like our walk today.

Monday, March 25, 2013

USDAA Trial Recap & Thoughts (plus a photo shoot!)

Yesterday was a long day! Once again we got up well before the break of day (3:45 a.m.) to travel to an agility trial. We were up in Ham Lake, MN this weekend, running under judge Peggy Hammond. I chose to go on Sunday this time because the class list was definitely to our advantage. We weren't able to run Gamblers, but we did get in four runs total. I could have signed Secret up for P3 Pairs, but I decided I'd rather go for a short day and end with P3 Standard.

Originally my plan was for Secret and I to take this trip alone to test the waters and see if she's gotten any better about traveling solo since our last try in June when she was super weird (could have been because my dad was along, too, who knows). Things changed, though, when photographer Barbara O'Brien announced another open casting call that just happened to be on this weekend. And well, since my plan was to scoot out of the trial at a decent time, I thought just maybe we could swing doing both. Kaiser, being so dang stinking cute, deserves at least as much of a shot at "fame" as Secret, so he got packed along just for that.

Poor Luke stayed at home by himself for this one. I didn't think it paid to bring him along for one class and he isn't considered a very desirable dog for photo work. I planned for the boys to keep each other company while Secret and I were off playing, so I felt bad for leaving Luke alone. He got to go spend a few hours at my parent's house, though, so I don't think he suffered too terribly.

I was on the road by 4:15 a.m. and pulled into On the Run right about 7:15 a.m. I made good time and didn't quite know what to do with myself I had so much free time.  ;o)  I got the crates set up (Kaiser even got to come inside; I was planning on him staying in the car if I couldn't find room together), brought the dogs in and then joined the hover waiting for the course maps to be posted. Masters/P3 Snooker was the first run of the day and they were torturing us by not letting us sit and study the map. lol They finally gave them to us at about 7:40 and I had time to come up with a decent plan before we started walking.

I was a little torn about my choice because it involved doing two teeters in the open. It made the most sense, though, so I went for it. My handling choice was the first red on the bottom right, teeter (5), wrap back to the red below the teeter, then teeter again (5), pull through the jumps to the red on top, then the (6) serpentine, the red and then the jump/weave sequence before going into the close.

I knew that we had to complete through 5 in the closing to get a Q, so my heart fell a bit when Secret knocked a bar on the middle jump of the serpentine in the opening. I knew that meant we now had to get through six in the close and well, she wasn't being the most zippy she's ever been and her weaves were particularly slow. As it turned out, the buzzer sounded when she was going through the second standard of the serpentine, so we ended up with 35 points. It was good enough for 1st place in the 22" dogs, but even without the dropped bar she wouldn't have gotten one of the two Super Qs awarded to our combined class, as the lower-scoring P16 SQ still had 49 points. And the hunt continues...

The good news is that Secret had three really nice teeters in this class! She did trot from the first teeter to the second red, but the judge was standing right there and I think that had more of an effect on her than the teeter. I really didn't see any hesitation from her on the approach or about the tipping point all day. Hooray for getting past the teeter issues!

P3 Jumpers was up next. I hemmed and hawed a bit over how to handle the first sequence. Would I be better off running with and forcing a front cross or go for a bit of a lead-out to catch her over two and scoop her to three? I opted for a very short lead out, just enough to allow me to get ahead of her at the jump. For the rest of the course I used blind crosses -- between 4/5, 10/11, then the 15/16/17 sequence. That one wasn't planned, but I was so far ahead of Secret that I had to do something.

We ended up 7 seconds under STC, but this run (like all of them yesterday) just felt like I was pulling her through the entire thing. And this is Jumpers, what is supposed to be her favorite class.

Secret got a bit of a break while Advanced and Starters Jumpers ran, but then we were up again for Performance Grand Prix. We have not attempted Grand Prix since the first time we tried, which happens to have been that same trial in June where she was so weird traveling by herself. On that occasion Secret ran clean but ended up with time faults. I don't think it was much -- less than a second over time -- but it still was enough to keep me from entering her again. I figured once she hit P3 she would be experienced enough to tackle all of the equipment without me worrying if she would do it or not (i.e., teeter).

I really had my doubts as to whether or not we'd make time on this one, but we did end up 5 seconds under SCT. Thankfully Secret had her fastest weaves of the day in this run or else we probably would have been over. We lost a lot of time as she trotted out of the chute and she was pretty slow over the dog walk.

P3 Standard was up next (see, I'm telling you the class list this day was ideal for getting in and out in a hurry!). I wasn't really concerned about obstacle performance at this point, as Secret had been doing the contacts and tire without a problem earlier in the day. I couldn't help but recall the time we were so close to going over time with a refusal at the tire in P2, though -- This was our first time in P3 Standard and I didn't have anything to go on with regard to how much time we'd have.

We had another pretty lackluster ho-hum run, but it was steady and clean. Once again we came in 5 seconds under SCT. That means for the day we were 3/4, all Q's in P3 and Grand Prix. It's the sort of thing I should be like, "Holy cow, that's awesome!" But instead I'm just bummed.

Secret was just not feeling it yesterday. At all. I got her all jazzed up in the waiting area. She played. She tugged. She barked her fool head off. And then we went in the ring and she just went flat. I didn't feel like she had any oomph to her stride at all. I couldn't find anything to prompt her to really want to play with me. It felt more like she was just going through the motions and not really having any fun. Who wants to feel that way about their agility partner? Not me; it's depressing to feel like I'm making her be out there.

So what now? Confession: I know Secret needs a chiropractic adjustment. I didn't get her in before this trial for various reasons; namely taking off work. Regardless of that fact, however, she still goes completely apeshit flying through the air after her frisbee or chasing and tugging on her Jolly Ball, so her (minor) alignment issues are only a factor in her performance at trials.

I really believe that this LONG super crappy god-awful winter has taken its toll on her as well. I think she's sick of the limited activity we've been reduced to in recent months -- but instead of going hyper freaking crazy like some dogs, she's gotten mopey (except for when it's time to play; then she's crazy...). I also feel that the complete inability to reward/play with her during agility is starting to sour her in the ring. Think of it, though -- We haven't trained since what, October?? That's a long time to go without reinforcement around agility equipment for a dog like Secret.

The question is what can we do about this? Obviously I can get her adjusted. But then what? I'm tempted to give Secret a break from trialing to see if that does anything. At the very least, I don't know if there's any point in trialing her until after we've gotten some training time in -- and considering there's still a good foot of snow outside my door I have no idea of knowing when that will be. I can certainly keep her out of the NADAC trial next month, but I would be more torn about keeping her out of the USDAA trial at the end of the month. I especially want to go to that trial because I want to see if she has any better shot at a Super Q in New Berlin -- I never paid attention to the P3 class because we weren't in it. My hope is that they have enough dogs to make a class of their own and not get combined with the P16 dogs...

If the weather/ground is decent enough, I'd be curious to see if I could get Secret to PLAY at the NADAC trial if I'm not running her. I don't figure I would leave her at home by herself, so I'd have to do something to get her out. It wouldn't hurt to experiment, I guess. Lots to consider, but I think we can all agree that winter has GOT to go.

We left the trial right around 2:15, which worked well because I had signed us up for the 2-4 p.m. time slot with Barbara. I hit, no lie, three different detours on the way over there! Good gracious, thank goodness for the Garmin. It was 3:00 before we got there. We ended up waiting about 45 minutes for our turn -- sharing the very small/cramped waiting area with some very poorly trained dogs (there were two scuffles during our wait and two dogs were unable to actually wait in there with the other dogs present). That said, I'm very proud of Kaiser and Secret. Aside from Secret being a freakazoid about the dog nearest us (I do believe she actually liked him, but she was making the most pathetic flirty noises), they were exceptionally well-behaved.

Secret was a good girl for her photo shoot. She spooked slightly at the flash a couple of times. She would stay nicely but then get up from her sit when the bulb popped. She was also being a poop about her ears and kept moving them back and forth at first, but Barbara should have gotten several shots with them nicely forward. Secret did not get asked to try on clothes for an upcoming Target shoot. Surprise, surprise.

Kaiser was a freaking rock star. (So was Secret, while she held a down-stay during Kaiser's shoot!) The only issue Kaiser had was that he could not keep his poor little butt in one spot on the floor. I kept placing him on the marker and he would continue to go into a down shortly after I walked away. We quickly realized that he was trying to hold his sit, but you could see his butt sliding backwards. The floor was slippery for a fuzzy butt like his! He is and always will be an adorably photogenic dog, so I'm sure Barbara got some great shots. As always, though, nobody knows what Klee Kai are and I'm sure we'll never hear anything again. But it is what it is and we try. Maybe one day we'll be surprised!

Barbara said the photos would be posted in about a month because she has some other jobs coming up. I'll keep an eye out and pick them off her site when they arrive. I'm curious to compare them to the pictures she took over two years ago!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Still Winter - New Family Pictures!

Do you remember that glorious winter we had last year? The one where we had practically no snow whatsoever? The year that we were still playing agility outside in January, February and March? Yeah, that one. We're apparently paying for that now.

With the additional 1.5" of snow that fell this morning, I think we are now something like 7" or more above average. Yay... And guess what, they just issued a new winter weather advisory for tomorrow.

Seriously, I am so tired of winter. I miss training my dogs! I am sick of planning our play schedule around how bad the footing is in the yard on any given day.

Last week I actually reached the point where I finally dragged a few jumps down into the basement. We've used the basement for playtime several times over this cruddy winter, but I never actually got around to taking any equipment down there. The recent blog action day on Internationalization (yeah, I totally failed at joining in on that one, even though I do have my fair share of opinions!) really made me want to get out and run the dogs -- so since I can't do that, I figured we could at least play with backsides, threadles & ketschkers with a couple of jumps in the basement. I haven't been torturing everyone with that -- Just Secret, but we've been having fun!

This weekend we are all home again. A sweet, blessed weekend at home. I hope that the weather cooperates enough that we can do something. Anything. Anything at all outdoors. Did I mention that last year it was 78 degrees on this day? Yup. I remember that we went swimming in March last year!

Next weekend we are making the drive back up to Ham Lake. We are only going on Sunday, as that was the day that had the most advantageous run order for Secret. Sadly for Luke, they aren't running Gamblers that day, which means he'd only have Standard and it was the last class of the day. (Secret is running Snooker, Jumpers, Grand Prix [finally], and Standard.) I decided to make the day a little bit of a test run of sorts to see how Secret does if I take her by herself (leaving the boys at home). I haven't attempted this since Father's Day weekend when my dad accompanied us to New Berlin. Who's to say her weirdness that day wasn't due to my dad tagging along, though? That's why I wanted to test the waters again.

However, plans changed. Photographer Barbara O'Brien (whom we tried to get in with when Secret was less than a year old) is having another open casting call up in the Cities next weekend. I'm thinking we should be done with our runs in time to make it over there, so I decided to sign up for Sunday afternoon. And since I figure Kaiser deserves a shot as much as anyone (well, so does Luke, but he's black and, well...), that means he gets to trek along as well. So much for Secret's solo trip.

We'll see how the audition deal goes this time. Secret has matured a lot since the last time we tried this. She was certainly a very good girl in all of our interactions with Barbara (open audition, Target audition, Chuckle Pup collar shoot), but she was obviously nervous. Hopefully having a couple more years of maturity under her belt will help her show off her naturally gifted posing personality.  :o)  It will have been a very long day with a 4 a.m. start and the trial all day, though, so we'll see what happens.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

NATCH Secret!!

She did it! Actually, they both did it! Both Secret & Luke got the final Chances run they needed for their respective NATCH titles today! Originally I wasn't so sure I wanted them to get it on the same day because I thought Secret deserved a "special" day of her own, but let's admit it -- Getting a NATCH on two different dogs on the same day is pretty dang awesome!

Honestly, I did not have high hopes. In fact, my heart sunk quite a bit when it occurred to me that the set of courses we were running today was the very same set of courses we ran at the Minnesota Mixed Breed Club trial over Labor Day weekend. The reason this particular course was ingrained into my brain is because Kaiser had his NATCH on the line when we ran it. None of my dogs managed to Q on this course. Actually, I'm pretty sure that only two or three dogs in the entire Elite class Q'd on this course that day. Yeah... I wasn't too thrilled to see it again.

This course stuck with me so much that I brought it home and set it up to practice. We STILL could not get it and it caused me a great deal of frustration (the dogs, too, I'm sure). Look, I even did an entire blog posting about it with video! Honestly, I went into this more or less thinking we didn't stand a shot. You know what they say, though, sometimes those are the best because you take the pressure off yourself!

Secret absolutely nailed the course! Not a single foot out of place and zero hesitation! Hooray for the baby dog!

I've been wondering for a while if I'd do a victory lap with Secret when she got her NATCH. If I'm honest with myself, I know it's totally not her thing. When we finished the run today I started to celebrate and she continued to head for the door. I did get her to come back to me, but I knew that making her run around the ring would be anything but rewarding for her. So I sucked up my ego and we went back to the crate where she got loads and loads of chicken.

It's amazing to think that Secret took just two years to earn her NATCH! It took me four years to get the first one with Luke. It took three years to get the first one with Kaiser. Maybe I'm on some sort of a roll here? Or maybe experience just helps.  :o)

I was a little bummed that they were out of NATCH bars this weekend. I don't feel it's such a huge deal for Luke, but it would have been nice to have one for Secret's first big title. Oh well, the ribbon bling is pretty darn awesome!

Considering that Luke had also struggled greatly with this course when last we saw it, I certainly didn't think that this would be a slam dunk for him, either. He is and always will be, though, a very good boy. And Luke DOES enjoy victory laps, so we took one and had heaps of fun celebrating his fourth NATCH!

I'm so proud of the big guy! At nine years old and living with Addison's Disease he is still ROCKING IT every single day of his life! I think the best part of his day was when we came home and played frisbee, though.

In addition to their Chances runs, both Luke & Secret only ran in Jumpers today. Thankfully it was the first class of the day, so they got to get their ya-ya's out right away. Luke took down two bars, which is unusual for him (the first was from hitting the standard). Secret had a lovely run, although it certainly wasn't her speediest ever. She did still manage to come in 2nd behind the world's fastest Aussie, though, which is pretty great! And I had fun and stuck in two blind crosses, so wee for me!

Kaiser did not have quite the stellar day that he did yesterday, but he's still awesome. I need to get a better handle on how many treats I give the little guy over the course of three days, and/or I need to make sure I pump him full of pumpkin. His belly was not a happy camper today, which I know makes it hard for him to concentrate like he needs to in his runs. I think I was pretty lucky that we didn't end up with a giant mess in the first round of Regular, as he kind of exploded outside between runs. I knew he had to go -- I had him outside with Luke before that Regular run and I could tell something was up, but I gave him forever and he still didn't go. He was fine the rest of the day, though, and thankfully he only had Tunnelers to wrap up his day. Tunnelers is always fun!

With that Tunnelers Q, Kaiser is now two Touch-n-Go and two Tunnelers Q's from his V-NATCH. I don't know how I let them get quite that far behind. My original intention was to get his NATCH and then finish up the Versatility right away... Because, you know, I didn't want to finish them on the same day.  :o)  Oh well, we'll get there. With our current trial schedule, though, the earliest he can get it is June!

As if today wasn't already one of the funnest most amazing days ever, it got even better! I got to run THREE dogs in addition to my own! Seriously, I cannot tell you how much I enjoy running other people's dogs. It is such an amazing learning experience, as every dog you run will teach you something!

Colleen let me run baby dog Jet again today in Novice Regular. We NQ'd again, but it was heaps of fun! The start is a little unconventional since we figured he'd for sure take the tunnel -- Jet gets a little excited for tunnels.  :o)  Colleen was mostly interested to see how Jet weaves when someone else runs him, and the takeaway from this weekend was that he did great! Colleen was thinking about pulling him from Regular for a while, but now thinks it might be better to let him keep doing it for experience (he did finish his Novice Regular title with his mom this weekend!). He's going to be such an amazing dog!

My next awesome opportunity came when I got to run Spice! Spice is a Keeshond that belongs to my agility buddy, Cynthia. Cynthia is an amazing trainer and I have admired her (and her dogs) since I began competing in 2007. Spice has come so amazingly far since Cynthia adopted her a few years ago. She used to be a little whirling dervish who would just spin and bark at you constantly, but Cynthia has done an amazing job at teaching her "go on" skills.

Spice is a fast little stinker! She also has a running dog walk, and how much fun is that?! Unfortunately there was an off course obstacle straight off the dog walk and we NQ'd there, but it was still just ever so fun to have the opportunity to run the little fluff ball.

My last treat of the day was to run Nim. I'm sure everyone has dogs they see at trials and they think to themselves, "Man, I'd really love to run that dog one day." Nim has been one of those dogs for me ever since I saw her run. She is FAST. So super ungodly fast. She's a little twitchy, but she is amazing. Except for the whole being a girl thing and being the wrong color, Nim is pretty much everything I want in my next border collie -- She's small, she's built like a little coyote and she is crazy toy obsessed. Tug! Tug! Tug! She will play with anyone!

Renee gave me the opportunity to run Nim on the Elite Weavers course at the trial today. What a gift! It was so much fun, even if I did totally fail to support a hoop between tunnels and caused an off course before I could blink. Dang, you have to react quickly with these dogs! lol

I don't have it on video, unfortunately (I guess Renee does, so I'll post it if I get it), but I also got the completely unforgettable experience of running Nim in Tunnelers. It was the last class of the weekend and it was OH SO MUCH FUN. We put in a mind-numbing 7.9 yps run for a Q/1st! Holy buckets. Our time was 17.something and the average (good) time in the class was in the 20/22 range (Kaiser was 22). I never imagined I'd get to feel what it was like to have that kind of run. Completely exhilarating and totally addicting!

Renee is going to Champs and will be required to enter Nim in the 16" Veteran dog class (apparently all dogs 7 years and up MUST run as Vets at Champs now?). That would put her in the same class as Luke, which only makes me further think about not running him in the Regular rounds. lol Oh, we'll see... I'd love to see her run at Champs, though, that's for sure. I think she'll place quite well, if she keeps her head on straight!

I think that wraps up my super awesome day -- Oh, except that I also won the worker raffle! Sweet!!! We drove through Dairy Queen and I shared my ice cream with the crew on the drive home. Let's just say that some of them are neater than others when it comes to eating off utensils. Next time I should ask for two spoons....

In other news, we are supposed to get 10" of snow tomorrow.....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Quick trial check-in -- Still no NATCH

Obladi, oblada. Two days into the trial, two shots at Chances and still no NATCH. Bummer, eh? Good thing we have one more shot at it tomorrow!

Unfortunately neither attempt was really even what I could call close. As I mentioned previously, maybe this whole "can't train all winter" thing is not the most conducive to our distance handling.

Aside from that, Secret is running great! This morning she was entered in Round 2 of Regular (Luke was in Round 1). I couldn't help but groan to myself as I walked the course first thing and realized that Secret's round would have the weaves as obstacle two. Come on... Of all the luck.

That said, I thought she had some pretty slamming weaves considering they were the second obstacle on the course! Secret put in a very lovely Regular run today. She also had a great Jumpers run, even though I managed to get RIGHT in her way and probably knocked her neck out of alignment as she tried to keep from plowing into me. Stupid handler...

Luke also drew the short straw on the number of runs this weekend, but that is the price you pay for getting to play at USDAA trials now, buddy. He didn't suffer too much today, though -- he still got three runs (vs. the normal four). Tomorrow will be tougher, as both Secret and Luke only have two runs.

Luke is also running great -- and, just like Secret, is Qing in everything except Chances. Unlike Secret, however, Luke has been getting the challenges, but has knocked a bar both days. Boo. He WILL get it tomorrow!!

I don't know if Kaiser thought USDAA was so awful that he's extremely happy to be running NADAC exclusively, or if he's so jealous about not running USDAA that he's trying extra hard in NADAC now... But either way, he is on a heck of a roll lately. With Q's in both rounds of Regular today that is at least six in a row that's he's gotten, if not more (records? you want me to look at records?). He hasn't gotten called on his dog walk in lord knows how long, but we still managed to NQ in Touch-n-Go today thanks to a wrap on a hoop (which he went back through -- monkey see, monkey do).

Kaiser was, of course, my only dog to actually Q in Chances today. And, of course, the course had a dog walk. Maybe he's changed his rules -- maybe now he will only Q on Chances courses with dog walks?

More fun tomorrow. Cross your fingers!