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!


  1. I'm sorry. I know that frustration you feel and the helplessness of not knowing how to make it better for her. I don't know the answer, not for my Toller either. I know what has helped us a ton is getting him to bark on cue. It took over half a year of working at it, but he'll sometimes do it now without being prompted in trials and at least it gives me some hope.

  2. That's neat on the photo shoot - some friends have been able to get their dogs into advertising, so you never know.
    Secret really did look unmotivated in many of her runs. Very frustrating, but I still think you are making steady improvement.