Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy Birthday, Kaiser!

I find it hard to believe, but Kaiser is six years old today! It seems like just yesterday that I flew to Colorado all by myself to begin our adventure together. He is my wee little man and I will always think of him as a puppy, but there is no doubt that he has matured quite a lot this past year.

I found myself passing time watching videos on YouTube and was surprised to note how much his maturity has come out in the agility ring this year. He's become much steadier, less twitchy, more confident and even faster! Those early years were trying, but I guess they were worth it.  ;o)

It's hard for me to tell if Kaiser has settled around the house or if he just seems more mellow compared to Kizzy's non-stop craziness. lol Having her around has been good for him, though. I get no end of amusement watching their morning wrestling matches while I get ready in the bathroom each day (seriously, no idea what triggers it, but this happens pretty much daily!). I'm happy that I could provide him with a friend his own size so that Secret would stop beating up on him 24/7.  Ha!

Not too much else to report around here. We are back into the deep freeze again. When I drove home from work we'd warmed all the way up to 2 degrees above zero -- but that's pretty good considering my day started at 22 degrees BELOW zero. You know it's cold when the dog door frosts on the inside...

We did have a couple of nice days on Friday and Saturday where we actually saw 40 degrees! We definitely made the most of it on Saturday -- I took each pair of dogs out on their own 5k run (6.25 miles for me!) and then we played frisbee in the back yard for a while. The goal was to completely wear everyone out enough to last them through the day on Sunday since the temps were supposed to drop like a rock.

It worked, for the most part -- But I did end up dragging my weave poles into the basement yesterday to give us something to do. It also occurred to me that Kizzy hadn't seen poles in a while and I figured I should at least try to keep her fairly fresh on them this winter. We'll probably head downstairs to burn off some energy here shortly.

I'm home from work tomorrow and then the plan is to drive over to Oshkosh for that fun match on Wednesday. Unfortunately the weather is being a pain. It's snowing now, it's supposed to snow tomorrow and another inch or so is supposed to fall on Wednesday. It's all nuisance snow that shouldn't amount to much, so I just hope it doesn't make the roads yucky. I'd really like to go over and play agility with everyone!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Snow Agility

Wow, so I slacked off a bit on posting, I guess! A few things have happened, but you haven't missed too much. Secret had her yearly vet appointment this past Monday. She was a good girl, weighed in at 46.1 lbs and.... tested positive for Lyme disease. Hooray. So now that's two dogs in the house with a + test result (Kizzy being the other).

Like Kizzy, we are electing to go with the "wait and see" approach for the time being. Because Secret has been vaccinated against Lyme, Dr. Randy was going to try to submit a sample for testing. The vaccine manufacturer guarantees their product and will pay for treatment if a vaccinated dog tests positive. However, apparently in 2012 there was a four week window where Secret was overdue, so he didn't know if they would cover it. I haven't heard back anything on that....

Secret also got to take a fun little visit to the back of the clinic to get her anal glands expressed for the first time. I mentioned to Randy that there have been several instances where I've noticed her "spotting" on my car seats (lovely) in recent weeks. He confirmed that she was pretty full and one side was pretty thick and "gritty" when he expressed it. There was no infection or anything to worry about, but it's something we'll probably want to keep an eye on going forward and perhaps consider giving her pumpkin on a regular basis to try to bulk up her stool a little bit. She has wee little poos and we don't think they are big enough to empty the glands as they should be.

After talking to our vet, Secret and Luke are now getting meat tenderizer in their meals. Luke's poo eating has gotten worse than ever lately (to the point where it involves eating the rocks when he poos in the potty yard during the day) and Secret has regained her fondness for digging for poopsicles in the snow. Apparently the meat tenderizer will make their crap taste like, well, crap, and discourage the habit. I'm not giving it to the little dogs, but for some reason their poop doesn't seem as appetizing, so for now I'm just sticking to the big dogs.

We did go to our ring rental last Saturday as I mentioned in our last post. I had dug around on the internet to find a course with the contacts in the same location as they were when we were there on Wednesday and wouldn't you know it but they went and rearranged the whole arena on me. It was already set up for a game night they are having on New Years Eve and I wasn't able to rearrange anything, so we just played on that setup (I did drag out a chute and a table, though, so that had all of the equipment out).

Kizzy did super-duper awesome with everything. Kaiser and Secret got lots of practice doing "flips" from contacts into tunnels (there was one on both the dog walk and a-frame, so yay!). It was a fun little set-up that gave us several options to work with. Even Luke got to come play since the weather had been cruddy and everyone had been cooped up for days. He had a surprising and spectacular fly off on the teeter... He was much more cautious after that, poor old guy.

Today I said "Screw you, Winter!" and set up another Happy Hurdle Day course in the backyard. Snow agility is way too much stinking work and I probably do a disservice to my dogs with my cruddy handling, but we still had fun. I just used hoops and replaced the weaves with a tunnel. At least the dogs didn't seem to have too many problems getting around the course. Kaiser was much more careful than usual -- he's always been cautious about slipping and isn't a huge fan of snow anyhow. Kizzy was slightly more reserved than ususal, but I'm pretty positive that was only a reflection of my own handling issues. Luke and Secret just said, "Whee!" I bought a new Jolly Ball with a rope for Secret ages ago, but I've been saving it for snow play and today was the first time she's seen it. It's been a long time since she's had one of these because she ate through the rope on her last one some time ago. It made her very happy.

We got a bunch of freezing rain prior to our last snowfall, so walking/running in our neighborhood is pretty much out right now. Tonight we are apparently supposed to get like 4"-7" of snow or something, so we are pretty trapped for the time being. Last night I actually broke down and drove to my parent's house to use their treadmill for a run. Man, it sure would be nice to have one of those at home. I can just envision being in the basement all night long -- first for me and then a turn for all of the dogs.  :o)

Christmas is right around the corner. We celebrate with my mom's side of the family tomorrow. I'm home from work burning a vacation day on Monday. Originally I was off until after Christmas, but it's crazy at work right now and I pushed one of my days into the next week instead. I'd rather not be sitting at home five days in a row anyhow, so that worked out for the best. I'm sure the dogs will love having me home more the next couple of weeks!

I'm planning to head over to Oshkosh on New Years Day for a fun match held at the Oshkosh Kennel Club. Hopefully the weather holds out so that I feel safe making the 2.5 hour drive. It would be an excellent opportunity to run Kizzy in a new location on new equipment (toys/food allowed) and let me check out the facility to see if we'd like to start going to trials there this year. Hopefully the forecast is in our favor.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Invisible Fences Suck

We had quite the horrifying experience tonight. I took the girls out for a short run (we have a few inches of snow on the ground now and it was about 13 degrees, so yes, I'm nuts) and something terrible happened when we were only about a half block from home.

A car drove past us and just after it went by I heard this horrible noise. My first thought was that it was like what it sounds like when you drive over one of those large snow/ice chunks that falls from the wheel wells this time of the year, but I hadn't seen anything like that in our path on the road. I turned around to look and my stomach sank as I saw a dog rolling out from in front of the car.

I stood there dumbstruck not knowing how to react to what had just happen. The person in the car also had no idea what to do as they stopped and didn't move for some time. We both watched the dog get up and run around the corner with its hind end tucked under him. Thankfully the owner popped her head out to call him inside at that point and I got to be the person to tell her that her dog had just been hit by a car. I felt so bad for her.

I couldn't just ignore what had happened, so I ran the girls home, chucked them in the door and then ran back to the house. The owners were coming back outside (dressed this time) to look for him, as the dog ("Sam") had not come home. I explained what had happened and that's when they told me about the invisible fence that was supposed to be keeping their dog safe. It would seem that the battery has died.

I hate those things. Hate them, hate them, hate them. In my years at the shelter and anywhere else anyone ever brings them up, I do not hesitate to share my full opinion of them -- and now I guess I have another story to back that up. Tonight's failure aside, they will never keep things OUT of your yard and thus they are NOT a safe alternative to a solid fence. Ever. They are too prone to failure. There are too many dogs that will take the shock to get to what they want. It's just not worth the risk. If you can't put up a solid fence for whatever reason, use a tie-out and supervise your dog.

We found Sam about a block in the other direction. There were some other people who saw him out running and were trying to catch him, but he was terrified and wouldn't let anyone touch him. He did eventually come running when he realized it was his family calling for him and thankfully he appeared to be moving okay. I told them to keep an eye on him and hopefully they will take him into the vet to get checked out.

In other news, I took Kizzy and Kaiser to open ring time at Family Dog Center again last night. Someone had moved some stuff around, but I found the course maps from Sunday and was able to set the Elite Regular course (with the exception that I left the set of 6 weaves because I was lazy). At first I thought it was going to be another private ring rental for us because nobody was there, but thankfully someone did show up after our first spin through the course -- and it was the best thing for us because it was a dog that SET KIZZY OFF.

I have no idea who they were, as I've never seen them before. I guess she doesn't compete, but she should because the dog ran really nice. I was just switching dogs when they came in and when Kizzy saw the black lab she started screaming like you would not believe. Thankfully they seemed to think it was funny, but it was a little embarrassing...

I had Kizzy's attention for about three obstacles before she bolted out of the ring to investigate. The other dog's handler was able to keep his head up so that he wouldn't eat the annoying little dog running around at his feet and I was able to eventually round Kizzy up and go back into the ring. I made that turn very short and just ran the perimeter of the ring with her and praised her oodles and oodles.

On her next (final) turn into the ring Kizzy did stop to look out of the ring a few times, but for the most part she was super awesome (and made it through the Elite course perfectly, I might add!). It was a good experience for her -- we need more dogs like that one to show up while we are working and Kizzy needs to figure out that leaving the ring doesn't get her out of anything. I hate that she's learned she can squeeze under the ring gating....

Kaiser was his super-duper awesome self. Man, a few years ago who would have ever thought he'd become the dog he is today?  :o)

I set up a ring rental for Saturday so that everyone can come and play. I know that the same course will be set, so I might try to find something AKC or USDAA that has the contacts in those locations and set up something different. I already told Travis I'll need him to help me pull out the teeter, as it's been quite a while since Kizzy has seen that now. I'll also need to pull out the chute since she hasn't seen that away from home yet. Should be fun!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Kizzy's First Trial!

Ta da! And there you have it, Kizzy's first trial experience caught on film.  :o)

Yesterday was not a Q-filled day for Kizzy. In fact, there were no Qs earned by the Kizzy-dog. It was, however, a very good experience for her and there is no doubt that she found the experience FUN FUN FUN. After having my last two agility dogs go through a lot of stress at the start of their trial careers, it's kind of nice to not be dealing with that this time. Is she distracted and a bit of an airhead at times? Sure, but you can tell she finds the whole experience to be loads of fun.

The Novice courses were very nice this weekend. On the first round of Regular I was really just unsure of one section after the weaves where I didn't feel like I'd successfully be able to get in a front cross. Again, maybe I need to work a little harder on teaching a rear cross one of these days. Seems like a good basement project for the winter, yes?

Kizzy started off just great and got her dog walk contact. Then as I went to front cross for a serpentine she got sucked back into a jump that she'd just gone over. Apparently that area had been giving dogs problems all day and there were even a few treats found on the floor?! What the heck? After our class was done they went back there and sprayed the heck out of the floor to try to take care of whatever was distracting everyone.

I managed to get Kizzy's attention back on me, but then she saw the a-frame and went for it, since it's her newest favorite obstacle. She came back to me and we continued. She almost got her weaves and I decided not to push it on the first run and kept going. I didn't make the front cross and we fuddled around a bit while I got her on the correct side and then we finished with a missed a-frame contact and running on the inside of the last hoop -- but we finished together and I got her harness back on quick & easy!

I was looking forward to the second run because I knew I could fit in front crosses no problem in that direction. Unfortunately I didn't get to test that theory because after doing three obstacles Kizzy high-tailed it out of the ring. I had no idea what caused it until I watched the video back and heard Secret start barking as Kizzy went over the a-frame. I'm quite positive it was the same scenario as the other night, when Kaiser barked at another dog and Kizzy felt she had to go help. She wasn't much help, however, as she ran straight down the back aisle and into the gift shop where someone snagged her. Someone went back into the crate and did not get treats. What a bummer.

I decided to add Novice Hoopers to Kizzy's day after that as another training opportunity. It was a numbered Hoopers course, so basically Jumpers without jumps. I hadn't originally entered this class because I didn't know if hoops were "exciting" enough to keep Kizzy's attention, but it was better than nothing. I also employed friends to guard the doors for this run just to make sure that it wouldn't become a habit. Kizzy was on the lookout during that run and made one scamper towards the door, but she STOPPED and came back! Had the doorway not have been blocked she would have left the ring at the end of the run, so thankfully we learned that was not an option. She still didn't feel like play time should end, though, so we did have a bit of a game of keep-away when it was time to put the leash on. Thankfully she didn't go into one of her full-fledged zoomie episodes and instead just sat and bounced & growled around my hands. I finally got her to sit and put the harness over her head and we were good.

I am thrilled with her Jumpers run to end the day! Kizzy got ahead of me and ran past jump three, but I elected to not fix it and just keep going forward. That ended up being her only fault of the run and she did so well (we won't speak for me, who forced in an ugly front cross at the end). AND at the end of the run she was fully focused on me and didn't even look at the door. I will note that for this run I decided to go the NADAC-allowed route of running with her treat bag in my pocket. I don't know if that made a difference or not, but I'll probably try it again at the next NADAC trial to see what happens. Right now this is mostly about building good ring habits and learning the ropes.

Everyone else did great on their limited runs yesterday, too! Kaiser continued on his awesome streak from Friday with super awesome runs in Regular and Jumpers. His Regular run was the fastest in the class; I didn't get a chance to compare his Jumpers run and unfortunately I didn't even get the yardage so I don't know how many YPS that course was... Chances was another NQ, unfortunately, so he is still sitting at 4 away from NATCH 2, as he has been for the longest time.

Luke was Mr. Naughtypants on the dog walk in his Regular run, so I schooled it. Not entirely sure why because I was just running him for fun, but I figured we may as well since it was an NQ anyhow. The rest of his run was nice, save for the failed turn around the barrel on the first attempt. Luke also NQ'd in Chances with a very, very strange "come in" on a lateral send and I have no idea why. Oh well. Apparently I shall never Q in Chances ever again. I'm pretty positive Secret would have Q'd on this course, but she would have hated it and I was glad she was not entered.

Secret was super awesome for her one run of the day! She just had loads and loads of fun on that course for some reason. If you watch the video, check out her weaves!! Holy bananas, that's the fastest she has weaved in a trial for a very long time! Ignore my stupidity at the dog walk. I entered her in that run for the SOLE PURPOSE of training her dog walk that had been so very naughty the day before. She stuck a paw in the contact on her way through without stopping. I immediately stopped and then stood there with her barking at me while I contemplated what to do. There should have been NO question. This dog does not need Regular Qs in NADAC. I need to get a handle on what is happening to her dog walk at trials as she starts to get "higher" while running. I *should* have trained it. Argh. Stupid idiot, I took the Q. That said, if you factor in the 8 seconds that I stood there like an idiot, her run would have been just about one second slower than Kaiser's first round. For Secret that is fantastic! She still somehow managed to get first place in the 16" class with the wasted time, so I don't know if everyone crashed and burned or what.

There was part of me that really, really wanted to go back to the trial today and enter a few more runs with Kizzy. I'm glad I opted to stay home, though, because we all needed a day to be bums. It's been snowing lightly most of the day, too, which is another good reason to stay home. The girls and I decided to see what it's like to run in the snow and it didn't go too badly! Secret wore her Back on Track coat because it was 12 degrees outside, but Kizzy seems to handle the cold just fine. I might have to dig Secret's booties out, though, because she did try to stop and chew at her feet a couple of times.

Other than that we've had a quiet day. I'm hoping the snow stops soon so that I don't have to dig us out in the morning. The original forecast was that we could see like 6" of snow, but unless something crazy happens the radar looks like we're about done here and we probably only have an inch or so. It's quite a bit worse over by Milwaukee and Madison, so I was very thankful that I didn't have to deal with this for my drive on Friday!

Today I got our confirmations for the January AKC trial in Cannon Falls. Just Secret & Kaiser are playing there, as there is no way I'd feel comfortable running Kizzy in a big open dirt arena just yet. I think I'll probably hold off on entering her in AKC until we have a few more successful experiences, so it could easily be March or so before that happens. We'll see. Today I was looking around and found that the Oshkosh Kennel Club (a facility that has been recommended that I check out for AKC trials) is having a fun run on New Years Day. If the weather is nice, we may just make the drive over to check it out.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Hounds AKC Trial

We are home from our 12-hour round trip to the Hounds for the Holidays AKC trial! I figured since tomorrow is a totally separate trial -- and Kizzy's first! -- I should make sure to get both updates in their own posts.  :o)

You can see above that there are three ribbons. But surprise! Kaiser was the one to bring home two today! This was his first time running in Excellent and he had a great day. Had he been in Masters he would have brought home 41 speed points! What a good little man.

Secret started the day a little off and it was totally my fault. I was looking at the schedule and saw that JWW didn't start until 8:30 and we followed the large 20" group of 60-70 dogs. In my head I was thinking I was safe to show up at 9:30, but figured I should be save and leave at 6:00 a.m. to arrive at 9:00. Umm, yeah. It's JWW, it runs a little faster than Standard you dingbat!

I was setting up my crates when I heard them announce that they were walking 26"/24" JWW in the ring next to me. Oh good lord, the dogs were still in the car! Thankfully Secret wasn't first on the line or anything, but I still had to check in, find my stickers, find course maps (that had to wait), and of course -- walk the course. I was so flustered...

Thankfully it was a pretty nice course that wasn't too complicated. It was also nice that I knew I had a second walk-through coming, so I only had to focus on what I needed to do for Secret in this run. The only real, "Hmm, what should I do" spot on this course was from the 14 jump to the tunnel. There were all sorts of different handling methods used down that line, but I knew I could beat Secret to the tunnel to handle it all on the left, so that's what I planned for.

I managed to get Secret to go potty on the trip from the car to the crate. When we walked through the doors to the arena, though, she went a little wiggy on me. Granted, it's been a long time since we've ran agility in a location where we've never been before, so I most definitely should have been better prepared... Secret basically crawled along behind me with her tail between her legs, totally overwhelmed by everything around us. I planted her in her crate and let her sit there to adjust as long as I could.

She was barky and happy as we approached our turn in the ring several minutes later. She seemed ready to go, but pretty much from the beginning she was being a looky-loo. The judge was standing over by the weaves and Secret snapped her head over towards the judge just as we were coming into that obstacle. By the grace of god I managed to get her nose into the correct weave entrance and she stayed in, but man those were some slow weaves...

After that it did get much better, though. I did have to babysit Secret more than I had planned in the 9-13 sequence, but I still managed to beat her out of the turn and then she turned it on to race me down the line. She finished clean for her first Masters Q and 8 MACH points.

Kaiser didn't get a terribly long time to settle, either. I had left him in the car for Secret's run and brought him in when we were done (leaving Kizzy in the car since Kaiser was going to be up shortly, which she did NOT like). Thankfully Kaiser doesn't seem to have a problem adjusting to this sort of thing anymore and he was unfazed. He was the first dog after the walk-through, so we went and sat at the start line and played and did tricks to wait for it to start. We had several people come up and ask questions about him -- more fan club members!

With Kaiser I asked for a stay at the start and led out to fit in a front cross between 3 and 4 (with Secret I blinded). He was a happy little bugger so I was able to easily send him out over 12-14 while I kept moving ahead to get in place to beat him down the line. He didn't turn on the burners quite as much as he does over a straight line (thankfully), so I was still ahead as he went over 17, so the correct tunnel entrance was obvious to him. Unfortunately I was so far ahead of him that my motion more or less stopped as he went into the tunnel and I think he was unsure of what I was doing. I think he was contemplating coming back out of the tunnel entrance because he took a goodly amount of time to make his way out, but thankfully out the correct end.  :o)  Clean run with what would have been 20 PACH points! In JWW! Holy cow!

Secret's Standard run was up next and the only thing I was unsure about was the flip from the a-frame to the tunnel. We haven't, umm... practiced that. We did practice flipping from the dog walk to the tunnel this fall, though, so I thought maybe she'd figure it out. And goodness, that tunnel was WAY out there, so running dog on right did not seem like a good solution through that section.

As it turns out, Secret was a freaky little beast at the start of that run and completely jumped off the side of the dog walk contact. Well, so much for that. I verbally corrected her for that little stunt, but I don't think she even heard me -- or at least it didn't affect her at all, which surprised me (because honestly, I felt bad for saying it after it came out of my mouth, it sounded much harsher than I typically even think of being with her). After that, though, the run was lovely!

The weaves were much better than in JWW, which was nice to see. I kind of left her on the teeter to get ahead and that was no problem. I sent Secret over 9 and blind crossed as I called her back over 10 and handled 11 from the left. I think I was one of about 2% of handlers that opted for handling 11 from that side. So many handlers were post-turning 9-10 and then standing there to rear cross the tunnel. So not motivating for those that are motivationally challenged... I started to doubt myself as I watched handler after handler doing the same thing, but then I remembered, "Don't be an idiot" and stuck with my plan. It worked beautifully.

Seeing as we'd already NQ'd the run, I figured I may as well see if my dog knows how to flip into a tunnel off the a-frame. It was SUPER AWESOME! You'd think we trained it every day! lol The panel jump following the tunnel had these weird wings that were like dogs sitting pretty. Honestly I worried that Secret would be wigged out by them, but she didn't notice. I did a blind between 18 and the chute to end the course dog on left. It would have been 16 MACH points, which is actually a little lower than her average lately (19), but still pretty nice.

Kaiser was a good boy for his run, but he had an off start. I led out a little to beat him to the end of the dog walk, but after I released him and was running ahead I heard this fairly loud, "THUD." I looked back and saw the poor little guy literally *crawling* at the top of the up-ramp.  :o(  Poor wee man, I guess he face-planted the entrance. I felt so bad for him and he took it pretty easy to the bottom of the dog walk. He was fine through the weaves and then very cautious on the teeter. Can't blame the poor dude.

I worried if I'd get the turn at 9 or if he'd sail over the start jump, but he was listening and turned nicely. I handled 11 the same way with him as I had Secret and it worked equally as well for him. Still have no idea why everyone was so stuck on the post turn...

The judge was kind to not call a refusal at the table, as Kaiser kind of stalled out before hopping up (I seriously hate that stupid short table, I'd rather he actually have to jump up on something and then I'd be less worried about him flying off!). Our judge was apparently very intrigued by Kaiser because as she was doing our table count she completely forgot to get into place to judge the a-frame contact. Kaiser left the table like a little bullet (because WHEEEE! A-frame!) and the judge scrambled and said, "Oh shoot!" as we blasted past her. hahaha  She totally missed his entire contact. It was a higher hit for him, but he did get it. I hadn't worried about the turn at all with him because there was absolutely nothing he could have gone off course to, so I just called him back and sent him through the tunnel, then handled the ending of the course from the inside. Another clean run that would have been 21 more PACH points (thanks to that super slow dog walk). Sweet.

Kizzy was a rock star today as well! I'm not sure if she prefers the stacked crates where she gets to be up higher or what (we will try that tomorrow...), but she was very good and barely made any noise at all. In fact, I kept getting confused because there was a dog down the wall from us that sounded exactly like her, but every time I checked it was that dog and not Kizzy making the noise.

We got in lots of play time all over the arena and even got Kizzy's very first VMO measurement! She came in at 13.25" and I didn't argue it. I figured that was what she was (and I didn't even try to get her to "measure down" because what's the point?). There was at least one more VMO present (one of the judges) and I kind of hovered around to see if I might be able to get her height card out of the way today, but everyone seemed quite busy and I decided not to worry about it. With this first measurement out of the way we don't have to worry about getting measured until we run into another VMO, so it's all good.

Tomorrow is the big day! Kizzy's debut! I'm pretty excited.  :o)  I called Family Dog Center on my way home and added a few runs since I was going to get home earlier than I'd anticipated and wouldn't need to worry about sleeping in for the first classes. I put Kaiser and Luke in one Regular run each and, after her little stunt in Standard today, Secret now gets to run one round of Regular as well and that dog walk WILL be trained if she decides to do her own thing again. I debated entering her in Chances since she will be there, but no, she's done with NADAC. I'm not going to make her do something she hates.

Tune in for video of tomorrow -- I will make sure it happens!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mental (mis)Management

Today is another Dog Agility Blog event, where a bunch of us get together and write on the same subject. Please visit here to see what everyone else has to say – I know I will be doing so often because this is a subject on which I could probably use a little help.

The subject of the day is “The Mental Game” and I debated whether or not I even have anything to post on the subject. I do love a good blogger event, though, so I shall muddle through.

Running (hence the picture up top, but that’s also there because I didn’t plan and don’t have anything else to share…) is probably my biggest mental game these days. Many of my running friends will agree that running is more mental than physical. Often times it takes a lot of effort just to get myself out the door – ESPECIALLY now that it’s so miserable, wet and cold (oh, and dark) outside. Every time, though, I feel better for having gotten out and done it. I used to go through the same thing when it came to going to the barn to ride the horses in the winter. It took SO MUCH EFFORT to put on all of those layers of clothes just to go out and freeze my fingers & toes off, but in the end I was always glad for it. Sometimes you just need to be your own coach and make yourself get out there. By the way, I hate winter.

I feel fortunate that I have not faced the mental struggles of some of my fellow competitors in agility. I know people who are crippled by nerves at the smallest of local trials. I’m sure I can thank my years of showing horses (in dressage and hunters, where you are the only team in the ring and thus all eyes are on you) for having calmed my nerves in the ring. Truthfully, I have never found agility trials to be a stressful experience (that said, I wish I knew why karaoke makes me nervous!). In many ways, though, I feel this has made me a bit flip about the whole thing and that, too, can bite you in the ass!

My competitive agility career began in NADAC – and let’s face it, NADAC just isn’t all that competitive (at least in my area). Everyone is, for the most part, a very happy and positive bunch. It definitely has never been about the almighty Q (until you get on the countdown for NATCH at least :o) ) -- It's NOTHING like the QQ craziness in AKC or the SQ madness of USDAA Snooker. The atmosphere at NADAC trials made it very easy for me to continue to float around without any real grounding or mental game. The courses never really challenge(d) me and it’s pretty easy to wander through a course a couple of times during a walk-through, see the (obvious) patterns and call it good. And I have been, for the most part, fairly successful at this.

My complete lack of a mental game has, however, caused complete catastrophe at times. The most notable as well as most fresh in my mind was at NADAC Championships this past year. I went into that event with such high hopes for Kaiser. He has had a really fabulous year, becoming more consistent and faster than ever. Knowing how well we did when he was “on” in 2011 I thought for sure it was ours to win. I didn’t doubt it for a second.

Until we got there.

Then my head completely fell apart. I had put an incredible amount of pressure on myself. Nobody else did it; I did it to myself. Our first round was fairly decent. His exuberant off course to the dog walk wasted little time and he was fast enough to squeak out 7th place even with the fault. That said, the fault was still in my mind when we started Round 2, knowing that we couldn’t afford many more if I wanted to achieve our goal of “winning.” And…. Then I promptly caused two more faults in that round.

Round 3 was an absolute disaster. It was a repeat of one of the courses he won in 2011, so I figured “it’s in the bag.” Or not. We did rebound for Round 4, although my twitching did very nearly cost us another off course.

I want to totally forget about Round 5. This is where my brain fell out of my ears. Kaiser was the first of my dogs to run, but we had quite a long wait before then and I had the opportunity to watch several runs. In those runs that I watched, I saw approximately 75% of the dogs (big, fast dogs) missing a turn and taking an off-course hoop. For some unknown reason my brain immediately screamed, “ABORT! ABORT!” and decided that the plan I had walked would no longer work and instead needed to be replaced with a rear cross – which, for the record, Kaiser does not particularly enjoy.

I’m still so sad about that run. My entire insides were in knots as we approached the line. Shouldn’t that have been enough of an indicator that I was making a stupid decision? Kaiser, being the sensitive little soul that he is, became equally unglued as we went to the line. Mom had gone off her rocker, what was he to do?

I went through with the un-walked plan and we DID get that turn away from the magnetic hoop of death. And then he went straight off course to another obstacle because my mental waves were still screaming to him, “Crazy! This lady is crazy!” Our whole connection on that run was lost. He went off course again later on in the course. It was a sad moment for me because I had let myself down and I had let my dog down. There was no hope of really even making the finals at that point, so we just had fun the next two runs. They were still a bit of a mess but I felt like we at least enjoyed them more.

This is why I do my very best to not watch other runs at trials. Or at the very least, trust my gut and stick to the plan!

I have had to deal a little more with ring nerves since advancing through the levels in USDAA and AKC. I more or less waltzed through the lower levels with my usual relaxed manner but for some reason those first runs in Exc/Masters make my insides seize. lol  I have definitely tried to start putting a bit more thought behind my course walk routine since moving up to these levels as well and I do believe I am becoming a better handler in the ring for it.

My mental game is a work in progress for sure, but for the most part I feel I have a good mixture of competitiveness mixed with “it’s all cool.” I definitely need to continue to work on handling myself in more high-pressure situations, though, and that is why I am looking forward to what others have to say on this subject. Until I get it worked out, I have figured out that Xanax helps, too (although it is not my method of choice, because that makes me TOO relaxed and I still do stupid things – like not watching my dog as he breaks his start-line and goes off course at obstacle two in the finals at Champs…).

I’m expecting the nerves to kick in at our big Hounds AKC trial on Friday. That will be a good time to practice my mental management skills for sure. It will also be Kaiser’s debut in Excellent – and Secret’s first chance at a QQ – so there is a good chance I will be a basket case that morning.

Kizzy’s first trial is in three days. If that doesn’t test me mentally I don’t know what will.  :o)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Long Weekend

Today was the last day of a long holiday weekend at home. I don't know that I can directly recall the last time we spent four days at home and didn't have to go somewhere or do anything. The dogs seem to think it's pretty swell when I hang at home with them. I, on the other hand, turn into a lazy sloth when there is nothing on my calendar...

I did go shopping, though! The bench that I picked up at Walmart last year has been a staple in this house ever since it arrived. When I saw that they were back up for the 6 p.m. Thursday deal this year I figured it would probably be in my best interest to go buy one (or two...). I did end up getting two since I managed to snag a cart this year. I decided to go ahead and double up the window seat so that all of the dogs could technically sit up there and look outside together (if they share well). Then we still have one in reserve for when one finally gives out. I thought they were such an amazing deal at $29/each, but then I was searching online for a friend that asked about them and discovered that they retail for $35. So yeah... I gave up a couple hours of my life to save $5.  :o)  Oh well, nothing much better to do anyhow.

Wednesday night I took Kizzy and Kaiser to open ring time at Family Dog Center. My hope was that there would be other people there to give Kizzy some practice at working around other dogs, but apparently people have better things to do around the holidays. There was one other person there who was just wrapping up as we arrived. She was nice enough to sit outside the ring with her dog while I took Kizzy out for her first spin. I warned her that I had no idea what Kizzy would do and that she could very well run straight out of the ring to say hello.

I'm happy to report that we had no such problems! Kizzy seemed oblivious to the person and dog outside of the ring and was all about playing! The course that was set was still the Time 2 Beat course that we played on during our ring rental last weekend and Kizzy did a great job.

I was glad that I had brought Kaiser, though, so that I could still do some "trial simulation" and swap the two of them back and forth. Kizzy was quieter at some moments than others, but she's doing better in her crate. She is super sassy, though, and every time I shushed her while trying to talk to someone she screamed back even louder. That's fun... Let's chalk it up to just being excited for her turn?  ;o)

I ended up going to La Crosse to pick up a couple of things on Friday and got stuck there for hours upon end due to the black Friday madness, so we didn't really do anything that day. Yesterday was by far my most productive day, as I actually set up a course to play on AND we went for a walk on the trail.

This was most likely our last home practice of the year and that makes me sad. We have so enjoyed playing on the Happy Hurdle Day courses this year! They are such a nice service provided by Ann Croft on her Agility Coach Facebook page. I put the dog walk away today and moved all of the jumps and whatnot to the side of the yard. I'm holding out on putting those away until I have to, although I don't see being able to use them for at least a couple of weeks so I'm sure by then it will be too late.

Today I officially entered Kizzy in her first trial! I decided to stick her in both rounds of Regular as well as Jumpers on Saturday next weekend. I tossed the idea of going on Sunday back and forth, but after going to Milwaukee on Friday I think we will all be ready for a day at home on Sunday. If I change my mind I'm sure I can always do day of show entries, but hopefully I'm smart enough to just stay home.  :o)  I stuck Luke and Kaiser in Chances because they are both closing in on another NATCH. I also entered Kaiser in Jumpers just because it's fun.

I'm so looking forward to our trip over to the Hounds for the Holidays AKC trial on Friday! The trial info "sheet" was five pages long -- it's like a National event! lol There are 29/27 dogs in 24" class, but I don't know how many of those are Masters vs. Excellent until the run order gets posted this week. Either way, it's by far going to be the most competition we've seen yet. There are 31/31 dogs in the 8" class, but I'll guess a majority of those are Masters and not Preferred. Next weekend will be a fun one!