Monday, August 31, 2009

Harry Houdini ONYX

We did it! Harry ended what may be his last flyball tournament with 20,021 points, earning his ONYX title in nearly the last race on Sunday with just 21 points to spare.

Harry started flyball in Salt Lake City in 2000. He's run with four different clubs and dozens of different dogs. He's raced in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Texas. But these are just details. Harry lives for flyball. For him, there is no other game worth playing.

He needed 611 points for the title. His team, Dogz in da Hood, has been running incredibly well, but that's a lot of points for a two-day tournament. So many things could happen. I kept telling myself the titles are for the people, that Harry didn't care about how many points he had, that he just wanted to run fast and bark loudly. I figured that he probably would not get the title and while that was tremendously disappointing I had already moved past that. I wanted to have a good time with my flyball friends and let Harry play the game that he loves more than anything else.

Perhaps the entire weekend was charmed.

It started when I showed up at the La Quinta in Huntsville to discover that my room had already been paid for. Really? I couldn't recall giving a credit card number for the La Quinta. A bit tired and road buzzed from the long drive, it took me about an hour to figure things out. While I still don't know all of the details, it seems that various sneaky members of Dogz Rule! and Utah Tail Blazers schemed and planned and emailed and got my room paid for. Duwain from DR!, who runs the lovely red BC Eris on Harry's team, got to the hotel around noon to make absolutely sure he would be there before me and get everything taken care of. When I called my friend Gosia from the Tail Blazers, she kept saying, we want you to race and have a good time without having to worry about anything.

It is simply impossible for me to thank all of you for what you did. Any words I can offer are inadequate, I think. Your generosity is amazing and I am blessed to have friends like all of you.

So what else happened during this charmed weekend? There are some highlights on the club blog but this post is all about Harry.

Hoodz' first race was a bit scary. We had an error in the first heat and lost, then broke out not once, but twice, losing the entire race and jeopardizing our team's ability to stay in the tournament. The dogs were on fire, passing was great, and, well, they were simply running too fast.

After some serious strategizing, we pulled it together and Hoodz proceeded to sweep their division, giving up only a handful of heats while winning all of their remaining eight races over the weekend. We stomped the competition early, easily winning on consistency and time again and again.

Of course, it would not do to make it too easy. We had a bit of a flutter in the first race on Sunday when we pulled in a time that was only 0.02 seconds over breakout. Still, it was technically over breakout. Whew!

At the end of racing on Saturday, Harry had earned 305 points, half of what he needed for his title. It was clearly going to a very tough go with only four races on Sunday.

By the fourth race on Sunday, which was nearly the last race of the tournament, Harry only needed 34 points for his title. We needed to run clean twice to achieve this--didn't even have to win, just run clean twice. I was worried. People and dogs were getting tired. It was late in the day and we had a very long day of racing on Saturday. A single early pass or dropped ball would be enough to prevent us from getting those 34 points.

I was trying not to be nervous. I knew the team had been running like a well oiled machine for two days and I trusted my teammates. Harry, Eris, Sisko, and Trixi are dogs that race to win. Duwain, Karl, and Ben are excellent handlers. It is an honor to be in the ring with such a tight team. Since Harry runs in start position, I get to see the entire team lined up to my left, and after I complete my runback with Harry, I turn and watch them complete their runs while I tug with him and tell him how awesome he is.

So we go in the ring for that fourth race, get lined up, and we're off. We won the first heat with a time that got us 25 title points. I started to cry because we were so close. He was so close. Could we do it? Flyball is serious business for Harry so I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, then nodded to the judge that we were ready to run again.

The entire run happened in slow motion for me. I released Harry. He had a good start and his usual solid race time and when he came back to me, I dropped to my knees with his tug at the back of the ring and watched as Eris and Sisko passed and Eris and Duwain came racing back beside us, then Ben released Trixi while Karl and Sisko came running back, then Trixi with her perfect turn and race back to Ben right down the middle of the lane. Then I held my breath because the race isn't over until the judge calls it. It's not very sporting to celebrate even when you know you've won because the other team may still be running. It was only when Lawrence pushed the button and the timer displayed our total time that I could get up, Harry in my arms, for our celebration.

Lots of hugging and tears. Even our boxloader Lauren came running all the way down the ring to join in!

But the race wasn't over! With a 3 out of 5 format, we had to run at least one more heat. Mike Smith from Texas Twisters, the team we were racing, said, you are going to let us win one now, right? And after all that, I looked at him and said, hell no!

Harry and I got into position but I must have looked a bit shellshocked because Kim, our coach, came over and asked me if I was okay. I said, yes, yes, I am okay. I can do this. And I proceeded to release Harry early and get our first and only false start of the entire weekend! It was pretty funny and helped release a lot of tension for me.

We started that third and final heat again. It was going smooth until Trixi had an awkward bobble at the box and ended up going entirely around the box chasing the ball rolling on the ground, but like the professional that she is, she managed to get in the lane and return over the jumps. Even with the bobble, even with a time over 24 seconds, we still beat the other team!

We cut it very close with only 21 points over the 20,000 that Harry needed for his title. But we sure went out with a bang!

Harry Houdini turned 11 years old this month. He ran several 4.8 second runs on Saturday, mostly 4.9 second runs. On Sunday, he slowed to consistent 5.0's with a few 5.1's thrown in. I was able to keep his starts between 0.1-0.2 seconds. Not super tight but perfectly respectable.

While he may be slowing down just a little, his enthusiasm and love of the game have never waned. Harry is so deserving of this title and I am so proud that I could accomplish it with my friends from Dogz Rule!

We could not have done it without you! It was not just a team but a club effort, a multi-club effort. Your support and love and encouragement and yes, even your money, have helped me so much during this particularly crummy time in my life. I wanted this tournament to be a time of celebration, and so it was. Thank you many many times over!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Exciting Than Dead Things!

This picture isn't terribly relevant to the post, but it's a funny picture. Mimi is totally pooped after a raucous play session. February 2009.

In her first year at PAWS, Mimi would regularly take a couple of jumps then run to the far ends of the field looking for dead things. The field is large, several acres, and she would of course always return triumphant, bringing me small bones with bits of fur and gristle attached or, god forbid, petrified poop of some sort. It took months of applying techniques I learned in Control Unleashed to get her to remain focused long enough to complete sequences.

Today, one of our sequences ended on a jump set far down the field. As usual, I threw her bunny fur tug-n-treat as she cleared the last jump. Unfortunately, it landed a few feet from a particularly smelly dead thing so she dropped her precious baby in favor of smelly dead thing. I had to go get both her and the toy.

Later, another sequence began near that far jump. As we were running down the field to get to the starting point, Mimi decided to keep going and make sure her smelly dead thing was still there. I stopped and firmly said "Mimi, NO!" Not angry, not shrill. Just firm. She whipped around and came right back to me, which caused me to start jumping up and down shouting "I'm more exciting than dead things!" Mimi got a big handful of treats for that little breakthrough moment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Agility Weekend Recap

Overall, our Q rate wasn't that high at the agility trial this past weekend. We only brought home 5 green ribbons out of a total of 12 attempts over the three days. Still, the Q's we did earn were well and truly earned. And as I mentioned in the previous post, it was a good weekend of hanging out with agility friends.

On Friday, Gracie picked up her third Novice B Standard leg (and a first place), earning her NA title. She earned her two AKC Novice titles in a total of six days of trialing. Earlier that morning, both girls had struggled through Jumpers. No Q's there.

On Saturday, Gracie had a stupendous Open Standard run, earning a Q and a first place (video of that below). Out of 56 dogs in Open, there were only 9 Q's. Gracie was the fastest dog with a clean run in the entire Open class with a time of 49.31 seconds (course time was 67 seconds so Gracie really smoked that one).

Mimi picked up a nice Open Jumpers leg on Saturday morning with a second place. She didn't run clean, had one refusal. Still, it was a good run and she deserved that Q. Another of Debbie's students who runs a JRT took first place with a clean run. Here's video of Mimi's Jumpers run.

On Sunday, Mimi had a lovely Open Jumpers run and picked up a Q. But Gracie's run was even better--she took first place in Open Jumpers with a clean run and a perfect score of 100. How good was Gracie's run? There were 43 dogs in the Open class (all heights)--and only 8 Q's, including Mimi. Course time was 35 seconds for 113 yards. Gracie was the third fastest clean dog with a time of 28.29 seconds. Smokin'!

On Sunday afternoon in the Standard class, Mimi was having a nervous breakdown. When I watch the video, I can't really tell from that distance but I can assure you that, up close, she was ready to come apart at the seams with stress. I am amazed that she stayed with me out there.

Gracie's Standard run was really nice, except for this teensy little problem at the beginning. The small brown poodle in the ring before us was fluffy and had a shrill bark and as we were sitting on the start line and Chunky was finishing his run, Gracie became obsessed with him. Her intentions were only to chase him, she would not have done anything physical, but that wasn't going to turn out well no matter what. Could get her kicked out of the trial. She stared and stared and it was difficult for me to redirect her. I thought I had her attention when we started running, but unfortunately as she came out of the chute, there Chunky was, right in her face, leaving the ring with his owner. Zoom! She shot out of the ring after him. I called her back to me and she came right away. We managed to get back on track and finish the course in style.

Now, back to Gracie's Standard run on Saturday. First, here's the video.

The course turned out to be much trickier in practice than it seemed during the walk through and I revised my plans for both girls several times as I watched the 24" and 20" dogs crash and burn one after another. I don't like to revise my plans after I walk but it was clear that this course demanded a different handling plan. The biggest problem for Gracie was going to be that offside weave entry out of the number 10 tunnel, which was not even pointing at the weaves but at the Aframe (see the course map). (Mimi's run on this course was super nice but she unfortunately ticked a bar on the number 13 double and the bar fell. That's an elimination fault. However, her contacts were superb--perfect 2 on 2 off, and she held that down on the table.)

I ended up doing a quick hand change to get Gracie's head right as she came out of the tunnel then turning her away from me into the weaves, all in about 10 feet of distance while both of us are moving. That particular handling move is one we have worked on, and worked on, in class. You can hear Debbie chuckling on the video, and in fact, she came up to me right after our run and gave me a giant hug and said, I got goosebumps when I watched you do that with Gracie.

Then there was the amazing move Gracie did over the panel jump, a sort of sideways hop, at the end of the run. I had not pushed her out far enough after rear crossing the tire and we would have gotten a refusal if she did not go over that jump. No doubt about it, she saved my butt right then. You can hear Debbie and all of the Debbie-tantes cheering as Gracie clears that panel jump. I was also jumping and whooping it up, and everyone in the gate area waiting to run said, wow, was that your title? No, I said, it was just a really great run!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our Last Trial

Today ended the last agility trial I will do with my girls.

I got to hang out for three days with my Texas agility friends. I think only one or two of them realized this was our last trial. After Gracie's standard run, I quietly packed up and left.

I cried all the way home.

You all are going to have to wait a couple of days so I can pull myself together and process all the video and recap the highlights. We had a great weekend and I will have some good memories from it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Gracie NA, NAJ and Nervous Mimi

Mimi's ring stress is back. Like a balloon, if you push on one side, it bulges out someplace else. Her Open Jumpers run this morning was a disaster--an alphabet soup of errors, mostly refusals because she only did about a third of the obstacles on the course, going around the rest. Gracie didn't do much better.

Here is video of the first part of Mimi's Standard run this afternoon. My goals were very simple: I wanted her to do the tire--she struggles with the tire as the first obstacle, often going under or around it when stressed--and to get her into the weaves nice and clean. She did do the tire but was then all over the course with classic stress behavior. I kept at her though and you can see her weave entry was great and she even started to speed up at the end. She managed to make it to the table and even held her sit for the full count. As I review the video, I can see that she was trying even though she was pretty worried about agility monsters. Her tail was up and wagging a bit although her ears were plastered to her head--mixed signals.

As I had hoped, Gracie earned her third Novice Standard leg today and her NA title. I had the move-up sheet filled out in record time after our run. Getting the hell out of Novice at last!

Now both girls are in Open Standard and Open Jumpers for the next two days.

Here is video of Gracie's Novice Standard run this afternoon. The little hop at the end of the weaves is her signature move--but it did surprise me to see her at my elbow as I was heading for the tunnel! If you listen to the soundtrack, you can hear Debbie refer to the "jack bounce" then being roundly and soundly corrected by a couple of friends who tell her, no, that's the "fox terrier bounce"!

The off course to the tire before the weaves was entirely my fault. I should have been decelerating sooner and giving her information about the weaves earlier than I did. And even though she broke her sit on the table, that only cost us seconds, not any points, since she didn't leave the table. Making course time is not a problem Gracie is ever going to have. So her run wasn't clean but she did get a Q with one off course. I didn't stick around for the results--she might have also placed because even with the table dithering she was plenty fast.

Eagles eyes among you probably notice that I don't lead out from the start line with either of the girls. I do practice lead outs in class but when Mimi is stressed, leaving her makes her feel left and thus more stressed. Gracie is probably ready for some lead outs in a trial setting so it's a matter of my own confidence.

It was a long day but I did enjoy running with my girls in the ring.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Fun Agility Weekend

We had a great weekend at the agility trial!

Mimi was showing a lot of stress on Saturday but I figured something out--tentative handling on my part makes her more stressed. I discovered that when I run all out, as fast as I can, just like I do in class, she has less time to think, less time to worry about the ring monsters. On Sunday, she had a wonderful Open Standard run, earning a Q and placing third in a competitive class of about 20 16" dogs.

My little 'gility queen, Gracie, cleaned up in Novice Standard, earning a Q and first place both days. She also picked up her first Open Jumpers Q and third place on Sunday (technically, she got a double Q on Sunday but in different classes so it doesn't really mean the same thing). The Sunday Jumpers course was very fun to run--and Gracie's weaves were fabulous all weekend!

I thought a lot about my goals for every run and decided to keep them very simple: to run every course like I would in class, just as fast and with all of the proper handling that I would use in class. This last bit sounds strange but, sadly, Novice/Starters courses can often be run with no handling at all (and we saw plenty of that over the weekend). But the important point is that not once did I think of a Q. I focused on the doing, how best to get the girls around those courses.

I know that back when I was competing with Iz, if she knocked a bar or took the wrong obstacle, I would discombobulate, fall apart, often have to just end the run there. But that sort of thing hardly registers now. Ooops, it happened, not part of the plan, but no matter, there's some more fun stuff to handle over in this part of the course. The girls rarely know that there has been a problem at all. Every run ends with treats and praise and much joyous jumping around--no matter what. Even when I pulled Mimi from her Standard run on Saturday for leaping off the top of the Aframe, she still got praise and treats back at our crating area.

There is another trial this coming weekend, a three-day event, at the same arena in Fort Worth. I'm looking forward to it! I spent a whopping $6 this past weekend (not counting gas) because I bought a soda and some small smoked femur bones for the dogs. Yum! Cheap date! Plus, dare I say it, there's some titles to be worked on!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gracie's First Standard Q!

The girls and I are doing a local agility trial this weekend. The arena is about half an hour from my house. I'm doing it on the cheap--bringing my own food, bringing all the dogs so I don't have to pay the petsitter.

Gracie had a wonderful standard run yesterday, earning her first AKC Novice Standard Q. Her contacts were lovely. I did get a little worried when the judge started the table count because Alan is in Mimi and Gracie's class--Gracie knows him and you can see her turn her head to look at Alan, I'm sure thinking, hmm, maybe he has a treat for me? But she held her sit! Before I released her, I took a second to tell her she was a very good girl. Time is never going to be a problem for Gracie so taking a little extra time for praise is well worth it.

Mimi continues to have ring stress issues--if she is making any progress, it is barely measurable right now. I pulled her from her standard run after she leaped from near the top of the Aframe. Touch the yellow? Hell, she barely touched the downside at all!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

My Awards

The agility school where I train with Mimi and Gracie had its annual party last weekend. Potluck, gift exchange, lots of good socializing with fellow agility enthusiasts, barely recognizable because we were clean and showered and dressed in party clothes. For part of the festivities, Debbie also gave out a bunch of fun and silly awards.

Mimi got "Fastest Weaves By A Little Dog" which made me quite proud. Her weaves are pretty darned awesome. I continually push her for more speed and independent entries.

However, I am most proud of two of the awards that I received: "Potty Mouth" and "Most Encouraging To Classmates." Those sit at opposite ends of the spectrum, don't they?

I do have a bit of a habit in class of letting fly with a "dammit, girly" or "fuckety fuck" (my current favorite) when I just can't seem to get something right. I don't scream at the top of my lungs, but still, stuff does get said. My flyball club teases me about this too. So okay, I admit that I do have a potty mouth. Amusing and embarrassing to have it highlighted with an award!

It's even funnier when put next to the other award. It is true that I say things to my classmates all the time, usually while they are running ("nice front cross!" "super weaves!"), and I often clap and cheer during and after their runs. To be honest, I don't realize I am doing this at the time. I get excited when I watch agility. I get excited watching a dog and handler struggle through a difficult exercise or successfully complete a particular move that had been giving them problems. And when I get excited, I guess I start up with the cheerleading.

I watch my classmates closely because I figure that just because I don't have a dog with a bar-knocking problem now doesn't mean I couldn't have one in the future. There is always something to be learned by watching others. And if a handler and her dog nail an awesomely nasty sequence, I feel as excited as if I had just done it. So out come the claps and the "woohoo"'s.

I'm pleased and honored that my classmates and Debbie decided to give me an award for doing something that comes straight from my heart.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Saturday, August 01, 2009

In Memory of Iz

I said goodbye to my beautiful Iz on August 1, 2008. I think of her every day and still miss her with a pain that brings tears to my eyes.

This is a video from one of her last agility runs in June, 2008. Debbie was letting me run Iz every so often in Mimi's morning class. Iz had been in and out of hospital for months and, weak and thin, could just manage 8-inch jumps. Iz often ran with her mouth open, tongue to one side, completely abandoned to her joy. This is how I want to remember her: full of joy, running and playing agility by my side.

Iz, my little heart, I hope you are now running stronger and jumper higher.