Sunday, July 31, 2011

Our USDAA Debut

Well, we survived our first USDAA trial.

It all started with a hectic drive on Friday night, trying to get there in time for measuring.  There was significant traffic and rain, which turned the 1:45 minute drive into a 2:45 drive and meant we arrived 15 minutes late.  Mercifully, though, when I wandered over to ask where we should set up, I happened to ask the judge who said I could bring Jonah over to be measured.  Win!  I grabbed him, the card and some cookies and we headed over.  He got right on the table, but as soon as the judge moved the wicket he hopped off nervously.  After that, though, he went back on and stood quietly.  Luckily there weren't any other dogs around and things were nice and quiet.  He measured just under 19", which was a surprise since he measured over 20" every time he was measured in CPE.  It's a nice surprise, though.  After that, we set up our tent, got dinner and headed to bed.

The night was quiet and I slept well, but it was morning before I knew it.  I collected my course maps and started to get ready.  The courses seemed pretty simple.  Snooker was not particularly flowing and there was a funny spot in the steeplechase with a tough weave entry, but otherwise things looked quite manageable.

I watched the Advanced Standard class and was generally unimpressed.  That was a relief, since I knew Jonah could be better than a lot of the dogs in Advanced, who were flying off teeters, weaving poorly and having other troubles.  When I watched the Masters ring, I was hugely impressed.  Not with every dog--there were lots of the sort of dog you'd see at CPE--but some of the best dogs were pretty phenomenal.  Jonah will probably never be as driven as those dogs, but I hope that some day we can be as accurate.

When our turn came for Standard, I ended up getting Jonah warmed up a little too early, and I think by the time he went in the ring his enthusiasm was a bit lower.  The dog before us had some trouble getting its collar on, so we had to wait a while in the ring before we started.  Jonah didn't get all barky and leapy and excited, but I didn't think much of it and off we went.  He was obedient but somewhat unenthused down the first line:  jump-teeter-tire-tunnel.  No problem with the smaller tire or the 22" jump height.  Out of the tunnel he got his weave entry but popped out around pole 4, looking distracted.  I brought him back and he weaved through all 12 but not as fast as usual.  Then we picked up some speed again:  chute, A-frame with a nice running contact.  Then:  embarrassment.  I said, "table," ran up to the table and stopped.  Jonah ran right around it, realized I had stopped, stopped and looked at me.  "Table," I said again.  He was puzzled, but trying to do what I wanted he went under the table, turned around and looked at me from the other side.  Poor guy.  He's never seen a 24" table and did not generalize that this might be one.  Then he got it and hopped up into a nice down, but seconds had ticked away.  The rest of the course ran well, and his closing line was as fast and motivated as ever.  We got our Q and finished 4th out of 9 (7 BCs, 1 aussie and Jonah).  If it weren't for the table confusion, he would have been second.  Overall, not a great run for us, but perfectly acceptable.

Snooker was less acceptable.  We were waiting at the gate when the dog before us got a case of the zoomies, went off course, DQ'd himself, and then decided to exit the ring at full speed.  Jonah, waiting his turn, happened to be right in the way of the exit.  Before I knew it the dog was at us barking.  There were no teeth or aggression but a lot of barking, which Jonah of course joined in.  I pulled him into the ring while the other dog's handler apologized profusely.  I wasn't angry--I knew the dog was just being a dog, but Jonah was clearly frazzled.  I set him up and led out.  He held his stay, but his ears were flat against his head and he kept glancing over his shoulder to try to make sure he was alone in the ring.  Our first two jumps were good but then when we went back towards that corner of the ring he just stopped.  It took some encouragement for him to pop over our second red and head to the 7 obstacle, the weaves.  Still nervous, he missed the entry and then popped out.  I knew we were short on time.  Well, then he pulled the next red so I just went to the closing.  The whistle blew as we were in the air over the last part of 7.  If he had landed before the time was up, we would have qualified.  So close.  It was a frustrating run.  I'm not sure if the incident with the other dog was the cause of his stress or not--it could have been the heat or anything else.  Anyway, only one Starters dog of all the heights managed to qualify and we still got a yellow ribbon.

Our third round was steeplechase.  It seemed like everyone was crowded around the ring.  The first few 22" dogs were spectacular:  not a paw out of place and as fast as I've ever seen in person.  I knew Jonah had no chance of competing with those dogs for time, but the course was doable and we headed out there.  Again, he didn't bark or leap or get excited like usual, but he started pretty well.  The first third of the course ran clear but just not his top speed.  Then we got to the weaves and he popped out again.  We went on and a few jumps later he just ran right around a jump.  He did nail the second weave entry, which was a tough 90 degree off-side entry.  Then we turned for the closing line and picked up some speed until he ran right past the last jump.  I called him back and he backjumped it.  Disqualified.  Sigh.

I was frustrated.  He's been running so well in class lately, with no signs of nervousness.  Today was a different story.  I felt like this was exactly what I'd wanted to get through before we went to USDAA, but I guess I failed at that.  Still, I know it could be a lot worse and I'm proud of him, but it's aggravating when I don't know what's causing the stress and thus I don't know how to fix it.  It turns my fast, accurate dog who loves agility into a begrudging companion who isn't having any more fun than his handler.  He'd been doing much better at trials lately (well, our last wasn't our best, but it was better than this!) so I thought he was over his trial stress, but clearly I was wrong.  I need to remember that he's still been doing agility for less than a year and he's a green dog at competitions.  It's not always going to be linear improvement for us.  Just because we've grown in leaps and bounds thus far doesn't mean it will continue like that.  Now the things that are difficult are harder to fix than simply teaching how to tip a teeter and the like.  These are deeper issues of fear and confidence.  He's been great at some trials, so I know he can do it, but I need to not expect that from him to the point that I'm disappointed when he's nervous again.  He needs my full, approving support.

So, big take-aways from the weekend:
-I need to work more on weave poles and making them have a big payoff.  His weaves have never been an issue for him while trialing, but that stood out this weekend.  When he was unenthused, he just didn't want to do them.  He will get lots of cookies for weave poles in his near future.

-My lower expectations at trials.  I am competitive, but he's not ready to be competitive all the time yet.  This is all about him having fun and gaining confidence.  When I expect him to perform and he doesn't, I get frustrated and am not as encouraging for him.  That only makes him think trials mean a dissatisfied mom, which is the last thing I want him to think.

-If I can, I should find a 24" table to practice on.  I felt so bad that he clearly just didn't understand what to do on it.  Poor guy.  Hopefully this one should be an easy fix once he gets it!

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