Friday, November 4, 2011


Today Jonah and I went to All Dogs Gym for our first BARK trial.  It had been quite a while since we'd been to All Dogs, but as soon as we got there Jonah was visibly excited and wanted to head right inside.  That was a pleasing start!  I thought I was early when I went in, checked in, and got my course maps, but the trial started even a few minutes so I was glad I was there.  It was nice because Performance Speed Jumping went first and I got to watch the whole division on the course we would run.  I saw where dogs were going off course and what handling seemed to work.  For instance, there was one spot where it was hard to get in place for a FC in time, but when handlers didn't get the cross in, their dogs often took an off course.  I decided it was worth trying, even if I might end up being a hair late.  A slight hesitation is better than an off-course.  There was another line that was causing a lot of off-courses, but a few handlers handled it on the far side and that worked beautifully if they could get there.  I hadn't even considered that when I looked at the course map, but I decided to try it.  In general, the big dogs were having a lot of trouble because it was a tight course and their big strides were getting them in trouble.  My sense was that Jonah's slightly lower drive could actually be an advantage for us.

When it was finally our turn, I had a good sense of what the course's challenges were.  Jonah was almost jumping out of his skin he was so excited.  We went in, heard the 'ready' and took off.  I left Jonah in the weaves and moved out to get in that FC.  Yes, I was slightly late, but I thought it worked well.  About half way through the course I remember thinking, 'Wow, this is going really well.'  Then, unfortunately, I let Jonah try to figure out his own striding on the A-frame and he barely missed the contact.  Doh.  More on that in a minute.  After the A-frame, we kept going well, and he had a nice contact the second time over it.  He had a slight moment lacking focus where we almost missed a jump, but other than that it was a great, fast and flowing course.  I was super proud of him.  The course was causing significant carnage, but he had shown that he's really up to the challenge.  It wasn't the fastest time, but it wasn't the slowest, either.  I'll have to check the results once they're posted online, but I think we might have qualified if it weren't for the A-frame contact.

As for the contact, I'm a little unsure of what to do next.  First off, Jonah's A-frame contacts are fantastic now on the lower frame.  However, I've done minimal practice at the higher height, and when I put it up this week he was having trouble.  Thus, I'm not really that surprised that he missed one today.  I also know that if I push the pace he is more likely to get down into the yellow.  In Steeplechase, though, I was worried that he wouldn't get into the yellow even if I did push it, and I was hoping he'd put an extra stride in on the down side.  I think, though, that all the work with the running A-frame has cemented in his mind the fact that he's supposed to do two hits on the down side, so even though he was high up the ramp he thought he should take off after the second hit rather than putting in a third.  Anyway, I don't know if I should practice more on the higher height (probably) or just work on CPE for a while and not worry about USDAA too much (possibly).  Soon enough we'll have to bring the A-frame inside, and it might not be a bad idea to just focus on one height until we can get regular repetitions on the frame again in the spring.  Hmm.  I might talk to Grace about how people deal with this, since I know she must have the same problem.

Back to the trial...

The Grand Prix course was less challenging than the Steeplechase.  Many dogs were running clear and smoothly, so I was thinking we had a good shot.  And I think we did.  My main concern was the A-frame, but I decided to try to get him running at it as much as possible.  The opening was not especially conducive to high speeds, as the second jump was in the opposite direction from the frame and required a 180 degree wrap to get back to the A-frame.  Most people were leading out but I knew that would decrease our speed, so I handled on the other side from most people but I thought it worked really well.  He took a nice, tight line and raced to the A-frame.  Up-up-down-down beautifully into the yellow.  Woo!  We sailed over a jump, nailed the first discrimination and headed on our way.  Jonah was a little hesitant on the teeter but then picked up speed again for a pinwheel.  Then, I'm not sure what happened. It was really loud in the room, and Jonah suddenly screeched to a halt and looked over at the audience, looking startled.  It took me a few seconds to get him back up to speed and over the next jump, and in the process we were awarded with a refusal.  Sigh.  After that, though, Jonah was fantastic.  He drove through the chute, flew over the dogwalk and landed a beautiful 2o2o, had a tight wrap, nailed the second discrimination, cranked through his weaves while I got ahead in position for a FC, and lept over the last jumps at full speed.  It was a great way to end.

Overall, I was really proud of Jonah.  No, we didn't Q in either tournament, but I left with confidence that we'll be able to get those Qs some day.  I was reminded that very few of these people are handling their first dog, and many have multiple current dogs as well.  Thus, while I might be moving up the ranks in CPE, I'm still very new to agility compared to the people competing in the tournaments at USDAA.  At the same time, our mistakes were far from the messiest courses we saw.  Lots of these people who have been doing this for years would have been happy with the performances we put together.  So, I'm proud of my little guy.  We're underdogs out there--smaller than a lot of the others, not bred for agility, and an inexperienced handler to go with it.  But you know what?  It's going to mean all that much more when we get those Qs some day.  I have confidence that we can do it!

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