Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Reflections on Competition

I have never really been a traditionally competitive person by nature.  I'm not really one to try to go out there and do anything better than anyone else does it.  Don't get me wrong - sometimes, when I end up doing something better than anyone else - it feels very good!  But being "the best" has never been a drive of mine.

However, I am competitive in a different way.  I do strive to be the best that I can be at things.  I've always been that way.  In school I always wanted to earn the highest grades that I could.  While I did not try to have grades that were higher than anyone else's, but to have the highest grades that I could earn.

I am the same way when it comes to job performance.  I want the scores on my evaluations to be as high as I can get them to be.  And I am that way when it comes to dog training, performance, and sports.

I am not among the greats of dog sports and I don't aspire to be.  But I want to be the best trainer, best performer, and best competitor that I am capable of being.

This has made it a particular challenge to compete with dogs who have mental and emotional challenges.  Learning to put my dog's best interests and well being ahead of training and performance goals has made it necessary for me to keep my eye on goals that are realistic for those dogs instead of striving to be the best that I can personally be.  That has been difficult and that has been humbling.  It has also been incredibly rewarding.  Speedy and Dean may not have the top level titles in the sports that they and I have competed in together, but going out there and doing the best that I could with them as my training and performance partners has given me things like perspective, patience, and appreciation for my dogs as gifted individuals who have more to offer me than I could ever give to them.  Learning to see and showcase their particular talents instead of regarding them as a problem dogs that couldn't function properly as a performance dogs has forced me to grow in ways that I appreciate much more than I ever would have appreciated higher level titles earned with dogs that do not have to deal with their particular issues.

With Speedy and Dean, and even Maddie, a conservative approach to competition was usually best.  I learned to keep my expectations very realistic, focus mostly on supporting them, and to put their enjoyment above any concern for my performance or technical considerations.  There was a time and a place for me to push my own envelope a little, but that was always secondary.

Tessa has been different.  Her approach to competition is different from that of any other dog I've handled.  She goes out there with a "let's do this!" attitude!  She isn't just interested in a good time, but she is intent on getting the job at hand done.  She is an amazing partner.  She performs best when I set her to the task at hand and then trust her to do it.

I first realized this at our very first Agility trial.  We were getting ready for our third run of the day and I thought, "let's go out there and try to qualify!"  I checked myself - the Q is never the goal.  But then I glanced at Tessa and I realized that she couldn't care less if I'm out there working for the Q instead of making sure she's OK.  In fact, it was obvious to me that she would prefer that I get my mind on doing what I need to do to get the job done!  If there's a little pressure on her in the heat of the performance, she rises to the occasion, loving every minute of it.

And that has led me to start to think about competition differently . . . 

When Tessa and I first started, I babysat her a lot in the ring.  She didn't respond favorably to that.  I usually confused her a little.  Things suddenly looked different from how they look at class and she didn't get that.  I learned that I have to run her at competitions the way I run her at class.

At class I am willing to take chances.  I am happy to try new things.  I will take handling risks.  I am interested to see what works and what doesn't work.  There is nothing on the line and mistakes are just a way to learn - either to do something better or do something different.

I went into Westminster this weekend having made up my mind to put our Q's on the line.  To go out there and try things I've never dared to try in competition.  I made up my mind to give her room on the jumps, approach the teeter at a run, and give her space to get her weave entries.

We aren't in a race to get through every level of CPE Agility as quickly as possible.  We are at a point where I believe it's better for us to try things and grow as a team than to move through the levels quickly.

And I learned something that surprised me.

Sometimes, in order to move ahead, to improve, and to be the best team that you and your dog can be, you have to put everything you have on the line.  Everything - the score, the Q, and even your personal sense of achievement in the performance!

Granted, conservative can be appropriate for a dog who needs to be handled conservatively in order to have a good time and perform at his or her best.  Speedy, Dean, and Maddie absolutely needed for me to be conservative and focused on their well being.  And, of course, there is always a reasonable measure of safety that must be attended to - I'm not talking about physically dangerous risks here.

The idea of putting it all on the line is new to me.  The idea of walking away with all or nothing instead of eeking out whatever my team can manage is an entirely different way of thinking.

I am interested to see where this leads.  It makes sense in Agility and I feel like I know how to apply it there.  How will it play out in Freestyle and Rally FrEe?  I mean for Tessa and I to find out.  What is the best that Tessa and I can be?  How will we get there?  Were, exactly, will we go?  What will that do for Dean, who may still have some Agility left in him, and is still competing in other sports?

This certainly has me thinking!  And wondering where such thoughts will lead for everyone on our team . . . 

Westminster Saturday

After our fantastic Friday night, I was very excited to go back to the trial on Saturday.

There was just one thing that I was extremely nervous about - the teeter.  We were going to attempt our second-ever Level 2 course and Tessa's second-ever teeter in competition.  The first attempt didn't go so well!

From Periland last October . . . .

We botched much more than the teeter on that run!  I mishandled a good bit of the course and the run was very halting!

We have worked hard since then, and have especially practiced approaching the teeter at a run, without any pauses from either of us.  I was hoping that things would go better this time.

Things most certainly went better!  Everything in our Level 2 Standard was perfectly smooth!  When she was tipping the teeter, I felt like she stood there thinking for about 10 seconds, but really it was only a split second.

Our Level 2 Standard run from Westminster on Saturday . . . 

It was a Q.  It was a first place.  It was perfect!!

After Standard, we ran Jackpot.  It was a non-traditional and it was . . . interesting!

The opening was a normal opening - so much time to get as many points as possible.  Back to back obstacles allowed (if safe) but nothing could count more than twice.

There was no distance challenge.  The closing was of our choosing.  We were to attempt any three obstacles.  There was a two jump combo at the end that counted as one.  The first obstacle chosen, if completed, was worth three times its normal value!  The second, if completed, was worth twice its normal value.  And the third, if completed, was worth its normal value.

Then, as an optional bonus, in honor of National Puppy Day, if we chose to call out to the judge "I love my puppy!" or some such, then we could get five bonus points!

I thought hard about the opening for this one.  I wanted a particular closing - one tunnel to the other and then through the jump combo.  So, I wanted to be out near the necessary tunnel entrance when the buzzer went off.  I decided to head for the weaves.  Tessa's weaves are so slow, I knew we would get bogged down in them and would probably burn any time we needed to burn to get that tunnel!

It worked perfectly!  She actually popped the last pole after the buzzer, so we didn't get the points for the weaves, but that didn't matter.  We didn't need those points - we just needed to be there!

Jackpot . . . 

And yes - I love my Tessa!  She's got me spoiled rotten about now!!

That was our first Level 2 Jackpot Q, so now we have one Q in all of the Level 2 categories that we have yet to complete - Snooker, Jackpot, and Standard!

Although right at that moment, we had one Level 2 category to finish - Handler Games.  We needed one more Colors Q, and our last run of the day was our opportunity to earn that.

This Colors Q has been a bit of a monkey on my back and I was hoping we would be able to finish it.  And we were!  I have no video, but it was a perfect run!  We got the Q and finished our Level 2 Handler Games title.

And so, congrats to:

Tessa CL1, CL1-H, CL1-F, CRO-1, DCD-Ent, DCD-CF, WFDX-MF, ITD

I have three premiums printed at home and I mean to send them in tomorrow.  More Agility fun coming soon!!  We are All-Level 3-Bound!!!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Friday Night Westminster

Yes, a year can make all the difference in the world!!  A year ago I went home from Westminster disheartened.  But I also went home with a resolution to do what I had to do to gain the skills that I needed to handle my new Agility partner better.  I talked to our instructor and showed her the videos and she has helped me learn a ton.  Since that time Tessa and I have been working together to become a better Agility team.

It all came together on Friday night!

Not for the first time, of course.  We've had some really nice runs.  But this was the first weekend where every run was solid.  I did not feel like a clodhopper handling her, and she was on!  She and I both made very few mistakes and those were minor.

And Tessa was good!  That's about all I can say about her!  In fact, she is spoiling me to no end!

We got there Friday night, both of us eager to be there!  I went in and set up and then brought her in.  She knew where we were, and she was thrilled to be there!  We had a bit of a wait for our first turn, but when it rolled around, she was ready to go.

Our first run was Snooker.  And it was an . . . odd . . . Snooker course.  There was one tunnel and the rest was all jumps!  I have never seen the like in a Snooker course!  To make matters more confusing, some of the red jumps were parts of combinations that could be used in the opening.  And, it seemed, many of the jumps were very close together and things were rather tight!  It was quite the task to figure out an opening that would work.  Finally I came up with something.  I wasn't really sure how it was going to go, but I made a plan and got ready to run . . . 

Near disaster was averted at the start line!  As I pulled Tessa's martingale off, I heard a jingle!  I had forgotten to take off her regular collar!  That would have gotten use whistled off!  Then I had to think for a few seconds - what was I going to do with it?  Finally it occurred to me to clip it to the martingale collar.  Then we were off.

Our run . . . 

It went off without a hitch!  Tessa was flawless!  My only mistake was the attempted rear cross.  I had actually walked a blind, but then I got hung up and she got ahead of me.  So, I fudged the rear.  That was fine - no harm done.

I had some concerns about the wraps.  Only a few weeks ago, Tessa was nose diving a bit on wraps at class!  Thankfully, at a workshop that I jumped into at the last minute on impulse, I mentioned it to our instructor and she suggested using the opposite arm to show Tessa she was turning back to me.  It has worked like a dream!

We earned 44 points on that run!  We only needed 28!!  Snooker has been a challenge for us.  It took 4 attempts to qualify in Snooker at Level 1!  We got Q #1 in Level 2 on our first try!

Tessa may be a Snooker dog yet!  That was definitely the most fun we've had on a Snooker course together.

After Snooker came Fullhouse.  It was an interesting Fullhouse with no contacts.  I knew it was going to go fast, so I planned a very flowing course.  I had one major goal for this run.  I wanted to work to not overhandle Tessa.  I planned to give her space and let her do her thing.

I was looking forward to one section in particular for this.  At the back there was a tunnel.  I wanted to have her take two jumps after the tunnel to make a circle - tunnel, jump, jump, and then loop back into that circle again.  I planned to hang back at the tunnel the first time and give her space to send out a bit to the two jumps.  Then, the second time, head out to the jump to signal a front cross as she came out of the tunnel.

It was very fun to do, and it worked really well!

There was only one glitch in the run, and it was my doing.  Originally, at the very end, I planned to have Tessa take one last straight tunnel, then a jump straight ahead, to the table to end.  But as I was running, I couldn't remember if I had planned to go back to pick up the double again, so I did.  That was fine - we had plenty of time.  But Tessa had no warning going into the tunnel.  I really should have hung back after sending her in if that was what I was going to do.  Going into the tunnel, I signaled, "run straight out", but then I turned her.  She slipped - more than I would have liked her to.  It's not a big deal - she's fine.  But I felt bad about changing things up on her like that.  Had I really thought it out, I would have stuck to the plan!  After that I did.

Aside from that - flawless!  I love this run!!  (This video has some very fun narration!)

We got the Q, and it was a significant one - our very first Level 3 Q ever!!!

It was a very fun Friday night!  I couldn't be prouder of my girl!  She has come to understand this game and she loves to play!


While at the trial this weekend, I was talking to a friend, and in the context of the conversation, I was talking about the long, step by step process that I had to take Dean through to help him move from being afraid to be in the building during Agility class, after hearing someone scream at her own dog right next to him, to being super excited to go in there and run.  That process first required him learning to go into the building during class and play.  For an entire session that was all we did during our turn!  Once he had that down, I was able to ask him to perform one piece of equipment in between long tug games.  Eventually, he could do short sequences, and much, much later, whole courses.  Throughout that time, he went from being worried, to being less worried, to relaxing and enjoying himself.  It took time.  It took work.  We got there.

Dean wasn't really the subject at hand, but as I talked about him, a light bulb suddenly went on in my head and I knew exactly why I am so upset about the fact that Dean may be finished with Agility forever.  All of a sudden I just knew.

It is very, very difficult to leave Agility behind with him because he and I both had to work so hard to be able to enjoy it together.  And I'm talking about Agility class here - trials are something altogether different.  We put in the work - days and weeks and months and years.  And he was enjoying it.  He loved going into the building, playing, doing his run, and then heading to the car to relax with his music!  That attitude didn't come easily.  We both had to work for it.  We both had to experience the setbacks and the difficulties and we were both reaping the fruit of all of that work.  We got to the point where it was something we could enjoy doing together - even if I did have to go out of my way to make certain conditions just right for him.  I was able to do that.  We were at a good place.

It is difficult to let that go.

I am very glad to be exploring Rally FrEe with Dean.  And I really, really, really want to get into more dancing with him.  While not really so much of a performer, Dean is a beautiful dancer, and I would love to create a few really good videos of his dancing.  We could do some really nice work for the Challenge, and I believe that time has come.

But something is missing without Agility in our lives, and now I know what that is.

We have a few options here.  First, I have even more motivation now to find out what is going on with Dean's hip/leg.  Maybe this is something that can be fixed, and we will be able to get back to running.  I don't care if we need to drop his jump height to 16 or even 12, if he can run comfortably and safely.  Of course, if he can't, we won't.

If Dean can run Agility again, I am going to do some NADAC with him.  I have always meant to, and he really deserves that chance.  Maybe we will only go for a few more Novice titles, but I would like to try for a few.  I'd love to take him down to Periland to run NADAC.  We could hang out in the building (because NADAC is teeterless!), run a few courses, and then he could swim.

But if not, that's OK.  If he and I are done with Agility, then it is time to focus our energies on other things.  Level 3 Rally, Rally FrEe, Cyber Rally, and/or Freestyle.  There is plenty to do.  And all of the work that Dean and I did to get him to where he could enjoy Agility can be used in those venues.  That's the thing I have to keep in mind.  All of the enthusiasm and confidence that Dean has gained makes it possible for him to more than just Agility.  He wouldn't have earned his ARCH and loved every minute of it were it not for all of the work we did in Agility class.

Really, Dean doesn't care what we are doing.  I think he might actually like the Rally type sports better than Agility.  I know that when it comes to trialing that is absolutely the case.

I learned with Speedy years ago that sometimes you have to change directions.  You might not always end up where you wanted to go originally, but sometimes the final destination is even better.  Of course, I still don't know if this is really the end of the line for Dean's Agility - it might not be.  But if it is, we are going to find the right direction.  Dean and I still have a lot to explore together.  No matter where this road takes us, I will love getting there with him.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Westminster Tonight

Tonight Tessa and I are going to Westminster for the March CPE trial.  This marks the one year anniversary of Tessa's first CPE trial.

What a difference a year makes!  A year ago I still had no confidence whatsoever in Tessa's Agility skills.  I didn't know how she was going to be in the big sports arena at Westminster.  It was my first CPE trial since losing Maddie and I was missing her so badly.  It was just a tough night all around.  Tessa had fun that night and we had a very good first CPE experience, but I walked away from that trial disheartened, even though I was proud of Tessa for doing her best.

Now we are an experienced team - at least a little!  We have all of Level 1 under our belts, and almost half of Level 2!  We've Q'ed, NQ'ed, and run and run and grown as a team.  

Tonight I mean to take some risks.  We are running Snooker and Fullhouse.  Now that we are in Level 3 Fullhouse, we are going to have to work a little harder for the points.  We either need to pick up our speed, or I am going to have to strategize to get in more of the higher scoring pieces of equipment.  And Snooker with Tessa is always a challenge.  We only have one Snooker Q out of four tries, and that was Level 1.  But I have more confidence in Tessa's ability in Snooker now.  I think I can plan our run better.  I think that in both games, I am going to have to plan to take some chances.  Chances that could pay off with big success, or that could backfire entirely!  But I feel like I'm at a point where I'm willing to do that.  Where I think it will be fun to do that.  I want to see what Tessa can do if I push the envelope a little.  We do this in class and 8 times out of 10, she is successful.

Regardless of the results tonight, I know I will enjoy the night with my girl.  This will be her third trial at Westminster.  We had a ton of success there in August.

Last year I had to make myself look forward to this trial.  This year, I don't even have to try!!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Day Before . . .

The day before the big March snow . . . supposedly.  We'll see what we see . . .


One More for the Q Queen

Maddie was the Q Queen.  Not at first.  We struggled when we first started Agility trials.  We NQ'ed in every run at our first trial.  We met some success at the next two, but when we got into Level 2, we NQ'ed a lot.  There were some runs where she was distracted, sniffy, and just not interested in running.  It took time to build our skills.  I was new to handling in competition and sometimes she was more interested in hanging out than in the Agility itself.

But as the years went on and we got more experience, Maddie became a very solid Agility dog.  As long as it wasn't too hot for her, she would pretty much qualify in almost every run.  She rarely made mistakes on course and as long as I didn't get lost, we usually did well.

I dubbed her the Q Queen because I was almost always going to the drawers to pick up Q ribbons for her!

Of course, with Q's come titles, and Maddie and I collected more than a few of those.

And now, through the Dogs Can Dance Challenge, the Q Queen has one more - a Freestyle title!!

Maddie wasn't really a Freestyle dog.  I started class with her when she was about 8 years old, just for fitness and fun.  I figured that the day would come when she wouldn't be able to run Agility anymore and I thought that maybe she and I would do some Freestyle at that point.  I do believe that Freestyle helped her to stay fit and be able to run Agility almost until the end.

Maddie enjoyed dancing.  She had power and enthusiasm.  Her tail thumped back and forth the whole time.  She liked to move and spin and do leg weaves.

I tried putting together a routine for WCFO with her, and I entered her in exactly one competition in Sassy Seniors.  She made it crystal clear at that competition that she was an Agility dog, thank you very much!  I never tried to compete with her in Freestyle again after that!

But she did enjoy dancing for itself.  She took part in a couple of Dogs Can Dance workshops with me, and had a very good time.

She also performed exactly one public demonstration.  In February 2011, I took Maddie and Dean down to the fundraiser for canine cancer research at Kamp Kitty.  She and Dean performed a brace routine that Maddie had never even attempted before.  It was actually a routine that Speedy and Dean typically performed together.

It just so happened that a friend took a video of the performance.

The Dogs Can Dance Challenge began that summer and I made Maddie part of our team.  I began working on a routine with her that I hope we would be able to video and enter as Beginner Classical Freestyle.  She died before we could ever do that.

Afterward, I remembered the video of the demonstration.  True, it was not made to meet the Challenge criteria.  Even though food use is allowed in the Honor Class, it is supposed to be concealed in a pocket, not held in the hand.  But that would be points deductions - I knew that if I submitted the video of the demo for Opening Act Entertainment Division, Maddie could at least earn a few points and be part of our Challenge team.

So, I submitted it for Giving Thanks 2011.  We got 76 points, which was more than I had hoped for!  Of course, we got nailed because of the food, which was perfectly fine with me.  We didn't have a theme and the video quality is not the greatest in the world.  Had I had the opportunity to make a video of Maddie for the Challenge, I never would have submitted this one.

Still, I am grateful that I happened to have the video to submit.  It was a real-life entertainment event.  It was Maddie's one and only public Freestyle performance.  It was a great memory of a time with Maddie and Dean that I will always remember well.

I am proud to have it be part of our Challenge!

Over the summer I did a video of Tessa performing her Scorchio routine to finish off the category.

And with Speedy completing Feature Presentation in one fell swoop, my entire team of Speedy, Maddie, Dean Dog, and Tessa all contributed to our DCD-Ent!!!

This is something quite unique.  I've never earned a title that all of my dogs who have studied a particular sport have been able to take part in.

And, of course, it's one more for the Q Queen!!  Actually, two, because all of our DCD titles belong to the whole team!!

Maddie CTL1, CTL3-F, CTL3-R, CTL4-H, DCD-Ent, DCD-CF, CGC

When we finish our Championship, she will be part of that, too.

I am so grateful that the Challenge is allowing Maddie to always remain part of what we do.  I can't have Tessa jump in and finish her CT-ATCH, but she will always be part of our Freestyle team!  It is fitting.  Even though she wasn't a "Freestyle Dog", per se, she was always part of it, and now she always will be.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Here Comes the Sun - the Video

Back on October 14th, I wrote up an entry about Speedy's Here Comes the Sun routine - a history and the latest news, that we had filmed a new version for the Dogs Can Dance Challenge to enter in the November Giving Thanks event.

Go here to read that entry:

Here Comes the Sun Post 

Well, at long last I have results, and I was absolutely thrilled with how this performance fared!

We scored 142 points - which is a really, really high score!!!  This finished the category, and the Title for our team!  And, it was the highest score of the event, so we won the Le La Ru Award for the second time ever.  It is actually a really big deal to me that this particular routine won us this honor again.

Anyway, here it is . . . Here Comes the Sun by Kristine and Speedy!!  I consider this a tribute to all of the years that he and I have lived and trained and danced together!

I'd like to share some of the judge's comments on this, too!!  Judge's comments are in bold.

"This was a fun dance, could almost see the sun rising.  The dog and handler were having a good time and so would an audience"

Yes, audiences really did enjoy this one!

"The dog was showcased nicely, showing his sparkle, movement, willingness, and friendship with his handler"

That is just such a nice comment!!  Speedy and I really do have something unique, and I'm glad that came through!

"The closing picture really showed the handler and dog's bond/connection.  The routine left me feeling happy and positive"

Can't ask for more than that!! 

"The overall performance was very pleasing"

I got constructive comments on the editing, too.  Overall, the judges felt it was good, but I need to smooth out some of the transitions.  I definitely concur.  While I feel that this was a good first attempt at editing, I know I have a good bit to learn about editing and it will take more practice before I really start to make nice edits.

Speedy and I have set out to learn much together over the years.  I am really glad that 11 years and 3 other dogs later, he and I are still starting out on new adventures.

I'd like to do another Entertainment routine with him this coming summer, and try my hand at planning and editing it better!