Friday, October 22, 2010

The Border Collie National Specialty (agility)

We just finished FOUR long days at Gray Summit (Purina Farms) at the Border Collie Specialty.

Tuesday we were fortunate to be part of a seminar with Ann Braue and we learned a lot. There were a lot of really good dogs in the class... I sort of felt like a C- student. But we got an A+ for paying attention and trying.

On Wednesday we came prepared and dressed for indoor agility, only to find out that the trial had been moved outdoors. Many of the exhibitors believed that the floor was too slick for their dogs, asked, and got permission from AKC to move the trial outside. I have mixed feelings about this... there has been plenty of discussion on the status of that floor since way before last date to withdraw, so people could have withdrawn.. or, they could have changed earlier and allowed people to enter that wanted to be outside. On the other hand, it would have been terrible to withdraw from your National Specialty and not be able to run. I do have to admit that some of the dogs running were extraordinarily fast and would have had trouble with traction unless they changed the way they run. In fact, there was some slip-sliding on the grass until the sun evaporated the dew. As it turns out, the weather was spectacular, and it would have been a crime against nature to be indoors the last three days, so running outside was wonderful. But some people thought that this was a training issue and that dogs, especially border collies, should be smart enough to adjust to the floor and the trial should not have been moved. I didn't really care, but I was getting pretty tired of the drama.

I did spend quite a bit of time talking to obedience, rally, and conformation exhibitors, all of whom had nothing but praise the facility, to include the flooring.

Okay, enough about the floor... hurray for sensible send bonuses in FAST!!! There were a substantial number of Qs on Wed and Fri (Thursday's was pretty difficult). But I did find out that FAST is a little different for a field of Border Collies. If you wanted to earn a ribbon, you had to do more that qualify, you had to max out the available points.... and whoever did that the fastest, gets the ribbons. That is different than a mixed-breed show where few (if any) people max out the points.

Overall we did quite well... two first place on Wed, one third on Thurs (our low spot of the week) and three second place runs on Friday (triple Q!) And the only handlers beating us were Ann Brau or Ann Zarr, (both world team members) so we cannot complain. One of my friends gave me some good advice about it too. "Maggie is a once-in-a-lifetime dog that will give her all for you. Enjoy her every time you trial and train and play." (good advice from a real pro)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dear AKC,

Dear AKC,
Please review the criteria for qualifying on the Fifteen and Send Time (FAST) game.
Me and Maggie

I am fortunate that Maggie is one of those dogs that works well away from me. Not because I planned to be able to do the send bonuses in FAST, but because my trainer warned me early on that I would never be able to keep up with her, so I'd better train her to go on without me so that I could take shortcuts. Even so, many FAST send obstacles are just crazy. They are nothing you would normally do or train for, and they seem to confuse many of the dogs. As a result, the number of qualifying scores is miniscule. Last weekend I belive that there was only one dog on Friday that qualified in excellent, two on Saturday and none on Sunday. How many people will continue to enter under these statistics? What has happened is that some people use FAST for a "training run" and go out there to work whatever issues they have with their dog with total disregard for the course, not even trying to qualify.
This past trial had several issues... while the bonus sends were not the most difficult we have ever seen, they were poorly planned in many ways. Some of them were not worth many points, so you had to really struggle to get enough points OUTSIDE the bonus to qualify. They lacked a normal "flow" so we were asking dogs to change directions in ways we would never ask normally. And finally, the start line was placed 20 to 30 feet from the nearest obstacle. This was done to aid the manual time keepers for starting the clock, but created a nightmare for most teams.
Plus, there is no consideration for small dogs, so the send bonus is the same for a tiny toy breed as it is for a large fast dog. What this means is that the little dog may have to take 20 or 30 strides into the "send" where Maggie takes 4 or 5. A big fast dog may land 1/2 way to the next obstacle just by virtue of momentum alone.

As an example of the disregard given to the FAST event, I spoke to an AKC rep at a recent trial about a small issue and she said "it's only FAST, who cares about FAST?" I'll tell you who cares, any of us that paid the SAME entry fee as what we paid for standard and jumpers.
So AKC, can you please review the rules for FAST and see if you can make some changes that will allow judges to create some more realistic challenges that will allow a few more people to qualify?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I love this dog.

I sure do love this dog. We've just spent another long weekend doing AKC agility. We had FAST runs all three days (first time we've run FAST in months). Maggie Qd in 7 or her 9 runs... we had a dropped bar in Sat std, and we failed the send bonus in Sunday FAST (it was a very bizarre FAST course, but we'll cover that later). The trial was at the new Purina Event Center in Gray Summit. Everyone has been talking about the floor for months, so obviously we were a little (okay a lot) apprehensive. Friday Maggie ran pretty tentative, putting in a few extra steps here and there. However, she was able to complete the send bonus in FAST, so she wasn't just tip-toeing around. In jumpers I got a little freaked out when I could hear Maggie's toenails scrambling on the flooring, but she seemed to be running only a little slower than normal. By Sunday, she seemed to have her own method of dealing and she was moving out at near her normal speed.
But this weekend taught me a lot...
#1 Some people hate change so much that they are unwilling to be open-minded.
#2 Some people gave up on their dogs too soon, and didn't give them a chance to learn and adjust.
#3 Some people will use any available excuse for their dog to avoid admitting it is a training issue. ("the color of the floor made him break his stay")
#4 Some people were afraid that their dog would not accomodate and get hurt. Some of these people left and I applaud them. Some stayed, and I can't understand that- if I thought Maggie was going to get hurt, we would have been gone in a heartbeat.
#5 And, some people (like me) learned that their dog is way more flexible, more forgiving, more able to adjust, and better trained than we'd ever thought.
Which brings me back to the beginning. I sure do love this dog.

(and thanks, Liz, for the great picture)