Monday, August 22, 2011

Hit me with the 2 x 4... or I hate the AKC "Double Q" syndrome

Lesson 1: Sinco

Ok so at Saturday's AKC trial I had qualified with Sinco in our first run in Standard - it was a lovely run.  The Jumpers with Weaves course had a section that was going to be particularly challenging for us (and for many others...).  I ran Feisty first and had messed up the section when I came out of my front cross completely not where I thought I would be and I lost track of the course so we left the course early and I never let Feisty know something was wrong.  When I ran Sinco on that course I got to the section in question which involved an offset line of jumps with a 180 degree turn from a jump into the weaves with an off course jump set 90 degrees out from the jump before the weaves.  It was difficult to get there with a fast dog without doing a rear cross.  So I rear crossed and tried to pull Sinco into the weaves.  She went wide heading to the off course jump.  I called her and even clapped - I never do that on course with her.  She came to me but missed the weave entry.  I let it go and finished the course.  I knew immediately that I had shut her down and began to ponder what I should have done differently. 

Well she is a fast dog but she is a sensitive dog and I have always vowed to let her go off course if I make a mistake and can't be clear to her.  Well that time I didn't and I did a "call off" which I abhor.  It shut her down and I felt horrible about it.  Yes she needs to be able to recover better but really it is just another course and it really is not worth shutting my dog down in order to get a Q.  The last thing I want to do is cause her to slow down and worry any more than she already does about making mistakes.  She is very fast and that is due to a lot of work to build her confidence. 

As a young dog just starting to trial she would go into stress zoomies and search for any friendly face if I even thought a mistake had been made by either one of us!  I had to work hard to always pretend as if everything was going along well.  It took a long time to get her confident enough to pull her off a start line when she broke a stay or to take her off for launching a contact.  She so rarely does either because she wants to be right.  In fact she will ask "are you sure" at the start line more often than break. 

What I should have done the second she started to come toward the weaves was praise her with "Yes!  Good girl!" instead of telling her to weave in an emphatic tone!  Out comes the 2 x 4 for me!  If I hadn't had a "double Q" on the line it would have been easier for me to let her go off course and tell myself how I should have handled it better.

Sinco also reminded me that I need to be very careful with her physical well being. She loves agility and working but she is so rarely sore that when she is the least bit sore it distracts her. I've learned to notice that if she doesn't bark before we go in the ring, doesn't bark on course, takes unexplained off courses (probably to avoid turning in a direction that hurts) and can't do the weaves that she is sore. This happened on our first run on Friday and sure enough after the run I found a muscle that was spasming. I was able to massage it and loosen it up and she ran better in the second run. This was a hard lesson I learned at AKC Nationals when she was very sore there and she and I were so disconnected as a team because she was so distracted by her own body.  Very often this kind of distractedness is not properly related back to the dog's physical well-being when it should be.  Again a lesson relearned again to first check out the physical aspects of the dog when something is not going well in training and/or trialing.

My lesson was learned and applied and we had two beautiful clean runs on Sunday that were fast and smooth.  So that was good for both of us to end the weekend on very good high notes!  I needed a reminder that no Q is worth shutting my dog down to get it or running my dog when she is sore!

Lesson 2: Feisty

Friday at the AKC trial, w ran early in the day and it was hectic so I didn't have time to watch many runs before our turn.  On our first run which was standard the judge had to move a lot to be able to judge all three contacts - it was not the greatest course design from a judging perspective.  She was moving toward Feisty as she approached the teeter which caused Feisty to veer off toward me and I had to "herd" her on to the teeter.  Then the table was three obstacles later and Feisty got on the table at the far corner from the judge and was barely on it.  After that she ran well.  I was not sure how things had been judged and whether Feisty had veered off enough to have gotten a refusal on the teeter or not but she hadn't.  I have not had her veer off toward me like that in a very long time and it caught me by surprise.  She usually veers off completely away from me and the judge.  So this was a huge lesson to me to remember to watch the judge's path before we run.  Ideally in AKC if I can watch the judge's path before I walk the course then I can have a plan that is  hopefully ideal from both a handling perspective as well as manging the environment perspective.  AKC and USDAA and sometimes CPE judges are most likely to encroach on her. 

Whenever I feel a judge is encroaching on us I always say outloud to Feisty in hopes the judge will get the hint "It's OK Feisty - its just the judge - don't worry".  In this case I think it helped because in Jumpers with weaves the same judge was especially still for our run over by the weaves.  Feisty was very slow in the weaves as she went by the same judge and was licking her lips as she weaved which is a sign of stress.  She was concerned that the judge could walk toward her at any moment. She did earn a double Q under this judge which demonstrates how well she is doing recovering from a stressful experience with a judge.  Two years ago it would have set us back months in our training.

On Saturday Feisty stopped and sat in front of the table and then bounced on and off and then stayed on in the ring with the same encroaching judge who had encroached on us the day before.  I knew for sure she was concerned about the judge.  But she did get on the table and stay and it was near the end of the course so we could just run out and have a party anyway.   On Sunday she did well in standard with a different judge and qualified. So that was also huge recovery for her to get on the table perfectly with a different judge. She has come a long way!  She ran in Jumpers with Weaves with the judge who had bothered her and I watched the judge's path carefully before I walked the course.  I noticed that the judge would walk behind dogs while they were in the weaves and I noticed where she stood relative to a hard part of the course.  So I stayed close to Feisty in the weaves and reminder her to weave - she slowed down at pole 10 and started to sniff but I was there to remind her to weave and she did.  I know she felt the presence of that judge walking up behind us in the poles.  After that she sped up but she was not as speedy as she can be so I know she was watching the judge.  I stayed close to her in spots where I knew the judge would put pressure on  her and she may feel it.  We earned a Q on that run and she doubled Q'd too.  I feel that she did well on that course in part because her recovery skills and coping skills are improving all the time in dealing with stressful ring situations and because I paid close attention to things that might bother her so I was there to support her at those points on the course.

While I would like to be able to handle Feisty as if there were no issues I know that it is in her best interests if I handle the course in a way that supports her.  What I won't do is handling moves that she is not used to me doing just to try to avoid an environmental/judge issue.  I will always only use handling techniques that she is comfortable with because that will also build her confidence. 

So I had the hard reminder this weekend that I must do what is best for my dogs regardless of the Q on the line - it is about the journey, it is about the progress we continue to make and it is about having fun doing it!  Feisty is proof that patience does pay off and attention to details is very important in trialing and training.  Also she has taught me that it is not always the most obvious thing that is the stressor.  What is stressful for one dog may not be stressful for another. 

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