Monday, June 28, 2010

Volunteering at Trials

When Agility trials (or any event for that matter) are run, there is always a need for volunteers to help out with odd jobs. When signing up to run for a trial, you can always pick to be a volunteer as well. The volunteers are scheduled so that the jobs they do don't conflict with their own runs, and they also get some compensation in return. I've volunteered at two difference AKC trials, and one USDAA trial so far, so I thought I'd tell you all about what I got to do.

Let's start with the actual jobs available:
Jump Setter. You get to sit in the ring off to the side from the run, and whenever a dog knocks down a jump bar, you would run over and pick it back up to its proper place. Jump setters also help adjust the equipment for jump height changes. Usually the ring has 3 jump setters, so that each covers a small part of obstacles right next to them.
Chute Straightener. One of the jumps setters normally doubles up to this job. You do everything a jump setter does, plus fix the chute material after each dog runs through it.
Leash Runner. The entrance and exit are normally at different ends of the ring, and the handlers drop the leashes down at the start line. To save time and hassle, the leash runner gets the leash and moves it to a stool near the finish line, so that the handler can clip it on the dog and be out of the ring quickly.
Scribe. This one involves writing down everything that the judge calls out for every dog. Each dog has a scribe sheet generated for it before the trial - these show the dog's name and breed, handler, and class being run. On the bottom is the space for the dog's time, any errors, and points (for point-gathering runs), which is what the scribe gets to write in. The judge has a set of signals that are used to depict each type of a mistake. For points, the judge simply calls numbers out loud.
Timer. When everyone is ready, the timer presses a button that makes the mechanical voice say "Go" or "Ready" and means the handler may start the run. Nowadays, electronic timers are used for the most part, so the stopwatch device starts and stop automatically, and the volunteer simply has to read it off for the scribe at the end. For some runs, the timer has to manually start and/or stop the stopwatch though, which involves a bit more work and precision.
Score Runner. This simply involves hanging around near the ring until several dogs have run. The scribe then hands over their scribe sheets, and the volunteer takes them over to the score table where someone records them into the system (computer at AKC and some special score sheets at USDAA).
Gate Steward. The gate steward makes sure that the dogs are running in their order and are ready to go on time. They will normally call out the name of the dogs coming up and also announce the one that's running to the scribe to make sure the correct sheet is used for recording.
Course Builder. Course builders help build the course before each class, as well as tear it down at the end of the day. I've noticed that these generally ten to be the same people over and over again at our trials. One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn't want to drag all that heavy equipment around!
Check-in (USDAA). At USDAA there is a separate check-in line (AKC does this in self-serve style) at the beginning of the day, and this volunteer just checks people off the list when they arrive, double checks their jump height, and sends them for measurement as needed.

Whew, I think that's all of them. I've done all of these except for the last 3 now and they've all been fairly easy and straight forward. I probably wouldn't volunteer when I don't have to be there, but since for now I have to be there for most of the day anyway, it's nice to have something to do in between the runs.

While these are referred to as volunteer jobs, the volunteers actually get a little something for their work. I'm not sure who decides what the compensation will be, so I'll just share what I've gotten.
Both of the AKC trials I volunteered for were put on by the same people, and in these I got a free lunch for the first job of the day, and a $5 voucher for every other job on the same day. So if you work 3 runs of Saturday and 2 on Sunday, you would get both lunches and $15. The lunch is brought in and the same for all the workers (for example pizza, sandwiches, or Chinese food). The vouchers are only good towards trials put on by the same people, but thankfully they put on most of the trials in this area, so that's not a problem.
For the USDAA trial, we were given a $2 voucher for every job done (even the first one) and lunch was automatically included. One of the runs I helped with had a lot of dogs, so we got two vouchers ($4) for that one. Generally though, 3 Saturday and 2 Sunday jobs would get you both lunches and $10.
Interestingly, while it's less money per job, there are actually a lot more runs in USDAA, so I ended up making more voucher money at USDAA than I did at AKC.

Well, I think that about covers it :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June AKC Trial

Whew, it's been a busy couple of weeks, hence the lack of posts - sorry about that. We went to another trial this last weekend, and it was certainly very eventful, so let's get to it :)

Most trials in this area are organized in a way that Excellent is split into two size groups (4"-16" and 20"-26"), and in one-judge trials, the big dogs usually get to go in the morning, followed by the smaller dogs. Every once in a while they switch it up though, and the small dogs go first thing in the morning. So that was the case this time, and Philip's Excellent Standard run was supposed to be around 9-9:30am.

For some reason, I stayed up pretty late on Friday, so waking up on Saturday was tough. I managed to sleep in later than I had planned, so I rushed out the door once I finally woke up. Of course that meant I'd mess something up... and so I forgot to bring a bottle of water and a bowl for Philip - sigh. Thankfully, there was water available and Philip can drink from the palm of my hand pretty well! To add to my troubles, I got lost a couple of times on the way...

When I had finally made it to the trial, the Excellent Standard ring was already being walked, so I rushed to grab a map and survey the course. This was the toughest course I've seen thus far - with several tight turns and lucrative off-course obstacles. I talked with my instructor and she recommended a couple of interesting maneuvers that I hadn't practiced. She is obviously more experienced though, so I trust her opinion, and practiced the moves while walking the course. Funny thing though is that she was running one of her own dogs before it was my turn, and I saw her mess up one of those tough spots.

We were soon ready to run, and Philip started off pretty well (he seems to always start well). However, when he got to the table, he got up on it and flew right off - something he's never done before. I couldn't believe he did that (I still can't!), but nonetheless, I got him back on the table and continued the course. The first tough spot was coming off a jump into the chute, with a tunnel right behind it. Due to the approach, the dogs were coming off of the jump pretty wide, and naturally aiming for the tunnel rather than the chute (and many took that wrong course). The plan was to turn back before aligning Philip with the chute, and it actually worked pretty well - he went right for the chute. Right after was the second tricky spot (the harder of the two). Here, Philip was coming off of the teeter, with a jump right in front of him, but was supposed to take the weaves to the right. My original thought was to pull him right off, but our instructor recommended lining him up with the weaves before turning, so as to not mess up the weaves entry. This is the spot her dog messed up (taking the jump), and of course Philip also went straight for the jump. Looking back, while this plan was good for an experienced dog/handler team, I probably would have been better off pulling him off to the side right away. Oh well, it didn't matter at that point anyway - NQ with a table fault and a wrong course for Philip.

The Open jumpers course looked very nice - it was laid out such that the whole course could be run without ever switching sides, and I was sure we'd do great on it. Philip was the first dog on the line, had a nice start, but unfortunately knocked down the 4th jump bar. I was hoping that after his wonderful performance at USDAA this month, the bar knocking would stop, but there it was - messing with our runs yet again. Philip ran the rest of the course beautifully, but of course the bar gave us an NQ yet again.

On Sunday, I got up on time and had no trouble getting there, but came to find an even more difficult Excellent Standard course (and here I thought that Saturday's course was bad). There was a spot of two jumps next to each other, and the dog was to go over this place twice, taking the less intuitive jump both times. I talked with our instructor again, and she recommended layering (leaving the wrong jump in between Philip and me and pointing to the correct one) the first time, and rear-crossing the second time. The rear-cross seemed like a good idea, but I wasn't sure Philip would ignore a layered jump - we have only practiced such a thing once in class. So I came up with a second plan that would simply require a lot more running from me, and decided I would choose which to do once I get there.

More than half of the dogs before us had messed up the jumps, so it wasn't looking good. When our turn came, I was ready with both plans, but Philip had another plan in mind - before even getting to the pair of jumps, he went way off course and climbed the A-Frame while I screamed "Philip, over here! Philip! Philip!" at the top of my lungs. I could have done cartwheels and he would have still ignored me... So I got him off the frame and decided that since the run is a mess up anyway, I would try the layering thing. What do you know - it worked wonderfully! Philip didn't even look at the jump in between us and went straight for the correct one! Later, he messed up the weaves entry though, and knocked a panel jump down. I had some iffy handling too, and the second pass through the evil pair of jumps didn't go as smoothly as the first, but we got it right anyway. Of course this was an NQ, but weirdly enough all the mess-ups were not what I was expecting at all! To put it in my instructor's words - "what a bad dog!"

The eventful part of the weekend came soon after the Standard run - as the big dogs were finishing up the JWW course, someone pointed to some smoke on the nearby hill. Was it a just a BBQ? Nope - it was a brush fire, a quickly spreading one too!

I checked if someone had called 911 (they had!) and we all watched while the big dogs got ready for Standard. The fire trucks seemed to have taken an extremely long time to show up, but we finally heard sirens. It was pretty funny actually - most of the dogs broke into howls when the siren approached, what a chorus! What shocked me though, is that some cars weren't moving over for the fire trucks, on a two-lane road at that (one each way)! What's wrong with people? Can't they see the burning hill?

More fire trucks followed, as well as a helicopter and a couple of planes. Another helicopter and plane joined later as well. It was pretty cool to watch them put out the fire - red fire retardant being dumped from the planes, water dumped from the helicopters, and firefighters with hoses on the ground (though there are apparently no fire hydrants in that area, so they didn't have the needed pressure).

The whole ordeal continued for several hours. The helicopters flew over to a nearby reservoir to pick up some water and came back to dump it over and over again. I was amazed at how well these guys can aim the water! We had to continue with the trial of course, but some dogs didn't enjoy all the noise one bit. At one point, a helicopter flew super close to us - it was pretty scary, and the dog on course was really terrified. Thankfully, the judge let them re-run though.

The main fire was contained and put out eventually, and it was nice and quiet by the time the Open JWW run started. It was a pretty good course, a bit harder than Saturday, but still not bad. However, Philip still managed to take another wrong course while ignoring my screams - sigh! No other mistakes, but since no wrong courses are allowed in JWW, it was another NQ for us.

As we got ready to leave, I could still see the firefighters roaming the hill, checking for any left over hot spots, but thankfully nothing flared up. So we ended the weekend with no Qs, but at least the fire ordeal added some fun :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

June USDAA Trial

USDAA trials are structured differently than AKC - with Masters dogs in one ring, and Starters/Advanced dogs in the other. So if you enter in all the offered classes, the trials tend to drag on all day no matter what level your dog is at. It was certainly a very long weekend, and so here's a very long post to tell you all about! :)

The check-in was at 8am on Saturday, so I woke up around 6:30am, and arrived at 8:15am. I checked in and went to get Philip measured. Funny thing here - Philip has been measured twice at the January trial, with measurements of 11 1/2" and 11 3/4". Following the pattern, he got measured at 12" on Saturday - my dog must be invisibly growing!

For USDAA, a dog needs to be measured by 3 different judges, one of which needs to be a certified measuring judge (CMJ). The two measurements we had from January were not CMJs, and the judge measuring on Saturday wasn't either. So that meant we had to get a 4th measurement from a CMJ before applying for a permanent jump height card. Thankfully, the judge measuring on Sunday was a CMJ, so we took care of that then. Now I just have to mail in the current card, and then wait for the permanent one to arrive in the mail.

Alright, back to the trial... As I quickly mentioned earlier, we had a total of 7 runs over the two days, so let's get to all of them at once:

Saturday Starters Standard
First run of the day - I didn't have big expectations, and took Philip nice and easy as I planned. He took off at a nice pace and I went with him, not rushing ahead and not trying to slow him down. Philip hesitated a bit before getting up on the table (maybe because it's a bit taller than in AKC), but got up on it shortly thereafter. The rest of the run was clean and beautiful - he did everything as I asked, tackled the weaves cleanly on first try, and most importantly kept all the jump bars up! The table hesitation would have been a refusal in AKC, but since there are no refusals for Starters dogs in USDAA, we got a clean Q and a 1st place! I should note that the whole weekend Philip was the only dog in his jump height, so our 1st places were basically automatic.

Saturday Starters Gambler
Saturday's Gambler was a nice course - there were several 5-point contact obstacles near the beginning, so earning the 15 minimum needed opening points was a breeze. I stayed away from the weaves just in case, and Philip followed my plan perfectly. We even timed it just right so that we got to the end of my planned route (and near the gamble portion) just a couple of seconds before the buzzer went off. I did flinch in another direction to waste time, but recovered back on track shortly after when the buzzer went off. The gamble portion was pretty nice - a jump right at the line, leading straight into a tunnel about 10 feet out from the line, another jump from the tunnel back to the line at a 45-degree angle, and another jump out from the line at a 45-degree angle. Philip naturally loves tunnels, so he went straight for it after going over the jump. I called him to me over the next jump and easily pushed him over the last one. Overall a very nicely executed gamble, and a Q with 35 points total (20 opening and 15 gamble bonus). Of course, we got the automatic 1st place here too.

Saturday Starters Pairs
We partnered up with Willis for the Pairs run again, just like back in January. We had planned this back when signing up for the trial and I warned Willis's owner that Philip will probably knock bars, so we decided that when time comes Philip should take the half with fewest jumps. Looking at the map in the morning, I counted 6 jumps in one half and 5 in the other - no big difference really. Since Philip has kept all the bars up on the first two runs of the day, I figured we'd let Willis pick the side and then take whichever is left. Willis had blown a couple of contacts earlier in the day and is usually especially bad on the dogwalk, so they picked the first half, which had only the A-Frame for contacts. We got ready for our run, but right as we were about to go into the ring, Willis got stung by a bee in his leg! Poor guy was trying to lick up the spot and wasn't stepping on his leg :( We let the next pair go and I suggested giving Willis some Benadryl. Another dog we know got stung earlier in the day, so her owner pointed to the vendor who they got some Benadryl from. So Willis and his owner took off over there while I contemplated if Philip gets to run at all. While we scrambled to see if anyone would substitute for Willis, I saw them running back. Apparently, Willis saw treats and forgot all about the sting, so he was running happily and they decided to get the run out of the way before any swelling occurs. We quickly got next in line, and were in such hurry that Willis took off before the "Ready" signal - oops, but no biggie, everyone was ready anyway, so they didn't stop him. I stood in the baton exchange area and watched Willis run - he was just so happy to be running, like nothing ever happened! He did his part perfectly, and so we grabbed the baton and took off. Philip again surprised me with great speed, and a very clean run, even getting the weaves right on yet again! We got a Q with plenty of time to spare, and again took 1st place (this time we had one other pair in the same height class (12"-16") who ended up taking 2nd).

Saturday Starters Snooker
The map for this course looked tough, with one of the red jumps being way in the back corner, and the other two in the two front corners - basically lots of running in sight! I thought of a couple of ways to tackle it, consulted with my instructor and settled on a running plan. When I walked the course it seemed easier than it looked on the map, but it definitely promised lots of running space as expected. I watched several dogs Q, and then we went in for our turn. Philip went over the first red jump, and as I took him to the 2-point jump that I wanted him to take, he went wide and took the 4-point jump instead. Being the end of the day, I didn't think quick enough and decided to just call him back towards me as I continued to the next red jump. Of course, as he was running towards me, he took the 2-point jump that I originally intended for him to take, and we got the whistle. NQ for us, but I didn't really care at this point - we already had 3 wonderful Qs for the day, and I was getting really tired and ready to go home. I packed up Philip's things quickly, and we took off for home, it was past 6pm when we finally got back.

Sunday Starters Jumpers
Sunday got started a bit earlier (7:30am check-in) and I was super tired from lack of sleep, so I probably wasn't in the top shape for the first run of the day. The course was pretty nicely laid out, with just a couple of crosses needed on my part. I should note that one of the things I aimed to avoid is crossing while Philip takes jumps, as that can cause a dog to hesitate and knock a bar. Well, seeing as I was a bit out of it, I didn't think that part through and planned a front cross right after a jump in this run. To get a front cross in, you have to race in front of the dog to avoid clashing with them, and that tends to rush them since you are running away. Of course that blew the whole don't-rush-Philip plan when I sped up ahead of him. As I turned to him ahead of the jump, he was coming in fast, flinched at me in his space, and the bar went down. This was 100% my fault - I shouldn't have done a front cross there, and even if I did, I should have given him more landing space. The rest of the run was clean - it's all just jumps and tunnels, so no weaves to worry about. NQ for the bar of course.
An interesting side fact - when the Advanced dogs ran their Jumpers course (which was just slightly harder than Starters), almost every dog knocked a bar or two! Don't know what it was, but they all just kept messing up, and only 3 dogs got Qs in that whole class.

Sunday Starters Standard
The Standard course was a little tricky, but nothing like the Excellent courses we've been running in AKC, so I wasn't too worried. Philip stopped for a split second before jumping up on the table again, but better than the previous time. Then we got to the weaves and Philip did what I originally expected out of him - he entered two poles in instead of one. I took him back, and again he skipped a pole, so back we went a third time. On the third try he started correctly, and went along, but that wasn't the end of it. He decided he would finish after the 10th pole (another Philip favorite to do!) and tried to go ahead. Thankfully I managed to quickly correct him and get him back in the last two poles. I know it's okay to fix the weaves like that in AKC, so I assumed it would be okay in USDAA too, but wasn't sure. So I waited for the results - we had a Q! Guess it's okay after all :) We got no faults since all these mistakes are refusals, and again didn't count against us.

Sunday Starters Gambler
Last run of the weekend was another Gambler. This one looked harder than the one on Saturday. Again, we needed 15 points minimum in the opening. It was a bit trickier to plan, and I decided that I'd give the weaves a try since they were worth 7 points and nicely on the way. Philip went over the first two jumps, and approached the weaves, but unfortunately pulled with pole-skipping trick on me yet again. Somehow I was fast on my feet and decided that I'm going to wing it and do something else rather than waste time trying to fix the weaves. So I turned around and ran Philip back to the chute, followed by a jump and the dogwalk. This was supposed to be the last 3 obstacles in my original plan, but now we still had time and not enough points yet. Again, I winged it and took him to whatever obstacle was in front of me, which was a jump. He jumped over and I called him back for another point. At that point it hit me that this still wouldn't be enough points, so I saw the teeter and ran for it - it would put us in bad position for the gamble, but give us the last needed points. As Philip finished the teeter, I turned back thinking how to get to the gamble and heard the buzzer. I ran fast past the dogwalk with Philip in hot pursuit, and I actually think this played in our advantage since it gave Philip some really good momentum for the closing gamble. The gamble was a bit tricky - a jump right on the line, out to a tunnel that went right under the A-Frame (a couple of dogs took that instead of the tunnel), then out parallel to my line over a tire and a jump, all 10 or so feet away. So with his momentum, Philip plummeted over the jump and into the tunnel. I yelled "Tire!" and pointed to the tire as he came out and he went straight for it - what a good boy! "Jump!" I yelled pointing, and again he went straight for the jump. What a beautiful gamble! So we earned another Q, all with lots of improvisations :) We got a total of 33 points (18 in opening and 15 for the gamble), and our usual automatic 1st place.

All in all we got 2 Standard Qs, 2 Gambler Qs, and 1 Pairs Q - a great end to a long weekend. Philip performed amazingly, and I can't believe he kept all the bars up, at 12" height at that! Hopefully that means we'll see an end to all the bar-knocking in AKC too. I also did some volunteering during the trial, but that's for another post :)

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I'm way too tired to write much, but just letting you all know that my boy is a superstar! He did so amazingly well this weekend, and I'm very proud of him :) I didn't expect anything like it, I have no clue where this dog came from!

So for a quick recap - we had a total of 7 runs, and we got 5 Qs! That's right, five out of seven runs! Can you believe it? Oh, and just one jump bar knocked down the whole weekend, due to my own mistake at that. All those Qs have also finished Philip's Starters Standard title, so he'll be moving onto Advanced Standard next time!

So yeah, lots of excitement, but a very very long weekend, so I'm going to go rest, and I'll write a more detailed report in the next couple of days. Lots of fun USDAA info coming up later too!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting ready for USDAA

We have a USDAA trial coming up this weekend, so we've been getting ready in our Agility classes. Why do we have to have this special "getting ready" time, and what are we doing for it? Well, while it might not seem like a big change from any AKC trial, USDAA actually has enough little differences to make the switch difficult for some dogs.

For Philip, the biggest reason for the special practice is the jump height change. As I've mentioned before, while Philip got happily moved down to 8" in AKC, he has to stay with 12" jump height in USDAA because they don't even have an 8" height! Being the bar knocker that he is, I thought that having to go up a height suddenly (after jumping solely 8" for a good couple of months) would present quite a problem. So I ran him at 12" in last week's class to see how he'd do. My worries were justified, Philip knocked bars left and right all class long, and so I persistently stopped him and made him redo every bar he knocked until they stayed up.

Since Philip didn't do so well last week, I kept him in 12" this week as well. Again the bars went flying at the first run, and again I made him redo every single one. At one point our instructor speculated that he might be rushing to keep up with me and being careless. So for the next run, I took my speed down a notch. Eureka - Philip was being noticeably slower, but also much more accurate! Half way through, when we reached the table, our instructor commented that while he's being accurate, he's too slow (I didn't tell her I was going to slow down), so I should encourage him to go faster. Hmmm... so I did, and the next bar went down again (though it was also a terrible approach angle). We fixed it and were mostly done for the day.

After class I talked with our instructor and told her that I think it might be better if Philip is slow but accurate, rather than bar-knockingly-fast. I could tell she was apprehensive about that idea, and I totally know why - Philip has just started picking up speed in the last month, and it would be a shame if he slowed back down because I'm suddenly not pushing him. We are really going to need the speed once we reach Excellent B in AKC, which should hopefully be soon, so I probably shouldn't sacrifice that just for some Qs in USDAA.

So the verdict was that it might be okay to not rush Philip when going over a series of jumps, but really encourage him to go at super speed on non-jump obstacles. I think that's a good compromise, plus it would only be for the weekend runs before we go back to fast 8" runs. So that's what I'll do, at least I'll start it off that way on Saturday and adjust as needed as we go along.

Another noticeable difference for Philip was in the weave poles. The weaves have always been a bit of trouble for him, and even though he has certainly gotten better over time, he consistently had trouble with them at the last AKC trial. I hear that dogs constantly go through phases where they seem to "forget" how to do some obstacle, so that must be what happened there for Philip. To add on to that trouble though, the USDAA poles are placed tighter together, making them more difficult for most dogs (some petite dogs enjoy the shorter distance). In AKC the poles are usually 24" apart, in USDAA they are supposed to be at 20"-22" by the rules. Per our instructor's observation, practically nobody in our area has 22" weaves, so we have to stick with the 20" kind.

Thankfully, our instructor has a 20" set and had set them up for the last two classes. Philip had noticeable trouble at first, going through slower than usual, and skipping a pole or two somewhere in the middle. I took him back through several times over and over again and rewarded him generously when he did it right. In the end, I think he got the hang of it by the end of yesterday's class, so we should hopefully be good there.

Some other differences for USDAA:
- The contact zones are shorter on the A-Frame, Dog Walk, and Teeter. That shouldn't be a problem for Philip since he usually sticks his contacts well.
- The A-Frame is steeper for tall dogs. That doesn't affect my short dog, so no problem there.
- The dog has to run without a collar. Again, doesn't affect us since Philip has always ran without one.

That's all the major differences, there are other nuances, but most of them are unnoticeable as far as the dog's skills are concerned. This weekend shall be interesting - we have a lot of runs, and will be there all day both days. Can't wait to see how we do!