2009 TDAA Petit Prix, semi-finals and finals

We were surprised and delighted to know our whole group from Houston’s Country Dream had made it into the semi-finals. Our goal was to maintain composure, do our best, and advance to the final round.

Our semi-final games were Quidditch and Steeplechase. We’d just played Quidditch a few days before, and have been playing the “all-dog” version since Becky Dean helped invent it 3-4 years ago.

I walked both courses with speed-building in mind.

For Quidditch I was confident that Hazard could manage the little sequences but she needed to run fast enough to get all the beaters and the golden snitch, and finish before the horn sounded, to move up in her class.

She’s also had issues with distance work when people and other dogs are present, so my strategy for the tire (aka “beater”) was to create lateral distance from her on the approach to the tire, and use that lateral distance to make Hazard believe the tire was just another obstacle on the course — without making it a big ole distance send.

As I was waiting my turn I noticed that some handlers were having trouble with the send to the tire from one sequence (the “jump-weave-teeter” sequence). They were handling it the same as I’d walked it. I also notice that handlers who switched sides in the way to the teeter were having much faster approaches to the tire and a straighter path to the next sequence (the “jump-jump-jump-tunnel” sequence).

I did what I tell students never to do — I changed my strategy as I stood and watched. I closed my eyes and visualized the new path I’d take, reminded myself to run my dog, not my plan. Over and over I mentally re-walked that course.

When Hazard’s turn arrived there was a delay with the scribe, so she and I ran back and forth along the ring gating to keep her engaged and happy. When folks were ready Hazard and I took off.

My new strategy worked like a charm, though I notice on our video that Hazard eyed the “bludger” pretty hard before being called to do the tire (the “beater”) and go to the next sequence. It wasn’t brilliant but my handling was sufficient for the task and Hazard seemed happy to run with me. On my video is Bud’s voice saying, “Good Girl!” as Hazard hit the last beater and made it to the finish line with time to spare, earning her golden snitch.

I had to walk both courses early and ran both courses just a few minutes apart. Fortunately both courses experienced slight delays in the early stages, so we all had plenty of time to watch the dogs ahead of us, note any problem areas on the course, and remind ourselves of handling options to deal with those problems.

In Steeplechase I walked looking for any place to build speed. The primary challenge on the course, other than the long straight line in the opening and the long curve around the end of the course, was the hard 180-degree turn back after the a-frame and jump.

Several handlers had off-course faults when their dogs back-jumped on their return to the a-frame. The back-jumping was a handler error we often see, where handlers neglect to put a tracking step to bring their dog around the jump standard.

I walked the course with a plan to pre-cue the 180-degree turn on Hazard’s approach to the jump, and video shows that Hazard completely understood, came around the standard, and accelerated to the second a-frame performance.

After the second a-frame I planned a blind cross to draw her off the a-frame and to the left, where she was headed to the closing path of the steeplechase. The video shows that Hazard floated forward off the a-frame, but understood my draw to handler focus and came to the side to finish smartly.

Now came the waiting game. Had my handling achieved the goal of coaxing speed out of my dog? Had she moved up in her class enough to be one of the dozen-or-so 8″ dogs advancing to the final round?

Frankly, I was pessimistic. I felt sure that the other, faster, dogs would take those top spots. I resolved to support our students’ in their run for the finals, and not to worry about Hazard and I.

In fact, while calculations were under way, Judge Paul Jensen did a general briefing for the game. I didn’t attend choosing, instead, to spend some time stepping off the course. Perhaps exhaustion was setting in. We’d been in Wisconsin, doing agility, for 5 days, and it was late afternoon Ohio time.

When Hazard’s name was called as earning a finals slot, Bud says my eyes went wide and he’d never seen me that thrilled. I think the surprise, anxiety, and exhaustion heightened my emotion in the situation.

I walked the course several more times to make an accurate guess about our rate of speed. There were several difficulties with the final round, Who Dares Wins.

First, the dividing ring gates were removed so that the course used the entire ring area, effectively doubling the size of the course and stretching out the course measurements. Second, it was now after 8pm our time after long days of agility, and I had no idea whether my dog would be interested in running with me. Third, the course had long lines followed by sharp turns and discriminations, and handlers were constantly taking the dog from obstacle focus to handler focus. Fourth, the course had 2 sets of weaves and 3 contacts.

My calculation of Hazard’s speed was based on all these elements. We ran the course four full seconds faster than my calculation. First, Hazard seemed to enjoy the wide-open feel of the expanded course. Second, who knew Hazard would build speed and motivation all day and into the evening? Third, Hazard was keen to my signals switching from handler-to-obstacle focus and back. Fourth, Hazard nailed all her contacts and weaves with speed and joy.

We finished sixth in a class of 85+ dogs and I’ve never been prouder of a dog than I was of Hazard. She not only held it together over 5 days, but actually improved her attitude over the three days.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: