Monday, June 1, 2009

Flyball Fun

We had our first outdoor flyball tournament of the season this past weekend, and it was the first time we’ve played since mid-April. Flyball was the first dog sport that we became involved in, and has been a love of ours for almost eight years now. In recent months, however, I have been sad to find that I just haven’t gotten quite as much enjoyment out of it as I typically do, even though I was still having fun with our dogs and our friends. We did make the tough decision to retire our first two flyball dogs back in April, which has been hard, and I’ve also been struggling with some of the things I see occurring both on and off the ring that I am not particularly happy with (but that is another topic!). Overall though, the dogs love it, I love having a good time with them and with friends, and it usually makes for a fun-filled weekend. I really needed a good tournament to remind me of that.

This weekend happily proved to be a very pleasant and enjoyable one. The weather was perfect, we saw lots of teammates and friends that we hadn’t seen in a while, and the schedule wasn’t too grueling. We also made some important decisions this time around, which I think really impacted our experience of this tournament.

A few weeks ago, Lowell attended a Debbie Gross-Saunders seminar on conditioning the canine athlete. He came home with a lot of great information and ideas, and we have been incorporating a lot of her recommendations into our daily care, training, and exercising of the dogs. Although we’ve only been doing this for a few weeks, we believe we already saw some positive effects on Django and Maebe’s performances this weekend . . . but more on that at a later date.

One of the most important recommendations she had though was to incorporate a good warm-up and cool-down ritual before and after every race. Flyball people, us included, have been very guilty of pulling their dogs out cold after being crated for a couple hours, expecting them to perform in a very intense, high impact activity, then tossing them back into their crates after maybe a quick dip in a kiddie pool, while the handlers rush off to the next race. Not a good strategy for preventing injury and maximizing performance certainly. Plus, as I found this weekend, we miss out on a great way to connect with and enjoy our canine companions/teammates throughout the weekend.

This weekend, Lowell and I both made sure to get Django and Maebe out 15-20 minutes before each race. Django and I would spend 5-10 minutes just walking, then would lightly jog some off-leash figure-8s. I would have him switch directions, turn to each side, and weave between my legs to help stretch him out some. Django loves doing flatwork training and tricks, and so this really seemed to make him happy and pump him up pre-race.

After racing, I would cool him down mostly by having him wear his damp Cool Coat (as Debbie Gross-Saunders warned that jumping into cold pools immediately isn’t necessarily great for the system), and would walk him out for another 15 minutes or so. Afterwards, we would return to the tent, do some gentle stretching exercises, then Django would flop down contentedly while I lightly massaged him a bit. These little rituals resulted in me feeling very connected with my furry buddy, and were the best part of my weekend. After all, the reason we do this is supposed to be to have fun with the dogs that we love, not just to win little ribbons for their crates or to put titles after their names.

Django was happy and feeling good also. Django is probably 7-ish years old, and was running as start dog this weekend, which meant re-running after all the false starts. Still, he pulled several 4.2 second runs, even into the day on Sunday, which was pretty impressive given that his fastest times even as a younger dog were in the 4.1’s. His box turn was looking better than in recent months as well, and he ran without a bobble all weekend.

Maebe also did great. She ran a 4.2 with a pass, and kept up consistent speed all weekend long. Running with Lowell and doing her “Get On the Ball” exercises really seems to be boosting her endurance. Agility is her true passion in life, and she would give 100% until she dropped on the agility course. But while she loves flyball, I do think she sometimes “phones it in” a bit in later races if she starts to tire, and you will notice her times drop slightly. This weekend she kept very consistent times both days though, so we were quite proud of her.

The other guys had a great weekend also. Jade and Tristan got lots of breaks to play ball or take walks with us. This was also the new pup Cadence’s first tournament experience, and he did great. He was able to meet tons of people, lots of children, and many other friendly puppies and dogs. He quietly took everything in when we arrived Saturday morning, but before long was getting ready to take on the world. On Sunday, we brought home a very happy and exhausted guy after a long weekend of wrestling with other pups and socializing with lots of humans.

It was good to get priorities straight again, after a stretch of feeling pretty disconnected from the activity that got me into dog sports in the first place. Once again, I am looking forward to a summer full of racing!

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