Monday, July 27, 2009

C-ATCH Django

This weekend, we competed at the Stony Creek Canine Academy CPE trial. We entered Saturday and Sunday as they were offering Jackpot both days, and so Django had two chances to earn his C-ATCH.

Saturday's course was a traditional Jackpot and particularly tricky, with a challenging send out to off-side weaves. Not Django's strong suit, so we had fun, gave it our best try, but I wasn't surprised with the NQ. Still, we had another try Sunday.

Sunday's course was a non-traditional Jackpot. The team had to earn the required number of points (44 for Level 5), and also in the process successfully complete three designated obstacles at any point before the time limit. The three required obstacles were an A-frame, tunnel, and jump. So, not too bad of a Jackpot course. The main risks would be blowing the A-frame contact, dropping the bar on the jump, or not getting enough points in the time limit. I planned out a nice course that would get us enough points, so just had to keep fingers crossed for a successful contact performance. Django is pretty reliable with his A-frames, and rarely drops bars, so as long as there was not too much silliness in his first run of the day, I felt optimistic.

As we stepped to the line, I kissed him on the head and whispered to him that I loved him and that we should just go have fun. I led out past the tire, and was happy to look back and see him intent and focused on me (sometimes I look back and he is making googly-eyes at the leash runner or something). The A-frame was our fourth obstacle, and he solidly hit the contact zone. I breathed a little easier at that point, but still had a lot of points to get so couldn't relax yet. Overall, the run continued to go smoothly, with just a little Django silliness with a dogwalk/tunnel distinction. He REALLY wanted to do the dog walk for whatever reason, but I called him off as I just couldn't diverge from my plan. Of course, the couple seconds spent there felt like an eternity, but we just needed another jump, teeter, and one more tunnel after that. Once back on track, the ending went smoothly and as he came out of the final tunnel, I cheered him on telling him what a great boy he is. We took another jump for good measure and headed to the table to stop our time with still a few seconds to spare.

He hit the table, sat and looked at me. I said to him, "Good job, boy - that's your C-ATCH!" and gave him a hug before taking a quick victory lap. As I leashed him up afterwards, I gave him a big hug, buried my face in his beautiful red fur, and told him how proud I was of him. Then we proceeded out of the ring to get him a big reward of chicken!

The great thing about dogs is that all he knew was that he was having fun running with his mom. It was just another run to him, though when it was over, it became obvious to him that everyone was making a big fuss over him, coming up to congratulate and praise him. He didn't know why, but he knew he was quite pleased with himself and lapped up all the extra attention.

This trial marked the two-year anniversary of what I think of as our serious agility career. We had trialed some with our first dog, Jade, in the past, but he always preferred flyball. Tristan and Django had started to compete a few years ago, and earned up to about Level 2 titles. Then in 2006, we took some time off when we bought a new house and moved. After a few months we were preparing to get back into it, but then I broke my arm and so was sidelined for another few months. Once life settled down a bit, we had to re-hone our dogs' now-rusty agility skills for a few months, and returned to showing again at Stony in July 2007. So, it was fitting that we were able to earn this title at one of our favorite venues, under a judge that we trial under often.

Django may not always be the fastest agility dog out there, but he is reliable and forgiving on the course. More than anything, Django has the greatest desire to please that I have seen in any of our dogs. He wants to be right, and will not stop trying until he gets there. I believe he would do anything I asked of him. He has come a long way from the shy but loving street dog we met a few years ago, and he makes me proud and happy every day. I absolutely adore him.

Many don't know that he is named after a famous jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt's hand was seriously disfigured in a fire, yet he went on to become regarded as one of the best jazz guitarists of all time. The name, "Django," is a Gypsy name that means "I awaken." I have always thought that it was a fitting name for my guy, as he has come out of his shell and blossomed so much more than I even could have hoped since he won me over with his playful grin years ago.

Titles aren't what it is important, by any means. I treasure all the time I spend with my dogs having a good time with them, and the wins, points, Q's, and other achievements are really just nice things to strive for. But, this weekend's milestone represents to me a lot of hard team work on both of our parts, and I will always treasure the time and fun we have on the journey for a title.

Here is the video of Django's C-ATCH run. As you see, there is a little snag as I have to convince him that we are not, in fact, doing the dog walk, but otherwise he ran very nicely. What a good boy!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Camp

This year marked our eighth year of taking the dogs to DSA camp for a week in July. It has become a fun tradition, where we get to spend several days visiting with old friends, making new friends, and just training and spending time with our dogs. Every year is a bit different - some years we are focused on participating in all the new activities and training opportunities, sometimes we work on our own training goals, and other times we just spend time hiking in the woods and swimming at the lake with the dogs.

This year, we mostly did our own thing as far as training. Lowell spent a lot of time working on Susan Garrett's Crate Games with Maebe, Tristan and Jade. We did some agility work with the adults, and got an introduction to competition obedience with Tristan and Django one evening. It seems clear that obedience may be a great activity for Tristan when he can no longer compete in agility. He loves the rules and structure of it and loves heeling. I think he would really enjoy Rally-O one day.

It was a great week for Cadence, filled with new experiences and people and dogs. Our campsite neighbor had a new Lab puppy, Indi, who was born on the same day as Cade. They became fast friends, and would start up an impromptu wrestling match at every possible opportunity.

Cadence also became a "Pup Scout." To do so, he had to pass a little temperament/obedience test. He had to demonstrate that he knew sit, down, and come, he had to show that he could interact with other dogs appropriately, that he could be handled by other people, that he would accept grooming and body handling, and that he could remain calm when I left him alone with a new person. He passed with flying colors. I thought about testing him to become a full "Scout", but wanted to wait until his heeling, "leave its," and stays are more reliable. They are coming along nicely, and if I got him in the right moment we might have passed, but I didn't see the need to rush it.

I also learned what Cadence's nutty Border Collie obsession is: water. His brain just switched into another place at the beach. All my dogs are devoted water dogs and love nothing more than to swim, but even our Lab took a bit longer to become crazy about the water than our little noodle did. Apparently he is fascinated by splashing. He started making splashes with his front paws, then snapping at the spray, and would continue farther and farther until before he knew it, he was swimming. Snapping at the water all the way. It was a bit crazy, and rather lacking in form, but he made up for it in enthusiasm.

Maebe got to try Puissance Jumping, and easily cleared 36 inches - over twice her shoulder height. She also accompanied her dad on the overnight backpacking trip that he led this year, and somehow managed to not be completely eaten alive by mosquitoes. I think it was close though. Apparently she was not terribly pleased with the tent accomodations in the woods at first, until she discovered one of the other campers had brought along a tennis ball and all was well with the world again. She also got to flirt with Brutus, a 130-pound Rott(?) mix, who is the gentlest giant you'd ever want to meet. They make quite a pair. Still, when she returned to the camper the next morning, she curled up on my pillow immediately to tell me all about the hardships she endured for the previous 12 hours in the woods. She is forever the princess.

All the dogs did a ton of swimming, running, hiking, and playing and we all had a great time. We returned home exhausted from all the revelry (and especially from the late-night campfires that Lowell would tend - we had quite a fun and raucous group of fire-goers this year). Already looking forward to camp number nine in 2010!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Dog Sport Weekend

Busy holiday weekend this past weekend, filled with all sorts of dog activities.

On Friday, we kicked off the long weekend with a day of CPE agility in Dexter. I was very excited about this trial, as they were offering Jackpot, which is the last class Django and I need to finish his C-ATCH title. Of course, Jackpot was the last run of the day, so we had many hours of waiting for the big moment. Since Jackpot requires speed and distance, I decided to only enter Django in one other run that day. On long days of trialing, Django sometimes will start to work pretty close to me in the last couple runs, so I have more luck with Jackpot if he is fresh and full of energy. We started the morning with a "Q" (and fourth place) in Full House, then let him rest up the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, Tristan and Maebe each got a few runs in with their dad, and had some nice performances. Tristan was well on his way towards having another beautiful Standard run, when his handler forgot the course . . . again. So, still a nice run, just not technically correct. :-) Maebe had a blazing fast Standard run (24 seconds), but demonstrated that her contacts are not, in fact, fixed as we had hoped. In fact, she showed us that she can do the A-Frame while missing the down ramp altogether - not something I hope she ever does again! Nevertheless, she continues to command attention on the course, and Lowell had hours of conversations with other trainers with ideas, suggestions, compliments, etc. The little girl can move, that's for certain.

Django's big run came at the end of the day. I was nervous stepping to the line, but tried as much as possible to relax so he wouldn't feed off my stress. His opening sequence went beautifully - he was moving fast and following me perfectly. In fact, we actually ended up ahead of where I thought we'd be when the whistle blew - rare, as I have developed a good sense of how much we can do in the opening time. When it came time to do the Jackpot (a jump, A-Frame, far end of a curved tunnel, and jump), we started off strong. He came off the A-frame nicely, but headed to the wrong end of the tunnel. I pulled him back, re-sent him, and he headed once more to the near end. Called him off again, but he decided then that clearly he was not supposed to do the tunnel at all, and cleared the last jump. I didn't care though, I was so proud of how nicely he worked for me. I knelt down, hugged and kissed him, and told him we'd just try again next time. A spectator near the exit gate said to me "You couldn't have tried any harder for that - that was a nice run and you should be proud." I agreed completely. Lots of friends patted us on the back, and though Django still can't yet add those five letters before his name, there is always next time. Looks like the Stony trial in three weeks has TWO Jackpot offerings!

After visiting with lots of friends, we packed up the dogs, went home to hook up the camper, and headed down to Sandusky, Ohio for two days of flyball racing with Django and Maebe. When we arrived, we learned that there was an empty back-up spot on a team with some green dogs, and do to various injuries, etc., the team was short. We decided to let Jade step out of retirement for a weekend, and listed him as the back-up, so ended up with three dogs on teams.

Django and Maebe got to race on the same team together, which was very fun. The team was a nice one, with very reliable, consistent dogs. Unfortunately, we were seeded towards the bottom of the division, so had to really fight. And fight we did, running some nice close races and putting in some good times. Maebe ran several 4.3's with passes (over 10-inch jumps, not her favorite), and Django ran a couple 4.4's with passes, even towards the end of Sunday. The team ended up third, but the dogs all earned a lot of points for one tournament, putting Django even closer to getting his ONYX.

Jade had a lot of fun warming up a couple times and running in a few heats, but thankfully the novice dogs held up all weekend, as my decision to retire him was confirmed to be the correct one. Of maybe a half dozen runs, he only carried his ball past the line once or twice. After earning over 40,000 points, I know he knows how to play the game, and physically he still looks great, but somehow his heart isn't in it the way it used to be. I think his stamina just isn't what it was, and he is tiring quickly. Nevertheless, it made me happy to take him into the ring a few more times, and to know that we are making the right decision for him. He has had a great flyball career, and he has earned the right to spend his days now lounging on the couch and barking at squirrels.

The Noodle (Cadence) had a nice weekend as well. He saw flyball for the first time, and handled it well. He was a little surprised by the noise at first, but relaxed quickly. When the racing started, he looked up like "Oh, running dogs, cool" then instantly turned his focus to playing with me. Which, since I was not armed with a tug toy, meant trying to rip my watch right off of my wrist, but I appreciated the sentiment - that even in the presence of high-level distractions he is choosing to play with me.

Overall, a fun weekend of playing with the dogs, camping, and visiting with friends. However, I may re-think doing a tournament on July 4th weekend again, as Saturday night was spent holding Tristan while the fireworks were being set off. He held it together pretty well though.

Lots more camping, trials and tournaments in the coming weeks. Going to have to try and rest up this week in preparation!