Monday, April 19, 2010

Newbies Again

This weekend, Django and Maebe entered their first AKC agility trial. Until now, both have only participated in CPE trials, so it was an interesting and fun experience to try something new.

The various agility-sanctioning organizations tend to have differing stereotypes among the dog community. While these are not necessarily my opinions, the general stereotype I have heard is that CPE is strictly about fun, and is for less serious, non-competitive-minded trainers, or for new dogs starting out who want less pressure and easier courses. I've heard that the rigor of training tends to not be as high, but that it is more relaxed and laid-back. AKC, on the other hand, has had the stereotype (at least as I've perceived it) as being more competitive, more difficult, and while the trainers are more serious, they are also less friendly and more "clique-y."

I enjoy CPE, as the "fun" part of the stereotype has always held true for us, but we were interested to try other venues. We were delighted when the AKC finally decided to allow mixed breeds in competition this Spring, so we got Maebe (a mixed breed) and Django registered, and signed up for a local trial hosted by a friend's breed club.

I admit, we were excited for a new challenge and opportunity to compete and were keeping an open mind, but also in the back of our minds were prepared that the AKC environment might prove to be stuffy, unfriendly, and uninviting. We figured we'd try it out, and see how it went.

Not knowing that unlike CPE, measuring can take place throughout the day, we showed up bright and early at 7 AM on Sunday to get our dogs measured. Even though we had not done AKC before, we still found lots of friendly faces there as lots of people do both venues or had been in classes with us. They helped us get oriented, and we were able to get two measurements taken on the dogs. Both came in exactly as I'd expected. Django was not terribly sure of the whole measuring process but held it together OK. Maebe just didn't like holding still when she knew all the fun equipment was out there and she really wanted to go play NOW.

Fortunately, we live 15 minutes from the trial site, so we headed back home and spent a beautiful morning taking Jade, Tristan, and Cadence for nice long walks around the pond and neighborhood. Even got some agility training time in with Cade before heading back to the show with Django and Maebe.

Since AKC requires you to start back in Novice, the courses were easier than we are used to in Level 5 CPE. There are some differences though that we knew could present new challenges - CPE does not use a pause table, we rarely see a broad jump, and CPE does not count refusals. Despite being back in Novice, I was oddly nervous.

Django's Standard run went well for the first two-thirds - he did the broad jump and table beautifully - but my handling pulled him off the A-Frame, and he got a refusal. Afterwards I was a bit flustered, and he subsequently took the wrong end of the following tunnel, so we NQ'd, but I was overall pleased with his performance and blame my ring nerves for the handling errors. We redeemed ourselves with a lovely clean Jumpers run which took first place in 16-inch Preferred.

Maebe and Lowell had two great runs. Both runs had a refusal called, due to some timing issues on front crosses, but still earned them a qualifying score and first place. It is always fun to listen as people see Maebe for the first time. Our video tape picked up the following conversation: "Oh, that's a cute little dog going in now . . . Wow, she's fast . . . oh-my-gosh she is REALLY fast!. . . etc. It always makes us smile. I was very proud watching the two of them work. She has rock solid contacts now after they had plaqued her performance for over a year. The Salo jump grid exercises we are doing also seem to be having an effect, as she jumped nicely and didn't knock any bars all day. She continues to get more and more consistent, and Lowell's handling improves as he learns not to race her. I love watching them run.

The most noticeable observation we made this weekend though was how faulty the stereotypes about the organizations truly were. First, after watching the Excellent level Standard runs, the course difficulty and the level of handling did not seem noticeably different from CPE - I think CPE really gets a bad rap there. But secondly, the AKC venue was a lot more fun and friendly than I guess I had anticipated. Certainly we had a lot of friends there, but there were a lot of people we did not know, and several of them welcomed us, asked about our dogs, and gave us nice compliments. As we left, a woman we had just met approached us and said "Welcome to AKC. It was really nice meeting you and your dogs and we hope we'll see you back again." It was a very nice welcome, and we were very glad we didn't let the stereotypes we had heard prevent us from trying this new experience.

It was also fun starting something new again with Django. I am pleased with what we've accomplished together, and as he is now probably somewhere around eight years old, I am focusing on just enjoying every run we have together. I had debated not getting him an AKC number as it seemed late in life to start a new venture, but then I realized that physically he still looks great - he is healthy and fit, and as my long-time running buddy he is still as excited and tireless as ever. Plus his confidence and enthusiasm for the sport only continues to increase, even still. So, I decided we'd give it a try, and it has been really fun being a beginner again with Django. As we had to brush up on a few things (table, broad jump, etc.) it gave me motivation in recent weeks to do increased agility training with him, which we both really enjoyed. And the excitement of something different also made me appreciate the long partnership we've had and the fact that we can still grow and learn some more.

So, this morning I printed out a list of AKC trials in Michigan and Ohio over the next several months that will allow mixed breeds. Looks like we've found even another option of something to do on the weekends!

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