Monday, March 20, 2006

Thirteen must be my lucky number

On Saturday Lyra and I placed third at the agility competition in Prestranek. This is quite an accomplishment for us. I just hope it wasn't a total fluke--I'd quite like to do something like that again.

This minor success has been a long time coming. We first started learning agility back in August, 2004. What we lacked in experience, technique, and finesse we made up for in enthusiasm. Of all the fun activities Lyra gets to do in her life, agility is unquestionably her favorite. I love it, too, both the training sessions and the competitions (though I almost always get nervous during the latter). The circumstances of my life haven't always allowed me to practice with her more than a few times a month (the really serious and successful competitors train almost daily), and we missed much of the 2005 season due to an unavoidable summer trip to the USA. Still, we've got nearly a dozen competitions at A1/J1 behind us, and before Saturday had been disqualified in all but one. In the meantime, the dogs we started out training with (Aika and Aron) long ago met the requirements for advancing to the next level (A2/J2). For Lyra and me, significant progress meant making it through at least one run (of two) without going off course and being eliminated, regardless of the number of faults. Successfully completing both runs and being ranked is a major accomplishment. Having one clean run and taking home a cup, as happened Saturday, is an unbelievable breakthrough.

We were seventh after the first run, with five faults for avoiding the bridge. She's been tricky on bridges at competitions lately (and teeter-totters, too, but fortunately there wasn't one on this course). It's never been a problem on our home training ground, but the obstacles she meets at competitions sometimes throw her for a loop. She's a little scared of them, I guess because they look and feel different from what she's used to. On our second attempt at the bridge she did go onto it, but reluctantly, crossing it slowly, with much hesitation and trepidation. She was outstanding on everything else, following my cues for jumps perfectly and fluidly, and executing the slalom flawlessly (slalom has traditionally been our most problematic obstacle).

On the second run I got a little lost in mid-course and for a brief moment couldn't remember which way to turn after she came out of the tunnel for the first time and over the next jump. Fortunately I recovered before she could go over the wrong jump (which would have resulted in disqualification) and directed her to the right. I was half-guessing, but I guessed correctly. Once again she was flawless on the slalom and we finished with a clean run and a decent time. I was thrilled simply to be placed at all, let alone finish in the top three.

Heartfelt thanks to Primož for many hours of patient encouragement and skillful coaching.

(For the uninitiated, here's a Wikipedia entry on the sport.)


Blogger Tina said...

Jean, čestitke obema! Pa čimveč podobnih rezultatov :)

11:29 AM, March 20, 2006  
Blogger Lilit said...

Saj je bilo prav zabavno.
"Oh my god, which way, which way...?" :))
V Ajdovscini bosta na domacih ovirah... lahko racunamo na se eno tako uvrstitev? :)

12:11 PM, March 20, 2006  
Blogger Jean said...

Well, give me some credit--at least I didn't say "Oh SHIT/FUCK, which way do I go now?" :)

Anyway, it's all Lyra's fault. She went into the tunnel differently from my original plan, and that totally turned me around. Fortunately the first time through the tunnel either entrance was acceptable.

I remember shouting out commands (and a few expletives) quite loudly on Saturday, especially on the second (clean) run. That seems to work well for us, but I get the impression it's unprofessional. Is it? Some handlers seem to communicate telepathically with their dogs--I can't hear their commands and I can't make much sense of their subtle hand signals and other body language (though obviously their dogs can). Anyway, if screaming helps get us through the course, I'm willing to scream.

12:24 PM, March 20, 2006  
Blogger Lilit said...

Pri tem tunelu, ko je Lyra zafrknila, tudi meni ni bilo jasno, kako pes ve, v katero luknjo mora it, ce vodnik ni rekel besedice, ni nakazal z rameni, roko... pes je pa vseeno sel prav.
Verjetno je kricanje neprofesionalno, predvsem ker ni potrebno, ker psi najprej gledajo polozaj telesa in sele potem poslusajo. In jih s kricanjem zmedes. (Vsaj tako so mene ucili).
Ampak v koncni fazi je itak vazno, da te pes razume, ce se deres ali ce delas mimiko :)
Se mi pa nisi zdela nic bolj glasna od drugih.

7:48 PM, March 20, 2006  
Blogger Jean said...

I'll have to think more about this and ask around. Lyra responds well to voice, especially high-pitched excited encouraging words. So if I say "over!" with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, like it's the bestest happiest thing that could ever happen to anybody and she's just soooo lucky she gets to go over that jump and it makes me soooo happy when she does it....she likes that. And I've noticed that if I keep talking through the slalom (good good good good good good good yes GOOD slalom yeah yeah yeah way to go oh what a GOOD dog what a GOOOOOOOD slalom bravo!) she's less likely to duck out early.

I have to say, though, that I am totally bowled over by those performances where the handler guides the dog at some distance and utters brief, barely audible cryptic commands, and the dog moves unerringly though the course.

But for our level--whatever works.

9:15 PM, March 20, 2006  

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